Monday, September 11, 2006

Open Source Law

MariaOn one of my favorite eclectic link sites, Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow posted a link to the Law Underground. On it, one is able to seek legal advice by answering a series of True or False Questions, and then a summary of the law, and an answer to the legal question is given.

Jurisdiction: New York

Summary:
It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is eligible for family-sponsored immigration.

Explanation:
It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is eligible for family-sponsored immigration. You are eligible for family-sponsored immigration (assuming that your family member in the U.S. will sponsor you). To apply for this, you should fill out Form I-130. Your family member in the U.S. will be your petitioner.

It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is eligible for the second family-preference immigration category.

It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is the spouse of a permanent resident alien.

It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is eligible for the third family-preference immigration category.

It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is eligible for the fourth family-preference immigration category.

It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate satisfies the definition of "spouse" in INA 101(a)(35).

It is true that: The person seeking to immigrate is eligible for the first family-preference immigration category.


The Open Source movement is a powerful force today. For a perfect example, look no further than the amazing Wikipedia. Are "the People" the right source for answering legal questions? Or will we have the groupthink problem? Does this simplify the legal process too much? Or does it give a false impression of the practice of law? Sometimes the plain rules just don't cut it, and God knows I'm not spending three years (and countless dollars) to learn that legal rules can be "bent" [Holy Trinity, anyone?] for someone to come along and be able to just answer a couple of questions and be done with it.

I put the picture of Maria, from Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis somewhat in jest, but also because I think that this brings about a very intersesting point. Lang was concerned for the workers, and as he saw the future, industrial workers became little more than cogs in the machine, forced to do the same task over and over. Now, I don't think that law students, professors, or lawyers are ever going to become completely automatized, but it certainly begs the question: What happens when open source and computers gain the (fuzzy) logic necessary to make legal decisions? Will we be made obsolete?

I think this is in its infancy, and I think that it misses an incredible amount of nuance and vast number of exceptions to the "rules" of law. Also, speaking with my med school friends, apparently the worst thing that has ever happened for patients is the incredible amount of information that is found on the internet. Everyone thinks that a google search for symptoms makes them an oncologist. If someone can go through this process for the law, are they suddenly going to become Constitutional Law experts?

Of course, if this technology advances, and we J.D.'s lose our monopoly on "the Law," is that really a bad thing? And would it be better to bow to the masses editing open source law utilities, or to our cold, robotic masters, like Maria?

1 Comments:

Blogger Luis Villa said...

Kevin: see also this article about Chinese courts using software to help set sentences. My personal sense is that the open source nature of this particular experiment is less interesting than the idea of using expert systems to help people interact with law. In software, we've moved from very low level language only accessible to dedicated experts (assembly, C) to higher level languages (python, C#) which are easier for non-experts to use. That transition is made possible by computer assistance- compilers, tools which convert the high-level language into something the computer can understand. My sense is that this type of software might make its way into law at some point- take the language we normal humans speak, and translate it into lawyerese, or vice-versa. I'm not sure how good an idea it is, and given the state of software right now, that might be a ways off, but I'm guessing it will come.

9/14/2006 12:31 PM  

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