Legal Ontologies Spin a Semantic Web

Legal Ontologies Spin a Semantic Web
By Dr. Adam Z. Wyner
Special to Law.com
June 8, 2009

“The Semantic Web, an extension of the current www, promises to make documents meaningful to people and computers by changing how legal knowledge is represented and managed. Dr. Adam Z. Wyner explains how legal ontologies will help complete the new Web’s design.”

From the article:

ONTOLOGY FOR CASE LAW

Consider an example ontology for case law. There are various approaches to find relevant case law — using text-mining software, search tools, proprietary indices or legal research summaries. These approaches can extract some latent linguistic information from the text but often require researchers to craft the results; indeed, successful information extraction depends on an ontology, and as there is not yet a rich ontology of the case law domain, much information in cases cannot be easily extracted or reasoned with. Moreover, none of these approaches apply inference rules.

Reading a case such as Manhattan Loft v. Mercury Liquors, there are elementary questions that can be answered by any legal professional, but not by a computer:

Where was the case decided?
Who were the participants and what roles did they play?
Was it a case of first instance or on appeal?
What was the basis of the appeal?
What were the legal issues at stake?
What were the facts?
What factors were relevant in making the decision?
What was the decision?
What legislation or case law was cited?

Legal information service providers such as LexisNexis index some of the information and provide it in headnotes, but many of the details, which may be crucial, can only be found by reading the case itself. Current text-mining technologies cannot answer the questions because the information is embedded in the complexities of the language of the case, which computers cannot yet fully parse and understand. Finally, there are relationships among the pieces of information which no current automated system can represent, such as the relationships among case factors or precedential relationships among cases.

In conclusion, the author remarks:

Legal ontologies are one of the central elements of managing and automating legal knowledge. With ontologies, the means are available to realize significant portions of the Semantic Web for legal professionals, particularly if an open-source, collaborative approach is taken.

 

About the author:

Dr. Adam Zachary Wyner is affiliated with the department of computer science at University College London, London, United Kingdom. He has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in computer science from King’s College London. He has published on topics in the syntax and semantics of natural language, as well as artificial intelligence and law concerning legal systems, language, logic and argumentation. For further information, see Dr. Wyner’s blog LanguageLogicLawSoftware.

Source: Law.com – Daily Newswire

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