Data visualization software helps lawyers “see” e-mails, but what else?

Two vendors at LegalTech, Syngentics and Attenex, offer software that creates visual displays of information. For example, the programs show e-mails that are related to each other by some concept and how they are related. The visual displays look like dendrites and synapses, or spiral nebulae, full of nodes and branches. Color coding adds even more information, so that the person looking at it can take in a great deal of information at once.

What else? What about cases citing other cases? Thomas Smith, a law professor at the Univ. of San Diego has started to map how cases, opinions, and statutes connect to one another (Legalaffairs, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan./Feb. 2006 at 65). Among “more than four million federal and state cases, almost a quarter were cited just once before lapsing into obscurity.” Narrow the set to Supreme Court decisions and “56 percent of the citations were made to just 2 percent of the cases.” As for law review articles, “nearly 80 percent of citations refer to just 17 percent of the 385,000 articles from 726 journals in Smith’s samples.

I can imagine a similar analysis of authorities cited in briefs or in a large firm’s precedent collection. The findings should invigorate study by lawyers of the most pivotal cases, regulations, statutes, or treatises See my post of Sept. 24, 2005 on Pareto’s Law.). When all the data shows visually, the sweet spots of legal learning will claim their due.

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