DARREN FRANKLIN*

  • As the Internet demonstrates its financial potential, computer-savvy lawyers have begun to cash in on the cyberspace trend, offering Web sites that provide legal advice via e-mail, online discussion groups moderated by lawyers, and even live one-on-one chat with an attorney. These ventures raise many ethical issues, including the limits of allowed attorney advertising and the unintended creation of attorney-client relationships.

  • This article outlines the different legal services available on the Web and examines the ethical issues these projects raise and how states are trying to regulate them. It concludes that attorney chat rooms, in particular, pose a problem of prohibited client solicitation, and state bar associations should clarify whether their anti-solicitation rules extend to private chat rooms as well as public chat rooms. Moreover, Internet legal advice services may give rise to unintended attorney-client relationships because users often have a reasonable expectation that they are consulting a lawyer in a professional capacity. Finally, bar associations should pay special attention to fee-based services, as users will more likely expect a continuing relationship if they pay.
  • http://stlr.stanford.edu/STLR/Articles/01_STLR_2/

Paul L. Caron’s TaxProf Blog has provided a textbook example of how blogs have changed the nature of legal scholarship and current awareness. On Aug. 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued what Caron and others have called a “blockbuster” ruling. In Murphy v. Internal Revenue Service, it held that the 16th Amendment bars the government from taxing nonphysical compensatory damages as income.Caron, tax professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, was on it right away, summarizing the opinion and publishing the initial thoughts of another law professor, UCLA’s Steve Bank. In the week since, Caron has continued to provide in-depth coverage of the fall-out from the opinion, using his blog to pull together news reports, blog commentary and scholarly analysis.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/

Computer services

August 24, 2006

The work of the lawyer has been transformed in the last two decades by the use of computerized legal research databases and other management and analytical software. It is believed that understanding the computer is essential preparation for a career in any area of legal practice today. To ensure that  law students gain complete familiarity and sophistication in using computers in legal work, students should be provided with what is believed to be the most extensive and sophisticated computer support of any law school.An extensive computer network. The entire Law School – faculty, administrators, student organizations, and journals – are linked by a network of personal computers, allowing universal access to Corel and Microsoft Office Suites, electronic mail, the World Wide Web and instructional software. Each student has free storage on the network, reducing the need for floppy disks. The Library computer lab has numerous IBM-compatible personal computers for student use, including printer support. On-campus law student housing is increasingly being wired for Internet Access.

On-line databases. Upon completion of instruction all law students have unlimited access to LEXIS/NEXIS and WESTLAW/DIALOG databases for law school-related research at any time via the web. Other databases, including law placement information and foreign law databases on CD-ROM, are also available.

Electronic mail. All students have free access to the electronic mail system allowing communication from the School or from home computers (via dial-up, or the Internet) to faculty members, other students, the library or administrative offices. Connection to the e-mail network allows communication with major university and research facilities throughout the world.

Training and user support. Training sessions in using the legal databases, applications (including e-mail, Office Suites and Internet) and others are conducted by library and IT staff. Student consultants and full-time professionals are also available in the Computer Lab.

Law has appeared promising as a domain for expert systems development to some non-lawyers in the expert system field, who have seen law as a pre-existing set of rules ready for representation in an expert system. As Michie and Johnston put it:

“there are those who are sure that lawyers, for instance, specifically solicitors, could be replaced by computers and that an expert system, albeit a very big one, could actually do the job better. It is true that finding chains of consequences in laws, and finding where laws contradict each other, are ideal tasks for computers and are often done poorly by humans at the moment.”

However, some authorities on expert systems such as such as Waterman have ahown a more sophisticated appreciation of the special problems presented by law as a domain for expert systems:

“… this characteristic of the [legal] domain, having rules that already exist, has led to trouble. The problem this creates is the naive notion (for some) that because a body of rules and regulations exists, all one has to do is to translate them into executable code to create a program for performing complex legal reasoning.

Waterman et al, in the jargon of expert systems research, suggest certain characterisitics of law that make it a more than trivial task to develop legal expert systems:

  1. Its rules are more complex than in most domains, and are “expressed in lengthy natural language passages filled with jargon.”
  2. It is `semi-formalised’, in that although it has a large body of rules, “these rules are often contradictory, incomplete and even deliberately ambiguous”.
  3. Its concepts are `open-textured’, in that it is difficult to state necessary and sufficient conditions for when a legal predicate will apply to a fact situation in a way that a program can apply.
  4. Reduction of complex terms to `more fundamental or primitive concepts’ does not seem possible, with definitions of a complex term often being in terms of equal complexity. Legal reasoning must, therefore, often take place with rather complex predicates. There is no generally applicable deep model of the legal domain, in contrast with other domains.
  5. Commonsense reasoning based on broad `world knowledge’ is often required, making it difficult to maintain a narrow problem domain.
  6. These factors have contributed to “the development of a body of informal knowledge, practices or strategies concerned with how to access and reason with the formal rules.”
  7. `Legal experts use many different kinds of reasoning processes’, ranging from if-then rules to analogical reasoning.

The nature of the `laws’ and `rules’ involved in legal reasoning is one factor causing these difficulties.  It is stresses that medical, chemical and geological expert systems are rooted, ultimately, in the empirically-based, causal, descriptive laws of the natural sciences, whereas legal reasoning involves the manipulation of the prescriptive laws of the legal order, discoverable, in the main, not from uniformities or patterns in the external world but through scrutiny of the formal sources of the law.

The most controversial aspect of the various attempts to automate legal tasks (`the computer as a robot lawyer’) is the attempt to develop programs which give advice on the application of the law to a user’s particular legal problem. These are usually called `legal expert systems’, but could equally be called `computerised legal advisory systems’. They are regarded as one part of a more general development of expert systems research in many areas unrelated to law. Expert systems are `computer programs which perform complex tasks at a level which is at or near the level expected of a human expert’