LEGAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS
& LEGAL INFORMATICS RESOURCES:
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Definition of "Legal Information"

Definitions of "Legal Informatics"

Definition of "Legal Communication"

Please note that outside of the United States, the term “legal informatics” sometimes refers to the study of the law governing information or information technology and of the effects of technology on legal doctrine; resources on those topics are not listed here. The resources listed here refer to the study of legal information systems.

TITLE: Professor Lucchi’s Definition of “Legal Informatics.”
URL: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lucchi/legalinformatics.htm
AUTHOR: Prof. Nicola Lucchi, Università di Ferrara, Facoltà di Guirisprudenza

TITLE: Sanda Erdelez & Sheila O'Hare's definition of "Legal Informatics."
CONTENT: "Legal informatics . . . pertains to the application of informatics[, defined as 'the study of the structure and properties of information, as well as the application of technology to the organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of information'¹] within the context of the legal environment and as such involves law-related organizations (e.g., law offices, courts, and law schools) and users of information and information technologies within these organizations."
SOURCE: Sanda Erdelez & Sheila O’Hare, Legal Informatics: Application of Information Technology in Law, 32 Ann. Rev. Info. Sci. & Tech. 367, 367 (1997).
¹ Informatics, in The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science 117 (Heartsill Young ed., 1983).

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TITLE: Definition of “Legal Information”.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A USEFUL, FORMAL DEFINITION OF "LEGAL INFORMATION": We argue that a useful, formal definition of "legal information" will have the following characteristics:

  • (I) It is consistent with a formal information science / computer science definition of "information," such as "data that has been processed into a meaningful form,"² so as to facilitate cross-disciplinary research into law-related information and to enable use of the definition of "legal information" by machines as well as humans;
  • (II) It includes a formal definition of "law," because the concept of law and the categories, genres, and contexts of law-related information may differ considerably among jurisdictions and traditions;
  • (III) It expressly states the jurisdiction(s) and legal tradition(s) to which the definition applies, for the reasons stated in (II) above;
  • (IV) It covers information that (A) expresses the law, (B) expresses something about the law, (C) expresses something about law-related individuals, institutions, or organizations, or (D) expresses something about information in categories (IV)(B) or (IV)(C);
  • (V) It covers all of the forms and contexts of communication in which such information is created or used, and particularly formal, semiformal, and informal (i.e., published, semi-published, and unpublished) forms;
  • (VI) It accounts for information at the collection, document, and subdocument levels, see, e.g., BLvl, in OCLC BIBLIOGRAPHIC FORMATS AND STANDARDS (2009), also available at http://www.oclc.org/us/en/bibformats/en/fixedfield/blvl.shtm;
  • (VII) It is format neutral;
  • (VIII) It applies to information created or used over a substantial time period;
  • (IX) It evidences the taking of decisions respecting the treatment of two challenging types of information: viz., ostensibly non-law-related information that acquires legal significance either because (A) it is created or issued by a law-related individual, organization, or institution, or (B) it is used to support statements about law; and if either (IX)(A) or (IX)(B) is included in the definition, then (IV)(D) must be expanded to include "information about" that included type of information.

PROPOSED DEFINITION OF "LEGAL INFORMATION": The following proposed definition of "legal information" is intended to be consistent with the characteristics of a useful definition set out above.

SCOPE OF APPLICATION: Preliminarily, this definition is intended to apply to common law jurisdictions, from the time of the introduction of the common law into each of those jurisdictions, and continuing into the foreseeable future. In the future, this definition will be revised to make it applicable to civil law and mixed common law/civil law jurisdictions as well. To provide flexibility respecting the challenging issues discussed above, the definition includes optional provisions, enclosed in brackets.

CONTENT: Legal information is data -- where "datum" means a material marker -- "processed into a meaningful form":²

  • (1) that express law, where "law" means a rule or rules within a system of rules, effected by a governmental entity in accordance with rules establishing the criteria of validity of rules within that system, and applicable to persons or entities over which that governmental entity exercises authority³ ("Law" may be currently or formerly effective);
  • (2) that express something about law;
  • (3) that express something about one or more individuals who work in connection with the practice, administration, adjudication, creation, execution, teaching, or study of, or research respecting law; or about one or more organizations or institutions in connection with which law is practiced, administered, adjudicated, made, executed, taught, studied, or researched;
  • [(4) to the extent those data are used in support of an expression about law;]
  • [(5) that express something by one or more individuals who work in connection with the practice, administration, adjudication, creation, execution, teaching, or study of, or research respecting law; or by one or more organizations or institutions in connection with which law is practiced, administered, adjudicated, made, executed, taught, studied, or researched;]
  • (6) that express something about data in categories (2), (3), [(4), or (5)]. [If category (4) or (5) is omitted, this category (6) is to be renumbered and edited so as to be consistent with the other categories and grammatically correct.]

EXAMPLES: Examples of category (1) include a currently effective statute imposing a tax on real property, enacted in accordance with the applicable rules establishing the criteria of validity of such statutes; the holding, that is currently good law, in a court opinion respecting the aforementioned statute, rendered in accordance with all applicable procedures by a court having jurisdiction; and a regulation, formerly effective, furnishing detailed rules respecting the application of the aforementioned statute, which regulation was effected by a government agency acting within the scope of its authority and in accordance with the applicable rules establishing the criteria of validity of such regulations.

Examples of category (2) include a citation to the aforementioned statute, proposed legislation that would amend the aforementioned statute, obiter dicta in the aforementioned court opinion, a digest entry summarizing the aforementioned court opinion, and a journal article commenting on the aforementioned statute.

Examples of category (3) include a biography of a lawyer or judge, and a history of a court or of a legal system.

Examples of category (4) include data describing the value of the real property subject to the aforementioned statute and quoted in the aforementioned journal article commenting on that statute for the purpose of describing the economic effects of that statute, and income and wealth data respecting the owners of the real property subject to the aforementioned statute and quoted in the aforementioned court opinion for the purpose of supporting a statement about law expressed in that opinion.

Examples of category (5) include travel books written by a judge, which books contain no information about law or law-related individuals, organizations, or institutions; and a document issued by a bar association instructing its members how to donate to a charity, which document contains no information about law or any law-related individual, organization, or institution.

Examples of category (6) include indexes to legal periodical articles, such as an index that listed the aforementioned journal article; and library catalogs of legal publications, such as a catalog containing a description of the journal in which the aforementioned journal article was published, a description of a treatise explaining the aforementioned property tax statute, or a description of the aforementioned biographies or histories. If categories (4) and (5) are included in the definition, then the following additional examples also apply to category (6): a citation to the source of the real property valuation data quoted in the aforementioned journal article, and catalog records describing the aforementioned travel books.

Robert Richards, What Is Legal Information?. Readers are invited to apply this proposed definition to information in common law jurisdictions and to share the results with the author.

²Information, in International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science 244 (John Feather & Paul Sturges eds., 2d ed. 2003).

³This is a summary of the definition of law stated in H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law 27-33, 106-107 (2d ed. 1994). See also Scott J. Shapiro, What Is the Rule of Recognition (and Does It Exist)?, in The Rule of Recognition and the U.S. Constitution (Matthew Adler & Kenneth Himma eds., 2009), also available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1304645.

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TITLE: Definition of "Legal Communication".

CONTENT: "Legal communication"* means the transfer of legal information between humans, between one or more humans and one or more devices, between devices, or within a device.

*This definition is adapted from several works that define "communication" as the transfer or transmission of information. See, e.g., A.J. Ayer, What Is Communication?, in A.W. Ayer et al., Studies in Communication 12-13 (1955) ("The type of communication that I particularly wish to discuss is the transference of information ..."); F.C. Johnson & G.P. Klare, General Models of Communication Research, Journal of Communication, March 1961, at 13 ("Communication is used here as the transfer of information ..."); Paul McKelvey, Communications 1952, Journal of Communication, May 1952, at 13 ("[Communication] is the transmission of information ..."); McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 317 (1966) ("Communication: the science and technology by which information is ... transmitted over over electrical networks or through space to another point . . . . The commodity transported by a communication system is called information ...."), all quoted in Frank E.X. Dance & Carl E. Larson, The Functions of Human Communication: A Theoretical Approach 172, 180, 182 (1976). This definition is intended to be consistent with parts 1, 2, and 3 of the definition of "legal communication" set out in Susan J. Drucker, Legal Communication: A Review in Search of a Field, 5 Review of Communication 12, 13-14 (2005) (Issue no. 1).

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