Brian Harley, LLM at Columbia, is writing an interesting multi-part article entitled “Semantic Lawyering: How the Semantic Web Will Transform the Practice of Law“, where he discusses the potential to use advanced and emerging technology to analyze information in order to create “smarter information” that assists lawyers in how they conduct legal research and thusly how they practice law.

The idea of using the concept of Semantic Web technology (which Harley defines as “a way of making data smart”) isn’t new, even in the legal field.  However, with the massive amount of information that exists, combined with the additional information that is created over time, many believe that there needs to be an automated method that makes the information more understandable by “computers” and in return, makes relevant information easier to find by the “human.”

Semantic Web technologies are already being looked at by companies such as New York Times,, BBC, and Thomson Reuters. Harley attempts to take us in the future of how legal information is created, stored, tagged, queried, analyzed and formalized into a ‘set of machine-readable rules’.  Harley even ponders that in such a future “would we even need lawyers and judges, or could they be replaced with computers and Semantic engineers of the law?”  Since practicing law is more of an art than a science, the Semantic Web may not replace those lawyers and judges, but it might make them much better at practicing their craft.

Although Harley’s article begins with Richard Susskind’s quote of “predicting the future is a hazardous business”, it is interesting to read a practical application of how the Semantic Web might affect the practice of law. I look forward to seeing part four of Harley’s vision of the future.

Semantic Lawyering: How the Semantic Web Will Transform the Practice of Law:
Part 1 – The problem: too much data
Part 2 – What is the Semantic Web?
Part 3 – A Machine Readable Version of the Law?
Part 4 – Smart documents and semantic contracts (coming soon)

  • Richard Maseles

    I read Mr. Harley's first post and noted his example– what if you needed to know what information to include in the certificate of incorporation of a Delaware corporation…which he then follows by discussing how he'd do some searching, then maybe follow some side paths until he got the information he wanted (I'm paraphrasing). I decided to try an alternative method of finding the information he seeks.

    I went to the Delaware Secretary of State's website, found their fill in the blank form and instructions (, which instructions tell me that if I fill in the blanks and send them the filing fee, my entity will be a Delaware corporation. Alternatively, I went to the Delaware Code online (after browsing a bit more in the Sec'y of State's site and finding that Title 8 is titled, "Corporations" and thus might be a good place to start), drilled down just a little bit until I found § 102– "Contents of Certificate of Incorporation." Now, admittedly, that statute might have been repealed or found unconstitutional, so a little Shepardizing/KeyCiting might be in order, but I'd feel pretty comfortable trusting the express statutory requirements, AND the instructions of the Secretary of State, with regard to what they tell me are the requirements for the certificate of incorporation.

    In other words, I found reliable, even, I daresay, authoritative sources to Mr. Harley's question. I did this by knowing just a little bit about the subject matter and where I might find those answers. Call me quaint or Lawyer Cogley or whatever, but this is how I've practiced law for some time.

    God only knows what a semantic web, free-range database query might throw back at you in response to such a simple question, however. At the very least, Mr. Harley's query method is guaranteed to get you a LOT of chaff with your wheat.

    Further, I see this as just another variation of WestlawNext, where you query the Great God Oz, and you get the responses that He thinks you want.

    My fear for the law is that it will come to accept whatever answer the Great God Oz, or the Mechanical Turk, or [your metaphor here] throws up as the authoritative answer– because, coming from whence it cometh, it must be authoritative.

  • Hi guys,

    Love your blogging looking at how technology is changing the way you work. That's the theme of IBF 24 – Would love to feature you on IBF 24 to talk about technology and change — let me know if interested (