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)