[Note: We are big supporters of legal standards here at 3 Geeks, so we asked Damien Riehl to convert his presentation at the SKILLS conference into a blog post regarding the work being conducted at SALI for Legal Matter Specification Standards. – GL]

This is a brief introduction to The SALI Alliance. SALI (which stands for Standards Advancement for the Legal Industry) is a nonprofit that provides a framework to standardize legal data to improve legal business management. SALI’s Legal Matter Specification Standard (LMSS) includes 10,000 tags that enable users to extract legal insights — both for legal substance and business. SALI’s LMSS codes improve business intelligence initiatives; data-science initiatives; AI initiatives; and interoperability among clients, legal service providers, and tech and data providers.

Generating insights from data requires first having structured, tagged data across business systems. SALI provides that structure, serving three types of stakeholders. Here are some examples:

  1. Buyers (i.e., clients) frequently want to know “Which firms and service providers are the best fit for a particular legal matter?” 
  2. Providers (e.g., firms) want to respond, “Of course, we are the best fit for you, client.”
  3. Vendors want to provide solutions that support other stakeholders. 

[IMAGE CAPTION: Each blue item is a SALI tag.]
Buyers/Clients have multiple questions as they manage their portfolio of suppliers and individual matters. In the questions below, each bolded item in point brackets is a SALI tag (field). 

  • Who has experience in this particular <Area of Law>
  • Which is likely to provide this <Result>
  • Which have provided <Document> at what cost? 
  • How does the cost differ in <Jurisdiction_X>? 
  • In <Jurisdiction_X>, what is the risk of litigation for <Claim>?

Other key tags that buyers need include Services, Objectives, Causes of Action, and about 10,000+ other items. SALI counts all of these.

Providers (e.g., firms and alternative legal service providers) want to expand existing client relationships and create new ones by determining:

  1. Which other law firms are providing <Service> in this <Area of Law>? 
  2. Which competitors does this client also hire for <Service>? 
  3. Which other <Areas of Law> might our client need? 

The SALI tags enable firms to generate those types of analytic insights. 

Vendors provide applications (e.g., analytics, billing, research, eDiscovery, legal project management) that are fueled by SALI. The standard’s 10,000 tags are the underpinning for many of the industry’s most-advanced AI and data-analytics projects. And because vendors are adopting SALI’s LMSS — as a data standard — that data is interoperable. Vendors, firms, and clients can move data amongst themselves interchangeably. 

Tagging Professionals’ Work Product

As lawyers and legal professionals deliver legal services, they create documents. Unknowingly, that work product creates “hidden data exhaust” — language to be mined and tagged using SALI fields. SALI tags can be used on (1) matters, (2) documents, and (3) tasks.

  • Matter tags. Organizations can tag their legal work at the matter level. For example, SALI has tags that can categorize a matter under:
    • Area of Law (e.g., Banking Law, Intellectual Property Law)
    • Service (e.g., Advice, Disputes, Transactional)
    • Industry (e.g., Health Care, Real Estate)
    • Location (e.g., EU, China)
    • Forum and Venue (e.g., N.D. Cal., NY City Court, Immigration Court)
  • Document tags. Users can also tag particular document types and components:
    • Document Types (e.g., Merger Agreement, Motion to Dismiss)
    • Document Components (e.g., Claims, Contractual Clauses, Remedies)
    • Actor / Player (e.g., Borrower, Acquiror, Plaintiff, Third-Party Defendant)
  • Task tags. SALI has also collected many tags related to legal work itself:
    • Events (e.g., Closing, Appraisal, Due Diligence, Oral Argument, Trial)
    • Services (e.g., Deposition, Settlement Practice, Appellate Briefing Practice)
  • Thousands of other tags.

So with SALI’s 10,000 tags, organizations can cover both high-level tagging (e.g., matters) and granular tagging (e.g., documents with “legal propositions” that include “breach of contract” and “borrower”). 

Timekeeping entries also include data exhaust. For example, a patent-infringement case (SALI tags: Patent Law + Dispute) could output time entries that include the words “deposition” or “affidavit” or “summary judgment brief” — each of which is a SALI tag. So a user can tag up time entries to determine how long it takes to perform a particular task (e.g., deposition) for a particular legal area (e.g., Patent Law + Disputes).

Nearly every piece of legal work product can be mined for value. That value can be quantified using SALI tags.

Manual Tagging vs. Programmatic Tagging vs. Hybrid

Organizations could tag their matters, documents, tasks, and timekeeping in several ways — each with varying degrees of effort.

  • Manual Tagging. Tagging items manually is very accurate, though time consuming. 
  • Programmatic tagging. Some SALI-endorsing vendors (e.g., Fastcase, Intapp) use SALI tags to extract these types of granular items programmatically — automatically, without human intervention. Users can have standardized, tagged-up data — ready for analytics and interoperability — with less or minimal effort from users (e.g., lawyers, firms, clients).
  • Hybrid Tagging. Organizations could do a mix of these, running queries (programmatic) with a QA step (manual) to ensure accuracy.
    • For example, organizations seeking all motions to dismiss could query their DMS for `(motion /2 dismiss)` and then:
      • Select all
      • Deselect false positives
    • This hybrid approach can both:
      • Expedite tagging
      • Improve precision (accuracy)

Insights from SALI Tagging

Tagging enables advanced and powerful analytics. Once you’ve tagged up matters, documents, or timekeeping — using standardized SALI codes — those tags can provide analytic insights. 

For example, after populating a dataset with SALI tags, you can obtain insights to questions like “Show me all our patent litigation matters where we represented computer and high-tech clients who were defendants.”  The image below shows the value of tagging using SALI tags.

Because each of the things that I’ve just described is a SALI field, users can run a query on the SALI tags Patent Law (Area of Law) + Dispute (Service) + Computer & High Tech (Industry) +  Defendant (Actor / Player). 

Notably, SALI wisely separates Areas of Law from the Service provided:

  • Area of Law = Patent Law
  • Service 
    • Disputes (e.g., patent litigation)
    • Regulatory (e.g., patent prosecution)
    • Transactional (e.g., patent licensing)
    • Advisory (e.g., patent advice)
    • Restructuring / Bankruptcy (e.g., patent assets)


That separation of Area of Law from Service greatly simplifies the SALI taxonomy — and increases its power. For SALI’s dozens of Areas of Law, there is no need for Area of Law to be bogged down by five subtypes (e.g., Disputes, Regulatory, Transactional, Advisory, Regulatory/Bankruptcy) for each area.  Instead, permitting the “tagging” gives the same results, but in a much more simplified form. Fewer tags and more flexibility.

In addition, tagging the Service also permits users to run queries on a particular Service (e.g., Regulatory, Disputes, Transactional) across many Areas of Law (e.g., Banking Law, Patent Law, Health Law) and many different Industries (e.g., Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals).

Industry Interoperability

Because SALI is a legal-data standard, which has growing adoption from the legal industry’s biggest players, it enables interoperability across the legal ecosystem. Much like the financial industry has ISO and FIBO — which enables banks and financial institutions to move money and data across organizations — the legal industry now has SALI, which enables clients, providers, and vendors to move data across organizations. 

Because more and more players use the same SALI tags, interoperability is now possible. In the past, people were counting the same item (e.g., Banking Law), but interoperability required mapping all the fields between each of the legal ecosystem’s thousands of players. That’s time-consuming and expensive.

SALI is solving that problem: As a standard, it can provide interoperability. Since everyone uses the same SALI tag for Banking Law, all of the stakeholders (e.g., firm X, client Y, vendor 1, vendor 87) can move data between each other. The SALI API working group is currently crafting the SALI API language. If you’d like to join in that work, please let us know.


Bridging Substantive Law and the Business of Law

One of SALI’s biggest strengths is that it merges two aspects of legal practice:

  1. Substantive Law. How do we win or lose? How do we get the deal done?
  2. Business of Law. How much will it cost?  What is our profit margin?

SALI tags help with both because they are related. 

  • Business of Law. How much does a Deposition cost? 
  • Substantive Law. Well, that depends — is it a…
    • …depo for Patent Infringement Claim
    • …depo for Slip-and-Fall Negligence Claim

Substantive factors affect business variables. SALI counts both. With SALI tags, one is able to determine both: 

  1. How do various tags affect cost? 
  2. And how do we use those insights to deliver services more effectively?

Browsing SALI’s LMSS: WebProtégé


All 10,000 of SALI’s tags are displayed in the Stanford tool WebProtégé. Using the tool, you can easily explore the SALI taxonomy/ontology by both browsing and searching:

  • Browse the various types and subtypes using the left-hand side arrows 
  • Search for specific terms, jumping directly to its location in the hierarchy

Because WebProtégé has connected its thousands of tags through conceptual relationships, that enables technologists to more easily bring together disparate concepts. A common scenario: “A new potential client is in the Transportation Industry — what have we done in that area?”

Because SALI has connected the tag Maritime Negligence with Maritime Law and the Transportation Industry, a quick query for Transportation Industry can show results with all Maritime Negligence documents.

Multiple Parentage. Also important, SALI tags can have multiple parents, which reflects the world — and legal concepts — and how they work. For example, you could ask three lawyers “What kind of claim is Negligent Misrepresentation?”

  • Lawyer 1: “It’s a Negligence claim.”
  • Lawyer 2: “It’s a Misrepresentation claim.”
  • Lawyer 3. “It’s a Defamation claim.”
  • All three are right. How do you choose?

With SALI, you don’t need to choose: It’s all three. Because that model (multiple parentage) reflects the legal reality: Negligent Misrepresentation is a negligence claim and a defamation claim and a misrepresentation claim. Search for “negligence claims” tag and you’ll get Negligent Misrepresentation. Same with a search for “defamation claims” tag.  All roads lead to the right answer.

SALI’s 10,000 tags are filled with this kind of thoughtful complexity — which can better provide user simplicity. SALI tags reflect the legal world — both in substance and in business.


In a sense, SALI’s 10,000 tags are the DNA of the law: Nearly everything that matters, both to legal business and to legal substance. SALI has collected 10,000+ fields/tags that matter. Our membership — and our number of tags — both keep growing.

Would you like to help shape the SALI legal-data standard? Please visit SALI.org or email info@sali.org.