Archive for September, 2006|Monthly archive page

Decision Support Systems – Still a thing of the future or are they here now?

In his 1994 article entitled “Legal Expert Systems: A Humanistic Critique of Mechanical Legal Inference”, Andrew Greinke suggests three areas where he felt that decision support systems (DSS) would be useful in the legal profession.  These areas were: 1) for legal information retrieval, 2) for calculations and planning, and 3) for litigation support and jurimetrics.  This article was written over 10 years ago.  Has anything come of these three areas since the time of the article’s writing?  Initially, it seemed to me that all three areas would be of some use in the profession, with some having a greater impact than others, meaning that all three would be out there.  The answer?  I was kind of right.

Legal information retrieval has probably had the biggest impact so far and is definetly here, and here to stay.  One need not look very far to see that this is the case.  For better or for worse, law law libraries continue to shrink and the big publishing companies (you know who you are) are beginning to make their bucks by hooking law students into their retrieval systems right from the student’s first day of law school.  The fact that the publishing companies are at the helm, may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.  Since the publishers are out there to make a buck and these monoliths realise that if the product sucks, people will switch, this should ensure continual improvement of the product.  The downside is that once a product has been accepted, the incentive to make incremental changes, rather than paradigm shifts, is encouraged.  There is way more money at the top of the bell curve than with the early adopters.  If you change the product too dramatically, even if it is for the better, you risk leaving your users, and cash flow, behind.

Grienke’s next category was calculation and planning.  To my surprise, I wasn’t able to find any readily available products.  As I hadn’t heard of any products through word-of-mouth, I did a quick “google” search.  After 5 different word combos and a bunch of drilling down, I still hadn’t found anything.  While there were a lot of products for small business and individuals, I couldn’t find any that were being targeted at lawyers.  Perhaps some tax and financial planning software incorporates some of what Grienke imagined; however, if I had any sort of money at all, I don’t think I would be entrusting my fortune to the likes of “Quicktax.”

Grienke’s last category was litigation support tools.  A quick search of this topic will get you all sort of hits.  Being a lowly law student, I am limited in my ability to test any of the programs I found.  However, you just have to believe that if there are more than a dozen companies out there doing it, someone has, or will, come up with something that isn’t complete crap.  Furthermore, there may be overlap with Grienke’s second category if some of the products utilize probability algorithms to help determine outcomes.

So…what’s the conclusion? While all three categories that Grienke noted in 1994 are present in some fashion today, not all of them have apparently lived up to the hype.  At the end of the day, while technology may be useful, it is only as useful as it is used.

Keeping it real…



Freemind – Why not? Its free!

In my last blog in regard to eGanges I stated that I didn’t know enough about AI programs to be able to make an informed comment as to their functionality.  Today I will begin to remedy that.  My first shot at it will be with a open-sourced, free of charge, mind mapping software program cleverly named Freemind.  The way I see it, if you have to start somewhere, starting somewhere free is as good as any.  Further, during my MBA days, I remember buddies of mine using the program to do this or that.  While I thought it was interesting, with a “stick a fork in my eye so I have an excuse not to do this shit” schedule, I didn’t feel I had the time to get into.  However, with a paper looming on the horizon on a topic associated with this very subject, I thought “WTH, let’s give it a shot!”  While I realize that Freemind is likely not as ambitious as eGanges claims to be, it will at least give me a point of reference for evaluating eGanges’ claims in the legal argument arena.

Stay tuned….