*Tap tap* is this on? Ok it's been a while since we talked about Vizlegal updates, but we can safely say we had a very busy summer, much of it involving data cleaning... Everyone loves to talk about AI in law, not many talk about the less glamorous data cleaning part.👀
So let's go on a quick journey in the world of legal data. Imagine for a moment that you were searching judgments of the Irish courts on the official courts website and you came across, say, a High Court judgment. Here's an example.
You see that things like the text of the decision, the date it was delivered and the High Court Record No, and so on. However you might get stuck on a question: was this case ever appealed onwards to a higher court? Can I rely on this decision, or should I hold off? Or other questions like: who represented the plaintiff or defendant in this case?
What's often not obvious from courts websites generally is how decisions or cases might be connected to one another.
So we set out to try and fix it. We call it Vizlegal Timelines. It's a visual representation of the stages of cases throughout their lives.
So let's take a look -> Let's first find  IEHC 77, the case from the screenshot above.
What you might see pop in at the top there is a Timeline. It will indicate in red that: "hey you're looking at this step in the sequence", while also showing you all other connected events we have found related to it. So I can for example jump back to the filing that initiated the case..
This is one of those cases where a "leapfrog" appeal over the Court of Appeal was sought and granted... you can actually see from the timeline that it was:
JR -> High Court judgment -> High Court judgment -> Determination (leave granted) -> Supreme Court judgment (x2)
And you know what's interesting about this particular case? It was sent to Luxembourg... If only someone started joining CJEU cases to their respective Member States judicial processes... 👀
Well I'll come back to that at some point soon, but here's a sneak preview:
So in this example what do you see? It's the famous Digital Rights Ireland case, that started in 2006 and made its way ultimately to the CJEU, which then struck down the Data Retention Directive.
And we've graphed the whole thing - from inception.
But let's talk about CJEU another day.
For now we've focussed on 552,626 cases in Ireland, and 19,228 judgments of the Irish courts. We've completed a preliminary goal to sequence and join every stage of an appeal for every case available over 25+ years.
Starting today all Vizlegal customers will start to see these timelines across all Irish decisions, where we've been able to detect relationships.
This comes in addition to sequences between Workplace Relations Commission decisions that are appealed to the Labour Court.
Why do this? Well if you're an employment solicitor and you're looking at a WRC decision you really want to know if that case ended up being appealed to the Labour Court - it could be important to know.
If you do a search anywhere, and find a particular decision that seems of enormous relevance to your case - then the first thing you likely need to know is - did this end up anywhere else, in terms of appeals? Timelines seek to answer that question
And adding all this stuff into a GraphDB also helps - since we can then understand ourselves at an overall level what's going on in the system.
But how do you join up so many cases together? Here's a TL:DR: it's really bloody difficult (and thanks to Peter Jakob Cosoroabă patience)
In most jurisdictions a new reference number is generated at each stage of an appeals process, but a common reference between stages is usually sorely lacking. So we used some data skills and some ML to join the sequences together, inferring all sorts of connections..
This also meant we also came across errors in reference numbers. (In Ireland for example criminal and civil cases are distinguished by NNN/YY or YY/NNN reference numbers). We also informed the source if we found errors or mistakes, so the public record could be corrected.
We continue to audit data to find divergences in case titles (as one technique) where we think a Timeline contains judgments that should not be there, but in general we're confident that most are correct. But just in case... you can report errors or suggest additions in-app
Public legal data is *messy*, and that's for all sorts of reasons that are not the fault of the courts - the law can be messy! But we think this will help our customers in a few ways:
1) Save time. No new searches in new tabs to find related cases in the sequence of appeals
2) Increase curiosity. "Oh wait, I wonder what the prior appeals court judge said, might have a read of that one too". Or "which firm represented the plaintiff here, they clearly made convincing arguments"
3) Save time! If you counted up the number of times fresh searches are performed.. by the number of solicitors or barristers .. by the number of minute saved.. we think we're saving our customers 100s of hours per year. Time better spent on more productive tasks.
4) Reduce anxiety. All good products reduce anxiety. Simply knowing there are related judgments in an appeals sequence helps with this. Less anxiety = happier customers.
We think this feature will help everyone understand appeals process better, save time, reduce stress and make our customers more productive generally. More time can mean.. more cases!
And you know you're doing something right (and bringing order to a disordered world) when your early beta testers and users call it, "beautiful", "majestic" and "gorgeous". Yes they really did!
If you're an Irish solicitor who'd like to give this a go, you can signup to a free trial. This includes your future court dates and lots of other goodies.
If you know a solicitor who may find this thread useful, feel free to mention us!