Exciting subject right? It doesn’t contain phrases like ‘Artificial Intelligence’ or any other sexy buzzwords. But we think the lessons are just as important.
Today, Vizlegal are very pleased to launch version one of our consolidated rules of the Irish courts. This will come as an additional feature for current customers, such as tracking/searching our hundreds of thousands of court judgments, High Court filings/listings, and Circuit Court Diaries.
When you’re developing products for the legal industry you spend a reasonably large amount of talking to practitioners. Often conversations start with how their business is going, but then switch into problems they are having at the coal face.
One of the most frequent problems that Irish practitioners speak to me about is court rules. Many practitioners — be it from small or large firms — are frequent visitors to the official website courts.ie, and there they find the rules they need — albeit in a somewhat messy form.
“It’s impossible”, is the common refrain, “the rules are there, but it can take quite a bit of time to figure out exactly what they are because they’ve been amended or substituted so many times”. Of course the rules are frequently updated, on average we’ve seen at least one order updated every 2 weeks.
We agree that it’s way harder than it should be.
There are other solutions such as Westlaw’s consolidation or books, but these can be either very expensive, or can be out of date relatively quickly, or both.
So with all this we decided to look at the problem from a number approaches for launching version one of our court rules product — first we looked and readability and linking.
Readability and linking
For increasing readability we chose to use the Markdown markup language — it’s simple, light and has the consistent formatting that statutes like court rules need.
We also chose to use indents and spacing liberally, to make the rules even more readable than they are in the original Statutory Instruments (but always linking back to the original SIs to people can see how the original looks). Where we found titles in all uppercase we also modified to title or lowercase — again for readability purposes.
We also chose to link directly to Irish Statute Book, and where possible directly to cited sections, when citations occur inside rules. For Version Two we’re thinking about how best to cross link rules, and how court forms should ideally interact with rules. We also link to each originating SI for each order, and to each SI that amended it — for all District, Circuit and Superior Courts rules.
Another common complaint from practitioners was having to click through pages and pages of rules on courts.ie to find the one they needed (and then when did they find it, realise it was unconsolidated).
For version one, we’ve chosen a simple and fast title search system. If you know the order number or any word in the title, the system will shorten the list instantly to the one you’re looking for.
Versioning is more a problem for us than it is for the users — partly because it relates to how efficiently and easily we can amend or change rules on our side once a change flagged via a new SI. But we also see a future version where the rules are versioned for users, so they can see how the rule has changed over time.
To solve this the natural solution was to use Git versioning (Gitlab in particular). As the Wikipedia page says:
It is primarily used for source-code management in software development, but it can be used to keep track of changes in any set of files. As a distributed revision-control system, it is aimed at speed, data integrity, and support for distributed, non-linear workflows.
This is perfect for the problems court rule poses: changes over time to a set of text documents.
For version two, we like the idea of “every consolidated rule in your pocket” — which will mean very mobile-friendly rules. We also are considering how recent interpretations of the court rules could be included for the most-used rules. Another frequent ask is that Practice Directions are also included, and we plan to roll that out in version two.
We hope our users love the new feature! If you’re interested in trying it out, drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Twitter.
If you’re interested in the underlying data and exploring litigation data further please contact us for consultancy inquiries.