Erich Schweighofer (University of Vienna, Austria)
Title: Development of Legal Informatics
Abstract: It is not so widly known, but legal informatics has already a history of about 60 years. Many papers and books have been written, and excellent conference series with publications exist now (i.a. ICAIL, IRIS, JURIX, Cyberspace, NCLI, BILETA). It is an established interdisciplinary field of science but not sufficiently well recognised by law schools, in particular if the legal part – ICT law – is left aside. A main reason may be the still dominent restraint of law to develop theory and put the focus on legal practice. As digitalisation cannot be easily ignored by law faculties, the most obvious development is now the establishment of units and studies with fancy and more marketing-like titles (with the most successful one, legal tech on top). It may save time for in-depth research but the challenges of the law in the knowledge and network society remain unsolved. A review of the main research questions of the last 60 years demonstrates that the “big questions” have not changed that much: the very significant extension of “clients” of the legal system: mostly all in a society, now in a potentially global environment, adding robots and agents as legally relevant actors; the strong rise of relevance of the knowledge factor and its repercussions; (semi-)automation of legal work for support but also solving the cost issue of the legal system.
Societal inclusion, coupled with globalisation: A legal system available for all in society, worldwide, including also machines – as a system for legal protection of interests – is an easy political slogan that very difficult to achieve. Law is volumious, dynamic and costly, even more nowadays and sufficient knowledge remains an ongoing challenge. Gigabytes as a unit of measurement of the quantitative size of a legal system, daily change of law in force, increased litigation and lenghtly legal process rules require significant technological support and a new form of man/machine co-operation.
Legal text (multimedia) corpora and its intellectual mastering: Legal databases online are indispensable in the legal work today. Efficient legal search, automated translation, generation of metadata and legal analysis gain importance as the traditional concept of “learning the law” is replaced by “mastering the law” in a set of global villages and societies.
Automation of law: With generative AI (e.g. ChatGPT), an automated production of legal documents and its exchange and analysis is becoming a reality in the future. The question of man/machine co-operation focusses on this challenge. The axiom of human control remains undisputed but – in detail – focuses on the challenging question of man/machine co-operation.
ICT stays and does not go away. Without question, legal practice is working with this challenge for a long time. For quite a time, the hope of some irrelevance of ICT in the future was strong, the “typewriter approach”. Reality was and is different. As ICT is already a strong pillar of the legal system and its role is growing, law schools must react in its legal curicula to this challenge. Lawyers must share its textual proficiency with machines but also learn to use these tools in the very fast and efficient but procedural (semi-)automated application of law. Intellectual control may be not easy at all. Some training in the new culture technique of ICT is inevitable; main topics are: legal information retrieval, legal logic, legal ontologies, natural language processing, telecommunication. The auxilliary part of legal informatics stays as a management task for lawyers: hardware, software, server, networks, IT security etc. Much more interesting and impossible with legal knowledge is the use of technology applications for lawyers. For a few, maybe legally trained ingineers or technologically advanced lawyers, the development of technology applications for lawyers would be a highly relevant work for the legal system.
Without question, informatics faculties with its many disciplines may like to dominate the ICT part of legal informatics. However, with is many and dynamic application questions, it should be lawyers who must take the leading role. Otherwise, the complexity of the legal system is not taken into account.
For the last 30 years, the legal part of legal informatics was dominent, with the catchwords: e-person, e-transaction, e-document, e-signature, international and european telecommunication, E-Government, E-Justice, E-Commerce, data governance law and privacy and IP/IT law. It is interesting that answers were prodcued mostly with methods of legal dogmatics, much less in an interdisciplinary context. Present problems of data protection, IP law or competition law may have its origin in this development.