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A search engine for the legal system. I had sent this idea to YC 2013 and they asked me to submit a video, but I felt I don't have the creds to apply.

Take each section of a country's law and convert it into prolog clauses. Queries can then be run on the legal engine. For defendants it gives you insights on how to build a case and for prosecution it identifies relevant sections and evidence that needs to be provided to have a successful conviction.

The same can be applied to divorce, patents, property etc.

My idea was to use an Erlang map reduce system to help fan out the queries which are dispatched to an underlying Prolog knowledge base (Erlang supports something like Channels/Ports).

I have a bias towards ideas which have a social impact.

The business case is: In a country like India there are over 20 million pending cases in courts.

Imagine both sides of lawyers and the judge all having access to a system like this - cases could be resolved a lot faster and time spent building defense/prosecution would be a significantly smaller.

Implemented right, this could somewhat level the playing field and allow poorer people have access to some sort of legal advice, which today they would not be able to afford. Monetizing the system could be charging for queries as you probe deeper and deeper into the system/advertising for lawyers.

I think commoditizing law has immense potential and should have a very large business potential.

I always wanted to implement and Idea like this as Open Source, but here in India nobody would fund ideas like this. I'm putting it out there as I believe it's time has come.

I would be startled if existing legal code was sufficiently rigorously defined to be encoded into machine-readable forms. I really think it wouldn't work! Someone prove me wrong?

There already exists legal search engines. Notably to me is WestLawNext[0] which has a legal search engine, which I believe is sold to large legal firms. There also seems to be a direct competitor called LexisNexis.


I think this fits part of what you're talking about. In Brazil, there's Vade Mecum, a popular app (some Brazilian tech sites say it's one of the most downloaded local apps) allowing someone to take the law with them. It's searchable, and apparently popular because when a police officer or anyone annoying tries to get away with something illegal, one can just open the app and look up the law regarding whatever is being disputed.


Remember, in the third ("developing" they now say!) world, more often than not, factors like who you know, who just likes you, who you bribe, how you get through the bureaucracy -- are much more important than what the law theoretically says. I'm being euphemistic: a difference between developed and undeveloped countries can be seen in how much the letter or the spirit of the law actually matters.

Take Argentina, a case I know far too well. As INC magazine pointed out, the tax rate on businesses goes up to 108% of your profit. (< http://www.inc.com/magazine/201106/doing-business-in-argenti... >). How's that possible? Here's how: the government purposely passes endless contradictory laws thus ensuring you are always breaking the law, just to survive. (A business can't pay 108% of its money in taxes and still survive!). Therefore, you live in a state of somehow doing something illegal. The result? If the government doesn't like you, they find the illegal thing you're doing (that you have to do, just to survive, since the laws are contradictory and unreasonable, like that 108%), and then punish you for "breaking" the law.

Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games ;)

Conclusion: If you step into the third/developing world, the key isn't what the law actually says -- but _how sh*t gets done in practice_.

Lots of what lawyers and judges do involve interpreting and arguing for a certain interpretation of laws - eg, whether Aero is merely renting an antenna to individual consumers or performing a work publicly to all of them as a whole. Case law also sets all sorts of legal "tests" that involve human judgement (eg proportionate force in response, what a reasonable person would believe). How will your search engine deal with this?

I don't think the tool is meant to be exhaustive just assisting.

I think the base idea is very inspired, but I'd avoid prescribing a technical solution at the beginning and just propose different approaches. The general goal of giving lawyers a formula for inputting a case with a certain grammar and format and getting a useful output of laws and precedence seems amazingly useful.

So at this early stage, I am not talking about replacing lawyers. Their interpretation would still be required. However if there are 5 possible interpretations, the engine should present all 5 possibilities to the lawyer. This will help her prepare for the case better.

Take a look at Castext.com. Not only searchable, but also annotated so non-lawyers like myself have the benefit of someone explaining what it actually means.

An existing solution that solves some of the issues, like searching cases, you raised: Indian Kanoon [1]

[1] http://indiankanoon.org/

There was a company doing that in their first class. http://www.sonyalabs.com/ (not up anymore).

I've thought along similar lines, but with a slightly different intent: to refactor existing sets of law. I started off thinking about trying to improve & streamline the law, but eventually realized there might actually be a market as a analytical tool for lobbyists. In any case, trying to build a useful constraint system or search engine, etc. out of human-muddled laws sounds very messy and fun from a programmer's point of view. The actual legal aspects might be intractable, but I'll leave the naysaying to the lawyers. :)

YC S13: Casetext is similar

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