Marrying the legal system and new media

Daniel Malikov

Designer Law Delta

Contemporary information technology has yet to truly integrate itself into the legal system. We in the legal system are using the Internet as merely bookcases for volumes of records. It has much more to offer than storage: unused features that will inevitably influence legislation and jurisprudence.

Law Delta is the first comprehensive attempt to marry the legal system and new media. Our vision is to make access to laws, bills, related data, interpretations, professional consultations, and peer-to-peer discussions so easy that it will significantly raise the quality of common knowledge of law everywhere in the world. We believe our success will add to maturity and resilience of democracy.
Our plan is to unite law professionals and law enthusiasts into one global public institution, to publish and update laws, and enable commentary, discussion and knowledge sharing.

The core of our approach is a unified flat format of texts of laws with a flexible cross-reference system, capable of serving all laws of the world. Each law is an independent document and each can be discussed, linked to and from, updated, and categorised in a variety of ways. There are many more ideas, but our strategic priority right now is to start building the community, for which we need to gain some momentum, to gain credence through recognition and support from backers.

1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, in terms of the problem(s) it tries to solve and why is it necessary?

Today each jurisdiction formats and publishes its legislation online in its own unique way, which is a hindrance for a person simply curious about how laws govern his or her life. It's not easy, much as operating a computer was not easy thirty years ago. Making entry into law easy is our task.

Our understanding of ease of access requires a globally unified format of texts of laws. Law Delta implements a flat format with flexible categorisation system – it preserves the hierarchy of laws, but each document is structurally independent and can belong to more than one category.

From the user's perspective, ideally, a curious person can easily understand the architecture of law, find the text and related data, and compare it across jurisdictions. That person can join lawyers and politicians in discussions of the law, ask questions, gain a better understanding of law's purposes, and be a more responsible citizen.

Law and accompanying pages, such as discussions, must be curated, and provide information of highest quality to the visitor. For example, a university can curate the Constitution, an industry expert can curate mining regulations, a traffic ticket lawyer can curate his local highway act, and so on, for advertising.

Law Delta lets members do many of those things already. The project does require implementation of more features, and further development of the user interface, but to make it really work it needs enough institutional backing to attract lawyers who will attract people with questions.

2. What makes your innovation unique?

We are not aware of any active projects like ours. Ours is, possibly, the first of such projects in the world, so we are in a good position to set a standard. That said, not only does contemporary technology make our project possible, but also it makes the rise of projects like ours inevitable.
We believe that the world needs only one transparent, reliable, impartial system like this, for uniformity. In any case, there must be a point of gravity when social will enter law-making and become political. Law Delta can become that centre, the cradle of culture, and set the standard of quality for decades.

3. What triggered the development of the innovation?

Individuals attempting to understand the position of law on certain matter may end up frustrated after a few hours of good deep search on the Internet. People feel alienated from the law because of the complexity—and lack of consistency from place to place—of how it as a system works, the language it uses. This made us realise the need for development and innovation, for an accessible architecture so that people could start to meaningfully immerse themselves in how the law works.

4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?

Daniel Malikov, the driving force of this project, was originally inspired by the potential for the internet to be used as a neighbourhood scale hub (of how to share information, for instance). However, upon further exploration he realized the lack of consistency between how laws are presented to the public was a much larger scale problem.

5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?

We have not encounted any resistance so far.

6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and when will quick wins be available?

The capabilities of modern technology make our goals realistic. We see engineering and design as key to the future success of our mission.

Law Delta is a good and innovative resource as it is. However, with some help it can become a useful global self-sustaining institution devoted to public service of highest quality.

7. Will the innovation affect other organisations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?

  • A deeper integration of the Internet into all legal systems is inevitable, and will affect everybody;
  • Politicians will propose laws online first, and people will affect them by providing feedback. The feeling of inclusion in politics for the general public will cultivate a new place for law in the everyday lives of the people;
  • Lawyers will get new appropriate and effective advertising opportunities for now and the future. The opportunities come from direct communication with people and the prestige of curating a law;
  • Drop in real “ignorance of the law” crimes will increase the quality of jurisprudence;
  • People will better understand their rights and responsibilities.

8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?

Only in-house funding was needed so far.

9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?

The most essential characteristics to make it work are:

  • Long-term vision – the role of global communication will only get larger in the legal system with time;
  • Sound concept – providing traditional service in contemporary efficient way;
  • Backing – to induce investment, prestige, recognition;
  • Good team – good people doing what they are good at;
  • A drive toward perfectionism – not always possible, but it stimulates ideas.

10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?

Number of people who come and read a law is what will be a good measure of success for our project when we enter the community-building phase of our development. Number of participants looking after the laws, etc, number of laws, and other quantifiable indicators can be used to measure the success of the innovation directly.

11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?

We reach a goal whenever someone reads a law on our website. Law Delta is very young and the number of users is small – our tactical objectives were to implement a reliable and scalable back-end solution. Now, that we've proven the concept technologically, we are ready to start the new active phase of community building.

12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit your innovation now and in the future? Can or will the innovation be used internationally and how do you overcome cultural differences?

Law Delta is a global project, and overcoming cultural differences is one of its functions.
From our point of view the trouble with laws is in various formatting principles, which are mostly traditional, or peculiar to a particular culture – say, one jurisdiction has “Parts” in a “Chapter” and another has “Chapters” in a “Part” for no other reason than tradition. In this sense Law Delta will create a new international culture.

Technology doesn't limit us to one language in either interface or content. We can serve most languages in the world.

Immediate benefits are for millions of people who run through the Internet with questions about law, and about a million lawyers who will get an opportunity to communicate their tact and brilliance to potential clients.

In the long-run, the whole world will benefit if Law Delta is a success. For example, the number of real “ignorance of the law” crimes will go down organically. Common knowledge of law will include common understanding of necessities of law, and help cultivate a generation of more responsible, stronger citizens.

13. Can you quantify the financial benefits?

People easily find whatever law or other data they want to find, get professional help, and community advice quickly, saving time.

Lawyers get an opportunity to offer their services to a person, when that person is searching for a law in their field. It is public service, good publicity, and a perfect sales opportunity.

We estimate the project as capable to earn of at around twenty million US dollars a year at a well-developed stage in the future.

The costs associated with the project are salaries (of five or six people) and some technology costs.

14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?

The backbone of our project, chassis the concept rides on, is one global website offering invaluable free service to all users searching for laws and related data. We believe it is a strong idea whichever way you put it, and there is more than one way to make the service sustainable and expand it.

We expect that universities and law-firms would be interested to curate laws in their circles of interests. It is good publicity, and, maybe, prestige. Which universities, which law-firms, and on what conditions will depend on who will be backing the project.

There are many more ideas, but our strategic priority right now is to start building the community, for which we need to gain some credence.

15. Did you receive any recognition?

We received favourable comments from Prof. Lessig of Harvard Law School; Prof. Volokh of UCLA School of Law; Colin Lachance, President of Canadian Legal Information Institute; David Collier-Brown from the Linux community; and others including practicing lawyers, computer programmers, friends.

Thanks to everyone.

16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?

There are still huge spans of uncharted opportunities for Innovation on the Internet.

Nominee of Innovative ideas 2012

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