Security Pacific Bank Distinguished Professor of Law UCLA Law School
Visilaw is a system for pre-marking statutes that makes them easier to read and understand. The markings are applied to statutes prior to publication and sufficiently simple and intuitive that most readers can use them without prior instruction.
The system consists of nine marks. The most important address the relationship among the dependent and independent clauses in a statutory sentence. Most statutes consist of one or more “if” clauses that indicate the circumstances under which the statutes apply and one or more “then” clauses that indicate the consequences of application. Highlighting the “ifs,” “thens” and the conjunctions indicates the relationships among them and divides statutory sentences into clauses that can each be analyzed separately. Underlining the subject, verb, direct object, and simple modifiers shows the skeletal sentence structure within each clause. Parentheses identify cohesive phrases that should be read together as a unit.
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, in terms of the problem(s) it tries to solve and why is it necessary?
Statutes and contracts have exploded in size and complexity to the point that members of the United States Congress cannot even read many of the bills they enact. Lawyers devote extensive time to statutory analysis and law professors find it difficult to get students to read the statutes at all. VisiLaw makes it possible for one person to mark the statutes prior to publication and then for every reader to benefit from the embedded grammatical analysis.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
Most lawyers and law students mark statutes in their effort to understand them. But effective marking takes time and requires an effective system.
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
Over my career as a law professor I marked the statutes I used most frequently to make them easier to read. But the statutes are amended frequently and republished annually. Eventually, I realized that I was making many of the same markings on many of the same statutes year after year. The physical process consumed significant time. The insight was to realize that the marks had to be pre-applied and shared by many users. To do that, the marking system had to be simple, intuitive, standardized, and helpful to nearly all users.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
Aspen Publishing played an important role in the development process by surveying and interviewing potential users.
5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?
The principal resistance has been from law professors. A common initial reaction was that the markings would provide a crutch for students, relieve them of the burden of doing their own analyses, and so prevent them from learning the analytical process. This resistance seems to be softening with time and exposure, but it is not yet entirely clear that it has been overcome. VisiLaw books may have to be marketed directly to students as “study aids” rather than through the normal channels as professor-assigned statutory supplements.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and when will quick wins be available?
Although Visilaw tested well with law students from the start, law students did not actually use it until it was integrated into a complete statutory supplement that could substitute for the existing statutory supplement.
7. Will the innovation affect other organizations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
It is too early in the development process to tell.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
No outside funding was necessary to develop VisiLaw.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?
To work, Visilaw had to be:
- helpful to nearly all users
- printable in black and white.
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
The number of users.
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
VisiLaw has been use-tested only with my own students. In July 2012, Aspen Publishing will publish a VisiLaw Marked Version of the Bankruptcy and Article 9 Statutory Supplement. The VisiLaw Marked Edition will otherwise be identical to the version Aspen has published for many years. Aspen will have data on the market reaction before school starts in late August.
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?
The number of lawyers in the United States is over 1.2 million. An additional 145,000 students are currently enrolled in American law schools. All of them regularly read and use statutes and other legal materials, and so could potentially benefit from the VisiLaw Marking System. In addition, VisiLaw can assist in making statutes accessible to nonlawyers.
VisiLaw can be applied to all English-language legal materials and materials in other languages that employ the English alphabet. VisiLaw provides the greatest benefits with respect to materials with the most complex sentence structures. American statutory materials are more complex than those in most of the rest of the world.
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits?
At present, no. Once VisiLaw is in regular use, it will be possible to test and quantify the direct savings in time that results from lawyers’ ability to comprehend statutes more quickly. It will also be possible to test the extent of the improvement in comprehension. But it probably will not be possible to quantify the financial benefits from improved comprehension.
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
Aspen has agreed to publish and market the VisiLaw Marked Edition of the Bankruptcy and Article 9 Statutory Supplement for two years. VisiLaw will be financial viable and sustainable if it is viable and sustainable for the publisher. The business model is to license the use of VisiLaw for statutory material published in hard copy or electronically.
15. Did you receive any recognition?
Aspen gave me a publishing contract.
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
Customers won’t know whether they can make use of product until that product is immediately available to them for use in its full, finished form.