Georgia State University Opens Groundbreaking New Legal Analytics Lab
By Charlotte S. Alexander, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Director, Legal Analytics Lab
If the job of a lawyer were reduced to its essential tasks, analyzing text and making predictions would be high on the list. For example, what proposed contract terms are problematic? How might a judge rule, given legal precedent and the facts of a case? Historically, lawyers drew on their training and judgment, learned in law school and then honed by practice, to perform these tasks. But today, lawyers are also increasingly relying on the tools of data science.
From analyzing contracts to tracking litigation metrics, data mining, machine learning and artificial intelligence are revolutionizing the practice and study of law. This is no coincidence. Algorithms, and the data scientists who design them, have become quite good at text analysis and prediction.
With the opening of its new Legal Analytics Lab, Georgia State University is positioning itself at the forefront of law’s data revolution. The lab is an initiative of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, with support from Georgia State’s College of Law and is housed in Robinson’s data analytics center, the Institute for Insight. The lab brings together the technical expertise of the institute’s data scientists with the subject-matter expertise of business law faculty. It is the first of its kind in Georgia and the first at any university to feature a deep partnership between business and law schools.
Georgia State is uniquely suited to innovate in this space. Robinson’s data scientists have world-class expertise in the analysis of unstructured data, which is information that must be extracted from source documents or images, rather than contained in clean, ready-to-use databases. Legal documents are highly unstructured, in that each contract, court filing, patent application or judicial decision can vary substantially from others in form and content.
As Richard D. Phillips, Robinson’s dean, puts it, “This lab is a natural progression for us to expand our innovative work in unstructured data analytics to the intersection of law and business. Interdisciplinary collaboration is core to Georgia State’s DNA, and this collaboration between the colleges of Business and Law will advance the theory and practice of both disciplines.”
The lab has three goals: to support interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty to produce innovative original research; to partner with law firms and legal technology companies to explore legal analytics applications; and to cross-train a new generation of graduates in law and data analytics. One existing lab project, for example, is supported by a quarter-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, and brings together a data scientist, a law professor and students from the Juris Doctor and Master of Science in Analytics programs.
The research team is using text mining and machine learning to analyze judges’ decisions in cases where a worker’s status as an employee or independent contractor is in dispute, to learn how judges are distinguishing between the two categories of workers and to predict outcomes.
Another project, in collaboration with an international provider of directors’ and officers’ insurance, is analyzing court documents and corporate filings to uncover predictors of securities class-action litigation. An inaugural graduate-level course in legal analytics is planned for fall 2018.
To read more about the Legal Analytics Lab, visit http://robinson.gsu.edu/legalanalytics/.
Charlotte S. Alexander is an associate professor of legal studies and director of the Legal Analytics Lab at Georgia State University. She is a faculty member in the Risk Management and Insurance Department of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, and holds secondary faculty appointments at Georgia State’s College of Law and Robinson’s Institute for Insight.