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Tools for My Trade?

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend Summer School LEX 2011. As background,

[t]he school aims at providing knowledge of the most significant ICT standards emerging for legislation, judiciary, parliamentary and administrative documents. The course provides understanding of their impact in the different phases of the legislative and administrative process, awareness of the tools based on legal XML standards and  of their constellations, and the ability to participate in the drafting and use of standard-compliant documents throughout law-making process. In particular we would like to create consciousness in the stakeholders in the legal domain about the benefits and the possibilities provided by the correct usage of Semantic Web technologies such as XML standards, ontologies, natural language processing techniques applied to legal texts, legal knowledge modelling and reasoning tools.

It was a six day intensive course taught by several professors from various countries and organized by Monica Palmirani.  One of my favorite aspects of the course was learning about new standards and tools.

There has been some movement towards using XML in legislative documents in the U.S.  For example, most current legislation in THOMAS is published in XML.  There are two growing standards (which will hopefully align) for representing law and legislation in XML: CEN MetaLex and Akoma Ntoso.  Recently, I also noticed that there is a state government legislative XML schema working group.

In addition to using the URN:LEX standard, one set of tools that Professor Enrico Francesconi suggested to me is XMLeges, which is an open source set of tools for legal drafting.  There are four parts of the suite:

  • an editor for drafting legal texts in XML,
  • a linker to automatically add legislative document hyperlinks,
  • a marker that is useful for legacy content, and
  • a classifier that can automatically classify legislative text by type.

Dr. Adam Wyner also demonstrated GATE, general architecture for text engineering.  It is another open source tool designed for language processing.  There is a detailed overview of the tool as well as a two minute guide available.

If you are interested in the semantic web, Protégé is an open source (sensing a theme?) ontology editor.  I had an opportunity to use it during the hands on lab portion of the course.  Another open source tool for ontology engineering is the NeOn Toolkit.  During a lab session, Professor Aldo Gangemi used the Global Legal Information Network Thesaurus data that is available in RDF/XML.  With the data in the system, you could visualize the hierarchy in the relationships between the terms.

One tool focused specifically on drafting amendments in XML.  There is a video demo of the tool, AT4AM, that is used by the European Parliament.

We also saw demonstrations of some success cases, including the Library of Congress of Chile and Legix.info by Grant Vergottini.

The book used for the course, Legislative XML for the Semantic Web, contains a great deal more background information.  It is an exciting time right now.  I am looking forward to seeing how these tools and technologies converge.

Update: Monica Palmirani emailed me to mention two other resources: Norma-System: A Legal Document System for Managing Consolidated Acts and Bungeni-Editor, an open source legislative editor, from UN/DESA.

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Weber
    December 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    There is also a post on the NDIIPP blog, The Signal, on tools for digital preservation and access: http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2011/12/supporting-open-source-tools-for-digital-preservation-and-access/

  2. Steven Herman
    December 18, 2011 at 3:09 am

    This article is little less than simply amazing! All the knowledge contained within is what makes countries run effciently and effectively. It will be weeks, possibly months, before all the wisdom from the article is absorbed in. This is a must-have for anyone getting into anything to do with politics. Thanks for this amazing, insightful, piece of wisdom.

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