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Reading law, in a print environment, allows the reader to see context. Bibliographies, research guides, tables of contents, indices, and digests add meaning to place the statute, case or treatise in context. Some of the meaning gets lost when we access the law in an online format only.

A recent article by Elizabeth Outler in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, “Mapping the Achieved Values of Legal Reference Books onto the Digital Future” addresses this issue. She says, “One of the challenges we face is how to live in a digital information universe and somehow translate the maps and wayfinders that were developed in print so that they continue to work.” 34:187 (2015) “The visible organization of information, as well as its physical lay-out, make real contributions to the way we find answers and how we understand what we find.” 34:177 “Making visible the indexing and classification systems that lie beneath the surface may change the way that users experience search tools and the results they get…that is what is missing in the transition away from print and it is how we bring forward the values of print into the digital future.” 34:194

Through design, innovators are working to recreate some of that context in the online environment.

Harry Surden, Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Law School, has three Data Visualization Projects: US Code Explorer 1 , US Code Explorer 2: Force Directed Graph and US Constitution Explorer.  US Code Explorer 2 is particularly intriguing. “It operates as a series of clickable hub-and-spoke formations of the Codes’s text whereby clicking on any of the hubs will lead you to the many different sections of Title 17…Professor Surden’s visualizations are instantly and intuitively navigable as soon as you view them. As a result, you will immediately be drawn into exploring them. For legal professionals and the public alike, he impressively presents these displays in a clear manner that belies the complexities of the underlying laws.” (from “Recent Visualization Projects Involving US Law and the Supreme Court” by Alan Rothman)

Margaret Hagan, a fellow at Stanford Law’s Center on the Legal Profession and a lecturer at Stanford Institute of Design (the, has been working at the intersection of law and design. A big fan of flow charts, she created a number of illustrated law flow charts as she worked her way through law school. Of interest to fans of the case method of study, she created illustrations of individual cases that fascinated her. Her Open Law Lab is a “hub for Legal Design, a movement to make the law more accessible, more usable and more engaging.” “Access to Justice Innovations” is an attempt to “design tech for improving access to justice.”


Harry Surden’s Visualization: US Code Explorer 2 Force Directed Graph



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