Visualization of the Law

I’m preparing to give a series of talks next month about visualization of the law. Graphics have a powerful effect on our minds, as neuroscience has shown. But although our culture as a whole has embraced visualization (thanks in large part to modern technology), law remains quite verbocentric. 

Visualization can be incorporated into the law in a number of ways—from typography, to photos and other graphics, to data visualization. Many interesting thinkers and young companies are already working on these issues, but there is still a lot of room for further innovation. 

For the purposes of my talks I have decided to separate the various techniques into six groups (described below). I would love input from other law visualization specialists about other ways of conceptualizing the topic, or additional techniques that I have left off my list. 

  1. Law making and regulation. This encompasses everything from IBM’s Many Bills (which visualizes proposed legislation, making it easier to identify outlier sections) to the incorporation of images in statutes and case law (e.g., SCOTUS’s inclusion of photos in Brown v. Plata).
  2. Law practice and litigation. On the meta level, this includes visualizing the practice of law itself, whether with practice management software or a simple Kanban board. The day-to-day practice of law can benefit from visualization in many different ways—for example, Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers, Jay A. Mitchell’s Sketch Pad as Legal Pad: Picturing Corporate Practice, and Picture It Settled’s software for predicting and visualizing settlements. 
  3. Law enforcement and criminal justice. The ubiquity of video evidence (police body cameras, surveillance cameras, bystanders with smartphones) has implications for criminal justice. Richard K. Sherwin has written extensively on this topic of visual jurisprudence. There are ethical issues at play because of the powerful effect images have on our brains. 
  4. Legal research and research about the legal system. Companies like Ravel Law are bringing visualization to the world of legal research, with amazing results. On the flip side, Daniel Martin Katz and Michael Bommarito at Computational Legal Studies are helping us better understand the legal system with projects such as their visualization of the complexity of the United States Code. 
  5. Contracting and licensing. Both B2B and consumer contracts can benefit from the incorporation of visuals. Helena Haapio and Stefania Passera write extensively on this topic. The incorporation of icons into Creative Commons licenses is another example of how visuals aid our understanding of the law and its implications for our day-to-day activities. 
  6. Teaching and civics. Law schools can incorporate visualization to aid students in learning the law, and also to teach them about ethical use of images in the practice of law. General civic education could also benefit from the incorporation of visuals. Moreover, visualization is an important tool in teaching citizens about their rights and how to navigate the legal system, which is crucial component of solving our access to justice crisis.