I’ve started this new blog to advance the idea that there should be a set of tools, interoperable with general Python data science libraries, for working with legal data and sharing legal analysis with Python. Learning Python gives you access to a better array of open source data tools than any other language, which makes it the language of choice for experts in numerous fields, including the social sciences, who want an easy yet powerful way to work with their data.
So why would a legal professional learn Python today, in 2020? The single best reason is probably to use docassemble to automate forms, client intake interviews, or other decision processes. A second reason might be to use web scraping libraries like BeautifulSoup or scrapy for factual research relating to a client’s issue. But it’s hard to think of a third reason.
There’s unfortunately no popular Python library for accessing primary legal sources like statutes and court opinions, much less for secondary sources like case summaries or headnotes. Open source AI tools for extracting meaning from legal documents exist as prototypes, but aren’t production-ready. There’s no widely-used Python tool for managing legal references with Citation Style Language. Python is known as a batteries-included language, and a language that lets users “stand on the shoulders of giants” by creating big projects without writing a lot of code on their own. But not a lot of tools for lawyers have been placed atop those giants’ shoulders, just yet.
I’ve tried to fill parts of this gap myself by writing the Python libraries Legislice, which is for accessing legislation, and AuthoritySpoke, which is for working with secondary analyses of judicial decisions. And of course I’ll use this blog to try to position my own work within a future landscape of open source legal analysis tools. But I think there’s potential in this field far beyond anything I could hope to implement myself, so I’m going to try to blog about every development in the use of Python in the legal industry.