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Coming Full Circle: Law Library as Laboratory

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As we consider an innovative law library of the 21st Century, a few things are self evident:
Law libraries are less about physical materialsLibraries, in general, are much more focused on creating inviting spaces for collaboration and studyAcademic law libraries tend to have at least some hand in supporting experiential learning Couple these fairly universal truths with a recent article in Inside Higher Ed about an academic library creating an artificial intelligence lab, and there seems to be something there for law libraries, as well.

The 600-square-foot AI lab will be located on the library’s first floor and will offer beginner- to advanced-level tutorials in areas such as robotics, natural language processing, smart cities, smart homes, the internet of things, and big data.

The lab will also provide a space for faculty members, students and the local community to discuss the social and ethical implications of these technology developments. Faculty may also use the space for teaching…

Disruption in Law: Algorithms that Doubt Themselves

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After learning more about AI systems and their predicted disruption in law and legal research, one of the most compelling arguments against blindly relying on algorithms is the lack of transparency and underlying probability for error. 
This may be less of a concern going forward as the MIT Technology Review reports that Google and others are building AI systems that doubt themselves
Researchers at Uber and Google are working on modifications to the two most popular deep-learning frameworks that will enable them to handle probability. This will provide a way for the smartest AI programs to measure their confidence in a prediction or a decision—essentially, to know when they should doubt themselves.
The work reflects the realization that uncertainty is a key aspect of human reasoning and intelligence. Adding it to AI programs could make them smarter and less prone to blunders, says Zoubin Ghahramani, a prominent AI researcher who is a professor at the University of Cambridge and chief…

Williston's Resilient Labor of Love

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A colleague sent me the following image of Samuel Williston with the research -- drafts and notes -- for his venerable treatise:


This is an impressive image of a labor of love. We'll likely never see anything like it again (nor should we, poor trees). Just imagine the countless hours of toiling in the books that Williston (or his research assistants, as it were) undertook to develop the preeminent contracts treatise. This was certainly a golden age for the print-lined walls of the law library. 
It's interesting to look at the tangible work product and understand the research behind it and compare it to what we're likely to see today. While we won't see piles of papers, we'll see documents stored in electronic folders. And while we won't, generally, toil in books, we are still toiling in electronic databases doing the creative analysis required of effective legal research. 
After seeing the image, I was intrigued to read the accompanying article in Harvard Magaz…

Tech Tuesday: The Duty of Tech in the Algorithmic Society

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The age of legal tech is upon us. The possibilities are endless, and the potential access to justice benefits have never been greater. One thing is certain: law will never be less technologically oriented than it is today.

This certainty may induce excitement or fear, but we all should proceed with reasonable care. In fact, it may be an ethical violation not to. The Duty of Technology Competence requires lawyers to keep abreast of “changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” To date, 28 states have adopted the duty.

Using reasonable care to understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technologies is increasingly difficult as society moves beyond the abundance of information that defined the Information Age to increasingly rely on algorithms that sort big data in the Algorithmic Society.

The difficulty is in how easily algorithms retrieve "relevant" information. Couple this perceived ease with the…

Top 17 for '17: A Year-End Roundup

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Happy New Year! As I plan for the year ahead, it's always interesting to review The Ginger (Law) Librarian's top posts for the previous year. Here is the top 17 for 2017: 
1. Law School Rankings & Law Libraries: When administrators consider programs that directly affect rankings, law libraries are often left out of the equation. Rankings need to change. The perception of a law library's affect on rankings also needs to change.
2. Is It Time For a Legal Research Component on the Bar Exam?: While this would require reconceptualizing the bar exam, it would more fully represent what a lawyer actually does in practice. It would also adjust the test to the digital age where the current crop of law students grew up with the ability to find (and USE?) information at their fingertips. 
3. Rombauer Method of Legal Research: Instead of focusing on the various platforms, we should make the students comfortable with a process that works in any database — a process that will become…

Law Librarian Status & Academic Freedom

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We know that law librarians lack status in the status-obsessed legal academy. Some could argue that this is a gender equity problem, with females making up the overwhelming majority of law librarians (another post for another time).

But the lack of status also confers a lack of academic freedom to engage in tough conversations. This is particularly difficult for law librarians because we are not protected to fully engage with and advance our field. A field that is wrongly pegged as supplementary or secondary.

In the era of big-data algorithms with no accountability and the "fake news" phenomenon, librarians must tackle tough, controversial subjects that affect information. And law librarians take the ethical use of information very seriously with the  ACRL Framework for Information Literacy emphasizing the role of “using information, data, and scholarship ethically” and the AALL Legal Research Competencies and Standards stating that a successful legal researcher “distinguis…

Artificial Intelligence in Law Schools: Busting the Silo

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As we further consider how to train future lawyers for the Algorithmic Society and develop the quality of thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning that will define smartness in this new age, law schools must reach beyond their storied walls.

In law, we must got beyond talking about algorithmic implications to actually help shape algorithmic performance. We need lawyers and programmers to work together to create a sound "machine learning corpus." There's potential for an entirely new subfield to emerge if given the right support. With many law school attached to major research universities, it's a great place to start this cross-pollination and interdisciplinary work.

This type of interdisciplinary work would help to satisfy the career aspirations of advanced-degree seekers but also the wishes of many college presidents, deans, and faculty members who see an interdisciplinary professional education as a path to greater relevance, higher enrollments,…