Meet Manolo -- a highly lauded lawyer who spends his days studying legal cases and keeping abreast of new developments. Do you think his life is easy? Let's take a closer look ... laws are constantly being extended, revised and amended. Libraries are filled with thick bound volumes and even a single set of laws exist in many distinct versions that have been changing over time. On the flip side, courts weigh up and pass judgement on real cases on a daily basis.
Manolo and his colleagues have to prepare by researching across a wide set of case history. This means they need to manually check thousands of documents, many of which date back several decades beyond what you may imagine. As a result, Manolo and his team pour the majority of their working hours, colossal sums of money and often their own frustration into thorough preparation. This is where automation and a sprinkle of technology comes to play. Now we can find a year's worth of documents with just a couple of clicks. Overall this means less time and resources invested, and of course Manolo will work happily and with ease.
The Swiss government offers an official portal to navigate and browse through the minefield of laws and regulations. Prior to starting our project, the built-in search engine was flawed and broken. A lawyer could search for a specific term and even refine their search to a specific time period but sadly these constraints were silently discarded. As a result, their search would point to a wholly incorrect result, showing only the latest version of the requested law. Not only is this mismatch confusing but it causes extra effort to track down the correct result and scroll through to find the relevant passage.
What it does
Our proposal uses a web crawler to gather all legal texts from the last century and arrange these in a form that permits efficient search. Using our index, we built a web extension for Firefox that marks references to other legal texts and gives a handy tooltip that provides links to the active law from that point in time and the most current revision. In this way, our meticulous researcher can hop over to the correct version of the law without needing to switch to interrupt their attention and switch to another crude web search. Beyond these immediate benefits, the dataset we gathered is a vital aid in building more advanced tools that understand the full structure and relationship of the law.