It’s difficult to come up with more quantitative measurements to look at how technology has impacted law. One could look at the development of new technologies (via patent applications, perhaps?) and then look to see how soon afterwards the invention began to show up in legal cases. Another interesting idea would be to see if changes in technology–the development of new citation systems, more rapid dissemination of decisions and publications, and later the creation of electronic repositories such as Lexis and Westlaw–had any impact on the way lawyers and judges developed law.
Certainly textual and citation analysis approaches are not new. The scientific community has been analyzing citation patterns to determine influence since the 1960s and the development of the Science Citation Index. In the law, Shepherd’s and KeyCite are two competing methods to help determine the influence of legal cases through citation analysis.
My idea, though, is to use similar techniques to try to measure the impact of new technologies on both courtroom decisions, both substantively and–for lack of a better term–stylistically.
As an example of the first concept, X-rays were developed around 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen. How soon after their development did courts begin to refer to them? CCTV (surveillance cameras) were first used in the U.S. around 1968–how long was it before courts began to grapple with the issues? Did it take more or less time than with X-rays? (Obviously I would need a number of other examples.)
My second concept is to see if, for example, the number of citations in opinions–or the length of opinions, for that matter–increased or decreased as technology changed. Did the introduction of typewriters correlate to increases in opinion length or number of opinions per year per judge? Did the development of citation indexing systems like KeyCite increase the number of citations? Have online and electronic systems increased the number of citations? Similarly, have the types of citations changed? (One way to grossly measure this would be to look at how old the cases cited are when viewed from the perspective of the new decision.)
Here’s a few examples of related ideas:
- Network Analysis and the Law: Measuring the Legal Importance of Precedents at the U.S. Supreme Court
- The Hazards of Precedent: A Parameterization of Legal Change
- History of Citation Indexing (from Thomson Reuters)
Thoughts? Opinions? Anyone done similar work to this, perhaps in another field? What tools might work best?
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- Impact Factors (healthlinks.washington.edu)