ATLANTA—An interdisciplinary team of business and legal researchers at Georgia State University is working to build a more open justice system with easily accessible public data.
Although U.S. court documents are publicly available online, they often are behind paywalls inside complicated databases that prevent the transparency needed for a fair and equal justice system.
Georgia State’s multiyear research on the issue has taken place in its Legal Analytics Lab, a unit of the Robinson College of Business supported by the College of Law where business and legal scholars work with data scientists to tackle legal problems and questions with data analytics tools. The lab has collaborated with Northwestern University to help develop SCALES-OKN (Systematic Content Analysis of Litigation Events Open Knowledge Network), an artificial intelligence-powered platform to make federal courtroom data and insights available to the public.
As proof of concept, the Georgia State and Northwestern team recently published “How to build a more open justice system” in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to help quantify and evaluate citizens’ access to justice by examining judicial fee waiver decisions. Anyone who files a lawsuit in a federal court must pay a $400 filing fee. While litigants can file an application to waive fees, the study revealed judges’ decisions vary widely because there is no uniform standard for reviewing these requests. This is one variation of many the team believes can be fixed if the public can access and analyze court records.
“This study demonstrates what is possible when you harness the power of analytics to identify patterns in legal documents,” said Charlotte Alexander, director of the Legal Analytics Lab. “It is our goal to acquire as much court data as we can to create a free network that organizes information in a way that is truly open and accessible to all. The result is a system that helps the courts operate more fairly and efficiently and scholars, policy makers and business leaders — and anyone with an inquiry — generate meaningful insights.
“As we move forward with the development of SCALES OKN our team is particularly focused on research related to settlement — especially as it applies to business. Armed with data, we will be able to better understand settlement patterns to uncover predictors that help businesses estimate litigation risks, costs and thresholds to provide decision makers with the insights they need to choose the best outcome.”
Alexander, a professor in the Robinson College with a secondary appointment in the College of Law, noted SCALES OKN will be a powerful tool in many applications, from journalism to policy-making. This project is one of several in development by the Legal Analytics Lab, including research funded by and in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, insurance companies, international law firms, start-ups and nonprofits.