From notarial deeds to hate on the net – digital solutions for legal issues

Who would like to spend a whole Sunday and half a Monday and the night in between in a legal laboratory? 90 people answered yes to this question, so that the first Open Legal Lab, which was held in Magglingen at the end of March, could at least not fail for lack of interest. It was organised jointly by the associations eJustice.CH and

The Open Legal Lab is a hackathon with legal data, combined with a discussion forum for questions at the interface of law and IT. Judges, start-up entrepreneurs, lawyers, coders, design thinkers, university lecturers and many others took part. Teams of three to nine people worked on the following ten challenges:

  1. Ask the Federation
  2. Recognising text modules in judgements
  3. The summarising twitterbot
  4. Collective law-making?
  5. HassMelden
  6. Once-only principle
  7. Digital notarial deed
  8. Casemates
  9. Digital access to the court
  10. Specialised legal repository

All ten challenges were presented in a 90-minute presentation on Monday afternoon. Based on these presentations, the following is a brief attempt to summarise the essential aspects of the individual ideas:

  1. Ask the Confederation: is designed to help citizens exercise their rights to information and disclosure vis-à-vis the authorities. The aim is to make information more accessible and transparent. In particular, this can make it easier to form opinions. It is modelled on the German portal[Link to Challenge]
  2. Recognising text modules in judgements: In each judgement, text modules can be found that have already been read in numerous other judgements. The aim of this challenge was to build a tool that shows which text elements in a judgement are actually new and which have already been included in many other judgements.[Link to the Challenge]
  3. The summarising twitterbot: The summarising twitterbot is based on the combination of two challenges that are interesting in themselves. On the one hand, a Twitterbot was to be programmed that would provide daily information on the new leading decisions published by the Federal Supreme Court on the day in question. On the other hand, it was proposed to generate summaries of judgments based on a deep-learning language model (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, GPT3 for short).[Link to the Challenge]
  4. Collective law-making? This challenge discussed how to involve as many citizens as possible in the process of law-making. A three-step process was developed: In a first step, ideas should be collected. Then, a citizens’ assembly should refine these ideas in a collaborative and deliberative process. Only in the third, the so-called formulation phase, should the actual text of the law be created.[Link to Challenge]
  5. HateReporting: On the one hand, the hate reporting platform facilitates the filing of a report for hate speech and, on the other hand, enables a check of criminal liability by means of a chatbot. Both elements of the Challenge have been implemented and can be tested via[Link to the Challenge]
  6. Once-only principle: This principle aims to ensure that companies and citizens only have to record their data once when dealing with the authorities. The data is then reused across administrations in compliance with the legal requirements for the benefit of companies and citizens. The goal of this challenge was not the programming of a prototype, but the interdisciplinary development of a concept with the participation of business data processing specialists, lawyers and system architects. [Link to the Challenge]
  7. Digital notarial deed: The draft for a federal law on digitalisation in the notary’s office provides that the original of a public deed can also be created in electronic form. Within the framework of this Challenge, a prototype for an XML structure for contracts was designed. The main requirements are that a contract should be signed and easily computer and human readable. The XML is generated and signed via an online form.[Link to the Challenge]
  8. Casemates: The query language SPARQL is increasingly used in the legal environment and is also used, for example, in the Linked Data Service of the Federal Archives. Geodata from the Federal Office of Topography swisstopo are also offered via SPARQL. The aim of this challenge was to simplify access to federal law data via SPARQL and to improve the understanding of and the possibilities for accessing casemates and federal law data.[Link to Challenge.]
  9. Digital access to the court: In this Challenge, a prototype was set up for a chatbot that provides answers to common questions for people seeking justice directly on a court’s website. The chatbot was able to answer questions about the duration and costs of a divorce.[Link to the Challenge]
  10. Specialised law repository: The repository is intended to make it possible to search for legal publications on Swiss law in a single, central location and to access the content free of charge in full text. This will simplify access to legal publications for those seeking justice and also for lawyers and judges, while at the same time increasing the visibility of their texts for authors.[Link to the Challenge]

While for some challenges only conceptual preliminary work or simple prototypes could be created, others were fully implemented despite the tight time frame of 30 hours. Many teams agreed that they would continue to work on their challenges after the Open Legal Lab. Moreover, even before the first Open Legal Lab was over, it was decided that the lab would be held again next year.

The second Open Legal Lab will take place again in Magglingen on 30 April and 1 May 2023. Information on this can be found here.

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AUTHOR: Daniel Hürlimann

Dr Daniel Hürlimann is Professor of Legal Informatics and IT Law at the Institute of Digital Technology Management at BFH Business School. He was previously an assistant professor at the University of St.Gallen.

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