AI & Law: Legal Maps

Creating Legal Maps that are akin to Google Maps for the law

by Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Key briefing points about this article:

  • There are plenty of geographic map apps and online digitized maps available these days
  • Using an electronic-based map provides handy features such as zoom-in and zoom-out
  • Google Maps is the 500-pound gorilla and provides added features such as data overlays
  • For the law, envision a Legal Maps capability that was akin to the Google Maps aspects
  • And boost this Legal Maps by adding AI capabilities into the mix


I’m betting that whenever you are planning a trip or are underway on one, you most likely are going to refer to an online or electronic-based geographical map.

They are immensely helpful.

Of the numerous mapping systems available, Google Maps has risen to be one of the most famous and altogether effusively popular of the revered maps apps (I’ll explain in a moment why Google Maps is being singled out in this discussion).

For those of you that used to rely on paper-based maps, you might recall the difficulties associated with trying to find a particular locale on a map and also how hard it was to physically zoom-in and zoom-out in terms of street-level navigation versus city-to-city traversal. The beauty of online mapping systems is that you can instantly go to the lowest level of detail, and the next moment expand the view to see an entire town, or an entire state, or an entire country, and indeed nearly the entire globe via an outer space point-of-view.

Modern online maps provide a lot more than just a geographical portrayal.

You can oftentimes overlay other valuable data. For example, you might be wondering about population-related aspects and thus include a filter that showcases where people are living in a given city or town. Perhaps you are thinking of moving to a new place and are curious what the income levels are like in that region. With a flick of a switch or press of a button, you can display income-related data across a geographical area and add various colors or icons to illuminate the information.

Why all this talk about mapping systems?

A proposed new approach to the law has proffered the idea that there ought to be a kind of equivalent to Google Maps but instead focused on the law. This incarnation has been coined as Legal Maps.

In an innovative research article published in the Iowa Law Review entitled “Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Legal Complexity,” esteemed legal scholars J.B. Ruhl and Dan Katz propose that: “Legal Maps would be built on the same kind of platform like Google Maps, starting with layers of data relevant to the legal system network. For example, the hierarchy network of the United States Code would be represented as a discrete layer, as would the hierarchies of the Code of Federal Regulations, the federal courts, and the corollaries for states.”

Give this idea a moment to percolate in your mind.

Seems pretty handy.

Plus, the analogy to Google Maps makes the notion readily comprehensible and quite easy to communicate as to how the Legal Maps might work. You can use the same zoom-in and zoom-out functions of a geographical mapping system, though doing so via passages of text and legal artifacts.

Much of today’s laws are stored in completely separate systems and trying to pin the tail on the donkey of finding or tying together related laws is an arduous and exceedingly frustrating task. Sure, there are pockets of online databases here and there that have snippets of this or that laws, but the Legal Maps concept is that you would have at your fingertips the entirety of laws, nationally and globally contained in one easy to access system.

And, don’t forget the analogous idea of being able to overlay other related data. Per the researchers: “Additional layers relevant to the system behavior could be added — such as provisions of the Constitution, citations in attorney briefs, administrative rulings, and so on — and the interconnections within and between each layer could be mapped.”

Another important facet of Legal Maps would be the same type of real-time instantly available access that you can get when using Google Maps. With Google Maps, you can pretty much access the mapping capabilities whenever you wish to do so, whether at the office during the day or maybe late at night when planning an upcoming trip for work or play.

That being said, we also know that Google Maps is not necessarily real-time accurate. It could be that an online map is somewhat out-of-date, perhaps having been physically mapped a week ago or a month ago. Thus, you need to be cautious to not fall into the mental trap of assuming that the online map is necessarily precisely what exists in the world at the moment that you do your inquiry.

The legal scholars make note of this real-time facet: “Legal Maps, like Google Maps, would also operate as a real-time (or nearly real-time) representation of the legal system’s dynamics. Events such as promulgation or repeal of a regulation or a new judicial opinion can be streamed into the map system with appropriate representations of cross-references and citations, and the system’s information flow paths and rates could be observed (e.g., are certain regulations strong gatekeeper nodes between the statutory provisions they reference and judicial opinions referencing the regulation?).”

Adding AI Into The Mix

An additional augmentation of the envisioned Legal Maps would encompass AI capabilities.

Let’s take a quick side tour of AI and the law, and then come back to the Legal Maps topic.

We are gradually witnessing the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the field of law and the practice of law. This is initially consisting of semi-autonomous AI legal reasoning systems that are devised to work hand-in-hand with human lawyers. The AI as a legal tool will be at the fingertips of lawyers preparing for a case and provide augmented legal guidance and legal suggestions about how to proceed.

Inexorably, there is bound to be created more fully autonomous AI-based legal reasoning, and thus no need for working directly with a human lawyer per se.

That is to say, the AI system would be considered the equivalent of a human lawyer in terms of dispensing legal advice and can work directly in that capacity as a legal advisor. Human lawyers could certainly still interact with and utilize such AI, but this would be due to the desire to have a lawyer-to-lawyer kind of dialogue and not because the AI system is lacking in legal acumen and needs the added crutch of relying on a human attorney.

For details on this and other AI and law topics, see my book entitled “AI and Legal Reasoning Essentials” at this link here:

Here’s how Legal Maps might include AI capabilities: “Legal Maps could use the same machine-learning technology in the form of embedded algorithms to identify red-flag conditions of excessive legal complexity, such as synchronization and information-flow surges and blockages, the same way Google Maps shows the impacts of an interstate being shut down on surrounding roadway traffic.”


A final twist about the use of AI would be as a means to inform lawmakers about how laws are being exercised and tested: “Over time, regulators could begin to learn from Legal Maps’ learning, the way Google Maps learns about driver responses to traffic situations, gaining important perspectives about when and where legal system complexity appears to be approaching conditions of high systemic risk, as well as lessons about legal institution and instrument design that can reduce such stress.”

Extending beyond those facets, envision too that as AI-based Legal Reasoning (AILR) systems progress toward being semi-autonomous and potentially autonomous, the Legal Maps capability could become infused with advanced automation that proffers readily accessible legal advisory capabilities.

Any users of Legal Maps would ostensibly have at their fingertips a versed AI-rendered “lawyer” available for immediate access, able to explore and interpret what the colossal legal database portends. This could happen in real-time and whenever so accessed. All told, the AI amplification could enable existing attorneys to confer with the Legal Maps system on somewhat of a peer basis, and meanwhile assist non-lawyers in being aware of what they are viewing and how to appropriately comprehend what Legal Maps provides.

All of this is mainly on the drawing board, serving as a blueprint, but perhaps those of an enterprising bent will take up arms and someday bring to the legal world a full-blown splendor known as Legal Maps.

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Copyright © 2021 Dr. Lance Eliot. All Rights Reserved.

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