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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, October 23, 2017

Georgia State Launches Legal Analytics Lab To Apply Big Data To Several Areas Of Law

LAAGSLegal Analytics Lab Tackles Projects at the Intersection of Business, Law and Big Data:

A groundbreaking new lab at Georgia State University is bringing business and legal scholars together with data scientists to analyze millions of litigation filings and outcomes, corporate financial disclosures, patent applications and other legal documents to identify patterns and evaluate how the law operates to predict future outcomes.

The Legal Analytics Lab, an initiative of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business with support from Georgia State’s College of Law, will be housed in Robinson’s big data analytics facility, the Institute for Insight. The lab will first focus on three subject areas: civil litigation, intellectual property, and compliance and corporate social responsibility.

“This lab is a natural progression for us to expand our innovative work in data analytics to the intersection of law and business,” said Richard D. Phillips, dean of the Robinson College.  “Interdisciplinary collaboration is core to Georgia State’s DNA, and this collaboration between the colleges of Business and Law will advance the theory and practice of both disciplines.”

Lab faculty, students and corporate partners will use the tools of big data analytics, including text mining, machine learning, image analysis and other methodologies, to produce original research. They also will work with strategic partners, including companies and law firms, to help these organizations uncover predictors within large volumes of data.

“We’re extremely pleased our law students will have an opportunity to work with applied data in real situations,” said Wendy F. Hensel, interim dean of the College of Law. “Attorneys increasingly are turning to artificial intelligence and innovative technologies to create competitive advantages in the legal market. The potential demand for young lawyers able to harness the power of analytics is tremendous.”

Projects underway include the following:

  • Mining corporate disclosure filings and other materials for an international provider of insurance coverage to directors and officers, to uncover predictors of securities class action lawsuit filings and litigation outcomes.
  • For the U.S. Department of Labor, using text mining and machine learning techniques to analyze judges’ decisions in cases where a worker’s status as an employee or independent contractor is in dispute, to learn how judges are distinguishing between the two categories of workers and predict outcomes.Through the Labor Department grant, legal analytics lab faculty are working with the Free Law Project to expand a searchable archive of tens of millions of federal court opinions to make those judges’ decisions free to the public.
  • Using network mapping and analysis to study the relationships among plaintiffs’ employment law attorneys to explain a substantial increase in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) litigation (minimum wage and overtime cases) and the spread of such litigation across jurisdictions.
  • Using machine learning to identify fintech patent applications and to assess their impact on the financial services industry.

Planned projects include applying text mining to financial disclosures to understand policies, procedures, fee calculations and other operations that affect the investing public, analyzing supply chain disclosures to evaluate transparency and corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies, and identifying novel metrics beyond traditional financial accounting to answer value proposition questions related to CSR and social enterprise.

The lab is also the first step in a larger curricular initiative that will develop new capabilities in legal analytics for business and law students as well as professionals in the legal community.

“The important work done at Georgia State’s legal analytics lab inspires a deeper focus among our lawyers and professionals into how we might leverage big data to provide leading-edge legal services to our clients,” said Brett Bartlett, a partner with Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

American Lawyer, GSU Law Starts Big Data Lab as Industry Girds for Disruption:

With big data poised to shake up the legal industry, Georgia State University College of Law is getting into the data analytics business.

GSU Law has launched a Legal Analytics Lab to apply big data to law—unearthing patterns in civil litigation, patent filings and corporate compliance disclosures to shed light on legal questions and predict future outcomes in ways that earlier generations of lawyers could not have imagined.

A few other law schools have also started legal analytics labs, but the GSU Law lab’s director, Charlotte Alexander, said its focus on real-world applications makes it unique.

The Legal Analytics Lab is housed at GSU’s Institute for Insight, which is the J. Mack Robinson College of Business’s own data analytics lab, started in 2015. Companies and law firms can engage GSU law professors and data scientists to test out proof-of-concept data analysis projects, called “sprints,” said Alexander, a professor at GSU’s business and law schools who studies employment law.

“The sprints are a learning opportunity for our students and a way for a company to see that it’s possible to do with the data they do have,” she explained.

By working on the sprints, law students can learn data science skills for the legal jobs of the future—an important part of the lab’s mission. “We are at the beginning of a real disruption in the way firms practice law and the way legal research is done,” Alexander said.

The lab germinated from a legal research project in which Alexander is analyzing federal district court judges’ decisions since 2008 in worker misclassification cases—a timely issue in light of numerous plaintiffs employment suits brought by “gig” workers challenging their classification as contractors by Uber, Amazon, FedEx and other big players in the flexible new world of work. ...

U.S. labor and employment laws leave a lot of grey area in distinguishing between the two, she explained, so analyzing judges’ opinions sheds light on what criteria federal district courts use to draw the line—an important distinction, since only employees receive legal protections against job discrimination, overtime wage rights and other benefits.

“I basically wanted to find out more about how judges apply the law in employment cases, and I felt I could do it more quickly and efficiently if I could automate the process,” Alexander said. Instead of using law students to code the text of opinions, as she had done for past projects, Alexander said she wondered if she could “get an algorithm to do it.”

She and Feizollahi, the GSU data scientist, won an almost $250,000 grant from the Department of Labor to develop a massive database of federal judge’s opinions from PACER, the government repository of federal cases.

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