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Triangulating Judicial Responsiveness: Automated Content Analysis, Judicial Opinions, and the Methodology of Legal Scholarship

55 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2012  

Chad M. Oldfather

Marquette University - Law School

Joseph P. Bockhorst

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee - Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Brian P. Dimmer

Petit & Dommershausen

Date Written: August 30, 2012

Abstract

The increasing availability of digital versions of court documents, coupled with increases in the power and sophistication of computational methods of textual analysis, promises to enable both the creation of new avenues of scholarly inquiry and the refinement of old ones. This Article advances that project in three respects. First, it examines the potential for automated content analysis to mitigate one of the methodological problems that afflicts both content analysis and traditional legal scholarship — their acceptance on faith of the proposition that judicial opinions accurately report information about the cases they resolve and courts‘ decisional processes. Because automated methods can quickly process large amounts of text, they allow for assessment of the correspondence between opinions and other documents in the case, thereby providing a window into how closely opinions track the information provided by the litigants. Second, it explores one such novel measure — the responsiveness of opinions to briefs — in terms of its connection to both adjudicative theory and existing scholarship on the behavior of courts and judges. Finally, it reports our efforts to test the viability of automated methods for assessing responsiveness on a sample of briefs and opinions from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Though we are focused primarily on validating our methodology, rather than on the results it generates, our initial investigation confirms that even basic approaches to automated content analysis provide useful information about responsiveness, and generates intriguing results that suggest avenues for further study.

Keywords: automated methods, automated content analysis, computational methods, opinions, legal documents, judicial responsiveness

Suggested Citation

Oldfather, Chad M. and Bockhorst, Joseph P. and Dimmer, Brian P., Triangulating Judicial Responsiveness: Automated Content Analysis, Judicial Opinions, and the Methodology of Legal Scholarship (August 30, 2012). Florida Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 5, 2012; Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 12-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2139022

Chad M. Oldfather (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
414.288.8031 (Phone)

Joseph P. Bockhorst

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee - Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science ( email )

EMS 1155
3200 North Cramer Street
Milwaukee, WI 53211
United States

Brian P. Dimmer

Petit & Dommershausen ( email )

United States

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