Law Smells - Defining and Detecting Problematic Patterns in Legal Drafting

36 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2021

See all articles by Corinna Coupette

Corinna Coupette

Max Planck Institute for Informatics

Dirk Hartung

Bucerius Law School - Center for Legal Technology and Data Science; Stanford University - Stanford Codex Center

Janis Beckedorf

Heidelberg University - Faculty of Law

Maximilian Böther

Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam

Daniel Martin Katz

Illinois Tech - Chicago Kent College of Law; Stanford CodeX - The Center for Legal Informatics; Bucerius Center for Legal Technology & Data Science

Date Written: October 15, 2021

Abstract

Building on the computer science concept of code smells, we initiate the study of law smells, i.e., patterns in legal texts that pose threats to the comprehensibility and maintainability of the law. With five intuitive law smells as running examples — namely, duplicated phrase, long element, large reference tree, ambiguous syntax, and natural language obsession — we develop a comprehensive law smell taxonomy. This taxonomy classifies law smells by when they can be detected, which aspects of law they relate to, and how they can be discovered. We introduce text-based and graph-based methods to identify instances of law smells, confirming their utility in practice using the United States Code as a test case. Our work demonstrates how ideas from software engineering can be leveraged to assess and improve the quality of legal code, thus drawing attention to an understudied area in the intersection of law and computer science and highlighting the potential of computational legal drafting.

Keywords: Refactoring, Software Engineering, Law, Natural Language Processing, Network Analysis

JEL Classification: K00, K20, B49, H10, C63, C88

Suggested Citation

Coupette, Corinna and Hartung, Dirk and Beckedorf, Janis and Böther, Maximilian and Katz, Daniel Martin, Law Smells - Defining and Detecting Problematic Patterns in Legal Drafting (October 15, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3943378 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3943378

Corinna Coupette

Max Planck Institute for Informatics ( email )

Germany

Dirk Hartung

Bucerius Law School - Center for Legal Technology and Data Science ( email )

Jungiusstr. 6
Hamburg, 20355
Germany

Stanford University - Stanford Codex Center ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://law.stanford.edu/directory/dirk-hartung/

Janis Beckedorf

Heidelberg University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Germany

Maximilian Böther

Hasso Plattner Institute, University of Potsdam ( email )

Prof.-Dr.-Helmert-Str. 2-3,
Potsdam
Germany

Daniel Martin Katz (Contact Author)

Illinois Tech - Chicago Kent College of Law ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.danielmartinkatz.com/

Stanford CodeX - The Center for Legal Informatics ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

HOME PAGE: http://law.stanford.edu/directory/daniel-katz/

Bucerius Center for Legal Technology & Data Science ( email )

Jungiusstr. 6
Hamburg, 20355
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://legaltechcenter.de/

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