Law Quarterly

Rules, Logic, and the Legal System


Law can be seen as a tool used to organize society. The law is made of two distinct parts: norms that guide behavior to how we believe it should be and rules that enforce the integrity of law. The strict application of rules is known as deduction. This is widely found in civil law systems, where law is not as likely to be contested over. Generalizations are made, and these generalizations fit into a generic form as a type of syllogism or formal construction. Take, for example, a rule that “Contractors with permission to personal information are required to disclose it to the government.” Contractor A does not have permission and so by a simple conditional formulation, Contractor A is not subject to disclose anything. Notice that the concept of permission is left intentionally vague here, something we will expand on later. The statement is true merely by logical construction, and truth is only preserved by negation because the choices are binary. As a result, the solution to this generic case is the only one in an ideal legal system, and therefore objective. (more…)

Classifying Legal Approaches: A Machine Learning Project


There is no denying the significant impact technology has had on our society in the past two decades. Everything is moving at an increasingly faster pace than it had in the past, and the legal field, known for being bound by norms, tradition, and precedence has struggled to keep up. Today, a new paradigm is emerging. The availability of massive volumes of data and computational power is expanding the possibilities of legal “text-mining”, machine learning, and AI. In this article we explore some of these methods to help us classify the legal approaches made in the decisions of a set of court cases, evaluate the results, and discuss future outlook.

Precedents is the defining feature of the common law system, attaining special legal significance in virtue of its practical, and not merely theoretical, authority over the content of the law. To measure the practical effects of precedents, we have to first categorize the different types of approaches and interpretations that judges take. The set of cases that we will analyze comes from all trial, district court cases since 2014 that have cited Iqbal v. Ashcroft (2009). Past studies compared decisions in the period before and after Iqbal to find that district courts were not applying standards as handed down by upper courts and that motions to dismiss had increased after Iqbal. While they manually counted and labeled the number of cases that falls under each category, our project aims to automate this process with the help of machine learning driven by complex statistical techniques. (more…)

Plausibility Standards and the Limitation of Access to Courts


If there is one thing to be found from the American people’s view of law as embedded in popular culture, it is the common phrase “I’ll sue you”. Most of the time it is taken lightly, and not perceived as a legitimate threat backed by a person prepared to go to court. This is perhaps a reflection of the difficulties in translating abstract justice to the expensive and time-consuming remedies offered by our already backed up judicial system. For the few occasions that we ever need to resort to formal legal action, however, it is always reassuring that there is such a recourse open to us. On the other hand, a judicial system works efficiently when it effectively screens out cases that are trivial. That is what ruling in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007) sought to accomplish, and in Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009) the screening process was made to be even stricter. These two Supreme Court cases are two of the most cited because of the effect they had on procedural law, and we will examine how exactly they did this. (more…)

The Problem of Judicial Efficiency


Jurisprudence has long obeyed the criteria of fidelity to body of law incorporating statutes, precedents, and of course the Constitution. The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) of 1925 was enacted in response to widespread judicial hostility to arbitration, a process by which parties refer, usually voluntarily, their disputes to be resolved informally by a third party based on the arguments and evidence they present. This has led to disagreements in recent years over whether arbitration as specified in consumer contracts are enforceable, finding its way to the Supreme Court. The issue itself isn’t arbitration, but what it entails- class-action waivers. The decisions in the cases are part of a larger trend towards judicial efficiency through arbitration and the transformation of class-action suits. (more…)