Prof. Daniel M. Katz @ the Computational Legal Studies blog recently posted about the Beta Pre-Release of LegalLanguageExplorer.com, the site (www.legallanguageexplorer.com) allows users to query one or more comma-separated phrases and return a time series plot of instances where the phrase appears in all the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court (which may expand to include federal appellate courts). Katz also posted a link to his paper on SSRN explaining the work behind LegalLanguageExplorer.com.
I have not read the paper yet (I hope to have the time soon) but I did play around with the site a little and had a few quick observations. First, it is interesting to see the prevalence of certain phrases within the court’s decisions, especially where they are tied to cultural or legal changes. I tried a couple of example queries, such as “id, see, ibid” as a way to visualize how the court’s use of citations has changed over time. The time plot displays the raw number of instances of the phrases but the advanced features allow you to switch this to an average count per case (without this the increase in the number of cases would make it appear nearly every term is used more often after the 1940s). I think it would be better if the site had this normalization feature on by default, but that’s a small criticism. Overall, I think it’s interesting tool and will try to read the whole paper soon.