Modeling Law Search as Prediction
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Law search is fundamental to legal reasoning and its articulation is an important challenge and open problem in the ongoing efforts to investigate legal reasoning as a formal process. This Article formulates a mathematical model that frames the behavioral and cognitive framework of law search as a sequential decision process. The model has two components: first, a model of the legal corpus as a search space and second, a model of the search process (or search strategy) that is compatible with that environment. The search space has the structure of a “multi-network”—an interleaved structure of distinct networks—developed in earlier work. In this Article, we develop and formally describe three related models of the search process. We then implement these models on a subset of the corpus of U.S. Supreme Court opinions and assess their performance against two benchmark prediction tasks. The first is to predict the citations in a document from its semantic content. The second is to predict the search results generated by human users. For both benchmarks, all search models outperform a null model with the learning-based model outperforming the other approaches. Our results indicate that through additional work and refinement, there may be the potential for machine law search to achieve human or near-human levels of performance.