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Quote of the month: Concepts and keywords

After teaching legal information retrieval to first year law students for a few weeks, I started thinking about how we actually search for legal sources. Barbara Bintliff’s thoughts were very interesting in this regard:

Legal research no longer requires beginning with knowledge of the law because the emphasis of electronic research is on facts and keywords, not legal concepts. Research now is truly a mechanical process of entering factual words into a database or search engine and retrieving results. These research results appear to support the realists’ claims that law has no internal consistency.

Barbara Bintliff, Context and legal research, Law Library Journal, Volume 99, Issue 2, 2007, pp 249–266

I still believe that there is an inherent structure in law, though invisible and hidden. Or at least the quest for law as a coherent, linked and consistent framework of rules. As the trend for simple and fast search continues, however, we go straight for the treasure hunt, the easy picked keywords that come to mind. We expect search engines to suggest results for us, instead of trying to identify the most appropriate keywords first.

Thinking more about the concepts than the actual facts will be one of the main challenges of legal information retrieval in the next years. If human cannot translate concepts into keywords, maybe computers can?

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