Thank you for visiting. This site outlines PhD studies I undertook in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University which were completed in 2016. The aim of the research was to apply information technology to investigate the enhancement of the communication of legal rules. Enhancing the communication of law is important from a social justice and an economic perspective. From a social justice perspective how law is communicated relates to access to law and democratic participation. From an economic perspective enhancing the communication of law can serve to reduce unintended or unnecessary costs of regulation. From the viewpoint of those who create law, poorly written laws can defeat the objectives pursued by those who created them.

An image illustrating the importance of given definitions in a contract by font scaling and suggesting
the presence of hidden meaning by green, yellow, red hazard coding.

This research focessed on two uses of information technology to enhance the communication of law: readability and visualization.

Readability With the increasing access to legal rules provided by online legal sites to the community at large, the way in which legal rules are written is increasingly identified as a significant issue to be addressed. Legal rules are widely believed to be difficult for most community members to read. This belief is supported by empirical research that has examined the readability of legal rules. This line of investigation has resulted in initial characterisation of the difference of legal rules in legislation to other forms of written English. An open access platform for readability research on legal rules has been created. This platform includes a number of tools for such readability research including traditional readability metrics, cloze testing, subjective user evaluations and application of natural language processing. The research has also included the application of corpus linguistics to the study and characterization of a corpus of Australian contracts. The platform was used for undertaking a large scale citizen science project together with the Cornell University Legal Information Institute. The study collected 45,000 user assessments of the readability of selected legal sentences. Machine learning was undertaken to then identify linguistic characteristics associated with reading difficulty. A matrix showing how strongly a definition is associated with a clause in a contract.

Visualization: Information and knowledge visualization are active areas of research and practice concerned with communication enhancing linguistic communication with non-verbal symbols and images. Visualization techniques are applied to contracts to help communicate the web of meaning found in definitions used in contracts. Collaborative research has been undertaken on demonstrating the feasibility of automating the visualization of the meaning of selected contract clauses. The research has also explored existing practice in the visualization and presentation of legislation, particularly in an online environment.

The Nature of Law: In addition to the foregoing, the PhD also investigated the nature of law applying a "law as ..." framework and investigating law drawing on multidisciplinary insights. The results of this investigation appear in the second chapter of the PhD thesis. The thesis is accessible here. My ANU research page is found here.

Note: Some of the pages here are out of date, and are being progressively updated.

Michael Curtotti

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Last modified: January 2017