Computer-mediated legal argument: towards new opportunities in education

Arno R. Lodder and Bart Verheij


Argumentation is a key activity of lawyers. Therefore in law school teaching argumentation is essential. Information technology can provide useful support in argumentation courses. New opportunities come from a recent topic of research in the field AI & Law, viz. computer-mediated legal argument (e.g., Gordon, Lodder, Loui). In this paper, we suggest how computer-mediated legal argument can provide opportunities for teaching legal argument. The main part of the paper is devoted to a description of two experimental systems for computer-mediated legal argument, viz. Lodder's DiaLaw and Verheij's Argue!.

The starting point for the research on computer-mediated legal argument is that a computer system can support lawyers by mediating the process in which they draft and generate arguments: the system can administer and supervise the argument process by keeping track of the reasons adduced and the conclusions drawn, and by checking whether the users of the system obey the pertaining rules of argument, e.g., those related to the division of burden of proof.

Computer-mediated legal argument poses a new problem: how should an argument be presented to the users of the mediating system? Especially with regards to recently developed logical tools (e.g., Hage, Prakken, Sartor, Verheij), there is little experience with argument presentation. There is a natural division of approaches to argument presentation in two classes: the verbal and the graphical approaches. In the verbal approach, the argument is mainly presented in a verbal style, for instance in the form of a text or a written-out dialog. In the graphical approach, the argument is mainly presented in a graphical style, for instance in the form of a tree of sentences.

In the paper, we reconstruct elements of a Dutch Supreme Court case on tort law (March 20, 1992) and its sequel at the Court of Justice of The Hague (September 15, 1994) in two prototypical systems for the mediation of legal argument, viz. DiaLaw by Lodder and Argue! by Verheij. The first system takes the verbal approach; the second system takes the graphical approach.

The two approaches to argument presentation are discussed against the background of teaching legal argument. We speculate on the possible uses of computer-mediated legal argument in teaching argumentation skills. We expect that neither of the two approaches can be fully satisfactory for teaching legal argument if it is taken to its extreme, and recommend that a hybrid combination of verbal and graphical elements is striven for.

Keywords: computer-mediated legal argument, legal education, legal IT, AI and law

Lodder, Arno R., and Verheij, Bart (1999). Computer-mediated legal argument: towards new opportunities in education. Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT), 1999 (2).

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