Lawyers love to over-define and over-explain, don’t we? Think of every contract you have ever drafted where you just grabbed some boilerplate language like this:
“person” = any natural person, corporation, firm, association, organization, partnership, limited liability company, business or trust, one or more individuals, partnerships, associations, societies, trusts, organizations, or corporations, any individual, corporation, business or land trust, estate, trust, partnership, association; two or more persons having a joint or common interest, state agency, or any legal entity; a natural person, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, joint venture, government, governmental subdivision or agency, or any other legal or commercial entity.
We do this because we want to make sure we have covered every possible contingency, and that makes perfect sense. Wouldn’t it be great if something could generate all those terms for us? And those terms would be legally sound? Basically, what we want is software that could eat a legal dictionary and spit out a legal thesaurus.
Enter U.S. Open Data and the OpenGov Foundation. Those organizations are both dedicated to using open source tools to make legal and government data more accessible and more easily manipulated. They have put out a call for a vendor to help them build a legal thesaurus and turn that mess of a definition you see above into a list of likely synonyms, along with something that indicates the strength of the correlation between the term being defined and its possibly synonyms.
If you are interested in being that vendor, you have to create both the software and the processes the software needs to use and you must use open source tools. For lawyers, this could help you be a more precise drafter, rather than dumping every word you can think of into a contract. For non-lawyers, this may assist with drafting legal documents, as it may help a layperson understand that using a term like “person” may not cover what they think it does. No matter what, it makes for a cool project and hopefully a vendor will make it happen soon.
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