Toward’s more Affordable Solutions in Legal Informatics – with Standards

Got six million dollars? That’s the ballpark figure for a complete legislative system and it is too much. A decade ago when the technologies were still new, the risks were high, and experience was scarce, the reasons for this were easily explained. But now it’s time to move beyond the early-adopter market towards a more mature, affordable, and predictable market for legislative systems. The key to moving to this new era is standards.

Towards this end I am participating as a member of the OASIS LegalDocML Technical Committee. Our charter is to develop a common standard for legal documents. We had our initial meeting in March and are defining our deliverables for this important mission.

The wide variety of legal systems and traditions ensures that there are never going to be off-the-shelf solutions in legislative systems. However, all the differences should not deter us from finding what we have in common. It is this commonality that provides the basis for the development of common applications that can be cost-effectively adapted to local requirements. Of course, to achieve this goal you need a common information model. The OASIS TC is using Akoma Ntoso as the starting point for this information model.

Akoma Ntoso Logo

Okay, so what is Akoma Ntoso? Akoma Ntoso is an XML schema developed at the University of Bologna and supported by Africa i-Parliaments, a project sponsored by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. It defines an XML-based information model for legislative documents. In the last few years it has been gaining traction in Europe, Africa, South America, and now slowly in North America as well.

Do you find the name Akoma Ntoso intimidating? Well, you’re not alone. However, it’s easy to say once you know how. Simply pronounce it as in “a-coma-in-tozo” and you’ll be close. Akoma Ntoso means “linked hearts” in the Akan language of West Africa.

If you find all the talk about XML confusing, then we have a solution for you. Through my company Xcential, I am working with Ari Hershowitz @arihersh of Tabulaw, Charles Belle @brainseedblog of UC Hastings, and Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer of Stanford and to host two “unhackathons” on May 19th at UC Hastings and at the Stanford Law School, both near San Francisco. The point of our unhackathons is to provide participants with an entry-level and fun introduction to the world of XML markup and Akoma Ntoso. And once we’re done with the May 19th events around San Francisco, we’re going to stage other events in other locations around the world to bring the same knowledge to a much wider audiance

If you would like to attend one of these events please sign up at the site and/or contact one of the organizers. And if you would like to host or participate in a virtual unhackathon in June, please let one of us know as well. We’re looking for volunteers.

Within the next week I will be posting a prototype of a new legislative editor for use at the unhackathon.  It’s an HTML5-based editor built entirely around Akoma Ntoso. While we don’t yet have any productization plans, this editor will demonstrate the coming era of cost-effective and standardized components which can be mixed and matched to produce the next generation of legal informatics solutions. Stay tuned…

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