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Recent decision green-lights “scraping” of public websites, paving way for Big Data in the legal industry


by Markus Spiske, from Unsplash

Although enthusiasm about Silicon Valley and its imminent “disruption” of everything has surely cooled in the last few years, “Big Data” remains an important idiom in the tech industry that promises to bring important changes to numerous other industries. Even if we remain far from true artificial intelligence, technology that would permit rapid and comprehensive analysis of large amounts of data could be tremendously useful. Although data mining methodologies might seem most intuitively applicable to economic, financial, or other numerical data, the legal sphere, with its reams of text-searchable documents, stands as another potentially rich seam of “ore” for aspiring data-miners.

A Ninth Circuit court of appeals ruling from last month marks an important step in removing potential obstacles to the application of big data in the world of law. The court ruled that information from public websites can be “scraped” by analytics firms—the firm in question had been pulling information from Linkedin. Since the decision establishes that this form of data gathering cannot be considered hacking, legal analytics firms should have no problems scraping and using data from public legal databases such as PACER, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records site. [1]

Just as computerization transformed the texture of legal (and other paper-heavy) industries a generation ago, powerful analytics could provide another burst of time and labor-saving technology for all sorts of legal professionals. The ability to more quickly and efficiently search through decades of case law, for instance, will naturally reshape the way lawyers and paralegals allocate their time, as well as leading to major changes in how legal professionals are trained to approach legal research projects. Although much of this technology is still in its infancy , the removal of a potential obstacle to the harnessing of this “big data” thanks to this ruling by the Ninth Circuit marks an important step in this emerging world of tech and the law.

[1] Robertson, A. (September 2019) Scraping public data from a website probably isn’t hacking, says court from The Verge accessed October 9 2019

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