Editorial teams are an important part of the legal publishing industry, and Justis’ unique editorial process is one of the most important part of transforming a case transcript into a data rich resource in JustisOne.
Our Head of Editorial Content, Rory Campbell, explains the benefits of the approach we take at Justis.
What do editorial teams traditionally do?
“The traditional model of editorial work would be differentiated in three ways:
Firstly, there’s the process of marking up primary material in the form of legislation – annotating the effects of legislation on earlier legislation. If you view an Act that has been marked up, you could see if a change has happened to it, or if a change was due to come into effect.
The second is the marking up of primary material in the form of case law – what impact does a new piece of case law have on our customers understanding of existing, settled case law, or how does it develop or alter the interpretation or understanding of a legislative provision.
The third element would involve work on secondary or support materials, typically practitioners texts or guides, such as encyclopedias on either points or areas of law. They’re effectively summaries of the effects of the primary content, and an editor would be involved in writing and updating the content for them.”
What makes the editorial approach we take at Justis unique?
“The traditional model has been, and to a certain extent still is, built around hard copy content. Hard copy, by very nature of print, is potentially out-of-date as soon as it’s available, so updating the content for the next hard copy is an ongoing concern, which starts to become cumbersome.
However, waiting for those hard copy updates is becoming a thing of the past, as the growth of online platforms and online database tools means you can deliver a change immediately. For example, today I’ve been looking at new Supreme Court Irish cases and the changes that they make, and guidance that they make, are available immediately for our customers. We annotate and record the effect of a case, and these are live on JustisOne in about 5 minutes. This process of using technology to deliver immediate changes through online services such as JustisOne gives our customers much greater confidence in the state of a particular area or point of law, not loaded with caveats of “it was the state of law 6 months ago when this edition was published, I now need to go around and see if I can find a supplement or an annotation service that will provide an update”. We’re much more focused on the immediate change, and delivering content online.
The difference between Justis and other online services is that we have deliberately tried to avoid a lot of brute force automation. We try to ensure that there’s more manual review rather than simply automating the process of finding citations and documents and displaying them as links. As all of our editors are legally trained, we are more than familiar with our customers research needs. We know the likely scenarios in which they would be conducting research, why they would need to do that research, what the likely outcome of that research would be, whether it is for litigation, or just for advice to a client.
We effectively combine a lot of elements of the traditional model but they are much more focused on using today’s, or what we consider tomorrow’s, technology, including Justis’ taxonomy and the categorisation that enables. This technology is built around customers immediate needs; customers can find the cases relevant to their research, determine if there have been changes to it, and that they can make their conclusions of their research on that basis, without having to go elsewhere.
I think we have more direct customer interaction, both in terms of support and helpdesk and just general interaction with customers, than a lot of traditional editorial teams would have. They’re normally two or three layers removed, we tend to be much closer both to our customers, and also our suppliers in terms of working with the courts and the other bodies which supply us with content.”
Why do we take a manual approach to editing rather than relying on automation?
“Generally, our approach is not that automation doesn’t work, it does. But a lot of the time the source content that we look at is flawed in the sense that the content, be it a reference for an act or a citation for a case, is incomplete or inaccurate. If you simply automate the process, find citations in a document and display them, you can’t be 100% certain they are actually the documents that the judge was meaning to refer to, and so you have to have a level of manual interaction to verify that.
For example, if a judgment talks about Jones v Smith 2011 and offers a citation, but actually in the citation that we hold it’s actually DPP v Jones – that should ring alarm bells, and automation isn’t contextually aware; it can’t make that kind of qualitative judgment, it can’t make that assessment, where manual editorial processes can. If you don’t have that level of overview or review there’s no guarantee the citations that are being picked up is in fact the one that the judges are talking about.
The discretion that editors have is in some ways subjective, but there should be an objective overview to that, so if I give 5 editors the same thing to read, all 5 would be in sync. The terminology they use might slightly change, but the basic concepts of positive/negative/neutral should be consistent.”
How time intensive is the manual approach to editorial content? In terms of an average day, how many cases might the editorial team handle?
“It very much depends on the jurisdiction, and also the level of court. For example, if you’ve got a UK Supreme Court case handed down today, there’s probably two aspects to that: there’s the generation of the metadata in terms of the cases and legislation cited, and the categorisation of the case. In terms of mark-up of metadata of a case, how long is a piece of string?
The average case will probably be between 5 and 10 pages, it might cite hundreds of cases, it might cite no cases, it might cite no legislation. It’s quite common to have a document that cites nothing, discusses nothing. It’s just on the facts that the judge is basing his or her discussion of the case, there aren’t any provisions, or it’s so obvious what the key provisions are that the judge effectively doesn’t go into them because the Acts and sections are obvious and counsel should be familiar with them. On the other extreme, you can have documents that are a hundred pages long, and cite a lot of different content.
It also depends on the quality of the written judgment – a judgment which flows well, is laid out clearly, and includes proper references and footnotes takes less time to go through. An inconsistently presented case which might not cite that many things can see a lot more backwards and forwards to try to make sure what they’re referring to as the X case on page 2 is the same as the X case on page 10.”
How do jurisdictional differences change the editorial process?
“There’s a basic similarity in terms of the common law system means the judgments generally laid out in a similar way. Something we’ve found, particularly with Caribbean jurisdictions, is that references to legislation don’t always make it particularly clear which piece of legislation they mean; they’ll reference the Criminal Justice Act, but which one? This is something which requires closer manual attention.
Jurisdictional differences aren’t the only consideration. Within the UK, it depends on the court level. Supreme Court judges have huge experience and support resources and they hear 60 or 70 cases a year, so it’s easier for them to spend the right amount of time on a case to make sure that transcribing the case is done properly. High Courts and County Courts are expected to hear and give judgments very quickly, and with less time and resources to properly annotate their judgments. So, it does vary between jurisdiction, but it also varies on the level of court as well.”
Is there any other work undertaken by the Justis editorial team?
“Apart from adding the metadata, there’s one thing that we spend a lot of time on is the de-duplication of content. It’s a background process which customers wouldn’t necessarily be aware of. If we add a UK judgment today, and 6 months later it’s reported in a case series, often with a sanitised or cleaned up title, and although best practice would say that should have a neutral citation which should tie the judgment through to the reported version, that doesn’t always happen or the two often don’t sync. A lot of background work is spent on making sure that we match the parallel citations, so that a reported version of a case that we have a judgment for is recognised, and making sure that when a customer searches for a case in our database they get all the different versions.
JustisOne uniquely allows our customers to link directly to other full text providers through the Sourcelink feature, while other online services tend to be much more closed ecosystems. We are aware that our customers have different needs, and so we provide you with the metadata relating to a case, which allows you to see other citations of a case as if it is published by different reports, and link out to these reported judgments on other providers. As many legal professionals will subscribe to more than one supplier of case law, only Justis provides you with the ability to use different subscriptions together. We don’t restrict our content in the same way that other providers do, and that’s a huge thing, which requires the de-duplication effort. This is a process that goes unseen by our customers, but it’s crucially important in what we do, and important for them.”
Rory Campbell completed his LPC at BPP Law School in 2005, following his LLB at King’s College London in 1999. After working as a legal assistant, Rory joined Justis as an editor in 2001, and in his 16 years with the company has worked to become the Head of Editorial Content. His experiences of legal practice and legal publishing provide a unique understanding of the role that editors play in the legal publishing industry, and this shapes the approach of the Justis editorial team take.