Legal research platforms such as vLex Justis and JustisOne can enable students to learn the law in ways not possible when using other resources. One of our student representatives, Conor Courtney of University College London, discusses the how range of visual features found on JustisOne can enhance how students engage with the law.
Why the visual aspect of JustisOne makes it essential for law students
Working as a Student Representative for vLex Justis this year has provided a great opportunity to learn more about how the students and the faculty at UCL interact with JustisOne. One insight that I have taken away is just how varied everyone’s approach is to research.
This variance may be caused by several factors, such as age, primary language, or learning style. Many of the students that I have discussed JustisOne with have highlighted one key advantage that traditional legal education and research simply can’t match, and that is visual learning.
Treatment types – A Traffic Light System
Visual learning complements the traditional approach to the teaching of law which many universities follow. Studies have indicated that the use of visuals can help to improve learning opportunities in those suffering from conditions such as Dyslexia. Given the international nature of many courses, and the attempts by many universities to be inclusive for students who speak English as a second language, a visual depiction of information can be a crucial resource. One example of this is JustisOne’s traffic light system, used to display case treatments.
Using this system, any student, regardless of the extent of their legal education or their language skills, can clearly identify which cases have received a positive treatment (green) or those which have been treated negatively (red). It can be useful to consider this simple use of colour and to contrast this to how students studied law one generation ago. Then, students had to read through a case to determine its outcome, often traversing the ostentatious and winding language of the judiciary. Now, they can see a quick glimpse into the outcome of hundreds of cases in seconds directly within search results or see a more detailed treatment in a list of citing or cited cases.
Key Passages – Important Quotes Highlighted in Purple
Breaking down case treatments using this traffic light system is a useful visual aid. However, once you have used this to narrow down your search, you may need to evaluate a case in more depth. As such, the next step might be to read the case, which could mean as many as 200 pages of a judgement. The worst feeling that every law student can have is to read through an entire case, only to discover that it was not quite what they were looking for.
JustisOne’s Key Passages feature identifies the passages in a case which have been subsequently quoted elsewhere by highlighting them in purple, presenting them in a simple and easy to read form. This gives an indication of how the arguments in a case have been used by others, which can give an idea of how relevant that case might be to your research.
Using a purple highlight also touches into study technique. Research has indicated that students can more readily recall information which is written on a differently coloured background, compared to reading off an all-white page or screen.
Precedent Map – A visual timeline of a case
At this point in your research, you have found the case you need to win your argument, and you have made note of its more important quoted passages. The next obvious step is to take a wider look at the case and to try to track down every single case that it mentioned or relied on. More importantly, it is vital to discover every case that followed from its judgement, whether those later cases are endorsing its judgement, or overruling it. That last point is crucial, because you need to be aware of the most recent updates to case law and precedent, and the recent case that overruled the case you are researching might not yet have been mentioned in your textbooks. Traditionally, this could have been the most daunting aspect of research, because a case being overruled can undermine your entire argument. Without a clear timeline, you might also easily confuse which case overruled which, which case came first, and which is the most recent precedent. When considering all of these issues, especially on a case that has been relied on in many subsequent cases, it can often feel as though you are back at square one of your research, with dozens, or hundreds, of cases being mentioned.
This is where JustisOne can help to cut that workload. With the Precedent Map, the platform instantly creates a visualised timeline of a case. It makes a chronological depiction of the history of the case, using the same colour coding traffic light system discussed above to indicate how a case was treated. This can be applied to both the cases that later referenced this case (depicted outside the circle) or to cases that this case referenced (inside the circle). From a student’s perspective, this visual aid is much easier to digest, and can also help you explore the bigger picture, such as changing trends or a shift in attitudes towards this decision in a particular year.
A question I ask myself a lot is why I use JustisOne over other platforms. As a young professional, I am always trying to make sure that I am ahead of my game, and that I am not relying on outdated or inefficient tools. I have always liked the expression ‘work smarter, not harder’, but with the ease and the information that JustisOne provides through its visual tools such as the traffic light system, the Key Passages and the Precedent Map, I feel confident that I can work both smarter and harder.
About the Author
Conor Courtney is an LLM student specialising in International Commercial Law at UCL. He is currently working with the Chelsea Citizens Advice Bureau, and is representing UCL in Law Without Walls. He has recently been announced as a finalist for the Future Legal Mind Award 2020.