Case law retrieval: accomplishments, problems, methods and evaluations in the past 30 years
Case law retrieval is the retrieval of judicial decisions relevant to a legal question. Case law retrieval comprises a significant amount of a lawyer’s time, and is important to ensure accurate advice and reduce workload. We survey methods for case law retrieval from the past 20 years and outline the problems and challenges facing evaluation of case law retrieval systems going forward. Limited published work has focused on improving ranking in ad-hoc case law retrieval. But there has been significant work in other areas of case law retrieval, and legal information retrieval generally. This is likely due to legal search providers being unwilling to give up the secrets of their success to competitors. Most evaluations of case law retrieval have been undertaken on small collections and focus on related tasks such as question-answer systems or recommender systems. Work has not focused on Cranfield style evaluations and baselines of methods for case law retrieval on publicly available test collections are not present. This presents a major challenge going forward. But there are reasons to question the extent of this problem, at least in a commercial setting. Without test collections to baseline approaches it cannot be known whether methods are promising. Works by commercial legal search providers show the effectiveness of natural language systems as well as query expansion for case law retrieval. Machine learning is being applied to more and more legal search tasks, and undoubtedly this represents the future of case law retrieval.