Indexing

The Encyclopedia tries to add value to its information. A key component in this is providing assistance in effective andefficient retrieval.

Very few of a lawyer’s information needs will be met by reference to just one source. A typical query may start with reference to a textbook, followed by a check on recent caselaw or legislation, and finally with recourse to up-to-date commentary in a journal. The implementation of a controlled vocabulary across all of these sources allows a single query to be formulated, thereby reducing the work that has to be done by the researcher. As well as involving a number of sources, information requirements have to be met across a range of media. Although the advantages to be gained from this approach become more obscure when viewing individual sources in isolation, particularly traditional paper sources, the greatest benefits arise when the entire collection has been indexed consistently. What is created is, in effect, an encyclopaedia of English law. All of the content indexed in accordance with the controlled vocabulary becomes accessible by means of each and every concept described in the vocabulary.

One difficulty that has been associated with the use of controlled vocabularies in indexing has been the desirability of using the language used by the author of any item. This has been identified as being particularly important for legal materials: “Law and legal principles can be expressed only in words . . .Therefore vocabulary is of special importance to lawyers . . . It follows that the subject index to a law book must contain the lawyers’ own terms, as they use them, with the minimum of constructive intervention from the indexer.” (Moys, 1992)
The ideal situation is achieved where the language of the author and the language of a controlled vocabulary coincide. With a properly selected controlled vocabulary that will be the case more often than not. Where differences arise, it is as a result of there being more than one way of expressing a particular concept, thus returning us to one of the principal benefits of a controlled vocabulary, the control of synonyms. A controlled vocabulary can define terms precisely, and its proper application by skilled and knowledgeable indexers will minimize the danger of the misinterpretation of any concept expressed.

Thesaurus and taxonomy

The development of the Legal Thesaurus of the Encylopedia of Law began to meet the needs of the Encyclopedia indexing. It contain the thesaural relationships of equivalenceand association alongside the polyhierarchical taxonomic structure.

The Encyclopedia provides legal information emanating from a number of different jurisdictions, each of which has a legal system composed of different institutions and often built upon different legal concepts. A multilingual solution it is difficult. Although many of the differences between legal terms used in the different jurisdictions are purely linguistic, many are substantive, and very fine differences in meaning can makea crucial difference in the legal arena. It has therefore been necessary to enter separate terms for other jurisdictions; this can lead to some difficulties with the structure of the Thesaurus.

Another fundamental characteristic of the Legal Thesaurus is its size. The Legal Thesaurus had to cover the subject matter of the whole of the Encyclopedia of Law’s information collection, and at a level of detail sufficient to index all of that content, as detailed as the index for the most specialist work in any particular subject area.There are many ideas about the optimum depth and breadt hof a thesaurus, but with more than 100 top terms the Legal Thesaurus far exceeds most of them. The tendency of the legal sphere to divide itself into specialisms has brought this about. However it also serves to mitigate the impact of the exceptional size, since most users will only work within a discrete number of areas within the Legal Thesaurus. The top terms chosen reflect the common divisions of the profession into practice areas. Many of these are obvious, and it is difficult to imagine any structured description of law that does not have headings such as Business law or Criminal Law. Other decisions are less easy to make, and their selection was informed by customer research as well as the experience gained in over of the years of development of the Legal Thesaurus. One of the most notable changes to the structure was the adoption of a polyhierarchical as opposed to a monohierarchical system. Since the same legal concepts such as ‘Publicinterest’ and ‘Reasonableness’ are pertinent to many practice areas, it was necessary to have terms occurring more than once in the taxonomy structure.

Another consequence of the diverse relevance of many terms in different areas of law was the adoption of a partially faceted scheme. Such facets as ‘Persons’ or ‘Place’ are not unusual, and occur frequently where a faceted approach has been adopted. Some of the more particularly legal facets such as ‘Courts’ and ‘Liabilities’ are a feature of the particular subject matter involved. The repetition of these facets under many top terms allows for a higher level of standardization, and again serves to mitigate the impact of the division of the Legal Thesaurus into so many top terms. With the structure below them becoming more predictable by the useof facets, a more consistent approach may be adopted by the user. As mentioned above, equivalence and association are contained within the Taxonomy. The importance of equivalence relationships cannot be overstated. The inclusion of synonyms in controlled vocabularies performs the same function as the cross-reference in a print index, providingthe user with multiple entry points and avoiding needless repetition. A useful side-effect of the diversity of the Legal Thesaurus’s applications is that each different discipline informs the creation of new equivalence relationships within the Taxonomy, and they in turn inform each new application. Associative relationships are particularly useful in the context of the semi-faceted approach that has been adopted. The level of detail and resulting number of terms have meant that any assistance to the user of the Legal Thesaurus becomes more valuable, and navigating between facets by means of association provides such a tool, whether between persons and activities (‘Childminders’ and ‘Childcare’) orentities and their attributes (‘Aircraft’ and ‘Airworthiness’). An aid to users is the inclusion of detailed Scope notes providing definitions and usage instructions. Particularly helpful in a legal context is the inclusion of references to statutes. The term ‘Aggravated vehicle taking’ refers the user, in the United Kingdom, to the Theft Act 1968 s.12A, a useful shorthand means of giving an exact definition. Further details on the structure of the Legal Taxonomyare available at

Application to data

The first decision to make is the level at which the information at hand is to be indexed. With such different types of document this decision needs to be taken a number of times,considering the structure and contents of all the material.The level chosen is the level at which an item has an individual relevance. It must have the potential to stand alone as the answer to a query. So an Act of Parliament is broken down to its sections, an entry to its paragraphs, whereas a court judgment is considered as a whole. To each individual document a keyword string is attached. This will contain as many terms as are necessary to fully describe the contents of the document. As well as keywords, one or more subject headings are assigned to documents. The subject headings correspond to the top terms of the Thesaurus, and allow much greater precision in describing concepts by the qualification of keywords. One potential problem arising from a polyhierarchical system is that, although a term may mean the same thing with each occurrence, it may imply a different context depending on where it occurs. For example a ‘Stay of proceedings’ is the samething whenever it occurs, but knowing whether the proceedings that have been stayed are civil or criminal is clearly going to be useful. This can be reflected by the use of the subject heading ‘Civil procedure’ or ‘Criminal procedure’. Where the document is part of a print product, the keyword string may be utilized in the creation of a back of book index (see the example below). Each keyword in the string can form a main entry, with each of the other keywords providing the next-level terms as appropriate. Where necessary, a further text entry can provide extra detail. The general rule is that each main entry must be a keyword from the Legal Thesaurus and, where possible, thes ub-entries will also be taxonomic keywords.
Example
Keyword string: Duty of care; Solicitors
Index entries:duty of care solicitors scope of duty solicitors duty of cares cope of duty
Exceptions of course have to be made. The needs of a particular text cannot be ignored, and aspects of a book are often reflected in index terms that are not, strictly speaking, dealing with the concepts expressed. A law book will have references to the titles of legislation and other such documents. Also the meaning of a particular word or phrase maybe discussed which falls outside the scope of the Taxonomy. As long as the user is made aware that these exceptions exist, any impact to the wider scheme is minimized. In electronic products the key to the utilization of any indexing is the user interface. It is vital that any interface developed for use alongside a taxonomy makes full use of the features provided by the taxonomy. Allowing searches to define keywords or subject headings and automatically accounting for synonyms and narrower terms are clearly key features of any interface. But searching is not the only application. More of the benefits of a taxonomy may be demonstrated through the use of browsing. The mechanisms by which a user may navigate around a hierarchical structureare increasingly familiar to everyone using online services, and it is the responsibility of the taxonomy itself to ensure that the routes taken through a subject are intuitive. Againit is worth considering the target audience for a taxonomy implementation. The natural route through a subject will not be the same for the specialist and the lay person. Consequently the Legal Thesaurus is designed to be navigable by persons with legal knowledge, but more than that, it is the perspective a legally trained person has of the law that must inform the shape of the taxonomy.The beauty of electronic applications is the flexibility that is available. For example, the extent to which users should be made aware of associative relationships and definitions within the Taxonomy may well vary between applications and between users. The searching, or browsing, experience can be tailored to particular data sets and particular levels of user knowledge and experience.
Further advantages
There are advantages to be gained beyond those of adding value to the customer offering. Keywords need only be created once for each item, although some work will always be required to tailor keywords to the needs of a particularproduct index. Much of the effort, and therefore cost, issaved. Further, it is not only customer access to Sweet &Maxwell data that is improved. The use of a comprehensivetaxonomy allows product developers to have access to thecompany’s internal repository of documents, providingopportunities to build new products, collecting materialtogether on the basis of what it is about. Furthermore, anadditional tool is made available for updating existing products: consistent indexing eases the addition of new primary references to existing secondary sources. As mentioned above, an increasingly important information source in the legal world is the internal documentationof law firms. The Legal Taxonomy provides a standard by which both internal and external information can be described and accessed in the same way.

…..
The advantages are clear for legalknowledge managers of having part of the structure of aknowledge management system looked after for them, andhaving a large quantity of relevant data already indexedaccordingly. Makinga taxonomy available as a stand-alone piece of software or asindividual files that can be integrated into a knowledgemanagement system allows a large investment of time andeffort to be avoided.
Conclusion
In a world of ever more diverse sources of information, anytechnique that makes retrieval of information easier has tobe welcomed. A controlled vocabulary provides one suchtechnique, which can be applied to a wide range of sourcesacross a range of media. Ensuring that a controlled vocabu-lary contains the level of detail needed means that a lot of work is required to establish the vocabulary in the first place,but this effort is outweighed by the benefits in terms of consistency and accessibility across the whole range of datato which it is applied.
References
Aitchison, J., Gilchrist, A. and Bawden, D. (2000)
Thesaurus construction and use: a practical manual
, 4th edn. London: Aslib.Miskin, C. (2002) Taxonomies.
Legal Information Management
2
(1), 16.Moys, E. M. (1992) Legal vocabulary and the indexer.
The Indexer
18
(2), 75.Moys, E. M. (1993)
Indexing legal materials: occasional papers onindexing no. 2
. London: Society of Indexers.Smith, N. (1987) Indexing legal journals.
The Law Librarian
20
(1), 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *