Greg Leibon, Michael Livermore, Reed Harder, Allen Riddell, Dan Rockmore
Legal reasoning requires identification through search of authoritative legal texts (such as statutes, constitutions, or prior judicial opinions) that apply to a given legal question. In this paper, using a network representation of US Supreme Court opinions that integrates citation connectivity and topical similarity, we model the activity of law search as an organizing principle in the evolution of the corpus of legal texts. The network model and (parametrized) probabilistic search behavior generates a Pagerank-style ranking of the texts that in turn gives rise to a natural geometry of the opinion corpus. This enables us to then measure the ways in which new judicial opinions affect the topography of the network and its future evolution. While we deploy it here on the US Supreme Court opinion corpus, there are obvious extensions to large evolving bodies of legal text (or text corpora in general). The model is a proxy for the way in which new opinions influence the search behavior of litigants and judges and thus affect the law. This type of “legal search effect” is a new legal consequence of research practice that has not been previously identified in jurisprudential thought and has never before been subject to empirical analysis. We quantitatively estimate the extent of this effect and find significant relationships between search-related network structures and propensity of future citation. This finding indicates that “search influence” is a pathway through which judicial opinions can affect future legal development.