This year I concluded my real property boundary dispute law practice. The misery of neighbors engaging attorneys as mercenaries to fight at “Try-All” has been an absurdity throughout that full run. But for many people, land issues can trigger ‘animal spirits.’ And just as the case with big cats on the savannah, neither the victor nor the vanquished ends unmauled. What a waste!
Why did I stay in this environment for so long? Well, in addition to the fact that it is just plain hard to get out, I had a vision of how to make the law – at least in this arena – more instantly cognizable.
With this cognizance, comes both vastly increased case research and prediction. How so? Smartly, I finally sought out the expertise of Data Literacy’s Ben Jones. In less than two full day’s work, Ben was able to whip up my Tableau Software data visualization project.
This was a project which I had conceived almost 30 years ago in college; secured an independent study unit 15 years ago in law school to graduate a 1/2 semester early notwithstanding my then inchoate write-up; and published 6 years ago this month in the King County Bar Bulletin – not at all incidentally the same month that Tableau Software went public.
At present these data visualizations stand textually unaided at the website my friends at LexBlog built out for me. So, here my LinkedIn friends and associates, I would like to share a few thoughts about the theory I seek to apply and how this is represented in the two data visualizations themselves which are now live at JusticeSmiles.com.
Overall, the area of boundary dispute law has been an ideal sandbox to seek to bring the insights of data visualization to law because while it is an intensively fact driven case arena, there is a manageable universe of published cases which are decision not based on which rule rules, but on the facts.
The overarching idea is that each case fact serves as a data point. An aggregate of any case facts in turn rolls up to case holdings which in turn itself serve as a data point. So, by “scoring” each case as to the presence of their facts as well as how the cases were decisioned we can “view” aggregate and specific fact strengths.
At JusticeSmiles.com, the “Fact Aggregate” visualization shows how increasing the number of (unweighted) facts increases the likelihood of a case toggling from an invalid adverse possession claim – which is shown in red – to a valid claim — which is shown in light and dark green.
True, that’s a pretty obvious insight, but the potential comes into play when greater numbers of cases are pushed through the case scoring funnel and case weightings can be determined.
What do I mean by this business of case weightings? Think of it this way. If someone regularly mowed grass beyond an inaccurate title line, that fact probably doesn’t bear much weight. If they have a drive or roadway for which the seam is beyond the title line, the weight of that fact is greater. Tipping the scales most completely then is the weight which occurs when a house extends beyond the title line.
(As an aside, the Washington Supreme Court’s majority effectively decided in Proctor v. Huntington, that the build of a house beyond the property line was so strong that they would loosen up on the enforcement of the 10 year statute of limitations period required for all other claimants of adverse possession to validate their claims. Proctor v. Huntington is certainly not a case of “go big or go home” … it’s a case of “go big and go home!)
Returning to “Fact Aggregates,” we have things interactively organized based on courts, fence, land and water. The default courts showing has the two Washington Supreme Court cases at the top, followed by the division one, two, and three jurisdiction appellate cases.
Use Tableau’s interactivity at the top to switch to fences and you will see case divisions based on no fence, partial fence, full line fence, and a full enclosure fence. Notice that without the fence, there are still four cases in which only one or two facts were necessary to prove adverse possession and as such “go green.”
Why’s that? Those cases are all agricultural cases (whereas Bryant is actually the Timber lands case (we’ll get that swapped, if not already by the time your eyes hit this line in nested parens)). Moving on, the other three scored categories for the land cases are urban and suburban; exurban and vacation; and remote or mountainous. The reason this is important is because different land types require lesser and greater degrees of notice to satisfy adverse possession claimants’ element of “open and notorious.”
Why water cases? There are two reasons, for surveyors these are much more technically complex at the level of high math. For lawyers, while the parties are often more legally sophisticated, they also generally have more money to invest in their legal project and so these legal lines generally fully litigated by counsel of equivalent strength – i.e. let the blood sport begin!
Ok, switching to the “Fact Specific” visualizations, please find that all of those factors are interactive so that with a touch of the mouse, one can find all the cases in say Division I and determine their case disposition again by the color red or green and whether a back or forward slash.
What’s this business about the slashed lines? Well those cases (which were depicted with lighter colors) in the “Fact Aggregates” viz indicate that the matter had to go to trial to be decided. By contrast, full (robust) lines represent those cases which were so strong that they were decided at summary judgment – i.e. without the need of wasting anyone’s time with a trial because it’s so blatantly obvious who is going to prevail – or are now a new legal standard because the Washington Supreme Court decided them.
What’s next for legal visualizations at this small corner of the legal world. I anticipate after getting my new mediation blog – BoundaryBreakthroughs.com – and a relaunch of – BoundaryDisputeLaw.com – as my consulting and expert witness blog, we might get in place visualizations which indicate those other fact specifics which drive the cases like grass mowing, storage, gardens, landscaping, eaves overhang, etc.
Those facts demand volume to start depicting results and where will that volume come from. If lawyers were willing to make the commitment to populate that information, it would be spectacular. But while I think some really industrious crew may want to pick up the torch for their family law, wills contest, UCC Article 3 commercial paper, or any other high volume arena and corner the market, I’m not so sure we will have all that many people tripping head over heals to populate boundary dispute law.
But, heck beyond the other misfits that find themselves “Groundhog Day(ing)” their lives away in this practice area that I am sidestepping, there might actually be some passionate young associates cutting their civ pro teeth on these matters who are willing to cross the legal chasm from laggards to join those “reasonably” respectable classed society members comprising the late majority. In that way, these young associates may actually jump the que a little bit quicker out of Boundary Dispute “Fun Land” to attain their well deserved post of non-equity partnership.
More promisingly for those in data viz land, we may get a fair amount of that information from mediation clients, but in those cases much more creative remedies can be placed on the table. The upshot by unqualified definition is that the resulting lines in those matter aren’t fully litigated.
But there is an area where the information is decided and not currently captured which would really help. These are the decisions made on these cases at the trial court level. True, those cases don’t have precedential value. But, they certainly do have value which goes beyond the two disputants tying up the court’s most precious resource of time. Here’s how.
Say we have 20 cases throughout the state in which the facts are all limited to these two – (1) a fence line exists up to which (2) a lawn was regularly mowed. Well, if 17 cases spin out for the claimant of adverse possession and only 3 did not … what is likely to happen with your case with those same facts?
For those seeking to hue to the title line, it would be so much better to know that they will likely lose than to pay $25,000 and on the eve of a summary judgment motion when the judge will likely not only throw out their case, but very well might shift attorney’s fees and costs based on intransigence, it would be so much better to know how the law is going to spin out and just get the thing resolved … don’t ya think?
Note: Concurrent LinkedIn Publishing at my profile ) Republishing of 2014.05.04