Management and Use of Metadata as a Legal Information Retrieval Tool: Nigerian Legal Practices

Management and Use of Metadata as a Legal Information Retrieval Tool: Nigerian Legal Practices

Ismail Olatunji Adeyemi
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8942-7.ch009
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


The practice of information retrieval (IR) is not new to the legal profession. IR tools have been present in legal research and practices since electronic information resources have gained inroads into the profession. The surge in the use of electronic means to transfer documents owing to the current reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the concerns as to legal metadata. Metadata is important information that describes information or data. It gives more details about a document. Despite the relevance of metadata as a tool in IR, there is little or no clear understanding as to its management and usage amongst Nigerian lawyers in the course of their legal research and academic writings. Moreover, there is silence on the ethical guidelines as to its usage. Therefore, this chapter addresses the concerns of Nigerian lawyers as to how to manage and use metadata as an IR tool and the ethical issues as it concerns the use of metadata among lawyers.
Chapter Preview


Legal practice is heavily concerned with the generation, management, organization, and retrieval of documents. This necessitates the proper identification of a file, record, or document to ensure efficient retrieval from large volumes. Metadata enhance information retrieval (IR) and the same applies to law firms. It is usually obtained from controlled vocabularies, which include ontologies, taxonomies, subject headings, and thesauri. Legal metadata are details that describe electronic legal records, files, or documents. They have usually veiled details of a file, record, or document. It could be information such as title description, tags, author, document size, date and/or time created/modified, track changes or comments made in earlier versions of a file, and so on. Meanwhile, they are essential and useful in searching and retrieving information. Kerr (2016) notes that these series of information are useful for sorting, locating, and tracing documents or records. As such, this aids in the organization and effective management of the corpus of documents/files owned or maintained by a law firm or other legal entity.

In simple words, metadata are embedded characteristics of a document. These metadata may include confidential and sensitive information, which has a transferability feature (Moinuddin, 2014). Hence, it is important to manage and use it such that there will be no inadvertent exposure of sensitive information/data that is not meant for public consumption. For instance, sending a mail to someone with an attached document with its accompanying metadata may pose some form of data or information leakage. Metadata scrubbing tools can be used to expose deleted comments and tracked changes on a document that may include important information such as strategy, client, or case, and so on (Moinuddin, 2014). The disclosure of such important information could have a damaging effect on the overall goal of a law firm or legal entity while proper management could enhance information retrieval.

Meanwhile, metadata had been proven to be an effective retrieval tool (Andric & Hall, 2005). Providing answers to questions presupposes embarking on legal information retrieval and information retrieval generally (Carvalho et al., 2017). This means that legal information retrieval is essential in providing relevant and appropriate legal information when there is information need. Consequently, the effective management and use of metadata in that regard will enhance legal IR. Moreover, the paradigm shift in the information era and Open Data movement has brought about an exponential increase in the amount of information; but accessibility and searchability are not growing at the same rate as the information volume (van Opijnen & Santos, 2017). Therefore, different legal information retrieval methods have been proposed and used. These methods have produced different results at varying levels of success. Metadata as a technique of information retrieval has been rarely explored, but it is growing and requires more scholarly attention.

Due to the peculiar time of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in digitized legal practices among Nigerian lawyers. This means that there is an increment in the transfer of legal documents electronically. This may mean that lawyers would inadvertently transfer sensitive data or information through metadata. Hence, this chapter explores the management and use of metadata in IR among legal professionals. The legal ethics that guide legal information retrieval was also explained. Conceptual clarification of legal information retrieval was provided with a detailed analysis of the different approaches that have been proposed and used in legal IR. The two major approaches of traditional and machine learning (natural language processing) legal information retrieval were discussed. Legal information retrieval techniques such as diversification, network analysis, text summarization, and so on were discussed. The different metadata management tools were discussed with the best practices. Moreover, the legal ethics that guide the best use of legal metadata were also analyzed to provide lawyers and non-lawyers the required understanding of using legal metadata.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Legal Information Retrieval: Legal information retrieval is a subset of information retrieval, which involves handling legal information like case law, legislations, legal opinion, and other legal academic works ( Maxwell & Schafer, 2008 ).

Metadata: Metadata can be described as the “information we create, store, and share to describe things, allows us to interact with these things to obtain the knowledge we need” ( Riley, 2017 , p. 1).

Traditional Information Retrieval Tools: Traditional information retrieval tools are conventional finding aids used in recovering information from a volume of information and examples include abstracts, bibliographies, and index (Anyim, 2020 AU40: The in-text citation "Anyim, 2020" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Natural Language Processing: Natural language processing (NLP) can simply be defined as the programmed running of natural language (e.g., text and speech) with the use of application software ( Brownlee, 2019 ).

Legal Practices: Legal practice can be described as the “application of legal principles and judgement with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a person that require the knowledge and skill of a persona trained in the law” ( American Bar Association, n.d. , p. 1).

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: