guiding principles

november 2021

Below are some principles we are seeking to apply. We offer this list in a spirit of humility: we're trying to provide ourselves with some guidelines and we'd really welcome suggestions for improvement!

  1. Keep it simple. We think a lot of value can be obtained from a simple approach. It's also easier to adopt something simple. We see over-complication as a key risk to manage. Some further thoughts are here.
  2. Make it extensible. This follows from point 1. We're not trying to do it all. That would be foolish - details are better handled by people closer to specialist needs e.g. in national legal systems or procedural or sectoral specialsms. Our aim is to keep our work fairly high level and extensible, so that people can build on it themselves or by using others' work if they decide they need further detail. Where relevant, we're also open to facilitating specialist groups to do within noslegal, using the open source licensing machinery and other resources we are establishing.
  3. Ensure maintainability. We plan to ensure there is likely to be sufficient interest and community to maintain elements of our work over time before publishing it. We're satisfied of that for the work we'll be publishing in Feb 2022, and will continue to test this for proposed extensions.
  4. Be technically realistic. We are exploring what we can do to support advanced approaches (e.g. ontologies) while paying attention to making our work accessible to a wide range of people and systems.
  5. Make it usable. Taxonomies, ontologies and other technical artifacts are of little value unless used. We see the provisions of readable guides, design patterns and other supporting materials as just as important as the content and technical formats
  6. Test for relevance, get it adopted. Our aim is to achieve early adoption of a 'minimum valuable product' and assessing appetite for more before building more. If adoption is slower than expected, we plan to figure out why and adjust appropriately. We're not planning to do irrelevant things.
  7. Stay practical. We frame our work around practical needs rather than legal doctrines. This will involve saying "no" to some use cases if we think they'll be distracting.
  8. Open source. We will make our work available on an open source basis (not on a paid basis, and not just on a free-to-use-privately basis). Here's why.
  9. Go wide, not niche. We aim to make our work relevant across a wide range of legal needs in different countries and contexts, ensuring it isn't framed in terms of particular legal systems or other niches. This is related to points 1 and 2 above.
  10. Inclusive, cross-functional and healthy. This includes things like being friendly, welcoming and non-hierarchical, and not tolerating bad behaviour. It also involves seeking and valuing input from a wide range of perspectives, be they human, organisation-type, role-type, legal system-type, thinking style or professional specialism. And ensuring that no particular perspective is given too much or too little weight (even unintentionally e.g. through the make-up of working groups). At this stage, we're weighted towards large US-UK law firm and tech companies which brings certain perspectives but lacks others. Over time, making progress on this will be important for the long-term success of what we're doing.