University of Pittsburgh

Improving Sentence Retrieval from Case Law for Statutory Interpretation

graduate student
Friday, August 30, 2019 - 12:30pm - 1:00pm

Abstract: Statutory texts employ vague terms that are difficult to understand. Here we study and evaluate methods for retrieving useful sentences from court opinions that elaborate on the meaning of a vague statutory term. Retrieving sentences instead of whole cases may spare a user the need to review long lists of cases in search of useful explanations. We assembled a data set of case law sentences that were responses to statutory queries and labeled them in terms of their usefulness for interpretation. We have run a series of experiments on this data set, which we have made public, assessing different techniques to solve the task. These include techniques that measure the similarity between the sentence and the query, utilize the context of a sentence, expand queries, or assess the novelty of a sentence with respect to a statutory provision from which the interpreted term comes. Based on a detailed error analysis we propose a specialized sentence retrieval framework that mitigates the challenges of retrieving case law sentences for interpreting statutory terms. The results of evaluating different implementations of the framework are promising.

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