Pioneers in Computerized Legal Research: The Story of the Pittsburgh System

Tina Batra Hershey, Donald Burke


The potential effects of law are far-reaching and research is ongoing regarding the intersection of law and technology.  Given the widespread availability of online legal documents today, the laws of various jurisdictions can be reviewed and researched in their full text form.  However, in the not-so-distant past, this task was overwhelmingly more difficult. Many jurisdictions, unable to keep pace with the increased volume of statutes, regulations, and judicial decisions, compiled indexes of legal information rather than catalogs of full documents.  These indexes made comparisons between jurisdictions difficult and left researchers unsure of whether they had captured all relevant information.  However, in the middle of the 20th century, researchers began to tap into the potential of computers in relation to information retrieval.  Much of the early pioneering work in the legal field was conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, who developed the “Pittsburgh System” that was a precursor to the computerized legal research tools that are ubiquitous today. 

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