Many, many years ago, when I was practicing environmental law with Fulbright & Jaworski in Austin, I was unfortunate enough to have a number of clients whose needs required that I master the EPA’s utterly convoluted definition of solid and hazardous waste. One summer I assigned a summer associate the task of flowcharting the definition. Over the course of the summer we debugged draft after draft until, finally, we had a handwritten flowchart that flawlessly worked any scenario through the definition step-by-step. It was ten legal-sized, taped-together pages long. It worked, but it wasn’t very practical.
If only we had had Neota Logic back then! Last week, in my Law 2050 class, Kevin Mulcahy, Director of Education for Neota, demoed their product over the course of two classes and a 3-hour evening workshop. Prior to the session I had assigned the class the exercise of flowcharting the copyright law of academic fair use. Each student prepared a flowchart and explained its logic, then six groups collaborated on final work products. I sent the group flowcharts to Kevin so he could use them to explain the Neota platform in a context familiar to the students.
Neota is a software program that allows the user to translate legal (or other) content into a user-friendly interactive application environment, much like Turbo Tax does for tax preparation. Neota allows the content expert to build the app with no coding expertise, with end products that are quite sophisticated in terms of what can be embedded in the app and how smoothly the app walks the user through the compliance logic. Example apps Kevin offered covered topics as varied as songwriter rights to Dodd-Frank compliance.
The first class period Kevin introduced Neota and then walked through each of the group flowcharts to analyze how each one broke down the fair use compliance problem. The core theme was how important it is to develop the output scenarios first. In the fair use exercise, there are several yes/no questions specific to educational uses, and then a multi-factored balancing test applies in the event none of those binary questions leads to a fair use outcome. Like any balancing test, this one yields a range of scenarios from very likely fair use to very likely not fair use. We spent a good deal of time thinking about how to design an app component to capture the balancing test.
In the evening workshop a group of 20 students acted as content experts to guide Kevin through the process of building the fair use app, much in the way a legal expert might work worth a Neota software expert. The most striking learning experience from this session, besides the deep look under Neota’s hood, was how the process of building the app actually sharpened our fair use compliance logic. We tested various approaches for capturing the balancing test and conveying output scenarios with substantive explanations for the user.
The next day the entire class regrouped to go over the workshop product, allowing those who could not make the workshop due to conflicting classes the chance to get a good feel for both the flexibility and precision the Neota software offers. Thinking back to my perfectly accurate but impractical ten-page flowchart of the EPA’s waste definition, I could envision how that and many other tasks that required developing a compliance logic could have been leveraged into apps I could have shared with other attorneys in my firm as well as clients.
My Law 2050 students clearly got a lot out of the immersion in using Neota to attack a compliance logic problem. I can’t thank Kevin and Neota enough for the time he invested in preparing for and delivering what was an excellent hands-on and instructive workshop. By the way, the EPA now has an online decision tool for navigating through the waste definition. I think they might want to get in touch with Neota!