Zettelkasten Forum

Dealing with fields of knowledge/areas of practice sensitive to change (e.g. law)

Hello, fellow Zettlers!

Being fresh to both Zettelkasten method and this forum, I have to first and foremost ask for your forgiveness if this was already discussed or perhaps it is stupidly obvious, but I struggled to find any threads relating to the following conundrum: how to deal with fields of knowledge or areas of practice, which are subject to significant changes in relatively short time frames?

Example: I am a lawyer based in an EU member state, practicing in a global industry dealing with several fields of law (e.g. intellectual property or privacy law) which are subject to quite dynamic changes (due to legislative actions on EU and state level, ever growing case law, technological changes, etc.). Of course, some concepts fundamental to jurisprudence or terminology specific to a given field may stay relevant for some time. However, due to this high variability, when taking notes regarding more practical and recent issues I face the problem of dealing with "volatile" notes, which feel like they may unexpectedly, suddenly, in any moment become irrelevant, useless or even harmful (e.g. by severing an existing train of thought with a statement which is not true any more).

Maybe this is my lack of understanding, but I feel there is a meaningful difference between evolution of sciences (regardless of its pace), where old models or theories give way to new ones, which explain given real phenomena better, or where new evidence provide a fresh look on the reality;
and evolution of law, where due to constructed nature of legal systems and performative function of legal language, the legal "reality" may change in an instant, rendering prior statements describing this "reality" not so much obsolete or outdated as simply not true any more (or true exclusively within a bound time frame).

Are there any good practices or strategies helping to deal with such volatility of notes and tending the Zettelkasten without getting crazy?


  • Welcome aboard @adoomer_pl! First let me ask you, do you already have an existing approach to memorize, organise or otherwise manage information on this subject? Approaching this problem largely depends on scale and complexity.

    I am not familiar with the workflow of a lawyer, am I right to assume that these recent issues are essentially facts? They are then not part of your train of thoughts. For starters let me suggest the simplest approach first: Store all regulations in a reference management software, then build up your strategies in your personal notes, referring to the references. This'll build up a logical grouping of the regulations as well. Your notes are then refactored on demand by excluding deprecated regulations.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • edited October 2021

    Dang. Your post comes a bit early.

    My girl is a judge. So, my plan is to use her as patient zero for the area of law.

    My suspicion is that there are tools already available in the field of law itself. Those tools need to be the basis of the specific application of the Zettelkasten Method.

    I think the biggest challenge will be that you don't deal with knowledge like an empirical scientist does. Laws are something different and the legal reality is more similar to fictional reality. That is for example the reasons mathematicians have a hard time to learn from other sciences. They wrestle with very different beasts than all the other (apart from physics and informatics of course).

    Jurisprudence is also some kind of non-scientific endevour. It is strange mix between mathematics (using something similar to proof), philosophy (translating ethics/morality into law), theology (interpreting a pre-given text) and rhetorics (in practice).

    This reflects even in practice: Structural science happens on the chalk board, philosophical endevours are either precise and dead (analytic philosophy) or a alive and wonky (continental philosophy, and text interpreting fields without some orthodoxy (like theology) fail to even produce anything that could count as sane (even publishing a plagiate of Mein Kampf!).

    So, look what you inheritate. Optimism is warranted, perhaps possible, definitely recommended.

    (Went off the rails a bit)

    I am a Zettler

  • @adoomer_pl, you keep several versions of the law texts with a combination of law_code+date as a unique identifier. Kinda like programmers keep software forks and versions in Git.

    I believe it's useless to do it in software for ZK, because there're specialized programs/scripts that are able to concatenate and overwrite a patchwork of texts into one based on tags for rows or paragraphs (i.e. a software takes a change phrased as, say, "replace row 55 with the following: "from 5 to 20 years or capital punishment if convict denied climate change"", automatically overwrites the row 55 in a target text and creates a new version of the law).
    I believe (I'm not sure), that law communities in each country/region have their own preferred software to conduct this version control. EU bureaucrats should have at least fourteen standard apps. Try asking in your Uni.

    I think, ZK software may be used for conceptual notes (a definition of intellectual property is hardly subject to constant changes), but not for these permanently mutable ones.

  • I'm not sure about using a ZK to keep track of the evolution of interpretations of various laws by other people. But, as far as a system for developing and organizing your own interpretations, and especially if you intended to write about/through these interpretations, I think it'd be great.

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