Trends in Law, as Seen By Google’s Ngram

Google this week announced a new visualization tool called the Google Books Ngram Viewer. Using data drawn from the millions of books it has digitized covering the years 1500 to 2008, it lets you see and compare the frequency of words and phrases as they were used in books over a span of years or centuries. As Google puts it: “The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years.”

That got me wondering about phrases drawn from the legal profession. I graphed certain phrases, grouped together for comparison. Results prior to 1900 were so minimal that I kept my searches to the years 1900-2007. The phrases I searched were:

  • bankruptcy lawyer, employment lawyer, intellectual property lawyer
  • law firm partner, law firm associate
  • intellectual property law, securities law, corporate finance
  • biglaw, megafirm, megalaw
  • solo practitioner, sole practitioner, solo lawyer
  • large law firm, global law firm
  • corporate counsel, inhouse counsel, general counsel
  • law firm marketing, lawyer advertising
  • discrimination law, civil rights law

It was interesting how many of these phrases showed little usage until 1980, when suddenly several of them start to trend upward dramatically. “Megafirm” starts a sharp rise in 1980 and peaks in 2000. “Biglaw,” a firm popular among bloggers, isn’t even a blip. “Solo practitioner” reaches its peak around 1974. “Global law firm” starts to register only around 2000, while “large law firm” had a major jump in the early 1960s.

The term “corporate counsel” has shown minor usage since around 1960, while the term “general counsel” has been popular throughout the time period, reaching its peak around 1951. The phrase “lawyer advertising” was barely seen before 1970 and reached its highest frequency of usage in 1990. “Discrimination law” and “civil rights law” followed pretty much the same upward trend, both starting to register around 1940 and reaching their peak around 1995.

See the results below. Click on any image to enlarge it. Each graph includes labels matching the phrases to the colored lines.

bankruptcy lawyer, employment lawyer, intellectual property lawyer

law firm partner, law firm associate

intellectual property law, securities law, corporate finance

biglaw, megafirm, megalaw

solo practitioner, sole practitioner, solo lawyer

large law firm, global law firm

corporate counsel, inhouse counsel, general counsel

law firm marketing, lawyer advertising

discrimination law, civil rights law

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2 Responses to “Trends in Law, as Seen By Google’s Ngram”

  1. Frank Rivera says:

    This is just a glimpse of what is to come. I for one think many law firms place too much trust in a corporation like Google.

    This information isn’t just coming from books but instead, ‘Documents!’.

    Let’s not forget that Google;s primary business is to collect information and share it. It is in their best interest to make your data public.

    This is the same technology I saw Google using on internal data sets when I was with Sun Microsystems. I regret that I may have had a hand in its infrastructure as an architect fro Sun Microsystems.

    Google indexes everything you put on their servers and their TOS says you own the data but no one reads the following paragraphs. Essentially Google maintains the right to use any information you place on their servers anyway they choose. Including making it public. If they are indexing all your documents and emails then these sort of tools are being used by Google today, but to what end? This information may not be presented to the public in a form you would expect but it is being made public in other forms such as this one.

    No one collects petabytes of information without an intention of using the data, especially a for profit corporation.

    I don’t think Google is evil but those that control information wield a very powerful weapon. We all know that power corrupts. Take care of what you put on Googles servers.

    Frank Rivera CEO
    HoudiniESQ

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