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The graph path to learning the law

Graphic Law

Wouldn’t it great to have quick and useful representations of specific areas of the law – useful for both bar exam and reference purposes? In fact, a combination of the black letter law with the abstract simplicity of model-based design has already yielded diagrams that succinctly express legal concepts.

A first step in producing a graphical representation of the law involves the observation that the law always includes two complementary sides that are:  1, Qualitative, and, 2, Objective.

A graphical representation is shown here:

Graphic Law

The Qualitative part often based on a person’s intent, and may be subjective to that person.

The Objective part is usually composed of the observable acts that the person performs.

Let’s see how this framework applies to the tort of assault.  For a defendant to be found liable of assault, the defendant must intentionally have caused the reasonable apprehension, in the plaintiff, of an immediate harmful or offensive contact.  This textual, prose-based definition of assault can be pictorially represented as a circle containing the necessary elements of the tort in the defendant, connected with a circle containing the necessary elements of the tort in the plaintiff.  The diagram indicates that the defendant must have had: 1, the subjective Intent, to have committed 2, an Act, which caused the 1, subjective feeling of Apprehension in the plaintiff.   Notice that no entry is present in the bottom half of the plaintiff’s circle, indicating that no objective, physical action need befall or impact the plaintiff for tortious assault.

Also, note that succinctly notations can be added to the diagram to indicate the most common exceptions.  For example, for the defendant’s act, the [bracketed phrase] “[words alone]” indicates that words alone (with credibility, for example) cannot constitute the defendant’s physical act necessary for the tort of assault.  For the plaintiff, “[fear]” alone is often not sufficient to constitute the necessary qualitative aspect in the plaintiff, as the key legal word is “Apprehension,” which includes the grasping or realization that something bad or unpleasant will happen; in other words, a mental judgement involving fear must occur.

It is interesting that complementary halves do not just apply to the persons involved, but are also useful to characterize the legal concepts important to Causation!  On the objective side, causation-in-fact requires a physical act, that but for its occurrence, the tort could not be found.  On the qualitative side, proximate causation and substantial factor causation require a policy-based mental determination of whether the causation acquires a tortious character.

Tort Law

Battery in tort, according to a common textual definition, occurs when the defendant intentionally causes the touching of the plaintiff in a harmful or offensive way (without consent or privilege).  The diagram shows that defendant must have had the mental quality of Intent, and must have physically performed a touching. The diagram shows that both proximate causation and causation-in-fact must connect the defendant with the plaintiff.  The circle representing the plaintiff shows that the plaintiff must have been physically touched, and that the quality of this touching must have been offensive or harmful.

Additional notations in the diagram clarify the law.  For example, whether the touching of the plaintiff is offensive or harmful is judged not by the plaintiff, but rather from the third-person perspective of the “reasonable person.”  Further, the defendant’s intent if often qualified as having to have been trespassory, and, on the physical side, the intent often must be found to have been specifically “to touch.”

In all such diagrams, the drive is to parse the law to its bare and most stable essentials, and to represent these essentials in the clearest and most immediately comprehensible form.  This approach can be compared to the purely textual form of the law, in which legal prose can often give prolonged emphasis (10,000 words?) to one or several legal elements, but may fail to cover other necessary legal elements.  Prose often describes a legal element extensively and in various ways, but with slightly different descriptions in different legal cases.

A graphical representation of the law, in contrast, gives emphasis to the concise summary of the key words to which the black letter law can be condensed.  Key words are arranged within graphs in the manner that best provides essential information about legal concepts from all areas of the law.

Eric D. Smith Eric D. Smith is an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), having earned a B.S. in Physics in 1994, an M.S. in Systems Engineering in 2003, a Ph.D. in Systems and Industrial Engineering in 2006, and his J.D. in 2011. His book, "Bar Exam Review: Complementary Model-Based Systems Engineering of Law" is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.