CAREER: Large-Scale Exploration and Interpretation of Consumer-Oriented Legal Documents


Sponsoring Agency
National Science Foundation


This project will examine the full spectrum of consumer-oriented legal documents (COLDs), with the goal of bridging the understanding gap between consumers and these documents. To function in our information society, people must read and accept financial agreements, health care agreements, rental agreements, service contracts, liability waivers, terms of service agreements, privacy policies, and other varieties of COLDs to receive essential goods and services. In spite of being infrequently read, these documents specify requirements (e.g., expectations to keep an account open), penalties (e.g., charges if rent is late), boundaries of acceptable use (e.g., consequences of abusive behavior), options for recourse if something goes wrong (e.g., arbitration), privacy practices (e.g., how personal information is collected or shared), intellectual property stipulations (e.g., ownership of content posted by the user), and many other important topics. The lab will study COLDs’ contents at a previously untenable scale and build language models that support making these documents salient and actionable for consumers. The results of this research will ameliorate long-standing inequalities in our information society, where individuals who lack the time and skills to understand COLDs are at a disadvantage when their details are brought to bear.