Python for Lawyers

So you've heard of Python. You're on the right track! Now, see how this programming language can help your legal work. Learn how to automate tasks, extract data from PDFs and websites, and make your workflows more efficient.

Lawyers may find several Python libraries and frameworks to be useful in their work. For example, you can use Python to perform various tasks, such as text extraction from PDFs, web scraping, and crawling websites. This article explores how to use specific Python libraries to accomplish these tasks efficiently, with a focus on practical applications for lawyers, legal professionals, law students, and law firms.

What is Python?

Python is a general purpose open source programming language. It's quite fun once you get the hang of it, and can be used for legal research, natural language processing, machine learning, case management, and automating other boring stuff.

Python is at the core of many legal technology applications.

In this article, we'll talk a bit about each of these use cases. I plan to publish more articles going into greater detail for each one.

Key Python Concepts for Lawyers

Let's begin by defining key terms for python programming language. At the very least, you'll be able to utilize these terms with GPT or another LLM to help create basic programs customized to the legal profession.


A variable stores data values. Variables allow data to be easily manipulated and accessed within a program. Lawyers can store case numbers, names, or other data because they enable easy manipulation and retrieval of information.

Explanation: This line creates a variable named case_number and assigns it the value 12345. Lawyers can use variables to store and manage data like case numbers.

case_number = 12345

Data types classify data items. They define the kind of value a variable can hold, such as integers, floats, strings, or booleans. Understanding data types helps with handling different types of legal data because each type has specific properties and methods.

Explanation: This snippet shows three different data types. Strings (text), integers (numbers), and booleans (True/False) help lawyers manage various types of legal data.

case_title = "Smith v. Johnson"  # String
case_number = 12345           # Integer
is_pro_bono = True              # Boolean


A list is an ordered collection of items. Lists can store multiple values in a single variable, allowing for easy iteration and manipulation. Lawyers can manage lists of cases or clients because they allow organized and efficient handling of multiple items.

Explanation: This creates a list of cases. Lists allow lawyers to store multiple items in a single variable, making it easier to manage a collection of cases.

cases = ["Case A", "Case B", "Case C"]


A dictionary stores data in key-value pairs. It allows for quick retrieval of values based on their keys. Lawyers can store case details in dictionaries because they provide a structured way to manage and access detailed information.

Explanation: This dictionary stores case details in key-value pairs. Lawyers can quickly retrieve specific information using the keys.

case_info = {"case_number": 12345, "case_title": "Doe vs. Smith"}


A tuple is an ordered, immutable collection of items. Once created, the values in a tuple cannot be changed, ensuring data integrity. Lawyers can use tuples for fixed collections of data like dates because they prevent accidental modification of important information.

Explanation: This tuple contains dates. Tuples are immutable, ensuring that the data cannot be accidentally changed, which is useful for fixed collections of data.

dates = ("2023-01-15", "2023-02-15")


A set is an unordered collection of unique items. Sets are useful when you want a collection of items that do not contain duplicate values. Lawyers can use sets to manage unique identifiers like case IDs because they ensure no duplicates exist.

Explanation: This set contains unique case identifiers. Sets automatically handle duplicates, ensuring each case ID is unique.

unique_cases = {"Case A", "Case B", "Case C"}


A function is a block of code that performs a specific task. Functions allow code to be reusable and organized into logical blocks. Lawyers can automate repetitive tasks in their workflows because functions encapsulate code for reuse and clarity.

Explanation: This function takes a case dictionary and returns its title. Functions allow lawyers to encapsulate code for reuse and clarity.

def get_case_title(case):
    return case["case_title"]


Loops are used to repeat a block of code multiple times. They simplify code that needs to perform repetitive tasks. Lawyers can iterate over collections of data like case lists because loops automate the repetition of operations.

Explanation: This loop iterates over a list of cases and prints each one.

for case in cases:

Conditional Statements

Conditional statements execute code based on a condition. They allow decision-making in programs. Lawyers can handle different scenarios in their code because conditional statements execute specific actions based on given conditions.

Explanation: This conditional statement checks if case_number is 12345 and prints a message accordingly.

if case_number == 12345:
    print("Case found")
    print("Case not found")

Exception Handling

Exception handling manages errors and exceptions in a program. It allows programs to continue running even when errors occur. Lawyers can ensure their programs handle unexpected situations gracefully because exception handling provides robust error management.

Explanation: This code tries to open and read a file, handling the FileNotFoundError if the file doesn't exist.

    with open('file.txt') as f:
        content =
except FileNotFoundError:
    print("File not found")

Regular expressions are patterns used to match character combinations in strings. They enable powerful text searching and manipulation. Lawyers can search for specific patterns in legal texts because regular expressions provide advanced text matching capabilities.

Explanation: This code uses a regular expression to find the word "Case" in a string.

import re

pattern = re.compile(r'\bCase\b')
matches = pattern.findall("Case number is 12345")

Now that we've covered the basic terminology, let's put them into practice.

PDF documents are a common format for legal documents. Extracting text from these PDFs can be essential for data analysis, case review, and document management. Python provides powerful libraries such as PyPDF2 and pdfplumber to facilitate this process.

Extracting Text from Simple PDFs with PyPDF2

PyPDF2 is a library that works well with PDFs that have straightforward layouts. It allows you to read and extract text from each page of a PDF document.

Installing PyPDF2

First, you need to install the PyPDF2 library. You can do this using pip:

!pip install PyPDF2

Using PyPDF2 to Extract Text

Here is an example of how to use PyPDF2 to extract text from a PDF.

import PyPDF2

# Open the PDF file
with open('constitution.pdf', 'rb') as file:
    reader = PyPDF2.PdfReader(file)
    # Extract text from each page
    for page_num in range(len(reader.pages)):
        page = reader.pages[page_num]
        text = page.extract_text()
        print(f"Page {page_num + 1}:\n{text}\n")

This script opens the PDF file named 'constitution.pdf', reads its content, and prints the text from each page.

Extracting Text from Complex PDFs with pdfplumber

For PDFs with complex layouts, such as those containing multiple columns, tables, or images, pdfplumber is more effective. It can handle intricate PDF structures more gracefully.

Installing pdfplumber

Install pdfplumber using pip:

!pip install pdfplumber

Using pdfplumber to Extract Text

Here is an example of how to use pdfplumber to extract text from a PDF:

import pdfplumber

# Open the PDF file
with'constitution.pdf') as pdf:
    # Extract text from each page
    for page_num, page in enumerate(pdf.pages):
        text = page.extract_text()
        print(f"Page {page_num + 1}:\n{text}\n")

This script opens the PDF file, reads each page, and prints the extracted text.

Next, let's explore web scraping, a technique for gathering data from websites.

Web scraping is a valuable technique for collecting data from websites. Lawyers can use web scraping to gather information from legal databases, court websites, or any site with valuable data.

Scraping a Single Web Page with Requests and BeautifulSoup

The combination of Requests and BeautifulSoup allows you to scrape and parse web pages to extract specific data.

Installing Requests and BeautifulSoup

Install the required libraries using pip:

!pip install requests beautifulsoup4

Using Requests and BeautifulSoup to Scrape a Web Page

Here is an example of how to scrape a single web page:

import requests
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

# URL of the website to scrape
url = ''

# Send a GET request to the website
response = requests.get(url)

# Check if the request was successful
if response.status_code == 200:
    # Parse the HTML content of the page
    soup = BeautifulSoup(response.content, 'html.parser')

    # Extract all text from the webpage
    text = soup.get_text(separator='\n', strip=True)
    print(f"Failed to retrieve the webpage. Status code: {response.status_code}")

This script sends a request to the specified URL, checks if the request was successful, parses the HTML content, and extracts all text from the webpage.

To gather data from multiple pages, we can implement a web crawler.

Crawling a website involves navigating through its structure to collect data from several pages. This can be done by following links from one page to another.

Using Requests and BeautifulSoup to Crawl a Website

Here is an example of how to crawl a website with multiple pages:

import requests
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup
import time

# Base URL of the website to scrape
base_url = ''

# Starting URL (a category page with multiple links to articles)
start_url = ''

# List to keep track of visited URLs
visited_urls = set()

# Queue of URLs to visit
urls_to_visit = [start_url]

# Function to scrape a single page
def scrape_page(url):
    response = requests.get(url)
    if response.status_code == 200:
        soup = BeautifulSoup(response.content, 'html.parser')

        # Extract and print the title of the page
        title = soup.find('h1').get_text()
        print(f"Scraping {title} - {url}")

        # Extract all text from the page
        text = soup.get_text(separator='\n', strip=True)
        # Process the text as needed (e.g., save to a file or database)
        print(text[:500])  # Print the first 500 characters

        # Find all linked URLs on the page
        for link in soup.find_all('a', href=True):
            full_url = requests.compat.urljoin(base_url, link['href'])
            # Check if the URL is within the same domain and not already visited
            if full_url.startswith(base_url) and full_url not in visited_urls:

# Crawl the website
while urls_to_visit:
    current_url = urls_to_visit.pop(0)
    if current_url not in visited_urls:
        time.sleep(2)  # Sleep for 2 seconds between requests

This script starts from a category page on Wikipedia, extracts links to other pages, and scrapes each page iteratively. It maintains a list of visited URLs to avoid revisiting pages and includes a delay between requests to be polite to the server.

Another important task is working with JSON data, often used in APIs and web services.

Legal professionals often need to handle JSON data, especially when dealing with APIs and web services. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a common data interchange format that is easy to read and write.

Reading JSON Data

Here's how to read JSON data from a file:

import json

# Load JSON data from a file
with open('legal_data.json', 'r') as file:
    data = json.load(file)


Writing JSON Data

Here's how to write data to a JSON file:

import json

# Data to be written to JSON
data = {
    "case_number": 12345,
    "case_title": "John Doe vs. Jane Smith",
    "outcome": "Win"

# Write data to a JSON file
with open('output.json', 'w') as file:
    json.dump(data, file, indent=4)

Lawyers may need to extract specific information from HTML documents, such as case details from court websites. BeautifulSoup is a library that makes it easy to parse HTML and XML documents.

Extracting Specific Data

Here’s how to extract specific data from an HTML document:

from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

# Load HTML content
html_content = """
                <td>Case Number</td>
                <td>Case Title</td>
                <td>John Doe vs. Jane Smith</td>

# Parse the HTML content
soup = BeautifulSoup(html_content, 'html.parser')

# Extract data from the table
table = soup.find('table')
rows = table.find_all('tr')

for row in rows:
    cells = row.find_all('td')
    if len(cells) == 3:
        case_number = cells[0].text
        case_title = cells[1].text
        outcome = cells[2].text
        print(f"Case number: {case_number}, Case title: {case_title}, Outcome: {outcome}")

Automating Document Creation with Python

Creating legal documents can be automated using Python. The docx library allows you to create and modify Word documents.

Here’s how to create a simple legal document:

from docx import Document

# Create a new Document
doc = Document()

# Add a title
doc.add_heading('Legal Document', 0)

# Add a paragraph
doc.add_paragraph('This is a sample legal document.')

# Add a table
table = doc.add_table(rows=2, cols=3)
table.cell(0, 0).text = 'Case Number'
table.cell(0, 1).text = 'Case Title'
table.cell(0, 2).text = 'Outcome'
table.cell(1, 0).text = '12345'
table.cell(1, 1).text = 'John Doe vs. Jane Smith'
table.cell(1, 2).text = 'Win'

# Save the document'legal_document.docx')

Reading, Writing, and Saving to Files

Handling files is a fundamental task in any legal practice. Python provides built-in capabilities to read, write, and save files in various formats. This can be particularly useful for managing legal documents, case files, and data exports.

Reading Files

Python can read different types of files, such as text files, CSV files, and Excel files. Below are examples of how to read these file types.

Reading Text Files

# Open and read a text file
with open('legal_document.txt', 'r') as file:
    content =

Reading CSV Files

import pandas as pd

# Read a CSV file into a DataFrame
data = pd.read_csv('legal_data.csv')

Reading Excel Files

import pandas as pd

# Read an Excel file into a DataFrame
data = pd.read_excel('legal_data.xlsx')

Writing and Saving Files

Python can also write and save data to various file formats, making it easy to generate reports, export data, and create backups.

Writing to Text Files

# Open and write to a text file
with open('output.txt', 'w') as file:
    file.write("This is an output text file containing legal information.")

Writing to CSV Files

import pandas as pd

# Write a DataFrame to a CSV file
data = pd.DataFrame({'Case Number': [1, 2], 'Outcome': ['Win', 'Loss']})
data.to_csv('case_outcomes.csv', index=False)

Writing to Excel Files

import pandas as pd

# Write a DataFrame to an Excel file
data = pd.DataFrame({'Case Number': [1, 2], 'Outcome': ['Win', 'Loss']})
data.to_excel('case_outcomes.xlsx', index=False)

Python provides a range of powerful tools and libraries that are highly relevant for legal professionals. From extracting text from PDFs and web scraping to automating document creation and handling various file formats, Python can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of legal tasks. By mastering these basic Python skills, lawyers can streamline their workflow, save time, and improve the accuracy of their data management and analysis processes.

About the author
Von Wooding, Esq.

Von Wooding, Esq.

Lawyer and Founder

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