About Paul Lomio

Paul is library director and lecturer at law at Stanford Law School. He has a J.D. from Gonzaga Law School, an LL.M. from the University of Washington, and a M.L.I.S. from the Catholic University of America. He is the author (with Henrik Spang-Hanssen) of Legal Research Methods in the U.S. and Europe. He also likes to ride his bicycle.

WeCite Project’s win-win opportunities

Analyzing how a given opinion has been impacted by subsequent decisions is an essential part of legal research.   Consequently, the work of the Free Law movement cannot stop with making opinions freely available: a free and robust citator is also needed.

A gargantuan effort will be required to build (and continually update) such a citator. The newly launched WeCite Project, co-sponsored by the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics and the free legal research platform Casetext, aims to bring the win-win power of crowdsourcing to the task. Along with the traditional crowdsourcing strategy of enabling a community of like-minded people to easily contribute,  the WeCite Project is also giving law schools the unique opportunity to do their fair share in another win-win way:  students learn about citators and citation analysis; the database grows.  Already a number of advanced legal research classes have already participated and our class this spring will join the crowd.

The Columbia Society for Law, Science and Technology is hosting a WeCite Event at Columbia Law School on March 26, 2014 (see details and RSVP here: https://casetext.com/wecite/event).  Any and all who are passionate about legal research and/or equal access to the law are invited to attend.  Those who cannot make it to New York can also participate remotely.

Importantly, any and all citator entries created under the WeCite Project (“wecites”) are public domain under a Creative Commons SA license.  Casetext will also be creating an API to allow anyone to bulk download wecites.

The beauty of crowdsourcing is that small contributions from individuals can aggregate into something magnificent.  For those who are interesting in pitching in, instructions can be found here: https://casetext.com/wecite

Free Law Project Improves with API

Our good friend Pablo Arredondo shares this great free law development:

Those pursuing better legal technology will find new wind in their sails with the release of the first-ever application programming interface (“API”) for U.S. judicial opinions. The API is the latest in a string of great contributions from the Berkeley-centered Free Law Project (FLP), and will give developers and researchers unprecedented dexterity in accessing and analyzing FLP’s substantial (and growing) collection of judicial opinions.
Mike Lissner, co-founder of FLP and the driving force behind the new API, describes some potential uses for the API here: http://freelawproject.org/?p=342

The actual API can be accessed here: https://www.courtlistener.com/api/rest-info/
As with everything FLP does, this project is open-source and feedback from the community of users is encouraged and greatly appreciated.

Introducing “Citing Legally,” helping to improve legal citation

A byproduct of this year’s revision of Professor Peter Martin’s Introduction to Basic Legal Citation and the forthcoming revision of The Bluebook, is a new blog “Citing Legally” at:
http://citeblog.access-to-law.com/

Citing Legally just posted this item about a survey to improve the Bluebook:

Ideas on how to improve The Bluebook? Online survey

October 21st, 2013

In preparation for the commencement of work on the 20th edition of The Bluebook, due out in 2015, that manual’s proprietors have placed a survey online at: https://www.legalbluebook.com/survey.  Anyone with views on how that reference might be improved in scope, delivery, or content should register them … soon. Submissions must be received by Nov. 8.

 

“Weighing Paper against Pixel”

From the November issue of Scientific AmericanWhy the brain prefers paper, by Ferris Jabr

In many studies people understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read on screens.  Researchers think the physicality of paper explains this discrepancy.

How people find books

 

I can’t tell you how many times a faculty member has sent me a reference from Amazon asking if we could get a certain book.  Often we already have the book in our collection, but the go-to source for many for finding books is Amazon, not the OPAC.  This new NBER Working Paper talks about the online tools consumers use to find books of interest.

Searching for Physical and Digital Media: The Evolution of
Platforms for Finding Books
by Michael R. Baye, Babur De los Santos, Matthijs R. Wildenbeest – #19519 (IO PR)

Abstract:

This paper provides a data-driven overview of the different online
platforms that consumers use to search for books and booksellers, and
documents how the use of these platforms is shifting over time. Our
data suggest that, as a result of digitization, consumers are
increasingly conducting searches for books at retailer sites and
closed systems (e.g., the Kindle and Nook) rather than at general
search engines (e.g., Google or Bing). We also highlight a number of
challenges that will make it difficult for researchers to accurately
measure internet-based search behavior in the years to come.
Finally, we highlight a number of open agenda items related to the
pricing of books and other digital media, as well as consumer search
behavior.

Free Law Project from CourtListener

We here at Stanford are big fans of CourtListener.  We use it to, among other things, identify recent cases that cite our faculty; those alerts come to us faster than those from some other services.

Stanford Law School alumnus, Legal Research Plus guest blogger and legal informatics visionary Pablo Arredondo has some news to share about CourtListener’s Free Law Project:

Brian W. Carver and Michael Lissner, creators of the CourtListener platform
and associated technology, are pleased to announce that after four years
developing free and open legal technologies, they are launching a
non-profit umbrella organization for their work: Free Law Project. Free Law
Project will serve to bring legal materials and research to the public for
free, formalizing the work that they have been doing, and providing a
long-term home for similar projects.

“Since the birth of this country, legal materials have been in the hands of
the few, denying legal justice to the many,” said Michael Lissner,
co-founder of the new non-profit. “It is appalling that the public does not
have free online access to the entirety of United States case law,” said
Brian Carver, UC Berkeley professor and Free Law Project co-founder. “We
are working to change this situation. We also provide a platform for
developing technologies that can make legal research easier for both
professionals and the general public.”

The official goals for the non-profit are:

*   To provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal
materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific
purposes;
*   To develop, implement, and provide public access to technologies useful
for legal research;
*   To create an open ecosystem for legal research and materials; and
*   To support academic research on related technologies, corpora, and
legal systems.

The CourtListener platform was started in 2009 as part of a masters project
at UC Berkeley, and has matured over the years to be a powerful legal
research platform. It has nearly a million legal opinions dating from 1754,
and has more each day as it gets them directly from court websites.
CourtListener currently serves thousands of people with free legal opinions
each week, and has had a doubling of traffic just since July 2013.
CourtListener sends out hundreds of alerts to its users each week,
informing them of new legal cases in which they have expressed an interest.
All of CourtListener’s code is open source and all of its content is
available for free bulk download. Numerous startups and researchers have
used both the code and the bulk data as a basis for their work.

More information is available in [the Free Law Project about page][1],
where you can find a list of current activities and non-profit documents.
The co-founders expect to pursue grant funding from foundations, but also
hope that those who support the goals of improving public access to the law
will [donate directly][2] so that the non-profit can put more developers to
work on these efforts.

In the future, freelawproject.org will be the official place to find
updates about Free Law Project and its related technologies.

“This is a huge day for the open legal movement, and we hope you’ll help
share the news by telling your friends and colleagues,” said Lissner.

**Brian W. Carver** is Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley School of
Information where he does research on and teaches about intellectual
property law and cyberlaw. He is also passionate about the public’s access
to the law. In 2009 and 2010 he advised an I School Masters student,
Michael Lissner, on the creation of CourtListener.com, an alert service
covering the U.S. federal appellate courts. After Michael’s graduation he
and Brian continued working on the site and have grown the database of
opinions to include over 900,000 documents.

**Michael Lissner** is the co-founder and lead developer of CourtListener,
a project that works to make the law more accessible to all. He graduated
from UC Berkeley’s School of Information. Michael is passionate about
bringing greater access to our primary legal materials, about how
technology can replace old legal models, and about open source,
community-driven approaches to legal research.

For more information, contact info@freelawproject.org

[1]: http://freelawproject.org/about/
[2]: https://courtlistener.com/donate/?referrer=flp-blog

Defining definitions

 

Here’s a new article by a law librarian about statutory definitions:

Price, Jeanne Frazier. “Wagging, not barking: statutory definitions,” 60 Cleveland State Law Review 999-1055 (2013).

And here’s its abstract:

 

 

Legislative text is distinguished by the frequency with which it specifies the meaning of the words it employs. More than 25,000 terms are defined in the United States Code alone. In few other contexts is there a perceived need to so carefully and repeatedly clarify meaning. This Article examines the roles played by definitions in a reader’s understanding and application of a legislative text; it demonstrates that the effects of defining are not as straightforward as we might assume. The discussion is framed by the distinction between legislation as a communication vehicle and as an instrument of governance. In some cases, definition serves predominantly a communicative purpose; it clarifies the speaker’s intent. But at other times the legislative definition empowers; it serves a performative function, investing groups of individuals or instances with rights or obligations. The Article suggests that a better understanding of the effect of definition on a reader’s interaction with a text, coupled with an appreciation of the different roles served by definition, will enable legislators to draft more useful definitions and enable interpreters to better apply those definitions.

 

The law, annotated

Introducing Casetext

casetext
Casetext is a free, searchable legal database that you dear reader can annotate! The beta version just opened to the public, and the site is building a community of annotators so that lawyers reading a case see related legal documents, articles, and commentary alongside the text.
Casetext is committed to making the opinions and annotations freely available. Instead of charging for access, the site will support itself by offering additional tools that enhance search and save time.
The database currently contains the bulk of federal cases (all Supreme Court, circuit courts from 1 F.2d, and district courts from 1980); as well as Delaware cases in the Atlantic Reporter from 30 A.
Co-founders Jacob Heller and Joanna Huey met when he was president of the Stanford Law Review and she was president of the Harvard Law Review. After clerking together and working at firms, they decided to build Casetext because it’s what they wished they had for their own research. They’d love to hear your feedback (and, of course, to read your annotations).

Searching for law that is “well-settled.”

It is certainly well-settled that Stanford Law School graduates are doing some very exciting things in the world of legal informatics.  I’ve posted before about Ravel law, founded by our alumni Dan Lewis and Nik Reed.  Alumnus Jacob Heller is also doing some very cool things in this space (stay tuned!) and alumnus Pablo Arredondo just created the new tool described below:

The wellsettled.com search engine enables users to search two unique databases:
Unequivocal Articulations of Legal Principles 
Occasionally a court will issue a written opinion containing an unequivocal articulation
of a legal principle. If the common law were a biological genome, these articulations would
be the “genes”. Luckily, these common law genes are frequently introduced by specific phrases, the most prelevant of which are “It is well settled that…”  and “It is well established that…”
To continue with the genomics anology, these introductory phrases can be likened to the “start codons” that indicate when a DNA sequence is switching from non-coding to coding. Leveraging these common law “start codons”, the wellsettled.com engine allows users to run queries against, and only against, concise articulations of law.
Court-Generated Summaries Of Earlier Judicial Opinions 
Leading legal search companies employ armies of attorneys to read judicial opinions and generate written summaries of them. At the same time however, judges (and their clerks) are also reading and summarizing prior decisions.  Specifically, when citing to an earlier decision, judges will often include a parenthetical that concisely conveys the legal substance of the decision. Judge-generated case summaries are often of a better quality than those generated by the private sector.
To date, the judge-generated case summaries tucked away in parentheticals have been grossly underutilized. The wellsettled.com engine seeks to change that by enabling users to run queries against, and only against, these summaries. Once again common law “codons” are leveraged; in this case prime examples include  “(holding that…)”  and  (“finding that…)” .  The result is that attorneys can review case summaries that are at once concise, trustworthy, and free.
The wellsettled.com search engine is very much a work in progress, currently residing somewhere between a prototype and a beta. Phrases can be searched in quotations (e.g. “felony murder”). Rudimentary boolean searching is enabled using mySQL syntax. Full-text opinions are not available. Many full-text opinions are however freely available from a number of sources including scholar.google.com and ravellaw.com.  Any and all feedback is welcome and appreciated, and can be directed to info@wellsettled.com.
The wellsettled.com engine was conceived and built by Pablo Arredondo.  A graduate of Stanford Law School, Pablo has practiced law in California and New York and recently completed a fellowship at Stanford’s Center For Legal Informatics where his work focused on contextual (matter-specific) legal search/rankings. In college, Pablo worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Human Genome Center where, during the heyday of the Human Genome Project, he was tasked with critical duties such as replacing the liquid nitrogen tank and injecting mice with pregnant mare serum. He hasn’t shut up about genomes since.

Ineffective Assistance of Library: The Failings and the Future of Prison Law Libraries

By Jonathan Abel, in Volume 101, Issue #5 of The Georgetown Law Journal (June 2013).  Here’s the abstract:

The prison law library has long been a potent symbol of the inmate’s right to access the courts. But it has never been a practical tool for providing that access. This contradiction lies at the core of the law library doctrine. It takes little imagination to see the problem with requiring untrained inmates, many of them illiterate or non-English speakers, to navigate the world of postconviction relief and civil rights litigation with nothing more than the help of a few library books. Yet law libraries are ubiquitous in American prisons. Now, in light of a technological revolution in legal research methods, prison libraries face an existential crisis that requires prison officials, courts, scholars, and inmates to reconsider the very purpose of the prison law library. This Article takes up that challenge by providing a novel historical account of the prison law library’s development.

This Article uses original historical research to show how prison law libraries arose, not as a means of accessing the courts, but rather as a means of controlling inmates’ behavior. By placing the origin of the prison law library in the first decades of the twentieth century–half a century earlier than typical accounts–this Article shows how the law library evolved to take on a new purpose in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Supreme Court and other courts first began to fashion a law library doctrine. The central argument of this Article is simple: The courts’ attempts to graft an access-to-courts rationale onto a law library system that had developed for other purposes led to a law library doctrine riddled with contradictions and doomed to failure. This historical account helps explain a prison law library system that never really made sense in terms of providing access to the courts. As prisons look to update their law libraries in light of sweeping technological changes, it is all the more important to understand the history of the law library system so that authorities can plan for its future.