Are we teaching what they will use?

Here at Stanford we haven’t shown our students Shepard’s in print in at least a decade.  And we have long since stopped using the digests in print as well.  So it was good to see these decisions validated in an article from the latest issue of Mississippi College Law Review, “Are We Teaching What They Will Use? Surveying Alumni to Assess Whether Skills Teaching Aligns with Alumni Practice,” by Sheila F. Miller.

The article wasn’t surprising to me, except the evident reluctance by law school alumni to use low-cost tools made available to them, namely Casemaker and Fastcase.

As can be seen from the frequency of usage chart, Lexis and Westlaw continue to be the most popular choices for online research. This finding is not significantly different depending on the size of firm, or year of graduation. This data is similar to a 2007 survey of Chicago lawyers in which 87% of attorneys surveyed who had practiced for zero to five years did “most” of their research in Lexis or Westlaw.   Casemaker provides free research for members of both the Ohio and Indiana Bar Associations. 43 Yet, only 16.9% of respondents used Casemaker often, very often, or always, and only 13.5% used it at least sometimes. This was a surprising number given the number of the respondents in small offices. In the follow-up interviews there was some criticism of Casemaker. For example, attorneys stated Casemaker is “too slow” and Casemaker is “not as easy as Westlaw, and I have an unlimited subscription for Ohio law.”

From Footnote #43:

Fastcase provides basically the same service for some other states, and we asked in the survey about Fastcase as well. The numbers were so low on Fastcase use that I did not include them in the tables of results.

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.

Filings in Legal Databases as Possible Source for Withdrawn State Court Opinions

We wanted to share as a tip the good fortune that might be had in a legal database’s collection of “Filings” when one is searching for withdrawn state court opinions.  In our scenario, citations in both WestlawNext (“WLN”) and LexisAdvance (“LA”) indicated that a particular state supreme court opinion had been withdrawn.  The WLN & LA results for the withdrawn opinion revealed only that the opinion had been substituted, but no longer contained the text for the withdrawn opinion.  However, with some deep digging into WLN’s “Filings” linked to the substituted opinion, we were able to find a PDF copy of the withdrawn opinion attached as an exhibit to a petition for review.  Often (and as was the case here) the HTML versions of these “Filings” lack referenced exhibits, but thank goodness for PDFs…particularly for these 25-year-old, pre-electronic-filing state court cases!

We hope you’re equally as lucky in gaining ready access to withdrawn state supreme court opinions!

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.

 

 

Meet Ravel and its approach to legal data visualization

Ravel, a search visualization, analytics, and annotation platform of United States Supreme Court and Circuit Court cases, now offers free and unlimited access directly through the website (in beta mode). The database, according to its founders, is generally as comprehensive and up-to-date as Google Scholar (meaning complete Supreme Court collection & Circuit Court coverage back to ~1950). They expect to add California, New York, and Delaware case law during the summer.

According to a story from the Daily Journal (“Entrepreneurs use design to launch legal startup,” December 31, 2012) founders Dan Lewis and Nik Reed

. . . set out to create a website that would visually map out case histories so legal professionals could more easily extract important information, such as how many times a case had been cited and what cases incorporated similar key words and phrases.

Co-founders Dan Lewis and Nik Reed are Stanford Law School alumni and their company is discussed in a recent article from the Stanford Lawyer, “The Cutting Edge:   
A Positive Disruption: The Transformation of Law Through Technology.”

 

 

 

 

Bloomberg Law is moving up

according to the Heard on the Street column in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Data Don’t Add Up for Thomson Reuters.”  From the story:

 a survey of legal-information customers by Claudio Aspesi of Sanford C. Bernstein in January found that 61% of respondents had a subscription to Bloomberg Law, up from 36% the year before. And some respondents said Bloomberg Law was getting closer to offering a breadth of data needed to completely replace a subscription to Westlaw or rival Reed Elsevier’s Lexis-Nexis.

LexisNexis and Westlaw charges – who’s paying?

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Law Firms Face Fresh Backlash Over Fees, caught my eye with this paragraph:

Johnson & Johnson has its own strategy for curbing charges for legal-research services. The health-care-products company maintains its own subscriptions to legal databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. It asks law firms to use its accounts when doing work for the company. A J&J spokesman says the practice is one of several used to reduce costs for outside legal work.

Is this a common practice?  Comments welcome.