Our good friend Pablo Arredondo shares this great free law development:
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
* 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
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],
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] 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
I start my day reading newspapers, and I especially enjoy the obituaries. Today’s New York Times includes an obituary for Jerry Finkelstein, publisher of the New York Law Journal, and the obit includes this observation:
In 1963, Mr. Finkelstein bought The Law Journal, the official paper of the city’s legal profession, for $1 million. Its circulation was small, and it was an ocean of tiny print: legal notices, case calendars, texts of decisions. But he turned it into a leading journal, and he wielded enormous power by deciding which cases to publish, in effect determining what the bar read — a leverage not lost on judges, lawyers and politicians.
We haven’t asked our students to buy a textbook in advanced legal research for a long time. The existing books are just too darn expensive. But a new book crossed my desk today that looks particularly useful for teaching legal research; it is: The Law of Superheroes (catalog record copied below).
This book starts with three pages explaining “Legal Sources and Citations” that explain legal citation about as well as anything I’ve seen. It also points the reader, presumably the lay reader, to sources of free law: Google Scholar for legal opinions; Cornell’s LII for the United States Code. Peter Martin is cited on page xiii, so this tells me the authors know their research!
Throughout the book are wonderful footnotes explaining, in the clearest language possible, different aspects of legal research. For example, footnote #4 on p. 113:
. . . Restatements of law are scholarly works that attempt to set forth the majority position on particular areas of law or recommended changes to the majority position. They mostly cover subjects that are still primarily common law rather than those based on legislation. The Restatements are not law themselves, but courts often find them persuasive, and many sections of various Restatements have been adopted as law by state courts.
The section on immigration (is Superman a citizen?) offers a great explanation of private laws:
Private Acts of Congress
There’s another way that someone can become a citizen without going through the immigration process: a “private act” of Congress, i.e., a law targeting a specific person and declaring him or her to be a citizen.[fn 9] Although unusual today, private acts have a long history in the United States.[fn10] . . . As a matter of fact, in at least one story, Superman is granted citizenship by every country in the world, presumably by their respective versions of a private act of Congress. . . .
9. . . . These bills are not very common, nor are they usually passed, but it happens.
10. In fact, for decades after the founding of the country, private acts by state legislatures were the only way for a legitimate 9i.e., non-annullable) marriage to be dissolved. Similarly, prior to the passage of general incorporation statutes, which create the procedures by which corporations may be chartered with state-level secretaries of state, creating a corporate entity required an act of the state legislature.
The sections on international and interplanetary law are really fun, and explain the very basics of “law” itself:
The important thing to remember about international law . . . is that international law is a matter of custom and practice as much as it is anything else. This is true of domestic law as well, and is really the reason the common law exists: a “law” is, essentially, a custom or tradition that is enforced by a government. In the case of common law that tradition is built up by the decisions of the courts. . . .
I may have more to add later, as I’m taking this book home with me for the Thanksgiving break.
Here’s its catalog record:
The law of superheroes / James E. Daily and Ryan M. Davidson.
At the Library:
Crown (Law) > Basement > PN56 .L33 D35 2012
Véron & Associés, a French patent litigation firm, maintains a database of French patent court opinions translated into English. The judgments are from Parisian district courts, court of appeals, and the Cour de Cassation. Years of coverage are 2001 through 2012. The quality of the translations is excellent, preserving the substance of the legal holdings without sacrificing readability. They also provide copies of the original French language opinions.
Hat tip to Jean Gasnault
On December 20, 2011, the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China released its first batch of guiding cases (指导性案例). This happened slightly more than a year after the Court issued the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court Concerning Work on Guiding Cases (最高人民法院关于案例指导工作的规定) in November 2010.
The first batch of guiding cases consists of two civil cases and two criminal cases. The China Guiding Cases Project (CGCP), an initiative of Stanford Law School founded by Dr. Mei Gechlik in early 2011 and advised by leading experts including justices from the U.S. Supreme Court and China’s Supreme People’s Court, is pleased to release its translation of 王志才故意杀人案 (WANG Zhicai, an intentional homicide case) (Guiding Case No. 4) (attached).
About the CGCP
The CGCP aims to advance knowledge and understanding of Chinese law and to enable judges and legal experts both inside and outside of China to contribute to the evolution of Chinese case law through ongoing dialogue on the guiding cases. The CGCP intends to make these cases quickly and easily accessible to English-speaking audiences outside China on its searchable website http://cgc.law.stanford.edu. Visitors to the website will be able to post their thoughts about the cases and commentaries in Chinese and English, while “Question and Answer” sessions will permit readers and commentators to have more in-depth dialogues, again in Chinese and English.
To mark this historical moment in the development of the Chinese legal system, the CGCP will take the following steps this month:
Launch the CGCP website (http://cgc.law.stanford.edu) on Monday, January 9, 2012. Translations of the other three guiding cases will be available then. In addition, Judge JIANG (Michael) Heping, Chief Judge of the First Civil Division of the Dongguan Municipality No. 2 People’s Court in Guangdong Province, has contributed to the CGCP a commentary on Guiding Case No. 2. Judge JIANG’s court has been identified as a Court for National ADR Initiatives by the Supreme People’s Court. The Chinese and English versions of Judge JIANG’s commentary will also be posted on the CGCP website.
Hold a public event on Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 12:45 – 2 p.m., at Stanford Law School. Dean Larry Kramer will commemorate the official launch of the CGCP and the public release of our official products.
To keep abreast of CGCP announcements and updates, please subscribe to the China Guiding Cases Project mailing list by visiting https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/chinaguidingcasesproject. Just enter your email address in the space provided and then click “Subscribe”.
The CGCP Team
Stanford Law School
The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) of China has released its first four guiding cases : two contract law and two criminal law cases.
Shanghai Zhongyuan Property Consultants Ltd. v. De-Hua Tao
This is a contract law opinion.
Wu Mei v. West Side Paper Co., Ltd. Sichuan Meishan
Also a contract law case.
Panyu Mei, Ning Bribery Case
Wang Intentional Murder Case
The SPC statement explaining the concept of guiding cases and links to the four cases in Chinese is available at :
The court announcement and additional information in Chinese can be found at:
Stay tuned to Legal Research Plus for news about English translations and commentary on the initial batch of SPC Guiding Cases.
In 1875, a jury committed Mary Todd Lincoln to an insane asylum. This week, the Chicago Tribune reported that two Illinois State Supreme Court justices discovered her trial papers still on file with the Cook County Clerk! The Clerk’s Office will be donating them to the Lincoln museum, but we hope the story does not end there. Like many others, we’ve previously posted about the cultural heritage reflected in state court files. Some of the stories told in these documents are historically significant, like Mary Todd Lincoln’s commitment, or John Wesley Hardin’s murder trial (see this Texas Task Force report). Many stories, however, are just minor threads in life’s tapestry: divorces, probates, business disputes. Whether the story is big or small, the court records that tell it may be irreplaceable.
Each state’s preservation rules differ. Some place the retention determination in the hands of state libraries or archives, some issue mandatory retention schedules based on the nature of the action, and some afford the clerk of court discretion to dispose of files after prescribed time periods. Even if a clerk of court wanted to save everything, storage expenses and space constraints make this impossible. The costs of digitizing every paper record are prohibitive. As cultural institutions may not be interested in less noteworthy files, many are noticed for destruction. Provided that a state’s rules allow it, however, law libraries may be uniquely positioned to rescue these files — preserving not just the documents, but also state history. And if you spend some time digging through them all, you never know just what you might find…
From time to time I will get a call or e-mail from a proud parent whose son or daughter has been admitted to Stanford Law School. The parent wants my advice on a book for their accomplished child to read upon the beginning of their new-found career. A wonderful book has just come along which fits the bill perfectly: Judge Ruggero Aldisert’s A Judge’s Advice: 50 Years on the Bench.
This slender volume packs a lot of punch. In less than 250 pages the judge offers answers to questions that have occupied his thoughts for decades: : “What is the bedrock of our common law system? What are trial and appellate judges really looking for? What is the logical configuration that is absolutely necessary in any legal argument? What practical challenges do judges face when deciding a case? What is the difference between the philosophy of law and a philosophy of law? What is the difference between a judge making a decision and a judge justifying it, and why does that difference matter to me? Precedent in the law: When do you kiss it and when do you kill it?”
The judge organizes his thoughts among the following five themes:
- Our Common Law Tradition: Still Alive and Kicking
- Logic and Law
- Avoiding Assembly Line Justice?
- The “Write Stuff”
- How Judges Decide Cases
And within these themes are found the following chapters:
The house of the law — The role of the courts in contemporary society — Precedent : what it is and what it isn’t, when do we kiss it and when do we kill it? — Elements of legal thinking — Logic for law students : how to think like a lawyer — Formal and informal fallacies — State courts and federalism — Life in the raw in appellate courts — “The seniors” suggest a solution — Brief writing — Opinion writers and law review writers: a community and continuity of approach — Reading and evaluating an appellate opinion — Philosophy, jurisprudence and jurisprudential temperament of federal judges — Making the decision — Justifying the decision.
While I know that all law students would benefit greatly from reading this book, when I first saw it our international students immediately came to mind as no other single volume that I am aware of so neatly and clearly explains the American legal system. This book explains stare decisis better than anything else available.
Judge Aldisert writes about his particular passion — the law — with an enthusiasm that is almost exhausting. Through this book the law student can get a glimpse of just how enormously satisfying the next 60 or 70 years of his or her life can be.
As the judge states in his Introduction: “. . . These pages flesh out the instruments and implements of lawyers with a far-ranging ‘view from above’ with one objective in mind: to enrich the skills of these men and women so that each may bear — to borrow from Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler — the noble title of ‘compleat lawyer.’
This book really should be required reading for all law students, lawyers and others too. Judge Aldisert is one of my heroes, along with others who inspire me such as Roger Ebert, Vin Scully, Tony Bennett and Keiko Fukuda (Google her) — people who, while they may have stopped buying green bananas, they have not stopped working and never will. These are people who make no distinction between work and play and who will be carried off the job feet-first. They know the secret. People who I want to be like when I grow up.
Full disclosure: I was first charmed by Judge Aldisert when I met him during my daughter’s clerkship for him.