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.

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

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).

Publishing cases the New York Law Journal way

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.

The superhero approach to legal research

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

Bookmark: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/catalog/9734665

 

French Patent Cases in English

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.

French Patent Case Law in English:
http://www.frenchpatentcaselaw.info/
http://www.veron.com/en/FPCL.asp

Hat tip to Jean Gasnault

Stanford’s China Guiding Cases Project

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

Release of Initial Guiding Cases from the Supreme People’s Court of China

The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) of  China has released its first four guiding cases : two contract law and two criminal law cases.

上海中原物业顾问有限公司诉陶德华居间
Shanghai Zhongyuan Property Consultants Ltd. v. De-Hua Tao
This is a contract law opinion.

吴梅诉四川省眉山西城纸业有限公司买卖
Wu Mei v. West Side Paper Co., Ltd. Sichuan Meishan
Also a contract law case.

潘玉梅
Panyu Mei, Ning Bribery Case

王志才故意杀人案
Wang Intentional Murder Case

The SPC statement explaining the concept of guiding cases and links to the four cases in Chinese is available at :
http://www.chinacourt.org/html/article/201112/21/472164.shtml

The court announcement and additional information in Chinese can be found at:
http://www.court.gov.cn/xwzx/fyxw/zgrmfyxw/201112/t20111220_168538.htm
http://www.court.gov.cn/xwzx/jdjd/sdjd/201112/t20111220_168539.htm.

Stay tuned to Legal Research Plus for news about English translations and commentary on the initial batch of SPC Guiding Cases.

 

Finding History in a Drawer

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…