“Abandoning Law Reports for Official Digital Case Law”

“Abandoning Law Reports for Official Digital Case Law” 

Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-01
PETER W. MARTIN, Cornell Law School
In 2009, Arkansas ended publication of the Arkansas Reports. Since 1837 this series of volumes, joined in the late twentieth century by the Arkansas Appellate Reports covering the state’s intermediate court of appeals, had served as the official record of Arkansas’s case law. For all decisions handed down after February 12, 2009, not books but a database of electronic documents “created, authenticated, secured, and maintained by the Reporter of Decisions” constitute the “official report” of all Arkansas appellate decisions.
 
The article examines what distinguishes this Arkansas reform from the widespread cessation of public law report publication that occurred during the twentieth century and this new official database from the opinion archives now hosted at the judicial websites of most U.S. appellate courts. It proceeds to explore the distinctive alignment of factors that both led and enabled the Arkansas judiciary to take a step that courts in other jurisdictions, state and federal, have so far resisted. Speculation about which other states have the capability and incentive to follow Arkansas’s lead follows. That, in turn, requires a comparison of the full set of measures the Arkansas Supreme Court and its reporter of decisions have implemented with similar, less comprehensive, initiatives that have taken place elsewhere. Finally, the article considers important issues that have confronted those responsible for building Arkansas’s new system of case law dissemination and the degree to which principal components of this one state’s reform can provide a useful template for other jurisdictions.

Codifying Commonsense – the Law.gov Principles

I am very pleased and proud to add my signature to the LAW.GOV PRINCIPLES AND DECLARATION just posted at public.resource.org.  These principles coalesced during the fifteen Law.gov workshops and have received the unanimous consent of the co-covenors of these Law.gov workshops.  The principles include items that we librarians have discussed for years, even decades, like vendor-neutral citation.  And these principles are consistent with the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform States Laws (NCCUSL) draft of a new “Authentication and Preservation of State Electronic Legal Materials Act.”

Here are the principles:

The primary legal materials of the United States are the raw materials of our democracy. They should be made more broadly available to enable an informed citizenry.

Primary legal materials include documents of primary authority issued by governmental bodies, such as court opinions, statutes, and regulations. They also include the supporting documents and other media issued and maintained by those bodies, such as dockets, hearings, forms, oral arguments, and legislative histories. These materials can be found in every branch, at every level, national, tribal, state and local, and should be available to anyone with the will and the heart to obtain them.

The following principles should govern the dissemination of primary legal materials in the United States:

1. Direct fees for dissemination of primary legal materials should be avoided.

2. Limitations on access through terms of use or the assertion of copyright on primary legal materials is contrary to long-standing public policy and core democratic principles and is misleading to citizens.

3. Primary legal materials should be made available using bulk access mechanisms so they may be downloaded by anyone.

4. The primary legal materials, and the methods used to access them, should be authenticated so people can trust in the integrity of these materials.

5. Historical archives should be made available online and in a static location to the extent possible.

6. Vendor- and media-neutral citation mechanisms should be employed.

7. Technical standards for document structure, identifiers, and metadata should be developed and applied as extensively as possible.

8. Data should be distributed in a computer-processable, non-proprietary form in a manner that meets best current practices for the distribution of open government data. That data should represent the definitive documents, not just aggregate, preliminary, or modified forms.

9. An active program of research and development should be sponsored by governmental bodies that issue primary legal materials to develop new standards and solutions to challenges presented by the electronic distribution of definitive primary legal materials. Examples include the automated detection and redaction of private personal information in documents.

10. An active program of education, training, and documentation should be undertaken to help governmental bodies that issue primary legal materials learn and use best current practices.

Adherence to these principles by governmental bodies is not just good for democracy and justice, it will spur innovation and will encourage:

1. Broader use of legal materials in all parts of our education system, including our law schools.

2. Researchers in law schools, universities, and other research institutions to have broader access to bulk data, spurring important research on the functioning of our government.

3. Innovation in the legal information market by reducing barriers to entry.

4. Savings in the government’s own cost of providing these materials through adherence to best current practices.

5. Small businesses to understand rules and regulations they must deal with, reducing their costs and increasing their effectiveness.

6. Increased foreign trade by making it easier for our foreign partners to understand our laws.

7. Better access to justice by making legal information more broadly available to citizens.

How we distribute the raw materials of our democracy is a foundational issue in our system of government. Access to the raw materials of our democracy is a prerequisite for the rule of law and access to justice and makes real the principles of equal protection and due process.

and here are the signatories:

Jack M. Balkin
Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment
 Yale Law School 

Robert C. Berring, Jr.
Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law
Berkeley Law, University of California 

James Boyle
William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law
 Duke Law School 

Nicholas Bramble
Postdoctoral Associate in Law
 Yale Law School 

Tom R. Bruce
Director, Legal Information Institute
 Cornell Law School 

Richard A. Danner
Archibald C. & Frances Fulk Rufty Research Professor of Law
 Duke Law School 

Laura E. DeNardis
Executive Director, Information Society Project
 Yale Law School 

Edward W. Felten
Professor of Computer Science & Public Affairs
 Princeton University 

Jerry Goldman
Professor & Director, Oyez Project
 Northwestern University 

Joseph Lorenzo Hall
Visiting Postdoctoral Research Associate
UC Berkeley and Princeton University

  Jennifer Jenkins
Director, Center for the Study of the Public Domain
 Duke Law School 

Mitchell Kapor
Trustee
 Mitchell Kapor Foundation 

S. Blair Kauffman
Law Librarian and Professor of Law
 Yale Law School 

Mark A. Lemley
William H. Neukom Professor of Law
 Stanford Law School 

Lawrence Lessig
Professor of Law
 Harvard Law School 

Paul Lomio
Director, Robert Crown Law Library
 Stanford Law School 

Carl Malamud
President
 Public.Resource.Org 

Harry S. Martin III
Librarian & Professor of Law Emeritus
 Harvard Law School 

Peter W. Martin
Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law
 Cornell Law School 

John Mayer
Executive Director
Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction

  Judy Meadows
State Law Librarian
 State Law Library of Montana 

Paul Ohm
Associate Professor of Law and Telecommunications
University of Colorado Law School

  Tim O’Reilly
Chief Executive Officer
 O’Reilly Media 

John G. Palfrey
Henry N. Ess III Librarian & Professor of Law
 Harvard Law School 

Pamela Samuelson
Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law
Berkeley Law, University of California

  Stuart Sierra
Assistant Director, Program on Law and Technology
 Columbia Law School 

Stephen Schultze
Associate Director, Center for Information Technology Policy
 Princeton University 

Tim Stanley
Chief Executive Officer
 Justia 

Erika V. Wayne
Deputy Director, Robert Crown Law Library
 Stanford Law School 

Christopher Wong
Postgraduate Fellow
 New York Law School 

Tim Wu
Professor of Law
 Columbia Law School 

Harlan Yu
Doctoral Student in Computer Science
 Princeton University 

Jonathan Zittrain
Professor of Law & Computer Science
 Harvard Law School

Keeping up with the federal courts with CourtListener

The CourtListener.com

From the website:

The goal of the site is to create a free and competitive real time alert tool for the U.S. judicial system.

At present, the site has daily information regarding all precedential opinions issued by the 13 federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. Each day, we also have the non-precedential opinions from all of the Circuit courts except the D.C. Circuit. This means that by 5:10pm PST, the database will be updated with the opinions of the day, with custom alerts going out shortly thereafter.

This [open source] site was created by Michael Lissner as part of a masters thesis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information.

Introducing and Integrating Free Internet Legal Research into the Classroom

“Introducing and Integrating Free Internet Legal Research into the Classroom”

University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-05

JOOTAEK LEE, University of Miami – School of Law

The Global financial crisis has been discouraging legal researchers and practitioners from accessing high-cost databases.Many legal professionals and researchers are under financial pressures mainly because of the increased kinds and cost of subscription databases such as Westlaw and Lexis; thus, many legal professionals and researchers started considering free or less expensive internet resources for their research and classes. On the other hand, the number of these free or less expensive internet resources is increasing every year, and their coverage for legal sources is also expanded. Furthermore, just as the creation of a list of hypertext links to internet resources is not an easy task anymore because of the gigantic number of resources available, so simply providing created list to the law students will likewise irresponsibly confuse and intimidate them.

First, this article attempted to define internet legal research and to show the difficulty of distinguishing internet legal research from other online searches. Next, pros and cons of free or less expensive internet resources were discussed. Lastly, this article attempted to introduce and apply usability to various internet resources, criticizing Lexis and Westlaw by the principle of usability web-design.In conclusion, the necessity and prospective plan to establish evaluation standards for free internet resources including coverage, currency, accuracy, authority, appropriateness, and perspective will be explored

Source:  LSN: University of Miami School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper
Series Vol. 4 No. 2,  04/21/2010

Increasing Public Access to Government Data and Laws

Our friend and hero Carl Malamud is quoted in a “special report on managing information” from the February 25, 2010 issue of The Economist.

We’ll be making the article, “The open society: Governments are letting in the light,” required reading for our advanced legal research class.

The article discusses efforts and impediments, at both the local and national level, to making government information freely available.

Locally the article quotes San Francisco CIO Chris Vein on how “providing more information can make government more efficient.”  An example is a site called San Francisco Crimespotting “that layers historical crime figures on top of map information.”  The article notes that “[o]ther cities, including New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, are racing ahead as well.”

The article goes on to say that “[o]ther parts of the world are also beginning to move to greater openness.  A European Commission directive in 2005 called for making public-sector information more accessible.”

The article also discusses some of the impediments, such as Crown copyright where “in Britain and the Commonwealth countries most government data is state property” and there are use constraints, and PACER’s paywall.

The direction is for more openness and for “new forms of collaboration between the public and private sectors.”  And as the article concludes:

John Stuart Mill in 1861 called for “the widest participation in the details of judicial and administrative business . . . above all by the utmost possible publicity.” These days, that includes the greatest possible disclosure of data by electronic means.

Article: Enabling Free On-line Access to UK Law Reports: The Copyright Problem

Enabling Free On-line Access to UK Law Reports: The Copyright Problem

Philip Leith and Cynthia Fellows

18 International Journal of Law & Information Technology   72 (Spring 2010)

Abstract

The history of publishing legal decisions (law reporting) in the UK has been that of a privatised system since its inception, and that history has encompassed several hundred years. The privatised nature of this has meant that the product (the law report) has been, except in limited cases, viewed as the property of the publisher, rather than the property of the court or public. BAILII is an open access legal database that came about in part because of the copyrighted, privatised nature of this legal information.

In this paper, we will outline the problem of access to pre-2000 judgments in the UK and consider whether there are legal or other remedies which might enable BAILII to both develop a richer historic database and also to work in harmony, rather than in competition, with legal publishers. We argue that public access to case law is an essential requirement in a democratic common law system, and that BAILII should be seen as a potential step towards a National Law Library.

Law.gov video presentation now online!

In a January 2, 2010 op-ed in the New York Times entitled “A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers,” California Chief Justice Ronald George and New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. asked “how can we help those who are left to represent themselves in court?”

One thing we can do is make the law of the nation freely available.  Today much of the law remains behind a pay wall, often a very expensive pay wall.

There have been efforts to liberate the law — five guys at Cornell (Cornell’s Legal Information Institute), three guys at Google (Google Scholar legal opinions), and others.  The federal government has made strides too, eCFR remains a model of free, updated legal content, but as the first paragraph explains on the eCFR website disclaims, “It is not an official legal edition of the CFR.”  State government efforts are as varied as the 50 states and District of Columbia.

So what to do?

Law.gov is a campaign to identify what a national law registry should include, and to make recommendations to the policy makers on how to structure a repository of all primary legal materials (and maybe more) at all levels of government.

The Stanford Law Library hosted a Law.gov kickoff event on January 12, 2010 and the day’s events included a terrific panel discussion with Carl Malamud, Anurag Acharya (Google Scholar lead engineer) and law professor Jonathan Zittrain, moderated by Stanford Law School lecturer Roberta Morris.  We now have a streaming video link from this discussion and it’s definitely worth viewing:

http://www.law.stanford.edu/calendar/details/3717/#related_media

Another big day for Free Law – ABA launches site summarizing federal court opinions and upcoming cases

Here’s a new site is designed mainly for the press but access is free to all. Cases are summarized by professors with support from law students.  For the Ninth Circuit, for example, the content contributors are:

University of San Diego School of Law  and
University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

 Here’s the site: http://new.abanet.org/SCFJI/Pages/MediaAlertsOnFederalCircuitCourts.aspx

 

Here’s the press release:

 

Release: Immediate

Contact: Dave Jaffe

Phone: 312-988-6139

E-Mail: jaffed@staff.abanet.org)

Online: http://www.abanews.org

or

Contact: Tina Vagenas

Phone: 312-988-5105

E-Mail: vagenask@staff.abanet.org

 

NEW ABA WEB SITE TO HIGHLIGHT RULINGS BY FEDERAL APPELLATE COURTS

 

CHICAGO, Nov. 18, 2009 – The American Bar Association today launched a new Web site intended to inform the media and public of important cases in the nation’s federal appellate courts. The site was officially unveiled at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where judges and journalists were gathered for a conference hosted by the First Amendment Center. 

Media Alerts on Federal Courts of Appeals, as the site will be known, is sponsored by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements. It represents a collaborative effort to broadly disseminate timely, accurate and unbiased information about noteworthy and legally significant cases in the federal courts of appeals. The site will be updated daily with postings on key decisions and alerts on upcoming cases.

Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a founder of the project and immediate past chair of the Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements, said the site targets the media, but also will serve as a resource for lawyers, educators and the public.

“The case information not only serves a practical need, it also promotes transparency and public access, which go hand in hand with judicial accountability and judicial independence,” McKeown said. “Greater access to and understanding of the judicial process fosters public confidence in our judicial system.”

“There is nothing more important to our democracy and freedom than a well informed press and public,” said U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas of the Southern District of Texas, chair of the standing committee. “The Media Alerts on Federal Courts of Appeals site should enhance the media’s ability to help us achieve this goal.” 

Federal courts of appeals, which are at the level just below the United States Supreme Court, hear direct appeals from both federal trial courts and federal administrative agencies. Of the 11 geographically drawn circuits, the new Web site initially will highlight decisions from the Third, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits, then eventually expand to include the rest of the circuits. 

In conjunction with the ABA, cases are selected and summarized by a panel of distinguished law professors, supported by their students. The ABA is working in conjunction with professors at the law schools of Temple University (Craig Green and David Sonenshein), the University of Texas (Stephanie Lindquist and Dean Leslie Oster), the University of San Diego (Shaun Martin), and the University of Arizona (David Marcus). The academic teams will be choosing from the more than 25,000 cases filed annually in the three courts of appeals. The project aims to select a manageable number of cases so that the site will be of practical use to reporters. 

The project grew out of a shared concern between journalists and the judiciary that reporting about federal courts has been declining. The concern is due in part to new trends in media coverage, including the steadily shrinking pool of news staff in traditional media and the rise of Internet-based news sites, blogs, and other media outlets. 

“For the past decade federal judges and journalists around the country have shared their perspectives and concerns through a series of meetings sponsored by the First Amendment Center,” said U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby of the District of Maine, chair of the Judicial Branch Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which has cosponsored the programs. “This Web site is a real and tangible outgrowth of our meetings, and one that I think will bring greater public access and understanding to the work of the U.S. Courts of Appeals.” 

Following launch of the Web site, the standing committee will continue to explore opportunities for the exchange of views among judges and journalists. In 2010, the committee plans to sponsor a forum on media and the courts in conjunction with the William H. Rehnquist Center at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. 

 The Media Alerts Web site is at http://new.abanet.org/SCFJI/Pages/MediaAlertsOnFederalCircuitCourts.aspx

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

Bob Berring and Tom Bruce – Twin sons of different mothers

A couple of weeks ago our friend and hero Tim Stanley from Justia gave his terrific free-resources presentation at our Advanced Legal Research class.  As an in-class exercise the next class session, we asked the students to briefly share some aspect of what they learned from Tim’s talk.  One student wrote:

I learned that there are a variety of free resources available besides Lexis & Westlaw.  I also learned that Oklahoma is actually one of the best states in terms of keeping their cases & statutes up-t0-date online.  One of the more fascinating things that I learned was that Cornell’s US Code online is probably the best free resource of the U.S. Code . . .

Since a question earlier in the quarter from a student about FDSys was followed up by an in-class answer by Public Printer Bob Tapella, we had to follow our student’s comment about the LII USC with a visit from the LII director! 

One of the joys of living in the San Francisco Bay Area for me is how, at some point or another, everyone passes through.  Last week Tom Bruce, from Cornell’s Legal Information Institute  was in town (we knew this from his Twitter stream) and so we tapped him to come and talk to our class.  Tom gave a terrific, inspiring talk to our class.  More on Tom’s visit here.  Tom is an incredibly dynamic and entertaining speaker — go hear him if you ever get the chance!

Tom’s talk focused on these three not-so-simple questions:

1) Why does anybody do legal research?
2) How much should it cost?
3) How good does it have to be?

Tom began the talk by showing the Bob Berring (also a dynamic and entertaining, not to be missed speaker) video that is making the law library rounds right now.

While Tom agrees with everything that Bob says (and I guess that I do too, although I wish that Bob had said “Lexis and West” rather than just “West”), seeing the Berring clip and then seeing Tom, well, the Dan Fogelberg Twin Sons of Different Mothers album came immediately to mind.  See for yourself the resemblance.

The gist of Tom’s talk is now online in a new video his LII has produced.

The LII blog has more about Tom’s visit, along with a number of related links, here

“Five guys at Cornell” have done some amazing things, and Tom gave a little preview of further good things under development.  Maybe high-stakes lawyers do need and will always need LexisNexis or Westlaw, but the rest of us and the entire world needs Tom and his LII.

Free resources: will they ever measure up?

Using the terminology of “hooks” instead of Tinkerbells, Bob Berring offers his opinion on commercial legal products, government web endeavors and free legal resources in a video posted here to a Thomson Reuters blog Legal Current: http://legalcurrent.com/2009/10/29/berring-on-free-legal-information/

I agree that the market for editorialized legal resources is something that will propel West and Lexis (and new-kid-on-the-block Bloomberg) into the future.  I also hope that pioneers like LII, Tim Stanley at Justia.com and Carl Malamud at PublicResource.org, and those who follow suit, will continue to take free resources to places and in directions we might not even be able to think of right now…straight on till morning.

A brief comment on the video from Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, a group who has been providing free access to legal resources for almost two decades can be found here.