New Legal Bug Tracker Tool: Call for Debugging Help

Our friend — and technologist, author, public domain advocate, currently known for his foundation public.resource.org and as a leader in the Law.gov effort to bring online all primary legal source materials (cases, constitutions, ordinances, regulations, rules, statutes) for open public access — Carl Malamud is calling for help to debug the new Law.gov open source NILM (National Inventory of Legal Materials) Legal Bug Tracker tool:

Help us debug the Legal Bug Tracker

Law.Gov Report Contest

From our great friend Carl Malamud:

Public.Resource.Org is pleased to announce the Law.Gov Report contest. A series of 15 workshops were conducted that resulted in a strong consensus on 10 core principles. Those workshops also produced a huge amount of material to work with including presentations by many of the leading lights in the field.

We’ve put a great deal of thought into how to do the report on this process that has been requested by members of Congress, the Courts, and the Administration and have concluded that we should take a page from the playbook of the founding fathers, which is to get a consensus on some high-level concepts (in their case the Constitution, in our case the Law.Gov principles) and then allow many people to all explain what those concepts mean (in their case, The Federalist Papers, in our case this contest being announced today).

The Law.Gov Report is a contest. We will accept submissions as a written essay or as a video essay.  The topic is really quite simple: What Does Law.Gov mean? You can write about one of the principles, or all of the principles, or any other take on the topic.

For the video essays, there is a tremendous amount of high-resolution footage available you can draw with talks by luminaries such as Vint Cerf, Larry Lessig, John Podesta, and many others. We have released final mixes of the first 27 talks and the remaining high-res footage will be available by mid-November.

If you submit an essay, please keep a couple of points in mind. First, you must attach a liberal license to your work or we will not accept it. That means at a minimum a Creative Commons license that allows derivative works with attribution, and we’d prefer if you simply used CC-Zero or Public Domain. You must also submit your work in a form that we can use for republication. In the case of a written essay, you can submit in PDF, but we’d also like revisable form text such as HTML or a word processing format. For your video, this needs to be high-resolution (you should shoot for at least NTSC size and at least several megabits per second on the encoding) and a relatively open codec (H.264/MP4, MP2, WebM).

The winning written essay will receive a prize of $5,000. The winning video essay will also receive a prize of $5,000. Submissions are due before Memorial Day (May 31). Winners will be announced the day after Labor Day at a prize ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Memorial Day deadline was set so that students can consider making this a class project. We hope that professors in law schools, i-schools, journalism schools, and any other discipline will let their students know about this contest and offer them credit in their classes for preparing a submission.

Public.Resource.Org has put $10,000 into the Law.Gov Report Prize Fund. If others wish to contribute prizes such as books, conference tickets, lunch with a justice, or other items of educational value, please contact us.

If you have questions about the contest, please ask them on this list or contact Carl Malamud at Public.Resource.Org. (You can find his email address on the about page.)

Here are a few resources for you to work with:

1. The Law.Gov videos on YouTube

2. The Law.Gov videos on the Internet Archive

3. Directory of final footage

4. Miscellaneous additional law.gov materials

Two Million Dollar Gift for Law.Gov

Today, Google announced the winners of their Project 10^100 , giving 10 million dollars in total to ideas that will help change the world.  (Short video of the winning ideas here.)

Law.Gov is one of the winners.  As the Google posting states:

Public.Resource.Org is a non-profit organization focused on enabling online access to public government documents in the United States. We are providing $2 million to Public.Resource.Org to support the Law.Gov initiative, which aims to make all primary legal materials in the United States available to all.

What great news!

Carl Malamud writes on the O”Reilly Radar today: “This grant is going to help Public.Resource.Org continue our work on Law.Gov and Video.Gov. For Law.Gov, this is going to mean a shift into real production, building on the very solid consensus that was reached earlier this year on the Core Law.Gov Principles.

Carl Malamud also shared a status update for Law.gov efforts in that post.  Beyond the amazing gift from Google, the big updates include:

  1. Before the Law.Gov Report can be finished, video from the 15 Law.Gov workshops needs cleaning up and cataloging. ” Point.B Studio and Foolish Tree Films have been hard at work creating a 15-DVD set of workshop proceedings with approximately 70 pieces of video. The video will all get released as a final mix on the net as well as on DVDs printed at Lulu, and this core will form the basis for the next steps of the report.”
  2. To help further the National Inventory of Legal Materials,  there will soon be a “bug tracker where people can enter their survey results, in particular creating trouble tickets for jurisdictions that violate the Law.Gov Core Principles.”
  3. Carl Malamud is close to “a final agreement with UC Hastings and the Internet Archive to scan 3 million pages of 9th Circuit briefs.”  And, Malamud has sent California’s Title 24 out to be “double-keyed, turning it from PDF scans into valid marked up hypertext.”   Carl Malamud is also working on an effort to make fully available online the local codes of his surrounding North Bay Area communities.

More developments are coming up.

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

National Inventory of Legal Materials – Bits and Pieces

On Tuesday, June 15th, there will be a Law.gov event hosted by the Center for American Progress.   

For the event, I plan to share some of our preliminary findings.  Here are a few of the talking points:

The National Inventory of Legal Materials is an attempt to describe, detail and catalog where one can find the legal materials of our Federal, State and local systems.

At the first workshop held at Stanford, we were fortunate to have members of the Northern California Association of Law Librarians (NOCALL)  in attendance.  And, as a group we decided to develop a California prototype of the inventory.     

Since that time, we developed spreadsheets and forms.  And, we now have over 20 volunteers working on the California inventory which includes nearly 700 records.  Some of the information that we have gathered includes copyright assertions, disclaimers, official status and price information.  

And, as our project grew, so did the larger National Inventory.

Now there are 195 volunteers across the country working on federal and state level inventory projects, as it is now a full-fledged activity of the American Association of Law Libraries.  This project marries very nicely with AALL’s continued leadership and advocacy on  topics ranging from permanent public access to authentication to official status of online legal materials.   Much of this work draws and builds upon the fine work of the AALL Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation Committee.

[Also, our Advanced Legal Research class did a tremendous amount of research on National Inventory related questions this past quarter, and we are very grateful for their interest and discoveries.]

Here are a few of the preliminary findings:

At least eight  states assert copyright over their statutory codes online.

Preliminary research shows that  perhaps 42% of the states (or 21 states) assert copyright over their administrative codes online.

Apparently, only one state provides access to case law for a fee.

Almost every state’s online  legal resources include disclaimers, either to the status or reliability of the content.  (And: nearly none of these states had the same disclaimers in print equivalents of these resources.)

Given that the California inventory is nearly completed here are a few examples from California :

Of the nearly 540 municipalities and counties in California, most have online codes and ordinances; however, approximately 40% of these legal materials state that they are not “official” and have a strong Web disclaimer about the use of the online version.

Approximately 50%  of these codes have copyright assertions.

When we tried to determine if these materials were available in bulk access, we contacted a few of these municipalities.  And, our small sampling of these online materials found that none provided bulk access.

A typical disclaimer on these municipal codes might read:

“This code of ordinances may not reflect the most current legislation adopted by the municipality.  These documents are provided for informational purposes only.  These documents should not be relied upon as the definitive authority for local legislation.  Formatting and pagination varies from the official copy.  The official printed copy should be consulted prior to any action being taken”

To purchase these codes in print, the price starts at approximately 100 dollars (and going up beyond that). 

At the state level, the California administrative code is provided for free online by West but there is a copyright assertion and the cost for a subscription to the official print version is approximately $3500 per year.

Title 24, the building code is published separately and not part of the California Code of Regulations website.  The FAQs on this site direct you to visit the California Building Standards Commission that links you out to the International Code Council’s copyrighted site where you can view only one section at a time of the building code.

[Although we have not yet done so, it might be interesting  to check to see how many standards incorporated by reference are available freely on the California regulations site.]

As to the Attorney General opinions in California: you can find these in official form in print for approximately $400. 

If you visit the free version online, there is this disclaimer:  “Disclaimer of Duty to Continue Provision of the Data:  Due to the Dynamic nature of the internet, resources that are free and publicly available one day may require a fee or restrict access the next.”  

One of the executive agencies in California had full-text of administrative decisions on their site; however, without any pagination – which would be required if you were to cite to it in CA courts.

As to the courts, to gain access to the full archive of California Supreme Court cases you must click “agree” to a license preventing you from using the data for “nonprofit or public use.”

Further, the court site states:  “it is not intended to function as an alternative to commercial computer-based services and products for comprehensive legal research.”

The  Court opinion archive is provided by Lexis under contract with the State of California.

There is a free, archive of recent slip opinions on the California Court site, without a license click agreement; however, these are filed ‘as-is’ with edited/corrected versions only appearing on the other website. The slip opinion archive states: “This archive is not provided for purposes of legal research.”

Outside of California, here are a few highlights from other states:

Apparently, Delaware and Utah are the only states authenticating their online administrative code with digital signatures or MD5 hash.

It appears that only 7 states have clearly made their online administrative code of regulations official. 

Similar to California Courts, New Jersey’s Administrative Code has a license agreement you need to click through to view, preventing you from using the data for “nonprofit or public use.”

Vermont does not have an Administrative Code of Regulations online.

If you want to secure bulk access to the Arizona code of regulations, it will cost you upwards of $15,000.   Although, there is no charge for postage and handling.

If you want to get bulk access in Indiana, it might take a bit of time as each request is looked at on a case-by-case basis. 

Most states simply do not provide information on gaining bulk access to their legal materials.

There are a number of inconsistent examples.

Although Arkansas’s code of regulations is not fully available online and their Rules register is only official in print form,  Arkansas’ online court opinions are official, authenticated, and utilize medium neutral citation formats. 

If you want to look at Alabama appellate and supreme court opinions on the web, you will need to pay a fee – these are not freely available on the courts’ site.

Connecticut copyrights its appellate court opinions.

In Idaho all cited opinions are posted on the court’s website the day of release; however, once in West’s Pacific/Idaho reporter, the opinions are removed from their website.  And, Idaho has created a digital repository to provide for permanent public access to state agency materials.

If you go to the Vermont Legislature’s web pages, they provide the text of the Vermont statutes.  However, it states: “The Vermont Statutes Online is an unofficial copy. . . provided as a convenience. It has not been edited for publication. The ‘official’ version . . . is online at LexisNexis Publishing.”  However, by statute, the Legislative Council of the Vermont General Assembly is required to “maintain official computerized databases of the Vermont Statutes Annotated” and post them on the Web “with a seal of authenticity.”  

In Ohio, there are digital signatures on recent Supreme Court opinions showing authenticity; however, only the printed decisions are deemed official.  It also appears that both the Ohio Revised Code and Administrative Code are not official and bear a copyright assertion.

Oklahoma has been ahead of the curve on online legal information, and for some time has made freely available all Supreme Court opinions since 1890 and criminal appeals cases since 1908  on the court website.

Each of Oklahoma’s county and district courts have their records available online though one of two Web sites. 

However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently issued a directive that “Public access to electronic case information is available on a case-by-case basis….. bulk distribution of electronic case information is not allowed.”

 And there is more, much more.  But enough for now.  I welcome your input and suggestions and corrections as this is a fluid and evolving project.

The Eggplant That Ate the Spokane County Law Library

 

You’d better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
For he may eat your city soon.
You’d better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
If he’s still hungry, the whole country’s doomed.

 

The 3 Geeks and a Law Blog pointed me to a story in the Spokane, Washington newspaper Spokesman-Review.  I won’t rehash what he 3 Geeks blog item “Spokane County Law Library Needs Bailout for Westlaw Bills” opines, but the Spokesman-Review story by reporter John Craig, “Spokane County law library falls behind on bills,”  is disturbing to me on several levels.

The story quotes the librarian as saying that her Westlaw fees “are three times as much as the company was charging Pierce County . . . for the ‘exact same’ service.”  I do not know the details, but I can see how a reader might be led to believe that this poor county law library is being gouged by a huge monopolistic corporation. 

What is also disturbing to me is the report that the library is averaging $ 12,000 a month for Westlaw service, while its annual budget is only $ 220,000.  The library’s total labor costs are reported to be $ 78,236, which means that the county is paying Westlaw roughly twice what it’s paying its staff.   At the Stanford Law Library the total we spend for our staff is roughly twice what we spend for all materials (online and print), and that seems right to me — it’s the staff that is our most valuable resource.

The third disturbing element to the story is the suggestion that perhaps the county law library is a “relic” and should be shuttered for more “cost effective approaches” such as having public libraries (and not specialized law libraries) serve the legal information needs of the public.  To me this is short-sighted on so many levels that I could go on and on for pages about why this is a bad direction.

If this story does not help build a case for Law.gov, I don’t know what would.

Many states have discontinued publishing official state reports and rely upon West instead.  Appendix D of Fundamentals of Legal Research, 9th Edition, by Steven M. Barkan, Roy M. Mersky and Donald J. Dunn, includes a table “States That Have Discontinued Publishing Official State Reports” (excerpted below) showing what states have adopted West’s National Reporter System as the official publisher.

Washington is not one of these states.   It appears that Washington is one of the more progressive states in providing decisional law to the public for free.  The Washington State Court website contains free opinions from the last 90 days, and then links to www.legalWA.org ; the LegalWA site links directly to the Municipal Research Services Center of Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to providing free legal resources for Washington where case law from 1854 forward can be found.

There is definitely a place for expensive LexisNexis and Westlaw bills — in the high stakes world of Biglaw litigation (with clients to bill back) for certain, but in a county public law library?  There has got to be a better way.

Here’s an excerpt from that table I mentioned above:

B. STATES THAT HAVE DISCONTINUED PUBLISHING OFFICIAL STATE REPORTS.

Except for Louisiana, all states have discontinued their official reports have adopted West’s National Reporter System, or an offprint of the National Reporter System, as official.  Alaska has used the Pacific Reporter as its official reporter since it became a state.

[Copied below are the states listed in this table, next to the "Year of Last Case"]

Alabama                            1976

Ala. App.                           1976

Colorado                           1980

Colo. App.                        1980

Delaware                           1966

Florida                               1948

Indiana                              1981

Ind. App.                          1979

Iowa                                   1968

Kentucky                         1951

Louisiana                        1972

Maine                               1965

Minnesota                      1977

Mississippi                    1966

Missouri                        1956

Mo. App.                       1952

North Dakota              1953

Oklahoma                    1953

Okla. Crim.                  1953

Rhode Island             1980

South Dakota             1976

Tennessee                   1971

Tenn. App.                  1972

Tenn. Crim. App.      1970

Texas                            1962

Tex. Crim. App.       1963

Utah 2d                        1974

Wyoming                    1959

A Draft 50 State Survey of Copyright Claims in State Codes and Court Opinions

In preparation for the Law.gov event held at Stanford Law School in January of this year, I started to put together a list of how each state treats its legal publications for copyright purposes.  Specifically, I looked at the web versions of state codes to locate any claims in copyright over the code text.  This led to searching in the print editions held in our library to see what copyright was claimed in these series.  Finally I searched the codes themselves (aided by the indexes provided on Westlaw) to find any claim that had been codified.  Along the way, the search expanded to how states treat any copyright claims in their court opinions (either online or in their code) as well.

My  method was not scientific.  I looked for clear statements on each website directly related to the code or opinions themselves.  Small copyright notices at the bottom of pages that seem to claim copyright in the pages themselves were not considered claims over the code text or opinions.  I understand that an argument can be made that those symbols of copyright could extend to the entirety of the material posted by that entity.

A very rough draft of the results is posted here.  I obviously have a lot of work left to do, including cleaning up some of the questions marks that have been left unanswered.  Official print versions for the state codes and reporters will also need to be consulted to fill out these charts.  And administrative law is just a glint in my eye at the moment.

I hope this document can be expanded and that it may prove useful in the current discussion on access to state and federal primary sources of law.

Public Means Online

Today’s Washington Post features an editorial supporting the new Public Online Information Act, H.R. 4858.

[Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY] “has introduced the Public Online Information Act (POIA), a sensible and modest bill that could nevertheless be a catalyst for important changes in how the federal government thinks about and handles public information. It could also lead to greater transparency in the workings of the government.”

As the folks at the Sunlight Foundation have noted: “public means online.”

However, the realities of getting the bill passed means that it does have its limits.  Most notably, “public information generated by Congress, including real-time lobbying registrations, is exempt from the mandatory provision, as are public filings within the judicial branch.”

But with Law.gov and other transparency efforts ongoing, we can be hopeful for even bigger changes down the road.

Yesterday, Carl Malamud gave a rousing talk to the NOCALL Spring Institute about Law.gov.

[By the way, NOCALL throws down an amazing Spring Institute every year — this year was no exception!  Besides the terrific parties, they always pull in a great range of speakers and topics, from Ryan Calo (on Privacy Tools) to Mark Sirkin (on New Roles in the Law Firm of the Future).  Many attendees spoke highly of the forum on the Google Book Settlement, featuring Mary Minow, Gary Reback and Andrew Bridges.  On Saturday, I enjoyed demonstrating the awesome RECAP plug-in — hopefully, more folks will be downloading PACER court documents to the archive. ]

Malamud’s inspirational Law.gov talk got the crowd buzzing.  NOCALL members are already involved in the prototype of a national law inventory for the Law.gov effort.  And, invigorating talks like this one should help spread the word and add more volunteers to the project.    As Malamud mentioned, the inventory will help provide key metrics for the Law.gov report (for example: how many municipalities assert copyright over their regulations).

While the California legal inventory is now underway, more work is needed [READ: please contact me if you would like to volunteer to help!].  And, other AALL chapters/working groups should be starting their legal inventory projects very shortly.

For those who are still curious about Law.gov and for those who are contemplating volunteering for their own state legal inventory project(s), I encourage you to view at least one of Malamud’s Law.gov talks online and/or read his “By the People” pamphlet.

Stay tuned…As “public means online’, Law.gov equals change.

John B. West and other non lawyers who have revolutionized legal research

The latest issue of The American Journal of Legal History just landed on my desk.  It includes an article by Robert M. Jarvis, “John B. West:  Founder of the West Publishing Company.”   There are all sorts of fascinating facts about Mr. West in the article, including (and maybe everyone knows this but me) how he called for uniform citation way back in 1908.  From a footnote:

. . . [West] calls attention to the necessary multiplication of citations caused by the different unofficial publication of reports . . . [and] contends that reports of decisions are simply official documents which should be filed in numerical order and cited with reference to their numbers.  Under this system no matter how many decisions or systems of reporting be adopted each case can be readily found and cited by reference to this official number, entirely regardless of the volume and page of the particular publication.

The article details West’s (the man) falling out with West (the company).  “John called for the elimination of unofficial case reporters . . . [and] likewise derided the West digest system . . . “

In his conclusion to the article, Professor Jarvis remarks:

In thinking about John, two matters particularly stand out.  One is the pure randomness of his life.  If he had not moved to St. Paul and gotten a sales job with D.D. Merrill, he would not have met the lawyers he did and ended up inventing the case reporter and the digest.  It is possible, of course, that someone else might have done these things, but if not, the legal system would have developed along very different lines.

Second, there is the question of how a man who did not go to college, and was untrained in law, was able to devise methods that revolutionized legal research and, by extension, legal practice.  Why was no judge or lawyer able to see what he saw?  Perhaps the answer is that they were not looking, or perhaps it took an outsider to see what the cognoscenti could not.

This question of how a non lawyer can be such a leader in legal research struck me last quarter while we were teaching advanced legal research.  Two of our guest speakers are true revolutionaries in legal research — Carl Malamud from public.resource.org and Tom Bruce from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.   Both men are leading the free law revolution (and if Law.gov takes off, legal research will never be the same), and neither are lawyers.  Or law librarians, for that matter.

Here’s the cite to the article:

Robert M. Jarvis, “John B. West: Founder of the West Publishing Company,” The American Journal of Legal History, Volume L, Number 1, pages 1-22, January 2008-2010 (2010)

Will Knowledge and People Converge?

In today’s HuffPo, Paul Lippe (Legal OnRamp founder) interviews David Curle (legal information market analyst) in “Will Knowledge & People Converge?”

The interview moves through key trends and recent history in the legal information and publishing sector (including the latest improvements offered by the ‘big guys’ at Westlaw and Lexis).

Then the discussion shifts to the impact of Google Scholar‘s free case law on the legal information market:

“It’s revolutionary in the sense that the general public now has easy access to the law of the land, something that was surprisingly hard to obtain before.”

Curle mentions the FastCase iPhone app that allows free searching of its database.   The days of charging for ‘just access’ to primary legal materials are coming to a close.    And, welcome to the generation of data.gov and law.gov:

“Law.gov has the ambition of making all primary US legal material available in standardized, machine-readable formats that can be incorporated into new kinds of information products.”

. . . .

“open access to legal sources will spur the creation of new markets for legal information among consumers, and even more so among non-lawyer professionals who need to understand a narrow field of that they work with all the time. Expect to see new products and services built on top of the free legal information that will make the law more accessible to those new markets.”

And, speaking of new products building on free content.  Curle moves on to discuss SpindleLaw.

“They are building, in a kind of collaborative, Wiki-like way, a database of the legal rules that lawyers find in court decisions and in legislation. Their idea is that it’s pretty inefficient to get to those rules by searching and reading long court opinions. They are extracting and organizing the rules with links to the legal sources. They have a long way to go to prove that the concept works, but I like the way they are trying to turn the research process on its head.”

These are very interesting times.