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.

Ineffective Assistance of Library: The Failings and the Future of Prison Law Libraries

By Jonathan Abel, in Volume 101, Issue #5 of The Georgetown Law Journal (June 2013).  Here’s the abstract:

The prison law library has long been a potent symbol of the inmate’s right to access the courts. But it has never been a practical tool for providing that access. This contradiction lies at the core of the law library doctrine. It takes little imagination to see the problem with requiring untrained inmates, many of them illiterate or non-English speakers, to navigate the world of postconviction relief and civil rights litigation with nothing more than the help of a few library books. Yet law libraries are ubiquitous in American prisons. Now, in light of a technological revolution in legal research methods, prison libraries face an existential crisis that requires prison officials, courts, scholars, and inmates to reconsider the very purpose of the prison law library. This Article takes up that challenge by providing a novel historical account of the prison law library’s development.

This Article uses original historical research to show how prison law libraries arose, not as a means of accessing the courts, but rather as a means of controlling inmates’ behavior. By placing the origin of the prison law library in the first decades of the twentieth century–half a century earlier than typical accounts–this Article shows how the law library evolved to take on a new purpose in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Supreme Court and other courts first began to fashion a law library doctrine. The central argument of this Article is simple: The courts’ attempts to graft an access-to-courts rationale onto a law library system that had developed for other purposes led to a law library doctrine riddled with contradictions and doomed to failure. This historical account helps explain a prison law library system that never really made sense in terms of providing access to the courts. As prisons look to update their law libraries in light of sweeping technological changes, it is all the more important to understand the history of the law library system so that authorities can plan for its future.

 

 

Governance and Social Development Resource Centre Document Library

The Governance and Social Development Resource Centre has put together a nice document library of citations and summaries of book chapters, reports, and journal articles arranged by keyword and by country. Links are provided to documents that are freely available on the Web. This site will help make up for the recent demise of the Intute portal.

From the Web site’s description:

“The document library is an up to date collection of the most credible publications available on governance, conflict and social development issues. It includes brief, policy-oriented summaries of each document highlighting the major findings and implications in an easy to read format, plus links to the full text online or by document delivery.

We monitor a wide range of publication sources weekly, including donors, NGOs and research institutes. Materials are carefully selected by our researchers to ensure that they are relevant to our topic area, demonstrate good practice or significant insight and represent a range of perspectives. Only the most credible and policy-relevant research, toolkits, analyses and case studies are included.”

Governance and Social Development Resource Centre Document Library
http://www.gsdrc.org/go/document-library

Save the Tweets: Library Acquisition of Online Materials

The latest issue of AIPLA Quarterly Journal (Volume 39, Issue Number 2, Spring 2011) just landed upon my desk, and at page 269 I found this article calling for “digital acquisition rights”:

Save the Tweets: Library Acquisition of Online Materials, by Jodie C. Graham

Its abstract from the AIPLA webpage:

As the Internet becomes an increasingly pervasive communications technology in society, public discussions and other born-digital documents of social and political importance frequently exist solely on various websites.  To fulfill their missions of preserving public knowledge, libraries seek to acquire and make accessible web documents to scholars, students, and other library patrons.  However, section 108 of the Copyright Act, which previously provided sufficient protection from liability for libraries’ acquisition and reproduction activities, does not adequately map onto the technological realities of acquiring digital documents over the Internet.  As a result, libraries must accept the risk of copyright infringement liability or forgo preserving historically important online documents.  This Note proposes a set of amendments that would update section 108 to extend libraries’ current limited protections from copyright liability to the acquisition, preservation, and making available of online documents.​

PACER Training Pilot Project Begins in July

PACER Training Pilot Project Begins in July
June 17, 2011

A pilot project aimed at having public libraries enhance the public’s knowledge and use of the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service begins July 1, 2011.

Two libraries – the Library of Congress in the District of Columbia and the Law Library for San Bernadino, California – will kick off the pilot, but up to 50 additional public libraries may join them in future months.

PACER allows users to obtain case information from federal courts without having to visit the courthouse. The service allows an Internet user to request information about a particular case or party, and makes the data immediately available for printing or downloading at a cost of 8 cents per page.

In the pilot project, libraries will conduct at least one training class for the general public every three months, and offer training or refresher opportunities for library staff at least one a year. Those staff members, in turn, may assist library patrons in the use of PACER. For participating libraries, the first $50 of PACER use fees each quarter will be waived.

The pilot is a joint undertaking of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the Government Printing Office, and the American Association of Law Libraries.

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

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

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.

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