HeinOnline’s Browsable Congressional Record Index

We’ve recently learned that HeinOnline’s “U.S. Congressional Documents” library offers browsable copies of the Congressional Record Index.  Given proposals to axe many print copies of the Congressional Record, there is concern that, among other things, we could lose ready access to the great research tool that is the Index.  Last year, we researched dozens of wilderness-related bills in the 1950s-1960s.  Initially, title searching in Congressional documents databases did not identify them all, because a few of the earlier bills were captioned as “forestry”—a fact discovered by using the print version of the Congressional Record Index.  So, we are  relieved that HeinOnline has preserved the Index’s utility with browsable PDFs.  To boot, they do a great job with metadata structuring.  Each letter within an Index may be accessed via separate hyperlink.  As one browses, the list of hyperlinks remains visible along the left of the screen, allowing for easy navigation.  Thank you, HeinOnline!

Anton’s Weekly Digest of International Law Scholarship

Looks like Prof. Don Anton’s round-up of international law publications will be a useful and timely resource.

Don Anton is a professor of international law at the Australian National  University College of Law.

Anton’s Weekly Digest of International Law Scholarship

http://donanton.org/?s=weekly

Table of Contents of the latest issue:

I. SSRN Legal Scholarship Network & bepress Legal Repository

II. Books

III. Law Journals

IV. Blogs/News Papers (Select Entries)

V. Gray Literature

VI. Documents

 

Is searching the best way to retrieve legal documents?

This paper from Norway suggests that legal information sources ” have a rich and homogeneneous structure which makes it possible to establish chronological, alphabetical and systematic indexes,” something we tell our students over and over and over again.

Is searching the best way to retrieve legal documents?

By Trygve Harvold

Lov&Data nr. 98 – Juni 2009

Abstract:

Legal texts have a rich structure and a large number of links which can be utilized in retrieving documents.  This paper is based on a numerical study of the link structure in approximately 200,000 documents in the Lovdata database.  The hypertext structure is analyzed and it is suggested that it should be possible to navigate the database on the basis of indexes and links.  Analysis of the use of Lovdata also indicated that utilizing chronological and alphabetical indexes and the hyperstructure of links might in many cases be a more efficient and use-friendly way of finding documents than the traditional search.

 

Conclusion:

While searching is a necessary and powerful tool, it may not always be the most user-friendly way of locating documents in a legal information system.  In this paper we have shown how the rich structure and numerous links of legal documents allow for the construction of indexes, buttons and links which makes it possible for users to navigate the system without searching.  User statistics from Lovdata show that users often prefer this alternative way of navigation in situations where it is possible and practical.

 

The paper is rich with persuasive illustrations.

Legal Ontologies Spin a Semantic Web

Legal Ontologies Spin a Semantic Web
By Dr. Adam Z. Wyner
Special to Law.com
June 8, 2009

“The Semantic Web, an extension of the current www, promises to make documents meaningful to people and computers by changing how legal knowledge is represented and managed. Dr. Adam Z. Wyner explains how legal ontologies will help complete the new Web’s design.”

From the article:

ONTOLOGY FOR CASE LAW

Consider an example ontology for case law. There are various approaches to find relevant case law — using text-mining software, search tools, proprietary indices or legal research summaries. These approaches can extract some latent linguistic information from the text but often require researchers to craft the results; indeed, successful information extraction depends on an ontology, and as there is not yet a rich ontology of the case law domain, much information in cases cannot be easily extracted or reasoned with. Moreover, none of these approaches apply inference rules.

Reading a case such as Manhattan Loft v. Mercury Liquors, there are elementary questions that can be answered by any legal professional, but not by a computer:

Where was the case decided?
Who were the participants and what roles did they play?
Was it a case of first instance or on appeal?
What was the basis of the appeal?
What were the legal issues at stake?
What were the facts?
What factors were relevant in making the decision?
What was the decision?
What legislation or case law was cited?

Legal information service providers such as LexisNexis index some of the information and provide it in headnotes, but many of the details, which may be crucial, can only be found by reading the case itself. Current text-mining technologies cannot answer the questions because the information is embedded in the complexities of the language of the case, which computers cannot yet fully parse and understand. Finally, there are relationships among the pieces of information which no current automated system can represent, such as the relationships among case factors or precedential relationships among cases.

In conclusion, the author remarks:

Legal ontologies are one of the central elements of managing and automating legal knowledge. With ontologies, the means are available to realize significant portions of the Semantic Web for legal professionals, particularly if an open-source, collaborative approach is taken.

 

About the author:

Dr. Adam Zachary Wyner is affiliated with the department of computer science at University College London, London, United Kingdom. He has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in computer science from King’s College London. He has published on topics in the syntax and semantics of natural language, as well as artificial intelligence and law concerning legal systems, language, logic and argumentation. For further information, see Dr. Wyner’s blog LanguageLogicLawSoftware.

Source: Law.com – Daily Newswire

Wolfram Alpha, Kumo and Google Squared

Good article in the Comment & Analysis section of today’s Financial Times, ” Wolfram Alpha asks some searching questions of the web,” by John Gapper.

The article points out that “[w]hile search engines are a starting point in a quest to find things out, Wolfram Alpha provides complete answers.”  Or attempts to, anyway.  According to the article, Wolfram Alpha is especially successful when dealing with “scientific and mathematical data, or the sort of information held routinely on public databases such as . . . World Factbook . . . ”

Unlike other search engines, Wolfram Alpha’s data “are not drawn from the web but from a database that is ‘curated’ by Wolfram Research.  . . . Its data are drawn only from sources that are edited and checked . . . ”

The article also reports that next week Microsoft will launch what is codenamed Kumo, a search engine to compete with Google.

There’s more on a new Google feature  too:

. . . “One of the hardest problems in computer science is data extraction.  Can we look at the unstructured web and extract values and facts in a meaningful way?” asked [Google’s] Marissa Mayer, . . .

Ms. Mayer showed off Google Squared, an experimental new feature that would allow Google users . . . to assemble data about, for example, various breeds of small dogs in a form like a spreadsheet.

The Wayback Machine and More From Brewster Kahle

Really nice 2-page spread on Brewster Kahle, “The internet’s librarian,”  in this week’s issue of The Economist.

The Economist

March 7th – 13th 2009

Technology Quarterly insert

Brain scan

The internet’s librarian

Brewster Kahle wants to create a free, online collection of human knowledge.  It sounds impossibly idealistic — but he is making progress

It is easy to dismiss Mr. Kahle as an idealist, but he has an impressive record of getting things done.

I have used the Wayback machine — i.e., The Internet Archive — to find needed documents that were not otherwise available online anymore.  And apparently I’m not the only one:

The most famous part of the archive is the Wayback Machine (its name inspired by the WABAC machine in the 50-year-old television cartoon featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle). This online attic of digital memorabilia stores copies of internet sites . . . Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the University of Michigan, equates what the archive does for the internet with what the British Museum did for the British empire. . . . The Wayback Machine “gives us access to what people were producing at different points in time,” he says.  Evidentially this is of more than just academic interest: the site gets 500 page requests per second.

The article also discusses “Mr. Kahle’s wider goal:

to build the world’s largest digital library.  He has recruited 135 libraries worldwide to openlibrary.org, the aim of which is to create a catalogue of every book ever published, with links to its full text where available. . . .

The article notes that “this activist for online privacy is also a staunch supporter of openness” and details efforts and litigation Mr. Kahle has been involved with.

CILP, the Schooner Tuna of legal information providers

Here’s an e-mail that brightened my day:

I know we are all worried about how to maintain the quality of our collections and services in light of our uncertain economy.

We have decided to roll back our price for electronic CILP to 2005 levels or $696 for the coming year.

As with any vendor, we have expenses to pay.  We are trying to reduce these to give you the best possible price we can.

Any other vendors willing to follow suit?

Penny Hazelton
University of Washington

History in the Law Library: Using Legal Materials to Explore the Past and Find Lawyers, Felons and Other Scoundrels in Your Family Tree


History in the Law Library: Using Legal Materials to Explore the Past and Find Lawyers, Felons and Other Scoundrels in Your Family Tree

Louisville Bar Briefs, Vol. 6, No. 4, April 2006

KURT X. METZMEIER, University of Louisville – Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

Short but useful article, with some good biographical research tips and index references.

Abstract:
The standard law books and databases typically employed in legal research record the foibles and follies of humankind. This article discusses how these resources can be used to research local and family history.

Source: LSN: University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series Vol. 2 No. 6,  08/01/2008

A New Index to the South Dakota Constitutional Conventions

Being a huge fan of indexes, this item in a brand new law review caught my eye:  “Indexing the South Dakota Constitutional Conventions: A 21st Century Solution to a 125 Year Old Problem,” 53 South Dakota Law Review 260 (2008).

The indexes in this article

. . . are an index for the Constitutional Conventions of 1883, 1885, and 1889 arranged by subject matter and by article of the constitutional document.  They were initially compiled by University of South Dakota law student David Barari.  Justice Steven L. Zinter and I [Chief Justice David Gilbertson] edited them. . . . The new indexes constitute a vastly improved research aid for those wishing to research the Constitutional Debates.