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

Selling others’ briefs

Following up on George’s post “A pair of lawyers . . . sue West and LexisNexis for reproducing their court filings,” I took a second look at a directed research paper a student did for me a couple of years ago on the subject of vending appellate briefs.  The student surveyed 17 jurisdictions — 10 that provide briefs to vendors and 7 that do not.

One of the interesting take-aways from the student’s paper is the wide variety in means by which vendors have obtained briefs.  Some states have made various arrangements with vendors; others refuse to do so.  For a very few states there is a distinct quid pro quo. Past practices will change, though, as the vendors are increasingly just pulling from posted copies; unless a court rules against such a practice it will only accelerate.

California and Pennsylvania, of the surveyed jurisdictions, both have quid pro quo arrangements.  For example, in California, the state Supreme Court used to send copies of the briefs to certain public law libraries but stopped the practice when it made a deal with Court Records Service (later acquired by West Publishing) whereby the court receives microfiche copies in return for providing the briefs.

Massachusetts has what seems like an odd arrangement whereby briefs are scanned once at the Clerk’s Office, then sent to Westlaw, where they are scanned again and later returned.

To write the paper the student called librarians, court clerks, reporters of decisions, and the vendors.  None of the surveyed court staff members reported any attorney dissatisfaction with the practice of providing briefs to the vendors.  And in one state, the Reporter of Decisions speculated that attorneys actually liked “the free advertising.”  And many clerks were surprised that this has become an issue at all since the documents are public records.

Yes, they are public records but that doesn’t mean they are in the public domain.  Yet who wins if a court rules that Westlaw and LexisNexis are infringing authors’ copyright?  My student thinks that the attorney authors are really the only winners (if they receive royalties) and most of them have already received substantial compensation for writing these briefs and all other players (the courts, the public) are losers.   I hope that in the spirit of pro bono most attorneys will continue to make their appellate briefs available to all the world and not press ownership claims (with perhaps some sort of opt-out provision for the rare instances when, for privacy or other sensitive concerns, certain briefs should not be published).   It would also be a better world if LexisNexis and Westlaw could also take responsible pro bono actions here, as suggested by Ed Connor and not profit from the work product of those in the private sector.

Here’s the cite to my student’s paper:  Bryan Jarrett, Vending Appellate Briefs: The practice, its future, and implications if found illegal.   Submitted October 30, 2010.

Abstract:

This paper analyzes the collection and sale of appellate briefs.  It presents the findings of a survey of seventeen jurisdictions.  The paper discusses how Westlaw and LexisNexis access the briefs, whether they have structured mutually beneficial agreements with the courts that provide the briefs, whether attorneys commonly object to the sale of their briefs, the likely future of the industry, and the potential policy implications of a successful legal challenge to the industry’s practices.

The Future of Legal Search

Here’s a White Paper from Cognizant 20-20 Insights (September 2011) that should be of interest to many readers of this blog:

The Future of Legal Search:

Meeting Lawyer Requirements by Delivering More Contextually-Sensitive and Relevant Results

by Ambika Sagar

Some highlights:

Social media, crowdsourced data and other sources of information continue to generate volume and increase complexity.

Leveraging search history, information search providers can start analyzing how lawyers actually search to build artificial intelligence tools for constructing queries based on cases on which a lawyer is currently working.

Deriving context involves analyzing the pleadings to understand the legal issue.

Proactive search is an ideal opportunity to highlight the value of paid content.  By providing relevant free content and abstracts of paid content, the legal information industry can target upgrading of customers.

Better value propositions such as pay-per-result and assistance in discovery of relevant results can improve conversion rates.

Ideally, a single-sign-in, cloud-based solution that provides access to various tools and ensures maximum integration of research and case data with litigation tools will benefit lawyers the most and also help to attract users and keep them loyal to one platform.

Be sure to check out the article itself and its many useful illustrations.

E-books going mainstream? Getting “Napsterized?” and “Advantage Google”

Really eye-opening (to me, anyway) article in the Sunday Business section of today’s New York Times:

DIGITAL DOMAIN
Will Books Be Napsterized?
By RANDALL STROSS
As the hardware for electronic books moves closer to the
mainstream, publishers wonder whether their industry can be
spared the potential problems of piracy.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/business/04digi.html?th&emc=th

From the story:

Free file-sharing of e-books will most likely come to be associated with RapidShare, a file-hosting company based in Switzerland. It says its customers have uploaded onto its servers more than 10 petabytes of files — that’s more than 10 million gigabytes — and can handle up to three million users simultaneously. Anyone can upload, and anyone can download; for light users, the service is free. RapidShare does not list the files — a user must know the impossible-to-guess U.R.L. in order to download one.

This has significance, according to Mr. Stross, because e-books are going mainstream:

. . . E-book hardware is on the verge of going mainstream. More dedicated e-readers are coming, with ever larger screens. So, too, are computer tablets that can serve as giant e-readers, and hardware that will not be very hard at all: a thin display flexible enough to roll up into a tube.

And be sure to read Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society fellow Lewis Hyde’s essay in the New York Times Book Review today, “Advantage Google.”

Nothing in the history of copyright permits the treatment of ‘orphan’ works spelled out in the proposed settlement.

Geeks seek to make the law Googleable; RECAP in WSJ

Buried on page W13 of today’s Wall Street Journal  is a must-read piece by Katherine Mangu-Ward, “Transparency Chic.”

As the author makes clear:

. . . no aspect of government remains more locked down than the secretive, hierarchical judicial branch. Digital records of court filings, briefs and transcripts sit behind paywalls like Lexis and Westlaw. Legal codes and judicial documents aren’t copyrighted, but governments often cut exclusive distribution deals, rendering other access methods a bit legally questionable. . . .

Which leads her to discuss RECAP:

. . . [Stephen Schultz, Tim Lee and Harlan Wu] whipped up a sleek little add-on to the popular Firefox Internet browser called RECAP (PACER spelled backward). Legit users of the federal court system download it. Then each time they drop eight pennies, it deposits a copy of the page in the free Internet archive. This data joins other poached information, all of which is formatted, relabeled and made searchable—the kind of customer service government tends to skimp on. . . .

This might be the first mainstream press mention of RECAP, which is something we are all abuzz about here.

The author of the Wall Street Journal piece, Katherine Mangu-Ward, a senior editor at Reason magazine, is apparently a bit of a geek herself, giving a Twitter shoutout to those who helped her write the piece:

@kmanguward Thanks @binarybits @carlmalamud @cshirky @evwayne for info, perspective, and snappy quotes in “Transparency Chic” http://tinyurl.com/navyvj

@evwayne is, of course, our very own Erika Wayne who was interviewed for the piece.

Bloomberglaw.com’s “Fantastic” Feature

Perhaps it was fitting that on the day the Dow surged past 9,000 Bloomberg pitchman Ken Sanchez gave a presentation here at Stanford on the Bloomberglaw.com pilot program, set to launch on August 13th.  Mr. Sanchez is as dynamic, energetic  and entertaining a vendor representative as I have ever seen.  The presentation he gave yesterday to librarians and law school researchers elicited some true “wows” from the audience.

In particular a law school senior analyst said “Fantastic!” when Mr. Sanchez demonstrated the Active Workspace and Notepad features.  I see many uses for these features in the curriculum as well, especially for the subject areas covered by the Bloomberglaw.com pilot:  Appellate Practice, Bankruptcy, Federal Securities, and New York Law.

The Active Workspace is a collaboration space, and the law school curriculum these days is all about collaboration.  It moves Bloomberglaw.com from being “just” a research tool, to a classroom technology tool.  And there are uses for collaboration beyond the classroom — clinics, journals, projects, and more.    When Mr. Sanchez pulled up a case in Bloomberglaw.com, he activated a Notepad feature where a yellow “pad” popped up next to the case for the user to take notes; these notes can then be saved to the Workspace. Anyone, even non Bloomberglaw users, may have access to the Active Workspace content.  Documents from Bloomberglaw.com can be annotated and mixed with uploaded files from anywhere, and the entire Workspace effort can be shared with anyone. 

I agree with our analyst:  Fantastic!

The pilot is set to roll out on August 13, and run until the end of the calendar year.  The aim is for Bloomberglaw.com to then fully launch in January 2010.  This is impressive for a project that began only in September 2008.

Aardvark’s Answer Machine

Typing a question  into a search engine and getting a specific, relevant answer hasn’t improved much since the 1957 librarian-favorite film Desk Set when EMMARAC (the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator) answered a question about Watusis and the island of Corfu with Rose Hartwick Thorpe’s poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight.  Make it a subjective question, e.g., “What  is the best Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto?,” and the results are even less helpful, as noted in a “Digital Domain” article by Randall Stross in today’s New York Times.  The article, “Now All Your Friends Are in the Answer Business,” discusses “Aardvark . . . a Web service that answers users’  questions through their friends and friends-of-friends.”

Often at the reference desk I don’t answer a patron’s question but, instead, seek to find someone who can provide a good answer — I’m more a  switchboard operator than fountain of knowledge.  So Aardvark’s approach of using networks to make the connection between question and human-supplied answer is intriguing.  As the article explains,

A new service offered by Aardvark (vark.com), however, provides specific recommendations. Its advice is always current, too, obtained on the fly from those we trust, like friends, but whose collective expertise far exceeds that of the relatively few people we happen to know personally.

Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, the company has just completed beta testing of its answer service and opened it to the public last week. It begins with the social network that you’ve established elsewhere. Presently, it requires Facebook; other networks will be added, it says.

. . .

Aardvark may come to be preferred over answer databases and “decision engines” if many people want a speedy answer from a fellow human being.

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.

“A Revolution in Online Legal Content”

A Revolution in Online Legal Content

By Ari Kaplan
Legal Tech Newsletter
July 7, 2008

As summer associates struggle to answer obscure research questions over the next couple of months, they may find an answer to their late-night prayers in JD Supra, a free online service that provides access to legal documents including memoranda, briefs and unpublished court decisions.

Going global

According to its associated blog, JDScoop.com, JD Supra also has contributors in China, from Liang Yongwe, a Beijing-based firm specializing in FDI and overseas direct investment; Italy, from Mantova-based Studio legale Tedioli offering bankruptcy guidance; Spain, from Madrid-based Goni y Cajigas Abogados providing M&A advice; South Africa, from DE Professional Consultants, with offices in various countries advising on tax matters; and, various firms in the United Kingdom and Canada.

. . .

“Ultimately, its utility will end up depending on number of contributors and users,” says Mark Kindall of nine-lawyer Schatz Nobel Izard,  based in Hartford, Conn. He highlights that while court decisions are easy to find, briefs with attachments are much more difficult to source. Schatz Nobel has uploaded 79 documents, including pleadings and decisions from courts across the United States