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.

Country Profiles from UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

A nice complement to the “CIA World Fact Book” are the Country Profiles from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Although not as detailed as the World Fact Book, the FCO site does provide historical information with important dates and details on trade and investment policy for individual nations. Some country profiles also include paragraphs on environmental and climate change policy (e.g. Brazil).

Country Profiles – Foreign and Commonwealth Office

http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/country-profiles/

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

Data.gov

Democratizing Data

“Today, I’m pleased to announce that the Federal CIO Council is launching Data.gov. Created as part of the President’s commitment to open government and democratizing information, Data.gov will open up the workings of government by making economic, healthcare, environmental, and other government information available on a single website, allowing the public to access raw data and transform it in innovative ways. Such data are currently fragmented across multiple sites and formats–making them hard to use and even harder to access in the first place. Data.gov will change this, by creating a one-stop shop for free access to data generated across all federal agencies. The Data.gov catalog will allow the American people to find, use, and repackage data held and generated by the government, which we hope will result in citizen feedback and new ideas.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Democratizing-Data/

 

Announcing Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge

“We’ve been planning this for awhile. Ever since we heard about Data.gov we have been planning a contest, and if you’re reading this blog post, that means Data.gov has finally launched. I’m pleased to wave the green flag on Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge. This is a development and visualization challenge to see who can come up with the best application and visualization for data from Data.gov.”

http://blog.sunlightfoundation.com/2009/05/21/announcing-apps-for-america-2-the-datagov-challenge/

 
Keeping an Eye on Data.gov

“One thing that’s curiously missing from Data.gov is an RSS feed for new data feeds. Sort of shockingly, and glaringly left out. We were disappointed, and didn’t want to wait. Scraping here is such an easy thing to do that we decided to just build our own. Sunlight Labs’ James Turk did it, and it’s handy. Here’s the feed and here’s the source that makes the feed. This should be useful to anyone who wants to see what new stuff is coming out of Data.gov.”

http://sunlightlabs.com/blog/2009/05/22/keeping-eye-datagov/

 

Source:

The Intersect Alert is the excellent newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association

http://units.sla.org/chapter/csfo/csfo.html

African Studies Abstracts Online

The University of Leiden’s African Studies Centre Library posts its African Studies Abstracts Online for free.  The entries are arranged by country, author, subject, and periodical title. Law is one of the subjects listed.  Many of the  journal citations will be useful for those studying human rights, development issues, and environmental law. The African Studies Abstracts Online is published four times a year.

From the African Studies Abstracts Online description and coverage notes:

African Studies Abstracts Online provides an overview of articles from periodicals and edited works on sub-Saharan Africa in the field of the social sciences and the humanities available in the African Studies Centre library.

 

African Studies Abstracts Online covers edited works (up to 50 in each issue) and a wide range of journals in the field of African studies. Some 240 journals are systematically scanned. Just over half of these are English-language journals, just under a quarter are French, and most of the rest are German. A few Afrikaans, Dutch, Italian and Portuguese-language journals are also covered. Some 40 percent of all the journals are published in Africa. Newspapers and weeklies, popular magazines and current affairs bulletins, statistical digests, directories, annual reports and newsletters are, with rare exceptions, not scanned.

 

Articles from journals published in Africa and from leading Africanist journals published outside the continent are provided with abstracts. Articles from other journals, including journals on North Africa, are catalogued and indexed without abstracts. All articles are included in the African Studies Centre Library OPAC at http://opc4-ascl.pica.nl/DB=3/LNG=EN/

African Studies Abstracts Online

http://www.ascleiden.nl/Library/Abstracts/ASA-Online/

The Library also provides full-text access to the following great resources:

 Working Papers collection                                                                         http://www.ascleiden.nl/Publications/WorkingPapers.aspx

List of free Africa related e-journals

http://www.ascleiden.nl/Library/FreeOnlinePeriodicals.aspx

OregonLaws.org – Nifty!

Law students working to improve the system — from the folks at Building a Better Legal Profession trying to improve the profession to the journal folks trying to redefine legal scholarship online with the Legal Workshop site — are inspiring.  And, here is another amazing feat: Robb, a law student at Lewis & Clark Law School has created a pretty amazing and FREE web site for statutory research in Oregon.

When you visit the site for OregonLaws.org, you are immediately struck by the simple, but well-thought out features:

-easy-to-read, indented statutory provisions

-big picture browsing of the titles and volumes

-official annotations appear on the side of relevant statutory language

-source/citation provided for all provisions

-[there is a 'talk to a robot' feature which sounds nifty, but I'm far more interested in the other features]

And, what is more, you can follow the latest enhancements by subscribing to the OregonLaws blog or follow it on Twitter.

Why did Robb create this site?  He writes on his site that he developed this site because he wanted to:

“Increase access to the legal system by lowering the cost of legal research,
Create new ways to browse and learn the law,
Develop an open platform for others to build upon,
Provide a basis for computer-assisted academic research and analysis of statutes.”

Bravo! We’ll share this with our students in Advanced Legal Research.

[Hat tip to Carl Malamud and his tweets on this topic!]

Law Journals and Open Access: A Call to Action

Here’s a little article I just wrote for Speaking of Computers, ”an e-newsletter for the Stanford academic community.”  This has been covered here before, but I think it’s a message worth repeating, especially as we brace for budget cuts and some hard decisions.  And besides, now I have a really nice photo to share!

 Law Journals and Open Access: A Call to Action

In November, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the so-called Gang of 10 law library directors (directors from some of the nation’s top law schools) held at Duke Law School in Durham, North Carolina. One of the activities of this meeting was the drafting and signing of the “Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship,” which calls for all law schools to stop publishing their law journals in print format and to rely instead upon electronic publication, coupled with a commitment to keep the electronic versions available in stable, open, digital formats.

Why Open Access?
Each of the nation’s 200+ law schools produce at least one student-edited law journal, containing scholarship and important policy pieces from law professors, judges, distinguished practitioners, and students. The bulk of legal scholarship is published in such law journals. Here at Stanford Law School we produce nine such journals. Right now the only way to access all of this significant content electronically is through expensive databases such as HeinOnline, LexisNexis and Westlaw.

It would be a better legal information world if researchers could reliably turn to the host law school for any law journal from that school and find all of its articles, available for free in open and stable electronic formats.

Open Access Leaders
It was especially fitting that this inspirational document was drafted and signed by us while at Duke. Duke is a leader in the open online repository movement, with the Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository created in 2005, and all Duke law journals made accessible online since 1997. The Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository is a full-text electronic archive of scholarly works written by the Duke Law faculty, as well as other scholarship produced at the law school. A scholarship repository and open access law journals go hand-in-hand.

The chief architect of the Durham Statement was John Palfrey, the new library director at Harvard Law School, who is also a leader and visionary in the open access movement. In May 2008, the Harvard Law School faculty unanimously voted to make each faculty member’s scholarly articles available online for free.

What’s Next?
The Durham Statement is our exercise in aspiration, with the hopes of getting more – eventually all – law schools on the open access bandwagon.

There are issues yet to be resolved. For one thing, especially during these difficult economic times, financial analysis is needed. Law schools receive royalties from the online databases that provide law journal access – some schools far more than others – so the cost-savings to the schools from ceasing print and to the schools’ libraries from no longer having to buy, bind and shelve issues needs to be carefully weighed against any potential loss of revenue income. And there are additionally important archival and standards issues to be debated and decided.

The Durham Statement seeks to move the analysis, debate, and discussion forward.

For More Information
Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship
http://legalresearchplus.com/2009/02/20/durham-statement-on-open-access-to-legal-scholarship/
http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/durhamstatement

The Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository

Harvard Law School open access motion

durhamdrafters1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The authors of the Durham Statement. Top row, left to right: Dick Danner (Duke),
Radu Popa (NYU), John Palfrey (Harvard), Claire Germain (Cornell),
Paul George (University of Pennsylvania), Jim McMasters (Northwestern),
Blair Kauffman (Yale). Bottow row: Paul Lomio (Stanford),
Judith Wright (University of Chicago), Terry Martin (University of Texas).