A big day for Free Law

See Google post below.  And stay tuned for another announcement tomorrow, which will be yet another big day for Free Law.   And we here at Stanford have something cooking too.  Stay tuned.

Take a look at this posting and its comments too, from the Supreme Court of Texas Blog.





Finding the laws that govern us
11/17/2009 09:05:00 AM

As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that’s a problem: Laws that you don’t know about, you can’t follow � or make effective arguments to change.

Starting today, we’re enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the “Legal opinions and journals” radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of “separate but equal” facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the “How Cited” link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Justice Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Posted by Anurag Acharya, Distinguished Engineer

Computer Programming and the Law

Paul Ohm, one of the developers of AltLaw, writes about “Computer Programming and the Law: A New Research Agenda” in the Villanova Law Review (Vol. 54, 2009).

Paul Ohm states: ” I propose a new interdisciplinary research agenda called Computer Programming and the Law.  This speciality resides where law intersects computer programming, computer science, and information technology.  Like “Law and Economics” or “Law and Social Sciences,” Computer Programming and the Law has practical and theoretical dimensions; it imports into the law both the techniques used by computer programmers and the theories behind the science…. Compared to what researchers can accomplish today, researcher-programmers will produce the same output for lower cost or a better end product for the same cost.”

He offers some great examples of the power that programming can unleash in the law — from better data gathering and mining to visualization. 

Ohm’s discussion of “Improved Legal Research” really nails the current problem:

“The failure to embrace innovation plagues not only law professors; all lawyers find themselves trapped in technological backwaters due to some simple economic truths: Lawyers tend to be willing to spend too much for second-rate software and remain too easily impressed by low-tech advances.  This deadly combination gives vendors of legal research tools little incentive to invest in expensive research and development….

These reasons account for why the duopoly of Westlaw and Lexis has survived for so long, despite its relatively crude legal research tools.  These companies charge exorbitant rates while virtually ignoring the remarkable advances in search engine technology, because their lawyer-clients demand nothing better.”

Ohm’s prediction for the future is based on his work on Altlaw, and on other innovators such as Justia.com, Public.Resource.org, Internet Archive and Fastcase.com

He writes:  “We now exchange data and support one another, and I predict that within five years, legal researchers will have several freely accessible, web-based databases containing all federal and state case law, with better search engines and faster performance than the for-pay services.  Either we will be freed from the walled gardens of Westlaw and Lexis, or the duopolists will be forced to innovate to compete.”

“SEARCH FREEDOM – New online services offer law searches gratis”

An article in the ESQ section of the January 2009 issue of California Lawyer magazine offers a nice summary of free legal research case law databases.  The article, “Search Freedom – New online services offer law searches gratis,”  by Jake Widman, also reports on a survey involving Precydent and its retrieval abilities:

. . . To test Precydent’s search functions, CEO Thomas A. Smith, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, asked several law professors to list the cases that should come up in particular example searches. He then compared the results obtained on Precydent against those from commercial services. Precydent, according to Smith, delivers results that more closely mirror the law professors’ lists.

Case Law Just Wants to be Free

Case Law Just Wants to be Free

An Accelerating Trend

by Robert J. Ambrogi

Legal.Online column in May 2008 Oregon State Bar Bulletin

An excellent, must-read summary of the past, present and future of open access to court cases.

“. . . in the information age in which we now live, private control over the distribution of public case law seems anachronistic.”