Free Law Project To Promote Access to Law, For Free

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Court opinions and records are in the public domain, and therefore open to the public, of course. But not for free – just try to secure a case from PACER. UC Berkeley School of Information assistant professor Brian Carver and UC Berkeley alumnus Michael Lissner have taken the law into their own hands, so to speak, and have formed a non-profit organization called the Free Law Project with the goal of providing free and easy to access legal content for download. As can be seen from their About page, the idea is:

  • to provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes to the benefit of the general public and the public interest;
  • to develop, implement, and provide public access to technologies useful for legal research;
  • to create an open ecosystem for legal research and materials;
  • to support academic research on related technologies, corpora, and legal systems; and
  • to carry on other charitable activities associated with these purposes, including, but not limited to, publications, meetings, conferences, trainings, educational seminars, and the issuance of grants and other financial support to educational institutions, foundations, and other organizations exclusively for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes as allowed by law.

The end result will look much like other research tools, in that it will offer access to current and historical state and federal court decisions via search interface, with alerts, advanced search and citator services. Another cool thing, they will use open licenses for their software -  Juriscraper and CourtListener.  Because they are open, anyone can take the software and make it do more, better, faster, more awesomer things. For instance, the ultra-interesting Ravel Law has used the Free Law Project databases to shore up its own content.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way that court documents and judicial opinions are supposed to be open, public documents but that you can’t get them without paying a gatekeeper. This runs completely counter to how the Internet does and should work, IMHO. This principle is what activist Aaron Swartz gave his life to promote. Making money off of access to the law reminds me of paying for bottled water. Why? We already pay for the systems that generate the resource.

Kudos to Carver and Lissner for doing their part to break down those walled gardens.

Congrats, Rocket Lawyer, on the LawPivot Acquisition

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Rocket Lawyer, the do it yourself legal document creation tool site, has just announced its purchase of LawPivot, the Quora Q&A site for legal advice. Seems a decent match. Rocket Lawyer leverages the mindset of the new Web – the belief  that anyone can leverage web-based information and tools to accomplish whatever the task at hand, in this case legal document drafting. Rocket Lawyer also taps into attraction of  a la carte legal services – when the drafting process gets onerous, Rocket Lawyer will connect you with legal counsel to help you with the details. However, the cost of admission to the document generating process is free. Rocket Lawyer is all about improving access and simplifying the process in an affordable way. For lawyers, Rocket Lawyer offers a place to build a profile and means to connect with clients who need more assistance than the free legal forms generator can provide.

LawPivot, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach to matching lawyers with potential clients. Over 2,300 lawyers in 37 states, to be precise. Site visitors can ask confidential legal questions on the site. Attorneys will then message the visitors back with legal advice. Users can ask unlimited, free, follow up questions. LawPivot can assist with questions on corporate, intellectual property, contracts, employment, tax, and immigration law, among other areas. Like Rocket Lawyer, the lawyers on LawPivot can create profiles to provide some background to site visitors about the lawyer’s competencies. LawPivot also attempts to connect users with lawyers who are best suited to answer the particular question. The more a user interacts with LawPivot, the better the site can track usage trends and improve matching of lawyers and potential clients.

I definitely see the overlap between these two sites and it seems to me that a purchase / merger makes a great deal of sense. Between forms generation and Q&A legal advice for discrete legal questions, the combination of Rocket Lawyer and LawPivot can cover a great deal of legal need with agile on-line tools. It appears that Rocket Lawyer will build LawPivot into the Rocket Lawyer experience. It will certainly be interesting to see the end result of this marriage. Best of luck to both businesses in reforming the practice of law.

Lots of Legal Apps For You

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Want to check out new legal apps for your mobile device? Thank the fine folks over at the UCLA School of Law / Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library for a very nice list of interesting tools to boost your mobile, legal productivity. There are nearly 60 apps listed, some of which I have mentioned here in the Studio before, but plenty more that are new to me and maybe new to you. I won’t mention them all here – hit the jump above for the complete list. But I do have to mention a few that look particularly fun, such as the following (quoted from the site):

 

wolfram

 

The Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant is a legal reference tool that provides access to a dictionary of legal terms, statutes of limitations for each state in the U.S., a tool for calendar calculations, a variety of calculators, and crime rate and demographic data. The app is powered by the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine and is compatible for use on all iOS devices. The app sells for $4.99 and may be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.

 

 

 

mobiletranMobile Transcript is an app that provides attorneys with the ability to read deposition transcripts formatted for their devices. Transcripts are uploaded by attorneys’ court reporters to the Mobile Transcript website, which in turn downloads the transcripts to the attorneys’ devices (court reporters must hold asubscription with Mobile Transcript to be able to upload transcripts). The app allows attorneys to highlight and flag text. The app is FREE and is available for use on iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad devices, as well as Droid and Blackberry devices. For iPhone and iPod devices, the app may be downloaded from theiTunes App Store. Mobile Transcript has a separate app optimized for the iPad that may be downloaded from the iTunes App Store. The app for Blackberry smartphones may be downloaded from the Mobile Transcript website, and the Droid version may be downloaded from Google Play.

 

legalnewsapp

 

The Legal News Reader app is a simple RSS feed aggregator that retrieves important news stories from a number of legal news sites, thereby allowing the user to keep up to date on developments in the news in one convenient place. The app allows users to comment on articles, to read comments left by others, and to share stories with others. The app is $0.99 and may be downladed from the iTunes App Store.

 

 

 

pocketThe PocketJustice FULL app provides you with abstracts of the U.S. Supreme Court’s constitutional decisions and access to audio files for its public sessions. The app includes voting alignments and biographical sketches for all 110 Justices, searchable transcripts, and information and audio for more than 600 constitutional law cases heard in the U.S. Supreme Court. The full version of the app is available for $4.99 and may be downloaded from the iTunes App Storefor use on the iPhone and iPod Touch (a FREE version may also be downloaded from the iTunes App Store, but it offers fewer features). The app may also be downloaded for use on Android devices from Google Play for $4.99.

 

 

And there are lots more to check out. Load them up and head out with your law office in your pocket.

myRight – The Online Legal Consult Site

 

You know how many lawyers offer that first consultation for free? Maybe you don’t want to go down to the lawyers office and get the goods. Good news – you may have another option as close as hand as your keyboard.

 

myRight, the invention of two law students, is intended to return the power to the people, as it were. By offering this initial consult via the web, the idea is that non-lawyers may be able to answer their own legal questions without the formalities of meetings and legal retention.

 

The site leads the user through a series of questions that narrow the issue and, hopefully, yield a useful answer. Basic information is provided along the way, towards that end. The site is obviously helpful to non-lawyers, but may also be helpful to lawyers looking to prepare their own consult scripts for various simple legal issues. Contributing lawyers are the potential profit source for myRight – lawyers can pre-pay for leads for when the legal issue gets too complicated for the basic level addressed on-site. There is a button at the top of the page for connecting with a lawyer, an explanation of the legal point below the questions and a list of related questions and links at the bottom of the page.

 

 

Apparently, there is something in it for LegalZoom too, the founder of which is a myRight advisor – if you find yourself at the end of the series of questions on preparing a will – you will be prompted to buy one from LegalZoom for 10% off the regular price.

 

I can hear traditional attorneys now, clamoring about the hazards of such a “one-size-fits-all” approach. But don’t write it off too quickly. Most legal problems can’t be solved by a simple 6 step questionnaire  myRight will filter out the few that do, empowering users to address the matters they can, while offering lawyers an opportunity to tap into the “I thought I could do it myself” community that pervades the internet these days. For lawyers, think of myRight as another option for reaching clients in this Brave New World.

BriefMine Promising Cheap Option for Access to Legal Briefs

When I think about where to find a brief, I immediately think Westlaw. But if you aren’t so much into the high price of access, there may be another option coming your way. BriefMine is a new web tool that offers an interface with a database of briefs tapped via natural language search. Right now, the private beta service can link issues with briefs across the country. Eventually, BriefMine promises to link the briefs to the legal opinions they yield.

There is a User page and a search interface. The user page is for tracking content and possible collaboration with other BriefMine users. Store documents within the Favorites Feed on this page.

The Search page is super-simple. It uses natural language search, employing the following syntax (from the site):

BriefMine Search query syntax:
• To search for the word “foo” in a document, simply enter text: foo
• To search for the phrase “foo bar” in a document, simply enter text: “foo bar” (in quotation marks)
• To search for phrase “foo bar” AND the phrase “quick fox” in different places of the same document, simply enter text: “foo bar” “quick fox”

BriefMine’s premise is that legal research can be brief-centric and built on the research foundation built by others. Why reinvent the wheel, right? While private beta is free, it appears BriefMine will eventually be a paid service, albeit with a much lower price of admission than Westlaw.

I can’t for the life of me get a description of their database scope, so I really can’t opine on what may turn up in response to your search and how comprehensive that results list will be. Obviously, the more docs in the database, the more useful. I would imagine BriefMine will be adding content as they go along and presumably will have a meaningful collection when the service becomes paid.

Find out a bit more about them in their promotional video, below:

Crowdsourcing the Law? Apparently You Can, With Jurify

Seems a blasphemous concept, but how about getting top-tier legal resources from the finest legal minds for free? Jurify is looking to secure content from the best and the brightest lawyers to include on their site, offering in exchange recognition via direct attribution and inclusion on top ten lists by category. They are soliciting information from lawyers, double-checking its accuracy with other lawyers, and then offering the content to still more lawyers and the public at large for free or cheap. Up the Revolution!

Jurify’s brand new, slickly designed site, is the brainchild of law grads / lawyers Eric and Nicole Lopez who hope to change the way people access legal resources. They are so hip, they look like they are even using Instagram photos on their about page! So, what kind of content are we talking about here? Really anything – memos, blog posts, client alerts, white papers, videos, cases, articles, websites, news stories, training materials, sample briefs, sample forms, whatever. All tagged and searchable, with the ability to rate and comment on the content and awarded with Credibility Scores. What’s that? The Credibility Score measures a legal member’s level of engagement with a specific subject, generated via a proprietary algorithm. The algorithm factors include the type, quantity and quality of contributions, professional background and achievements. If you contribute quality content, the site promises to include you in lists that showcase your brainpower, presumably encouraging the public to choose you for more in-depth analysis. Oh, and you can even earn achievements, like little Foursquare badges. I want the Learned Hand badge – I have ALWAYS loved his name!

From their site:

Jurify is the home for top-tier attorneys and blue chip executives involved with the law. Created by experienced lawyers from global law firms who grew tired of the cloistered and outdated way law was practiced, Jurify is an invitation-only platform that channels the collective genius of the best attorneys worldwide to deliver high-quality legal resources in mere seconds.

Our content is contributed by carefully-screened attorney members who share without pay. These lawyers are rewarded withrecognition through direct attribution as well as placement in our practice-specific “Top Attorneys” lists. They also earn Achievements designed to showcase their accomplishments and provide additional validation to discriminating clients and employers in search of the best the legal world has to offer.

The site promises the mindware of the most accomplished practitioners, and invites viewer attorneys to apply for free membership, as inclusion in the site is invite only. I imagine they are pretty hungry for applicants right now – as it appears obvious the success of Jurify will depend heavily on getting quality material from a lot of quality contributors. While it may not be as attractive to busy lawyers already earning a decent living and finding it difficulty to piece two minutes together, I see it as a potential marketing tool for newer lawyers interested in getting their name out there. Which cuts against the promise of crowdsourced experience, but let’s overlook that small hiccup for the moment. There is also, as expected, a rather lengthy terms and conditions I recommend reading closely.

Jurify is indeed a novel concept. Can it take hold? In a world driven by social media, achievements and on-line recognition and promotion, maybe it could. I hope it does. Better access to legal help isn’t such a bad thing, is it? Check out their promotional video below and stop by their site. Let me know what you think – this is definitely a conversation-starter.

Lucky Android Now Has Fastcase App

 

I have been a fan of Fastcase on iOS for more than two years and now I have some great news for Android toting lawyers – Fastcase is now available on your Android-powered device! It has a similar interface and feature set as the iOS app; most notably FREE access to case law and available statutes as well as synchronization of research between mobile and desktop. Results come back to you with case name and the most relevant paragraph, with results listed by relevancy ranking. Search terms are highlighted. Using Mobile Sync and desktop access, you can go back on your desktop to stuff you’ve found and saved on your mobile so that you can more easily read and print your results.

 

Bottom line, though, is that these features come to you for free on your mobile. I can think of no other legal mobile app that offers such a great research alternative for so little money. Go, Fastcase!

An RSS Feed for Legal Apps

 

Back in the day, specialized applications for law were few. Not so much anymore. If you want to stay on top of the latest and greatest applications to support your legal practice, check out Mobile Apps for Law’s site and RSS feed. The site promises legal research and utility apps for all devices. In addition to the RSS feed, which delivers new inclusions straight to your RSS reader of choice, the site itself is searchable. Using boolean search, keywords and fields, you can find by application subject and/or device, and limit to recently updated apps. You will need to subscribe to the to see full search results, though.

Or, you can use the new RSS feed. The free feed provides information on the latest mobile apps releases for legal research and utilities. The feed gives information on each app that is newly added to the database, which apparently includes over 900 mobile apps. Click the app title and view the full information on the app maintained in the database. Not a bad way to stay up to date on the latest legal-mobile tech.

The Cloud: A Foul Play?

Whether or not to use the Cloud in your legal practice: that is the question. To be, or not to be, in the Cloud depends heavily on the ethical rules that guide our profession. Not surprisingly, those ethics commissions are having just as much difficulty grappling with the question as are the ordinary practitioners faced with the attractive option of SaaS and cloud products. Is there an ethical trap inherent in the use of these tools, just waiting to be sprung?

Fortunately, the ABA Commission on Ethics is striving to be realistic in its approach to the use of cloud computing and possible violation of client confidentiality. The Commission has drafted a proposal to assist lawyers in making decisions regarding cloud services. 

The gist of the proposal, as well as the gist of the ethics opinions rendered by state bar associations, is that a lawyer need take “reasonable” steps to ensure client confidentiality and that this same standard applies to use of the cloud to transmit client data. Some opinions also combine the concept of flexibility with reasonableness, clearly a nod to the “everchanging nature” of technology. Protection level may be adjusted based on the client’s needs and nature of the information involved. And, rightly so, the onus should be on the lawyer to establish that he or she acted reasonably with respect to the use of technology for storage, manipulation and transfer of data. This includes a showing that the lawyer acted diligently by, for example, analyzing terms of service, privacy policies, security features and actively took the steps necessary to ensure the greatest level of protection available. This does not inecessarily require a complete refusal to use anything cloud in support of your practice.

Take a look at some  of the reported ethics opinions. From these, you should be able to get a sense of what is required of you when you opt to look to skyward for technological assistance. And remember, just because it comes from the cloud doesn’t necessarily mean that something wicked this way comes.