Casetext’s Wikipedia-Style Resource for Legal Research

casetext

An eBay for lawyers? How about a Wikipedia for legal research? They’re mashing up social media with the legal profession left and right these days. Casetext is an interesting, um, case, particularly here in the Studio where I am all about the free and cheap and the big Two Three have been a target of mine for years. Imagine. Making all that money off publicly available information.

Casetext is clearly intended to disrupt some of that. The hurdle that  free and cheap access to legal research materials has had to overcome is the value-add that comes from annotations and citation treatment. Lexis and Westlaw have certainly spent a lot of effort honing and promoting that value-add. Casetext’s angle is to get that value-add through crowd-sourced case annotations, much like Wikipedia does with its articles or Quora does with its Q/A format.

Casetext is the creation of two former law review heads from Stanford and Harvard.  Users of the service are encouraged to add tags and text to cases, link to other cases and generally provide similar data to that provided by the attorney editors at the big paid legal data companies. Contributors can provide  analysis of a document or of a paragraph within a document, link to their own articles or other related sources, add related cases and up-vote useful related sources. Contributions are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, permitting commercial use with proper attribution.

Users have to use real names, which hopefully encourages a higher standard of contribution than the anonymous commenting model. LIke any good social model, there is a reward system. Casetext uses reputation points, measuring a user’s contribution to Casetext. Gain points for adding content, for categorizing cases, for upvoting, and for receiving upvotes on content you add. Lose points for being downvoted and pay points to downvote others. Interesting system of checks and balances. There are some decent contributors on the site already, including a law professor who annotated a case he had argued to SCOTUS.

There are Quick Facts and a Document Wiki, essential information at a glance and and free form document summaries, respectively. Related cases are citing sources. The record includes oral arguments to SCOTUS. Create a PDF of a case with the two column format you may be very familiar with from the other guys. You can create a bookmark list of cases to read later, and even a Heatmap which highlights the most cited passages – dark blue means most cited. There is also a “copy with cite” feature – one of the features the Westlaw rep proudly touted to me when she was up-selling me on WestlawNext.

Its free to use right now, but is promising a paid Pro premium model. Right now, the big challenge is scope: the databases only include all U.S. Supreme Court cases, federal circuit court cases from Volume 1 of F.2d, federal district court cases published in F.Supp. and F.Supp.2d from 1980, and Delaware cases published in A., A.2d, and A.3d from Volume 30 of A. It was last updated on June 14, 2013. Hopefully it will open up to new jurisdictions soon. Quite frankly, I think this is a very exciting development, with a whole lot of promise if enough people play along.

Check out Casetext in action in the video below. What do you think? Would you contribute your expertise? Does the good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one? Let me know.

Need It Simpler? Simple English Wikipedia Is For You

I know what you’re thinking. Simpler Wikipedia? If you find yourself struggling with the language in some of the more technically challenging Wikipedia articles, then maybe you see the utility. Simple English Wikipedia is a version of Wikipedia, indeed a Wikimedia property, that contains simple, straightforward and to the point articles on various topics. Unfortunately, not quite as many topics as the big cousin, English Wikipedia. 86,169 compared to 4,032,663. CTangent, an Admin for Wikmedia’s “simple” cousin, explains it thusly on Reddit:

 

SEWiki was designed for non-native speakers of English that are hoping to improve their command of the language. SEWikipedia, unfortunately, has been used as a political platform at the cost of the integrity of the project. For aspiring administrators of the full English Wikipedia, being an admin of the SEWikipedia is a nice thing to put on the resume. Many of these people would make very terrible administrators for various reasons. However, since SEWikipedia is so small, they can often gain adminship on this smaller wiki and use it to slingshot to a position of power on the English Wikipedia. In fact, when I was there, one of the founding members was de-adminned and banned by the other admins (including me) because he was using the SEWikipedia to prove a political point to the members of the English Wikipedia, who had banned him before. In principle, though, it’s a good idea. Technical articles are simplified for the layman, and non-technical articles are written so that non-native speakers can learn the language. There was a simple english Wiktionary too, but I think that got killed by the powers that be in Wikimedia.

 

I get it. Power struggle. All machinations aside, I can see why it could be useful even for English-speakers, particularly on highly technical articles. Some of the scientific articles I have read have left me bleary-eyed and cotton-brained. And I practice insurance law and read policies for a living. Having a simple English explanation for string theory would, at the very least, make me sound like I sort of know what I am talking about when my child asks me for help with his science homework.

 

So, how does Simple Wikipedia look and compare? Take the following two examples on the heading “Jurisdiction”, the first from Simple Wikipedia and the second from English Wikipedia. While I understand which version offers a better education on the topic, let’s be serious here,which would you rather read?:

 

 

 

 

The State of Wikipedia – In Graphic Form

Cartoon By Martha Sperry

Studio reader Jen Rhee pointed me to this infographic after reading my article on my old blog site called the State of Wikipedia. It is quite timely, as it follows the recent news about Encyclopedia Britannica abandoning its print volumes. The infographic offers some sobering statistics on Wikipedia’s wild popularity as a research tool, still growing while interest in libraries and book research is on the decline. There is good and bad in that – perhaps the most troubling stat for me is that more than 50% of students will halt their research if there is little to be found on the subject in Wikipedia. And, as always, I am troubled by heavy and sole reliance on a resource that is edited by the masses, although Wikipedia has fought hard to keep their content on the up and up.

 

Check out the infographic below for some interesting data on the Great Wiki’s impact on traditional research modes.

Wikipedia
Via: Open-Site.org

Sarah Palin & Wikipedia. A Match Made in … ?

More grist for your mill, whichever grist (Palin or Wikipedia) you happen to be milling. And, a cautionary tale (again) for those inclined to rely on Wikipedia as an authoritative resource. Maybe you heard recently about Sarah Palin’s “interpretation” of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride. You know, the one in which he stealthily rode to warn the colonists of the presence of British troops? According to Palin, Paul Revere actually was riding his horse at breakneck speed in order to warn the British that the colonists were readying to fight against them. Ringing a bell, no less. Huh? There goes my fourth grade history out the window.

Sad as this lack of education may seem, the fall out has impacted Wikipedia in a negative way. According to Curt Hopkins at ReadWriteWeb, Palin supporters have taken it to the Grand Wiki, specifically Paul Revere’s page, to duke it out as to what really happened more than 200 years before. Apparently, pro-Palin contributors have been changing, while others are reversing, language justifying her comments, as can be seen in the Revisions page for the entry. Here is a discussion centering on the controversy. While Wikipedia’s management assures that measures are being taken to reduce the chances of error – the article is in “protection” status, which means only “experienced” Wikipedians can edit at this time, consider the cautions raised by Mr. Hopkins and what it might mean for your own research results:

Anyone who has written an article or a paper or just done a search in the last few years can tell you how important Wikipedia is as an initial (alas, all too often also an only source) for information. The give-and-take built into the Wiki process seems to be keeping the boat upright, but only just.

Imagine pulling up the entry on deadline for a school paper. Depending on when you tune in, you might be making Paul into a Ninja messenger or a bell-ringing Muppet. Naturally, anyone who accepts a single source as Gospel is not doing the job of a thinking person, but it happens.

Fun, fun, fun. One if by land, two if by sea ….

Research Tip Of The Day: Getting More Out Of Wikipedia

As much as I rail against it, Wikipedia still seems to be a mandatory stop on the Web for lots of web researchers. If you want to get more out of the massive wiki, check out this tool offered up by Lifehacker called The Full Wiki. The web app organizes the information on the page and will even help you pull cites for highlighted sections – not bad if you are thinking of citing to a Wikipedia page, as you might as well go right to the source. The app is in beta right now and has only mined a small subsection of the vast universe of articles for citation purposes. Even so, you can use some of the other tools to map and tree your topic and find other, better sources of content for your research. It is a great idea and a means of leveraging Wikipedia’s content in a more meaningful way.


Wikipedia's Gender Gap. Revisited

A couple of year’s ago, I wrote this blog’s most popular post: “I Finally Figured Out What Is Wrong With Wikipedia.” The crux of the article was a study showing that only about 13% of contributors were women. Obviously, a curated encyclopedia of supposed educational content with such a disparity of contributorship can’t possibly cover all the angles.

Fast forward to today, and an article from Sunday’s New York Times reveals Wikipedia is still struggling under the weight of the same deficit. Sue Gardner, Director of the Wikimedia Foundation has set a laudable goal for herself: increase female contributorship to 25% by 2015, but she recognizes some steep obstacles.

Not the least of which is what is perceived to be women’s aversion to conflict, an exercise found in abundance in the Wikipedia world, with roots in hacker mentalities and argument-fueled, semi-anonymous discourse that pervades the entire on-line world in abundance. Men, supposedly, feed off this conflict, while women are turned away from it.

Gardner also cites the massive disparities in quantities of writing pertaining to issues of interest to women compared to issues of interest to men. Although a somewhat banal example, check out the Wikipedia entries for the television shows “Sex In The City” and “The Sopranos” to get a sense of the interest divide.

Normally, I find myself accustomed to such divides, but the numbers relative to Wikipedia make me squirm: a sizable percentage of online researchers stop there first, and the number of adults who use the site to look for information has nearly doubled from 2007 to 2010.

How to fix this? I am not certain. Although I don’t normally shy away from conflict (I am a lawyer after all), I feel that the burden of time is my enemy here. I simply don’t have enough of it to spend creating new articles of interest to women or updating and expanding existing articles. However, maybe it is time to put a bit of effort in. Maybe we female Internet authors should pay a bit more attention to the single most popular research resource on the Web, if for no other reason to get our voices out there as authorities and to beef up those topics that interest and affect us. Perhaps if we build it, they will come.

Wikipedia for Judges?

You bet! And it’s called, oddly enough, Judgepedia. Looking very much like its relative, Wikipedia, Judgepedia is a people-powered wiki on American judges and courts. The wiki began in October, 2007 and today has 89,140 articles and 630 registered users. The home page breaks out information by federal courts, state courts, judicial selection, judicial philosphy, news and changes and Judgepedia community. There are links for recent news, Facebook, Twitter, Ballotpedia (an interactive almanac of state politics) and the Sunshine Review (a wiki on standards about government transparency).

Obviously, the more interest in a particular court or judge, the more information. A lot of information is merely in the form of external links to the right source (mostly in state or federal government web sites). It still represents a fairly large collection of judically-related links and a decent source to hit if you are looking for particular information about judges and courts.

It’s a wiki – anyone can participate, but to prevent excessive spamming, one must register an account before adding or editing entries. Judgepedia also strives to maintain a “neutral” point of view, which means that:

  • Views should be represented without bias.
  • “Assert facts, including facts about opinions, but do not assert the opinions themselves,” as it says on Wikipedia.
  • Do not give undue weight to one viewpoint.
  • Exercise fairness of tone.
  • Good research, verifiability and reliability of sources are core values

It is currently sponsored and maintained by the Lucy Burns Institute, a non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, founded in December 2006.

Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi over at LawSites (link here) for this great find!

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Do-It-Yourself Wiki

DISCLAIMER: this is NOT a Wikipedia-bashing post. There, now, having gotten the formalities out of the way, it is time in the Studio to examine the benefits of creating your own Wiki and one way to go about doing it. If you are on-line, reading this post, odds are you have visited Wikipedia once or twice. But do you really know what a Wiki is?

I couldn’t help it – I pulled this definition of Wiki off Wikipedia:

A wiki ( /ˈwɪki/ WIK-ee) is a website that allows the easy[1] creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor.[2][3] Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used to create collaborative websites, to power community websites, for personal note taking, in corporate intranets, and in knowledge management systems.

Did you know that the word “wiki” is the Hawaiian word for fast? I didn’t until this morning. The key points to a Wiki are that it is user created and that its pages are heavily interlinked, allowing for a “tree” like structure to the information layers.

I am not going to plumb the benefits or drawbacks to contributing to a public Wiki, such as Wikipedia here. Instead, let’s consider the benefits of building your own personal Wiki. Do you use a “to do” list? Do you maintain a contacts list? Do you bookmark relevant Web information? Do you take notes or grap snips for later consumption? Do you have all of this data in one place, with links between the information?

If not, consider using your own Wiki. One such tool to help you along the way is offered by Zim Wiki (link here), a free, open-source, desktop Wiki application that works in Linux and Windows. I discovered this tool on MakeUseOf (link here). According to MakeUseOf, there are means for getting the tool up and running in OSX, but they are a bit complicated and not for the faint of heart.

What is Zim Wiki? Taken from their website:

Zim aims to bring the concept of a wiki to your desktop. Every page is saved as a text file with wiki markup. Pages can contain links to other pages, and are saved automatically. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a non-existing page. This tool is intended to keep track of TODO lists or to serve as a personal scratch book. But it will also serve you when writing longer and more complicated documents.

A “desktop wiki” means that we try to capture the idea of a wiki, not as a webpage but as a collection of files on your local file system that can be edited with a GUI application. The main focus is a kind of personal wiki that serves for all kind of notes: todo-lists, addresses, brainstorm ideas etc.

But we want to go further then just a wiki filled with random content. It should also be possible to use you random notes as the basis for more structured data: articles, presentations etc. Zim will not include tools to layout a presentation or something like that, you should use your office suite of choice for that, but it should be a tool that can deliver all the content for a presentation in a form that only needs a template and some layout before usage. Therefore certain features normally not found in wikis will be added.

The first step after installation is setting up your information repository, stored locally. You create a home page and direct Zim where to store documents. Text editing tools are basic – just enough to get the data entry job done. Then, start entering.

The strength in this tool is the layering that you can implement. For a given project, put the different major tasks on one layer, and then link off to subtasks residing on their own, separate pages. If you want access to your Zim Wiki on different computers, consider using Dropbox (MakeUseOf’s suggestion – link here) – you can access your Wiki on the go.

As with any tool, the user will find their own unique uses. I see lots of potential in Zim Wiki, primarily due to its fairly stripped down simplicity. Tools like Microsoft’s OneNote and Evernote are similar in their organizational capabilities but can be confounding to a user looking for the simple answer. Zim seems to fit this latter need fairly nicely and, unlike OneNote, for free.

Wikipedia Is Bad Enough …

… but when you don’t actually read the disclaimer in the entry, more and more shame on you. In fact, when you are a famous philosopher and you fail to notice the “fictional” reference, it gets even worse.

I will always get a chuckle from Wikipedia gaffs and this one is a doozy, although not really Wkipedia’s fault  (link here). Thanks ResourceShelf. Apparently, noted French philosopher  Bernard-Henri Levy decided to put Emmanuel Kant in the cross-hairs in his new book, “On War In Philosophy.” One of his sources? A book penned as a fictional account by a fictional twentieth-century philosopher, Jean-Baptiste Botul. The book and Botul were a “joke” created by a journalist in 1999. Botul’s Wikipedia page explains that he is a work of fiction.

Levy, apparently, has taken an “I meant to do that” approach to the situation, explaining that the book’s arguments were sound, whether penned by Botul or the journalist behind the curtain.

Oh, this is rich. Maybe Levy should hire a research assistant.

There Has To Be A Better Source To Plagiarize From

The Australian Taxation Office (“ATO”) has a bit of egg on its face: they recently were caught plagiarizing large chunks of text from my favorite on-line crowd-manipulated repository of ever-changing information, Wikipedia. The offending document, a “draft taxation determination”, borrowed heavily on the topic of how private equity firms treat asset sales. The ATO’s defense? Well, apparently the great Wiki (often confused with the Great Pumpkin) provides a “commonly understood” description of private equity arrangements. Call me crazy, but I don’t think I would consider any description of private equity arrangements “commonly understood.” I would hope that they would be “expertly understood” and that ATO experts explaining them could do it on their own without some nameless Wiki-contributor’s help. Check out the article at the Sidney Morning Herald here. Hat tip to Resource Shelf.