Cutting Edge Research Alternative Ravel Law

ravel-logo

Here’s another one for you: Ravel Law, a 2012 startup out of Stanford Law, promises radically easier, faster and more intuitive legal research option through its visual search engine. Apparently, Ravel (which promises to UNravel the law), is a collaboration between law, computer science and design. I can’t help but agree that the interfaces offered by the traditional legal database giants continue to fall WAY behind the curve on UI and ease of use.

Ravel uses a graphical visual interactive interface to display key information about cases. It is really something else entirely. I searched in the SCOTUS database the terms “insurance” and “mccarran ferguson” and got the result below:

insurance mccarran ferguson

 

When you hover over a circle, it takes you to a case in the results. You also can drop down in the list on the right to see the citing sources, click on them and get a new visual representation of how that case has been interacted with. You can quickly move along research trails using the visual interface, or scan in a more traditional model using the list on the right. I think it is a truly brilliant and novel approach to parsing out how court decisions interrelate – you can easily map out the history of cases and how and when search terms are cited in a manner completely different from traditional models.

Right now, the information being mined includes  cases and statutes from the federal circuits and SCOTUS back to about 1950. They are expanding as they can, but are somewhat limited to the extent that the underlying data is or is not presented in a machine-mineable format. The service is currently in beta and is free. Check it out and let me know what you think about it.

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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.