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.

Advertisements

Tabulaw – A Drafting Tool With A Legal Bent


Whew! Gone for a few days as I dug myself out from a pile of work (the paying kind). Perhaps if I had a software tool that combined my legal research efforts and results with a simple, effective sharing and composition tool, I could whip out those opinion letters and research projects faster and more efficiently. Wait – you say there is something like that out there? Have you heard of Tabulaw?

Tabulaw is a web-based service that combines all of the tasks of researching and communicating a point of law into a simple copy / drag / drop interface. Tabulaw is the glue for your other resources and tasks – it appears that it will work with Google, Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis, and perhaps other databases (here’s hoping for Fastcase), allow you to copy and save sections of research, along with their appropriate citations, which are then available to you to drag and drop into your final document. I really like the idea of aggregating from different sources into one, citable “notebook” of content that can then be manipulated and shared. As far as the collaboration element, I am not sure how they intend to implement this – it would be uber cool to make these research folders open to multiple contributors, along with traditional social sharing or direct links to Scribd or Slideshare.

Tabulaw is in private beta and I don’t have an invite so I haven’t yet tested it myself. But you can bet that I signed up for the beta. If I get in, I will get back with more info on this promising tool. In the meantime, check out their promo video below.

A Paper That Researches Itself? Oui!

Automate, automate, automate! Now you can even automate your research and writing process with a new web tool called OuiWrite. The brainchild of 25 year old Peyton Fouts, OuiWrite is featured on the free site OuiBox (link here) – which combines your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts with OuiBox’s own own social network, news, calendar, photo, music, video and blogging applications. OuiWrite is one of those applications. The tool will automatically research your points as you write. Additionally, the tool will format your writing in MLA, APA or Chicago Style and create footnotes.

Guess what? Fouts is enough of a genius to create a version of OuiWrite specifically for legal research, leveraging both Westlaw and Lexis sources (link here). It is a paid version, but how much would you pay for a brief that writes itself?

I encourage you to hit the jump over to the site, watch the videos and take the free trial. It is a pretty cool set up.

It will be interesting to see if OuiBox and OuiWrite Legal gain any traction. Seems that deveoper and consumer interest is out there. Just need to build the “write” mousetrap.

Wikipedia In Court: The How & The When

The logo of Wikipedia.
Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t picked on Wikipedia in a while, so when I got the Legal Writing Institute email this morning with a link to the article entitled Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate, I figured it was time for another go-around with the authority-by-crowd-compromise site. Authors Hannah Murray and Jason Miller undertake to define a process to determine when citing to Wikipedia is o.k., despite its faults, failings and questionable authority. The authors premise their article with an explanation of the difference between citing sources like Wikipedia or, egad, the Urban Dictionary for the meaning of slang terms and relying on such sources for the “contours of the xyphoid process.” In short, the authors believe that appropriate citation of Wikipedia is driven by the legal context in which the citation will be used and the structural limitations of Wikipedia in that same context. I say there is no such thing as appropriate citation to Wikipedia in the context of a legal brief or judicial opinion.

One of the issues is that Wikipedia articles are open to constant revision from any source. The authors believe that some of this concern can be addressed by qualifying the citation by date and time, and explain how to find the time-stamp for the particular page. The authors also believe that Wikipedia is a fine resource for determining the community or consensus perspective on a non-legal concept. Thus, the more technical and formalistic a concept, the less appropriate it is to cite Wikipedia.

While I am right there with the authors on their caution against citing the big Wiki for technical concept, scientific or biographical data, I am still not convinced it is a reasonable source for crowd consensus on the meaning of common phrases such as “business day.” Take, for example, the fact that women are highly underrepresented on Wikipedia as editors and contributors and you are missing half of the population that might have an opinion on what a business day is. The field is further narrowed when you consider that Wikipedia contributors are a fairly small (and shrinking) subset of on-line denizens – those that would even consider taking the time to edit a group Wiki. This small subset cannot and should not be considered to be even a remote facsimile of a public “consensus” on any subject, let alone one that might drive the opinion of a court.

The authors opine that the Wikipedia entry is likely more reliable when it is “common wisdom [that] is more likely to be correct.” If so, then why cite Wikipedia at all? Why wouldn’t it be the subject of judicial notice at that point? I say, back away from the Wikipedia and look to the underlying sources. I challenge their conclusion that Wikipedia is a “great source” in this context – go ahead and use it to look up information to settle a quick argument at the bar or to pull links or lists of other resources that might actually be curated and reliable. But don’t even think about going there to support something as important as a legal decision.

For what it is worth, and to sit on the other side of the fence for a moment, any citation to Wikipedia that relies solely on date and time is insufficient – I would hope that anyone citing the source as authority would also consider attaching a copy of the actual language on the page at the time of citation. Consider using a handy Internet Explorer or Firefox tool like iCyte, which freezes a page in time for later review. Then, be prepared to defend your use of this highly questionable resource.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Will Big Two Soon Become Big Three? Bloomberg Law

Here is a legal research announcement of note: Bloomberg has announced a new search service called Bloomberg Law.

Billed as an all-in-one legal research and news content platform, Bloomberg promises a service that is fully customizeable and, “gasp” user-friendly. Even more interesting is the claim that Bloomberg Law is the “first and only real-time research system for the 21st century legal practice.” The single search engine taps legal, news and company information from one location. It also offers an aggregation of content under the heading “Points of Law” – combining lead cases with subsequent related cases and statutes, regulations and rules by topic. “Law Reports” appear to be another content aggregator, focused on current events connected to source documents, legal expert opinions, and related financial and curent news, legal and regulatory opinions. “Law Digest” offer legal taxonomies by topic, with relevant legal content and analysis, with links to primary sources and the ability to set alerts for updates. “Dockets” are what they sound like – unlimited searchable access to case dockets, with the added bonus of real time access, often before formal publication. Finally, what legal research service could effectively function without its citation checker? Of course, Bloomberg Law offers “Citator” to “conduct issue-based research and validate your cases.” The pluses to “Citator” are  inclusion of case extracts pertinent to the cited point of law and side-by-side comparison features.

Full text database search. Alert functionality. Analytical reports. Litigation research tools. Competitive intelligence profiles. Westlaw and Lexis, I would be scared. Although the features definitely speak to business researchers more than traditional legal researchers and lawyers, it certainly sounds like Bloomberg Law is gearing up to provide legal research for the 21st Century.

Check out this PDF with details via Above The Law.

I am going to contact them and see if I can’t get a preview so that I can report back here on what BL is all about. Wish me luck!