Free Law Project Is Now Even Bigger, Ergo Better

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I wrote about the Free Law Project here in the Studio back a few months ago. Why wouldn’t I? The Project is all about making public information freely available to the public. You can research and download material from state and federal courts for zip, nada, zilch.

More recently, I got an email from Michael Lissner, one of Free Law Project’s founders. He tipped me off to a massive influx of new material at the Project – LawBox made a huge data donation of 1.5 million opinions, opening up 350 new jurisdictions. You can grab it from FLP’s bulk download page, and see what is available from their coverage page.

They have also added a bunch of features – star pagination, improved citation “cross walk”, judge information, a database of all known reporters, and a database of American jurisdictions.

Well done, guys. I, for one, am rooting for you!

 

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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.

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:

Lose The Lists & Opt Out with UnlistMy.Info

 

I have been on a bit of a tear lately with respect to privacy issues on the web. UnlistMyInfo is another tool to help limit the information about you being passed around. This tool helps you determine which sites store information about you and gives you the details on how to request that your information be taken down. I was very impressed with the list of sites UnlistMyInfo has in its library – from addresssearch.com to 123people and zoominfo.com. There is also a link for you to submit a site to UnlistMyInfo for inclusion. It might take a while for you to click through the lists and submit all the unlisting requests, but it is time well spent in an age when it is far too easy for ne’er-do-wells to collect and misuse your vital statistics.

Zukmo Is Your Cloud-Based Filing System

Sometimes browsing the Web feels a little like a game of “catch and release.” You happen upon interesting content, you consume it, and then you release it back into the wild. Invariably, at some point in the future, you may find yourself vaguely remembering having seen something once that might pertain to something you need to know right now, but you can’t quite put your finger on it ….

If you aren’t too fond of the circular file-like cycle of information consumption on the Web, then Zukmo might be your new best friend. At it’s heart, its a bookmarking system. But it’s clever-simple interface and deep functionality make it worth a look. The key functions of Zukmo are the ability to store, access, and share content. Content is culled from various sources around the Web to be stored in Zukmo’s one, centralized location. Create your account for free, drag the bookmarklet up into your browser bar, click it when you are on a page you want to keep and you can then retrieve it at your “My Zukmo” page, either via the bookmarklet link or at their website.  A very nice feature is the ability to import bookmarks from your browser and Google and sync with Delicious and other sources so that you can keep everything centralized. A very, very nice feature is the ability to add the bookmarklet to your mobile browser on your iPhone and iPad – where I do most of my reading anyway.

But it isn’t just about your Web bookmarks. You can also bookmark and upload local documents to My Zukmo, which then become part of the search universe within Zukmo. You can pull content from your Twitter stream, from Google Docs, from YouTube and Vimeo and from Slideshare and view them within Zukmo. The search function offers full text and attribute search across all of the stored content and streams and get back highlighted results, like a Google search. You can distribute out of Zukmo to Facebook and Twitter, by email, or all three at the same time.

When you save in Zukmo, the app uses a simplification process to improve readability, showing only the key content, without the usual Web page gobbledy gook. There is also an Easy Reader button on each entry, which essentially shows the substance in a printer-friendly format. Finally, you can use Zukmo as an automatic sharing hub to Facebook and Twitter, and access your content from any device, anywhere. Check out the sample screenshot of your My Zukmo page. Nice and clean:

Zukmo really offers an incredibly amount of storage service for free. Besides considering it for your bookmarking needs, the document add feature brings Zukmo closer to a cloud backup solution for a large segment of your own personal data. Not a bad deal for the price.

The Vault: Public FBI Records On Line

If you find yourself needing an important FBI document from, say, 1909, you actually might be in luck. The FBI is now making available scads of public documents, over 2,000 to be more exact, via a site called The Vault, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. All that paper has been scanned and added and you can search the site by name or browse by categories, such as:

Administrative Policy Procedures

Anti-War

Bureau Personnel

Civil Rights

Counterterrorism

Foreign Counterintelligence

Fugitives

Gangs Extremist Groups

Gangster Era

Hot Topics

Miscellaneous

Organizations

Organized Crime

Political Figure Events

Popular Culture

Public Corruption

Supreme Court

Unexplained Phenomena

World War II

Violent Crime

Get a list of docs by title and summary within each category. I find myself wondering as I write, though, what could possibly be considered a hot topic when you have dedicated categories for gangster era stuff and unexplained phenomena. But seriously, what a fantastic resource for students seeking information to support a research project.

Hat tip to MakeUseOf.

What E-Research Alternatives Are YOU Using?

Laura K. Justiss at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) – Dedman School of Law wants to know. Actually, Ms. Justiss already asked the question of several, admittedly mostly larger, law firm librarians in 2010 in an effort to get a handle on whether lower-tier, more esoteric research options were digging into the market share enjoyed by Westlaw or Lexis. Her results are available for  download here.

Ms. Justiss’ survey identified six areas tapped for research, including: primary source (case law & statutory) alternatives; court docket and direct case information; secondary sources for topical legal research and legal periodicals; financial, business and news sources; public records; and, non-legal law-related sources such as intellectual property databases.

While Westlaw and Lexis continue to reign, the results certainly are interesting, in that they definitely point to a degree of erosion in market share of the big two within larger firms. The results also are interesting in that they identify new alternatives and indicate they are gaining ground, such as relative newcomer Bloomberg Law. This suggests to me that attorneys, a group not normally known for their innovative thinking in the tech area, are opening their minds up to the possibility of new tools that might get the job done more efficiently than the old standbys. Flat fee arrangements are keeping the Big Two viable, but it is not clear that this strategy will always save their bacon.

Hit the jump above if you want more detail on the results, alternatives and the actual survey used.

Hands On With LawToGo's iPhone Treasury Regulations (Plus Offer)

Way back in July, I reviewed LawToGo’s iPhone app. It provides a searchable database of Internal Revenue Code sections (link here). This week, I am playing around with LawToGo’s new app – Treasury Regulations, iPhone-style (link here). DISCLAIMER: I got a free code to try this out, but don’t worry, you can too – read to the end.

Jade Nile, LLC is the developer. The 13.4 megabyte file holds every Treasury regulation you might ever find yourself needing, but it loads fairly quickly. Brand-spanking new Version 1.0 is up to date with regs as of April 1, 2009. The application is searchable by keyword and simple Boolean connectors “AND” and “OR” and word spread. It is loaded locally, so there is no issue as far as connection when you need to pull a reg.

The layout and functions are quite similar to LTG’s IRC app and this app supports landscape mode. The opening screen quickly flashes by to reveal the search box and a scroll wheel for pulling by section number if you know it.

I tried my hand at keyword searching some regs.  I found that the broader the search, the faster the result. Adding  keywords and connectors added a sizable number of seconds Sometimes, the app showed a tendency to dump out if I added more than two keywords.

The search results are listed serially by number. Keywords are highlighted in yellow, which helps me immensely.

If you click on one result, you can then scroll to nearby sections using the arrows. Hit the plus key to add to bookmarks and send the section by email when you hit the email key. Wait until you are finished searching and reading to hit the email key, though, or add your section by bookmark – reentry into the app always starts at the default search screen without saving your last search.  Note to developer: keep the user’s last search result in the search entry box until manually cleared by the user.

You also can look through the list of regulations by parts as they appear in the volumes. Clicking on a part takes you into subparts and so on. You can always access tips by hitting the help key.

LTG’s Treasury Regs app fills a narrow niche, but definitely serves as a useful, tool for practioners needing this information in a handy form. As Jocelyn from LawToGo explained:

The inspiration came from hauling the Code and Regulations with me to meetings. As is always the case, any time I didn’t carry these weighty books with me would be the one time I needed them the most.  According to Amazon, the shipping weight of the Code and Regulations is 24.8 lbs. Fun if you have Lou Ferrigno helping you out, but not fun when you’re rushing to a meeting with coffee in hand or on vacation and a client calls.

So, here is Law ToGo’s boolean searchable solution. There are a lot of neat tweaks that improve on the Code version, and will be implemented in the next version of the Code app.

The main, or at least most meaningful, tweak is the boolean search functionality. When it works, it certainly helps.

I haven’t confirmed the complete scope of this application – I recommend that you contact LawToGo for more information on that point.

The app is not inexpensive: be prepared to shell out $18.99 for the convenience. But, if you send me an email at my contact page, I will give out two coupon codes, one to each of the first two responders. Thanks, Jocelyn!

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More on Cobalt (& Lexis' Mystery Project)

Logo of Westlaw.
Image via Wikipedia

The New York Times ran an article (link here) discussing “sweeping” changes to the Big Two, Westlaw and Lexis, in the pipeline. Project Cobalt, (previously discussed here), is slated for February 1. Lexis’ drop date has not yet been disclosed.

The Times article is an interesting read on the history of these giants and their motivations for change. You see, people are sick of paying huge amounts for a mediocre, 1980’s interface and functionality. Go figure.

West reps told the Times that it took 5 years to build the new service. Oh no. Does that mean the service is already 5 years out of date?  The article discusses relevancy by algorithm (second-guessing what the lawyer might actually be looking for) and a Google-like search interface. No mention of retaining Boolean search, though. Not 2010 enough, I suppose.

My jury remains out. It will reconvene on February 1.

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A Collection of Government Comics – At Your Service

Not so much law, but still exceedingly cool from the curated information perspective , is this fabulous tip from two of my fav research resources, ResearchBuzz and ResourceShelf – a digital archive of comics created by the U.S. Government about government-related topics. Hit the jump here to browse the collection. Everything from Sprocket Girl, to Captain America Goes To War on Drugs, from Snoopy to Blondie and L’il Abner. Comics are shown gallery style, with attributing information, prompting hours of time-wasting fun. You can even download the entire comic as a PDF!

Go ahead – waste a few hours. It is a holiday week, after all.

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