Free Law Project Is Now Even Bigger, Ergo Better


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!



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:

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!

Zillman's Annotated Academic & Scholarly Search Sources


Another great resource from research whiz Marcus Zillman over at LLRX – Academic and Scholar Search Engines and Sources – An Annotated Link Compilation. In Mr. Zillman’s own words:


This new guide focuses on the latest and most significant academic and scholar search engines and sources. With the constant addition of new and pertinent information released online from every sector, it is very easy to experience information overload. A real asset in responding to the challenges of so much data is to apply techniques to identify and locate significant, reliable academic and scholarly information that resides in both the visible and invisible web. The following selected academic and scholar search engines and sources offer a wide range of actionable information retrieval and extraction sources to help you accomplish your research goals. 


There’s a metric tonne of good stuff in his list. Have at it!



Factbrowser Condenses Business & Market Research, Filter By Filter

Need to know the facts on business and technology but don’t have the time to sift? Factbrowser bills itself as a discovery engine for research and technology, and apparently is designed to streamline the trip between asked and answered. The site taps a database that is constantly being supplemented, with a great deal of filter-ability. The intent of the service is to provide researchers with solid facts and data to support decisions and analysis.

What I like about Factbrower’s results is that it attributes research to its original source, links to the source’s homepage and the piece of content it references. The list of topics is not large in number but definitely diverse in content. There is a format filter that targets attitudes, behaviors, business models, demographics, market structure, reach and strategy. Information filters include case studies, forecasts and infographics. The Industries filter is fairly broad, while the Companies filter is pretty much focused on the biggest players. The Sources list, however, is quite large and impressive, clearly including some familiar names as well as some well-respected niche repositories. Consumer filters are broken down by typical demographics, as are the listings under the regions tab. Simply click on the topic and then filter under the foregoing lists to refine the results. Then, collect the RSS feed of those results and stay up to date as relevant news / information breaks. The idea is just great and can only get greater as they add more content and filters to the mix. The site is mobile optimized, so it is pretty easy to view what’s cooking while on the go.

Check it out and see if you can’t tailor a search to your needs – Factbrowser de-fluff’s the news and stats  for you and delivers it to your virtual doorstep.

When You Need To Dig Deeper In Your Search

I was asked earlier today to find something that Google couldn’t find, at least for free anyway. So what did I do? I did the deep dive, of course.

I haven’t touched on this topic recently here in the Studio, so the time is ripe. I am talking about the “deep web”, the “invisible web” of data and documents hosted on the Internet that traditional search bots and crawlers of Google and similar ilk can’t seem to index. It is estimated that the invisible web is 500 times larger than the searchable portion of the Web, which we all know is pretty freaking big to begin with. Sometimes, you won’t be able to find what you are looking for using traditional search engines, so what do you do? You use some tricks to access those hidden databases, of course – you are more than 500 times more likely to find the goods.

If you are looking for a search engine tuned to deep web searching, check out this great list (over 100!) broken down by topic, curated by the Online Education Database.

If you are looking for information that is more geared towards the legal profession, you can do no better than this great list of invisible web resources over at LLRX curated by Marcus Zillman.

Wondering what I was looking for? A current list of legislation across the 50 states pertaining to medical malpractice, particularly tort damages caps. I found it in a database maintained by the National Association of State Legislatures. I didn’t have to pay a cent for it. Thanks guys! Sorry Westlaw.



Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle: The Problem of Self-Plagiarism

When people think “plagiarism”, they invariably think of the process of ripping off someone else’s words without attribution to that person. Easy enough to grasp in concept, but not always easy to assess in practice, absent an exact, word-for-word quote. But there is more to the concept of plagiarism than ripping someone else off. How about ripping yourself off? That too would constitute unethical plagiarism  – and the proper term for such repurposing is “self-plagiarism.”

Self-plagiarism, also known as “recycling fraud”, is a problem often found in academic circles. It arises when an author republishes an entire work, or reuses significant portions in a new work, without referencing the earlier work. It is more insidious because most people wouldn’t consider taking from oneself to be stealing. Nonetheless, self-plagiarism is an issue, particularly for publishers with interests in the original work. Additionally, to the extent it is passed off as new material, the self-plagiarism purports to be something it is not – virgin territory.

Traditional concepts of plagiarism do not easily encompass self-plagiarism. For example, the definition of plagiarism from the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary provides:

use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work 

My emphasis. And, from the Oxford English Dictionary:

the wrongful appropriation or purloining and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas … of another

Again, my emphasis. Self-plagiarism, however, does not benefit from such solid agreement in definition – misuse of another’s work. Self-plagiarism involves re-use of identical or nearly identical portions of an author’s own writings, without acknowledging that the author is copying from his or her prior work and without citing the prior work. Thus, it differs significantly from the definition of plagiarism tied to the concept of intellectual theft from another, making self-plagiarism susceptible to significant dispute. Unlike plagiarism, there is nothing illegal about self-plagiarism, although it could subject one to civil liability to a copyright holder. And it certainly smacks of unethical behavior.

To the extent you are interested in learning more about self-plagiarism and its pitfalls, the fine folks at Paradigms LLC, the makers of iThenticate Software, have prepared a white paper explaining its intricacies. You can download the white paper here.

Practicing attorneys are encouraged to “self plagiarize” in creating legal documents – why reinvent the wheel when you already filed a brief on the same legal points last month or draft a contract without reference to language you employed in the standard terms in your prior contracts?  However, lawyers who moonlight as authors of legal treatises, periodicals, handbooks or other more commercially viable publications should at least confront the concept and understand the consequences. If you really find yourself troubled by the possibilities, you can always look into the iThenticate  software product – it compares manuscripts against more than 14 billion web pages, more than 30 million published research articles from 150 leading science, technical and medical publishers, and over 80,000 major newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals.

So, next time you want to use that gem you previously employed in a prior work, make sure you cite the source – you. Remember the four R’s: reduce; re-use; recycle; and, re-attribute.


Scrible: Your Web Search Annotation Tool

Remember the days of scribbling notes in the margins of your *gasp* paper-filled text book, highlighting passages with your yellow (or pink or green or orange) marker, dog-earing pages or photocopying and marking up copies of library volumes? Reach back — I know you can find that lost memory.

If it is to be believed that Web research is beating book research at the very game it invented, then how is a researcher to mark-up or jot down all the rich thoughts a source may evoke as you tear through them on the Web? One option is the very cool new bookmarklet / toolbar Scrible.

Scrible hits the highlights: save pages for later, sans broken links; annotate pages right in the browser; save and find research with tags, legends and search; and, access research from anywhere (because its in the cloud).

The primary means for accessing Scrible’s goodness is via bookmarklet or browser add-on that works in most browsers. The resulting toolbar offers the tools for annotating the page you are visiting. Share or save the work, and then retrieve it and use it further from your library on

Scrible currently is in public beta, as of yesterday morning. Basic service, with 125 MB of storage, is free. It appears Scrible is contemplating paid and enterprise versions with more storage and features.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Check out these images from scrible’s own tour page and see how cool this little toolbar really is:

Rich annotations with multiple text styles and colors

Add thoughts to page with "Sticky Notes"

Categorize Annotations with "Dynamic Legends"

Quick, easy export of annotations to a Document (IE add-on only at this time)

Share Marked Web Pages by Email

Save Web Research to Online Account

Organize, Search, Retrieve Saved Web Research


Go forth, Scrible, and mark up your Web!

More Online, Searchable, FREE Legal Research

The Free Law Reporter an electronic case reporter that freely publishes nearly every recent appellate and supreme court opinion, from state to federal US courts,  with emphasis on recent. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the build, the FLR is looking to a free, unencumbered (by whom, I wonder?) law reporter fit for educational, research and practical purposes. It’s source feed pulls weekly so there is a potential lag time involved in securing results. Tapped sources include the appellate courts of the 50 states and the federal government. The service culls the slip opinions that are fed to it every week, and then organizes the opinions into “ebooks”, with each state and federal jurisdiction gathered into a volume. FLR is also working out its search function: basic keyword searching is now available and facet searching and “more like this” functionality is coming soon. Coverage starts January 1, 2011, so it is not much for archive searching. However, as it very cleverly formats the “ebooks” in the .epub format, they are viewable on virtually any desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone and e-reader device, allowing interested parties to read the most current decisions in the relevant jurisdiction easily and efficiently. Right now, the feed  include everything that comes from a given court including “unpublished” opinions, orders, and motions, which screams out for some level of filtering, which FLR promises is coming soon. And the FLP is actively soliciting law professors and other legal professionals to assist in a project to tag and add headnotes to opinions!

Limitations notwithstanding, the FLP is precisely the type of research geared to modern practice that we should be clamoring for. Once clever developers learn how to harness the massive flow of legal information generated from our court and legislatures, make that information accessible and usable, then the old models of electronic research, with their hefty paywalls, invariably will have to change. It can’t happen soon enough for me.

Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites.

Cool Tool: Deep Citing Within a Web Page with CiteBite

If you perform research on the Web, or care to share the results of your research with someone else, you probably have found on occasion that your desired data may be lost in a sea of text within a web page. Sure you can “find” within the page to locate where your search terms are hidden. Or, if you want to be able to go directly to the point or direct someone else to the point at a later time, you could try CiteBite.

CiteBite offers the ability to link to a particular portion of a web page, which is particularly useful for long, text-heavy pages or articles. When you click on the CiteBite-d link, your page will open up at the precise point desired, with the particular text of interest highlighted.

CiteBite is a web-based tool that can be used from its web page linked above, or via Firefox extension or bookmarklet for other browsers. Pages are cached on CiteBite’s server so the chances of losing your cite are diminished.

Seems like a “must use” tool for any web-based research – check it out next time you are searching Google Scholar for case law and need to share the holding of a case with someone else. And don’t forget to thank me when they look at you like some kind of technological wunderkind.