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LII co-founders Tom Bruce and Peter Martin are in Durban, South Africa, attending the tenth Law Via The Internet Conference. It’s an exhilarating and humbling experience, seeing what so many are doing to make law available and accessible around the world.  It’s especially interesting to see those who have no investment in old ways of doing things create new and innovative solutions — we were particularly taken with Kenya Law Reports’ Bench Research Hotline , a service that provides Kenyan judicial officers with research services via a call center.  It’s a creative way of strengthening judicial infrastructure.  Geekier presentations included Fabio Vitali’s very useful presentation of the Akoma Ntoso legal-XML framework and a report on the emerging URN:Lex standard for uniquely identifying legal documents on the Internet, to which LII Director Tom Bruce is a contributor.

There’s a lot more to report (and we will, when things calm down a bit– last night, we were preoccupied with finding a turkey dinner in South Africa on Thanksgiving Day).  For legal information news junkies, we recommend VoxPopuLII author Christine Kirchberger’s detailed narrative of the first day’s doings.  If you want to follow along, the conference is tweeted as hashtag #LVI2009.

This message — and the mural image at the left — come to you from Durban, South Africa.  The LII founders are meeting with LIIs from all over the world here at the annual Law via the Internet conference, a gathering of the more than 20 namesake LIIs that have sprung up since we began our own operation 17 years ago.   South Africa provides powerful reminders of why we do what we do. Yesterday, we saw an exhibit at Durban’s apartheid museum — about the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  It took us away from our usual perspective– and was both powerful and humbling.

There are a lot of reasons to support open access to law.  I talk about some of them in my blog (and in the letter to our regular donors) that appears this week at http://blog.law.cornell.edu/tbruce .  As we always do at this time of year, we ask for your support in continuing our work of providing free access to law, and helping others to do so.  There are two things you should do. 

We’ll be grateful.  And you’ll be helping to make law accessible to people around the world.

cagematch.jpgOver in VoxPopuLII, Tom Boone has a great new article on the effects of duopoly on usability in the field of legal research.  This adds to a chorus of postings in various places over the last week or two, all talking the effects of the market structure of legal information in America on public access, usability, and other aspects of the system.  Of course, after the events of this week, nobody is really sure if it’s going to be a duopoly any more…..

towncrier3as-776170.JPGThanks to LII friend Paul Lomio for drawing our attention to a new project by the American Bar Association, Media Alerts on Federal Courts.  Very much like the LIIBULLETIN-NY project we launched in 1996, which comprehensively provided student-written summaries of New York Court of Appeals cases for nearly a decade,  Media Alerts provides  summaries written by law students under faculty supervision.  The publication is a project of the ABA Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements.  According to the site:

This website is designed to provide reporters, lawyers, educators, and the public with prompt, accurate, unbiased information about newsworthy and legally significant cases pending in and decided by the Federal Courts of Appeals.  Our goal is to assist the media’s efforts to provide timely and extensive reporting about federal court decisions.  Use this website to find short summaries of recent opinions of public interest and noteworthy cases pending oral argument.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas of the Southern District of Texas, chair of the standing committee and LIIBULLETIN subscriber,  said  “There is nothing more important to our democracy and freedom than a well informed press and public. The Media Alerts on Federal Courts of Appeals site should enhance the media’s ability to help us achieve this goal.”

This is a welcome development, a form of supervised crowdsourcing that will add to the growing pool of high-quality secondary-source material on the Web.

Previously, ABA-sponsored writing about pending cases was the exclusive province of the Division for Public Education’s Supreme Court Preview.  In August, Preview issued a paper marketing piece (unfortunately unavailable online) distinguishing its more professional approach from other publications staffed by teams of students and law firm associates.  Preview subscriptions are $68 per year for law students, $105 per year for ABA members.  The LII’s LIIBULLETIN, which provides analysis of upcoming Supreme Court cases to over 19,500 subscribers via e-mail and 16,500 readers of the Federal Lawyer, continues to be available free of charge.

scholar_logo_lg_2009.gifOld LII friends Rick Klau and Anurag Acharya at Google have created a new repository of caselaw accessible via Google Scholar.  Anurag blogs about it here.   This is a very welcome development, both for us and for open access to law in general, and we applaud it.  It’s not Wexis yet, but it’s a very good start, and a great benefit to the public.  No doubt there will be more — and more interesting — things to come.

Nov 162009

pubaccess.jpgFor the last couple of years, we’ve been involved with our sister organization CeRI  (the Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative) in looking at the ways people interact with Federal regulatory agencies.  The most visible artifact of that involvement was the ABA committee report on regulations.gov, which has already led to some important improvements in that system and in the ways that people can find out about and act on new Federal regulations.   Now, CeRI has a new website (www.regulationroom.org) that is meant to significantly enhance the process of public participation.  Right now, it’s in beta — with lots to learn about what people want and how they interact with the system, and a series of experiments planned for the next several months.  Check it out.

supreme-court.jpgToday’s oral arguments involve immigration and corporate citizenship.  Our LIIBULLETIN writeups are at http://bit.ly/2YKPWw

i-want-you.jpgEvery year during December, we seek donations from those who believe that law should be accessible to everyone.  That can be a hard case to make; the world does not often give us dramatic illustrations of the fight against legal deception –  like the one provided by Sheriff Joe Arpaio — or the opportunity for our donors to wager against the prominent academic law librarian who has placed our life expectancy at under ten years  (we’ve been around for 17, which means that next year we’ll have been on the scene longer than most first-year law students).

The LII’s impact is spelled out in a lot of stories — yours.  They may seem boring or everyday to you (“I use the LII every day in my job”), but every single one is valuable to us.  It may seem like a strange thing to say, but we need you to tell us what we’re doing.  It’s only by asking our audience that we really find out what people value about us, who those people are, and why they keep coming back here in such large numbers.

So, if you could take five minutes today and send Tom Bruce (tom-dot-bruce -at- cornell-dot-edu) a few sentences about who you are and why you use the LII, that would be very much appreciated.  Or  put a few words in the comments on our announce blog (where this will initially be posted) or on our Facebook page.  Your stories are more helpful to us than you can imagine.

constitution.jpgFor several years now, the LII has published the 2000 version of the Congressional Research Service’s Annotated Constitution of the United States.  Savvy LII friends know that the document is updated by CRS at least every two years… so why are we so out of date?  The short answer is that we’ve tried many times to get the updated versions, with no success.  Today , Senator Russell Feingold sent a letter to the GPO formally requesting that they make CONAN (as it’s known) available online in a continuously updated version.   This is very, very good news, and we hope that GPO will honor the Senator’s request.  Hat tip to Susannah Leers and Courtney Minick for telling us and (we suspect) to the Sunlight Foundation for doing the behind-the-scenes work on this.

cropped-voxmega.jpgOver in VoxPopuLII, Stephanie Davidson talks about survey methodologies.  This is a subject near and dear to our hearts at the LII.  We’ve wondered for a long time how we might apply qualitative methods (and quantitative ones, too) to the problem of assessing LII effectiveness.  This is an opening round in what we hope will be a long discussion about how one knows whether an online legal information resource is doing what it’s supposed to as well as it can.