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Yesterday, LII Director Tom Bruce was asked to testify before the House Committee on Administration Subcommittee on Oversight.  The Committee has charge of the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office, among many other things.

The focus of yesterday's hearing was the modernization of legislative data systems at the House.  This is a multipronged effort, aimed at providing new, technologically-advanced services to Members and at opening up House legislative data to the public.  Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, in a widely-applauded move, had already expressed support for the use of open, interoperable document standards.  Attention now turns to services to Members, and to the provision of bulk data to the public.

As is standard practice, Bruce's oral testimony was a five-minute summary of more complete written testimony, available here.  A complete record of the hearing, including all witness testimony and video, is here.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court first convened more than 220 years ago, there have been only 112 Justices. But that number seems large when compared with the number of individuals chosen to be the official Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court, a position created by Alexander J. Dallas in 1790 and held by only fifteen other individuals in US history. So when Cornell University alumnus Frank Wagner, the Court's 15th Reporter, wanted to retire but remain involved in the dissemination of Court opinions, Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute (LII) was eager to take him on.

Since stepping down in September 2010, Wagner has been working with Cornell Law School students on the previews they write of Supreme Court cases for the LII Supreme Court Bulletin. “I’m a proud Cornellian,” Wagner said, “and very supportive of the work done by the LII. They do a wonderful thing, making the Court’s output much more widely available, and for free. It’s grease for the wheels of democracy.” The Bulletin is a student-written and edited online publication that offers commentary on all Supreme Court cases before they are argued. Nearly 50,000 people read each issue.

"Having Frank on board has been a tremendous privilege," said Thomas R. Bruce, director of the LII. "His editorial talents are formidable, verging on scary – and he’s a very gentle and effective teacher. He’s been a good friend to us over the years, and I’m delighted that he’s willing to share his skills and insight with us now."

But Bruce and his LII colleagues weren't the only ones happy to have Wagner on board. Lee Hollaar, Wagner’s longtime friend and University of Utah professor of computer science wanted to do something more. "I was happy to hear that Frank wanted to mentor young law students on the finer points of legal writing and editing," Hollaar said, "and I thought, why not do something that honors Frank and rewards the LII student editors and writers who make the Bulletin possible?"

Hollaar offered financial support to create the Frank Wagner Prizes, a cash award given to the two best student-written case previews of the year. “I am flattered by Lee’s generosity and truly honored to have a prize named after me that so closely aligns with what is near to my heart,” Wagner said. “This year’s teams did an outstanding job, and it was a great pleasure to work with them.”

The prize winners, selected by Wagner himself, include Edan Shertzer, Colin O'Regan, and Eric Johnson, who won First Prize for their preview of Janus Capital Group, et al. v. First Derivative Traders.  For second prize, Sarah Pruett, Melissa Koven, and Joanna Chen won for their preview of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v.Winn et al.

Christopher Maier, editor-in-chief of the LII Supreme Court Bulletin thought Wagner made the right decisions from tough competition. "The two winning teams did an outstanding job of distilling some fairly complex material and making it accessible," Maier says.

Besides praising the winners, Wagner is enthusiastic about his work with all the Cornell students on the Bulletin. “One of the great pleasures of my job at the Court was working with the many talented young law clerks who came through its doors each year,” Wagner recalls. “They helped to keep me sharp, and I knew I would miss that when I retired. Thankfully, I get a taste of that same feeling from the Cornell Law students who work for the LII.”

A research abstract reporting new research on legal metadata (see slides here), by LII Director Tom Bruce, and Robert Richards of the University of Washington, was presented on June 8 at ICAIL 2011, the 13th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

The research abstract -- entitled Adapting Specialized Legal Metadata to the Digital Environment: The Code of Federal Regulations Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules -- describes a specialized category of legal research tools -- which the authors call "ponts" -- that "express connections between different categories of legal metadata." These tools include

In this research abstract, the authors note that the information in these tools, created for the print environment, is often imprecise or ambiguous. Thus these tools were originally designed to require human users to intervene to complete the desired connection between different types of metadata. Such imprecision, ambiguity, and dependence on human intervention reduce the value of ponts in the digital environment, in which metadata is most useful if it can be processed by software without human intervention.

Through a case study of the PTOA, the authors demonstrate how ponts can be re-engineered to be of greatest use in the digital environment. With examples of PTOA data marked up in XML and RDFS/OWL, the authors describe how such re-engineering could render the PTOA interoperable with many information systems and other data, could encourage innovation, and could be used for a variety of purposes and in a variety of systems, including scholarly research, information retrieval, public administration systems, regulatory compliance systems, geographic information systems, and e-Participation systems.

As models, the authors identify John Sheridan's use of a pont -- the Table of Legislative Effects -- in the UK National Archives' advanced online legislative system, Legislation.gov.uk, as well as the use of pont-like data, encoded in the CEN MetaLex XML specification and the OWL Web Ontology Language, by Tom van Engers and Alexander Boer of the Leibniz Center for Law, in their innovative e-Government system, Advanced Governance of Information Services through Legal Engineering (AGILE).

The discussion following the presentation of the research abstract at ICAIL concerned the Congressional Record History of Bills as a pont that might be appropriate for re-engineering for the digital environment; the possibility of using software to automatically detect and characterize the relationships between types of metadata linked by ponts; and various existing XML specifications that might be suitable for encoding the PTOA.

LII plans to develop a prototype of the digital PTOA later in 2011.

Jun 102011

Today, the LII's Sara Frug gave a lively talk about the LII's soon-to-be released Code of Federal Regulations project. Her paper can be found here and can best be understood as a catalog of difficulties encountered along the way, a set of reflections about how and why they happened, and some conclusions about what all that says about what should happen.

The paper hints at a very human drama involving hubris and at least 4 of the 7 deadly sins, but it reaches an even more interesting conclusion.  In reality, Frug says, we may talk about "the government" as a kind of monolith that has responsibilities for curating and publishing data, but much of the time "the government" is really a federation of more-or-less intransigent or disorganized entities funneled through a publishing operation that may not have much power to compel standards or quality control.  To the extent that LIIs are advisers to government, they have a duty to press  for best practices as far upstream in the data flow as possible.

The Law via the Internet conference is the main venue where people involved in open access to primary legal materials meet to talk about what they do.  This year, it's being held in Hong Kong (the picture at the left is the view from Victoria Peak, as it appeared yesterday morning when we went up for a look).

LII Director Tom Bruce and Content Manager Sara Frug are attending on behalf of the LII.  Sara's paper, "Ground-up Law: Open Access, Source Quality, and the CFR" will be presented on Friday (it provides a few intriguing hints about a project we currently have in beta test, and will reveal completely around Labor Day).  The rest of the program is intriguing, and features many past and present LII collaborators and friends; you'll probably recognize many names from their pieces in VoxPopuLII.  Tom will be tweeting as many  of the sessions as possible using the #lvi2011 hashtag.

So far the LII team has survived delayed flights, punishing heat, and the antics of an over-tired two-year-old armed with chopsticks and set loose in a four-table vegetarian restaurant (we recommend the mai fun with mixed vegetables, and are not so sure about the faux ham).  We're sure that the conference will be well worth it, and look forward to reporting on events.