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Imagine you’re opening a new business that uses water in the production cycle. If you want to know what federal regulations apply to you, you might do a Google search that leads to the Code of Federal Regulations. But that’s where it gets complicated, because the law contains hundreds of regulations involving water that are difficult to narrow down. (The CFR alone contains 13898 references to water.) For example, water may be defined one way when referring to a drinkable liquid and another when defined as an emission from a manufacturing facility. If the regulation says your water must maintain a certain level of purity, to which water are they referring? Definitions are the building blocks of the law, and yet pouring through them to find what applies to you is frustrating to an average business owner. Computer automation might help, but how can a computer understand exactly what kind of water you’re looking for? We at the Legal Information Institute think this is pretty important challenge, and apparently Google does too.

BOOM WinnersIn March, a team of three Masters of Engineering Students led by LII semantic web researcher and developer Mohammad AL Asswad took home honors at BOOM (Bits on Our Minds), the Cornell Department of Computing and Information Science’s annual student technology showcase. Faced with stiff competition from underwater robots and other student innovations, students Deepthi Rajagopalan, Neha Kulkarni, and Siyu Zhan worked with Mohammad on a project designed to help LII users find definitions within the US Code of Federal Regulations. This year’s “Googliest Project Award” included a glass trophy and a $250 cash prize made possible by, you guessed it, Google. The LII team was one of only six award winners selected from over 40 competing projects.

Working collaboratively with Cornell Law School students Alice Chavaillard and Rodica Turtoi, the team developed software that uses natural language processing and machine learning techniques to identify sections of federal law that define important terms. In this collaborative project, the Cornell Law students served as domain area experts and helped to produce the data needed to train the computers to classify a paragraph of text as a definition or non-definition. The engineering team then wrote software that determines the scope of the definition (where the definition applies), parses out the defined terms, and finds the boundaries of definitions that are long and complex. Once defined, the definition may be linked to other parts of relevant regulations. So when you find the term water in your particular regulation, you can click the term to be taken to the specific definition of water that applies to you, whether the definition resides in that regulation or in another section of the law.

posterWhile still in the early stages, this type of semantic infrastructure is the next phase of Internet development, in which human understanding can be assisted by a computer’s ability to understand the context in which certain words or phrases are used. You can see the details of the team’s research in this poster, which was part of their prize winning presentation. Expect more on this project in the months ahead.

How does one get to the LII? Well, it ain’t exactly Carnegie Hall, so “practice, practice, practice” won’t quite cut it. Instead, our staff take diverse paths to their positions at the LII, and that’s what makes us work so well together. In a small operation like ours, it’s not so much what you know, as how much you are willing to learn.

One question many of us get asked often is, “What exactly is it that you do at the LII?” Last week, LII interface developer Wayne Weibel took some time to answer from his office, high atop the Peace Tower at Cornell Law School.

Q: When did you first become interested in computers?

A: I got the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1988, when I was eight years-old.  The ability to control an avatar (though I didn’t know that word back then) by pressing buttons was fascinating. Then we got a home PC when I was 12, and I started messing around with this fledgling technology called the Internet. I wrote some silly scripts (even some “programs” in my TI-83), and I built web pages for games and friends. I finally started learning “real” programming as a senior in high school.

onthebeachQ: Where did you go to college and what did you study there? Degrees?

A: I got my BS in Computer Science and an MA in Human Computer Interaction, both at SUNY Oswego. I focused on artificial intelligence and natural language processing as an undergrad. I almost had a mathematics minor, and I took a smattering of psychology, philosophy, writing, and art.  I was part of the Honors Program, too.

Q: What are some of the strangest jobs you’ve had… before coming to the LII?

A: I worked at the Sterling Renaissance Festival as a food booth supervisor, mostly at the cone ka-bob and waffle cone booths. Honestly, all the jobs I’ve had have been pretty typical–supermarket, video store, sports retail–then routine office jobs after I graduated.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of your work at the LII?

A: Parsing and combining data from disparate sources to form a (hopefully) coherent, accessible, and usable representation of the law. And working in Drupal, our content management system. And I enjoy my co-workers.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in working at the LII?

A: Same answer as the above! Plus walking the Ithaca hills and, recently, the sub-zero temperatures.

Q: What parts or features of the LII site best demonstrate your work? C’mon, speak geek to us…

A: The CFR pages are complex and interesting. The main content is pulled from our XML database, and the other tabs on the page are generated from queries to a MySQL database. The PTOA (Parallel Table of Authorities) displays the relationships extracted from text we receive from the GPO (Government Printing Office).

Another example is the TOPN (Table of Popular Names), which parses and combines the OLRC (Office of the Law Revision Counsel) popular names table and Table III information to show the regulations associated with a named act. I created the ingestion processes for these features, which I also (try to) maintain.  And, I am sad to say, I also created the fundraiser splashover. But we need donations to help keep us going, and it has been very successful for us.

Q: You recently helped develop an app for Google Glass. Can you describe what it does and how the building process went?

A: “Signtater” is software that allows a user to send a picture to an online service that extracts text in the picture and identifies any legal citations, returning the web address (if any) for the citations, which can then also be browsed in Google Glass.

So when it’s perfected, you upload this photo:

BearSign

And then… <geekspeak>After straightening out some systems snafus, I began by using the starter glassware program.  With a lack of API documentation for the Google MirrorClient it was a process of looking at the existing code and the raw class files combined with the general RESTful interface documentation available from Google.  Looking back, the biggest hurdle was actually getting the project setup in Google.</geekspeak>

You get this back:

cfrSnip

Q: What upcoming projects/features are you most excited about?

A: I want to make improvements to the Signtater glassware and build some associated mobile apps for iOS and Android based on that same technology. I’m also excited about Semantic Web improvements to the CFR and other areas of the site.

When did you first become interested the law?

I was totally uninterested in law as a possible vocation until I took the LSAT on a dare.  My first exposure to any aspect of law was my first job out of high school – typing autopsies for the coroner’s bureau.

Where did you go to college and what did you study there? Degrees? 

KnudsenI graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with a BA in History, with quarters at Riverside and Berkeley.  I wanted to study urban planning (living in southern California was a perfect illustration of the need for urban planning), and, until I took the LSAT, I never thought of going to law school.  A friend’s dare (and offer to pay for the test) is what started my career – I did well enough that I thought, “Why not?”

I was accepted at several schools, but ended up at Santa Clara University because the school offered me a place in the dorms free for a few weeks, found me a part-time job, and I found cheap housing in biking distance.  How cheap? $40/month for a derelict store front in San Jose. Of course, we weren’t supposed to be living there.  We made our own shower, kitchen table, a sleeping loft; it is still a shock to remember being so poor – no car, no furniture, no suitcase – and so oblivious to what being a lawyer means.  I graduated (J.D.) in 1978.

In 2010, I went back to school full time at the University of Nevada Reno, where I did a Masters in Judicial Studies, a joint program with the National Judicial College.  I survived my research and thesis to be awarded the degree in December 2012.

Tell us about your work experience. What led you to where you are now?  

I came to Alaska right out of law school, inspired by my folks’ tales of their time up here (my widowed mom returned to Bethel, Alaska when I was in college).  I still didn’t have a car, so I shipped all my belongings (seven boxes, mostly books) to Anchorage, packed a backpack and sleeping bag, and joined 3 other young people in a tiny Mazda driving to Alaska.  I spent three days in at Denali (Mt. McKinley National Park) on the way. The sun shone, the mountain was fully visible, and I’ve been an Alaskan ever since.  Alaska was still in the Pipeline Boom and it was pretty wild.  Bars opened at 6 am and closed at 5 am.  I printed up a resume and just went knocking on doors.  I got a job as a law clerk in my first week in Anchorage with a great labor law firm. From there I went to the Alaska Department of Labor, the Attorney General’s Office for seventeen years, and ultimately, as an administrative law judge, the chair of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission.

While I was finishing my Master’s thesis in my basement, I started teaching as an adjunct at University of Alaska Anchorage and I loved it.  When a full-time position came available, I applied and I’ve been teaching full time since August 2012.

In your current position, describe what you do and how you use the LII?  

I teach in the Legal Studies program of the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage; UAA offers an ABA-accredited BA in Legal Studies, an AAS in Legal Studies, a minor, and 2 post-baccalaureate certificates.  I teach Legal Research, Analysis & Writing and Civil Procedure. I also teach Health Law, alternating with Torts, and do my own research.  Most of my students are upper division undergrads.  Alaska doesn’t have a law school.  So it is important that we have a program to train the mid-level legal workers – the legal technicians, regulation coordinators, legal researchers – who take the places that people with a year of law school would take outside Alaska.  If our students go to law school, they’ll be thoroughly prepared and do well.

I want my students thinking about law as something they participate in – all the time and everywhere – and as something they can understand and argue about intelligently.  The first day in class, I introduce them to WEX because it is accessible 24/7 by their tablet, smart phone, or laptop and it is written for NON-lawyers.  It is a way to make their huge vocabulary learning task possible.  I encourage them to “look it up” even in class.  I also use the LII to introduce them to legal argument and appellate opinions.  For this, LII’s Supreme Court previews are invaluable.  My CivPro class argues a Rule 12 motion before a local judge, on a question pending before the Supreme Court.  They did Walden v. Fiore last semester and the LII preview is where they started.  This semester they are doing Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg.

What parts of the LII do you use the most?  

I use the LII Supreme Court Bulletin – but my students probably use WEX most!

Are there features of the LII site that you find superior to other resources of the same information? 

First, the site content is written to non-lawyers in a lively, engaging, but correct style. It is not overtly politically slanted and it is comprehensive.  With so many legal sites out there with an agenda or selectivity, it is great to be able to present one that is objective and thorough as a source for my students.  I want them to be engaged by law, and that is not done by talking down to them or by obscure blather.  Second, it is free and reliable.  They do not pay a fee nor do they have to sift through ads and politics to reach content.  The site is never down, nor are there dead links (so frustrating!).  So kudos to your techs – keeping the site clean is very helpful.

You recently made a gift to support the LII’s work. Can you tell us why you gave so generously? 

How could I not?  I live in an area without much information infrastructure.  In some ways, we live very intimately with the visible symbols of the law – holding court in village school gyms, for example.  Alaska doesn’t have a law school, a great, historical law library, or all the other established resources that the legal communities outside Alaska have.  A site like Cornell LII gives my students a connection to the workings of the law at the very highest level, as long as they can find an internet connection.  When they understand the arguments being made (we listen to Supreme Court audio streams), they know they and the lawyers here are part of the larger legal community and they can be participants in it – they too can stand up and argue a point of law.  It builds their confidence like nothing else.  More importantly, as I tell them, they have become translators or interpreters of legal events/thinking/speech for their communities and families.  They have a responsibility to share their understanding.  Many of them come from small communities and immigrant families; by acting as “law translators,” they build communal respect for law and the legal process in Alaska.

If you by chance encountered another LII user at a meeting or event, what would you say to convince that user to become a financial supporter?  

Stop thinking about just being a lawyer among lawyers.  Think about all the people in your region.  They can’t all afford your time, even if you had time to give, to show them how to engage in important civic legal debates or what some decision they heard about means.  They’ll get some one or two sentence line from a news assembler or TV program.  As lawyers, we should not be barriers to the public’s understanding of the courts.  Some of them will be voting on these issues and supporting politicians who will be voting on them.  What do you want their information baseline to be? some lobbying group or TV show?  Or do you want them learning that law can be a considered, deliberative process, with nuance and history?  Law – not just codes and statutes, but the ideas of law — shouldn’t be screened or reduced to sound bites for the electorate or sifted into entertainment for the masses.  The law should be transparent and open to view to everyone, rich and poor.  LII makes it so.

“It should be borne in mind that all the time we were studying bats, bats had a unique opportunity to study us.”
– old researcher’s folk saying, quoted by John Brunner in “The Skynappers”.

ComputerThe LII is a place where people — a lot of people — come to find and understand the law.  They come to us looking for information.  But what if we looked for information from them?  It would help us understand what they don’t understand, what we need to organize and present more clearly, and how they make use of what we have.  We already do that through reader surveys, e-mail followups with our donors, and of course an extensive set of web analytics provided by Google and our own monitoring.  But what if we really asked the 170,000 people who visit the site on an average weekday to tell us what they find difficult to understand?

At last September’s Law via the Internet conference, we attended the presentation of a paper by Michael Curtotti and Eric McCreath of the Australian National University.  Later published in the new Journal of Open Access to Law, the paper describes a series of methods for assessing the readability of legislation.  This is actually much harder than it looks — most readability measures are designed specifically to sort reading materials into grade-level bins for use in the teaching of reading, and don’t help much if the problem is figuring out how hard a particular statute or regulation is to understand.  Linguists have, in the past, done fairly deep research on comprehension in criminal-trial settings, particularly jury instructions. But Curtotti and McCreath are the first to do much with legislation, and the first to build an extensive online system for testing particular pieces of text.

We were fascinated.  What if we could use their methods to test readability across the really large audience that is drawn to the LII?   A rough plan was hatched (in the hotel bar, of course).  Over the next few months it was refined, and the Australians began working on software that would integrate the testing with some carefully-chosen parts of the LII site.  We are now finishing up the technical integration of the tests at our end; a particular concern is that we not slow the site down for readers who are not working on the tests.   The actual tests should roll out within a month.

The work is exciting in itself, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.  The LII assembles a huge audience that is doing something that is interesting in its own right.  The ways that experts and laypeople use to find the law, and figure out how or if it applies to them, remain a little mysterious — and we hope that this will be the first of many occasions for outside researchers to help us dispel some of the mysteries.

We look forward to reporting some results in the next newsletter. In the meantime, you might want to take a look at the paper, and experiment with Michael and Eric’s system using text of your own (municipal regulations are a particular favorite of ours).

Jan 302014

Because the United States Supreme Court sits at the pinnacle of our system of justice, each year hundreds of lawyers seek admittance to practice before it–even though most know they will never argue a case there.  But admission to the Supreme Court means privileges in its law library and a separate entrance to the gallery to observe oral arguments.  Most notably, on the day of their admission, new members enjoy the “best seats in the house” to observe that day’s arguments.

photo (1)

So, it’s no surprise that many American law schools hold an annual swearing-in ceremony to help their alumni celebrate the occasion of their admission to practice before the Supreme Court.  But Cornell’s festivities include a unique bonus.  

In what has become an annual tradition, the LII sent the Editor-in-Chief of our Supreme Court Bulletin to Washington to brief the inductees about the cases they would be watching as part of the festivities.  Chanwoo Park attended the celebratory dinner at DC’s Monocle restaurant on December 2nd and provided some very welcome analysis about the cases the inductees would be watching from the Court’s gallery on December 3rd.  

Chanwoo discussed two cases on very different areas of law that nevertheless shared a common feature. In each case, Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal were split in how to apply the law, and the Supreme Court would step in as the final arbiter to clarify the law.  One case examined the scope of preemption of state law claims under the Airline Deregulation Act.  The other involved false advertising claims brought under the Lanham Act.

Chanwoo’s trip was funded not by donor dollars but by the Law School’s Alumni Affairs Office, which is happy to make use of the Bulletin’s unique expertise to provide a much-appreciated overview of the Court proceedings accompanying the swearing-in ceremony.  Stewart Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School, also attended the event and was very complimentary of both Chanwoo’s “great job” at the dinner and of the Bulletin generally.  

The Supreme Court Bulletin features student-written analysis of every case to be argued before the Supreme Court.  These profiles feature a helpful recap of the important facts, a breakdown of the legal arguments both sides present in their briefs, and also analysis of the larger issues implicated by each case.   While entirely student-run, the Bulletin staff benefits from the advice of Frank Wagner, the retired Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court.  Bulletin excerpts also appear monthly in The Federal Lawyer, the magazine of the Federal Bar Association (FBA).  

While lawyers certainly comprise an avid part of the Bulletin’s readership, the students strive to strip it of the sort of jargon and legalese so often prevalent in “insider” pieces written by lawyers for lawyers.  Bulletin authors also hyperlink their explanations and analysis to a wide variety of primary and secondary resources to enhance the value of each piece for readers from all backgrounds.  But neither the prose nor the analysis in the Bulletin is by any means “dumbed down.”  In fact, we frequently hear from our more than 20,000 email subscribers that the Bulletin is their preferred source for thorough and unbiased assessment of the cases argued before our nation’s highest court.  We even recently heard that from a sitting Federal Judge!  

If you aren’t already familiar with the Bulletin, please have a look here, and we invite you to sign up here to receive this free service via email. 

joalMembers of the Free Access to Law Movement recently announced the debut of a multidisciplinary journal showcasing research related to legal information that is made openly available on the Internet.   Please take a moment to check it out  at http://joal.law.cornell.edu/.

We at the LII and our colleagues around the world hope that JOAL will become a place that can stand on its own to present work about open access to law.  Having previously lacked a home of its own, research on open access to law has traditionally been communicated via the journals of other disciplines, sometimes losing its unique flavor along the way.

In addition to addressing the important policy question of why open access is important, research in this field (and hence the content featured in JOAL) frequently implicates work in other, related disciplines.  For example, the intersection of open access research and information science can provide practical publishing, organizing, and retrieval techniques.  One aim of JOAL is to help academic research about open access find an audience within the community of legal publishers who can make good use of it for practical ends.

When open access flourishes, the public encounters legal information in new ways and often responds in a manner that is both surprising and poorly understood.  In fact, JOAL hopes to provide a forum for studying and discussing such phenomena.

For more than twenty years, the LII has served as something of a beacon for open access advocates in the United States and abroad.  And your donations help ensure we have the funding needed to participate in the conferences and other functions where open access advocates and scholars meet.  In fact, The Journal of Open Access to Law was conceived over a period of years and put finally into motion by participants meeting during the last two Law Via the Internet conferences.

Much of the credit for JOAL belongs not to the LII, but to a veritable all-star team of international academics and researchers.  JOAL’s masthead reveals a truly global team who serve as section editors, reviewers–not to mention the decidedly international roster of authors.  We especially wish to acknowledge the efforts of Spain’s Pompeu Casanovas and the Italian duo of Enrico Francesconi and Ginevra Peruginelli, all of whom worked tirelessly to make JOAL a reality.

“At its most fundamental level, the problem is one of access to the sources of law on the African continent. Judges, legal professionals, civil society organizations and the general public have difficulties in accessing legal information. This is negatively impacting on the rule of law, access to justice, and economic development.” – Mariya Badeva-Bright, AfricanLII

bannerimg01AfricanLII is unusual.  Like the 22 other LII “namesakes” around the globe, it promotes open access to legal information. Unlike any of the others, it is not identified with a particular country or jurisdiction.  Instead, it supports the construction and operation of “national LIIs” in African countries.  Right now, it helps 8 African nations (Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, the Seychelles, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe) make their law freely available to the public.  Next year, it will add two more.  And it is working with partners in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, and Zambia to form networks of regional cooperation that will make each of the national organizations more resilient, more effective, and far more self-sufficient.

What’s our involvement?  The LII has worked on the problem of legal access in Africa since 1996, when we were instrumental in the founding of the Zambian LII, ZamLII. More recently, working with the Open Society Institute and the Canadian International Development Research Center and with LIIs in Africa, India, and Canada, we have identified the critical success factors that will allow others to do as we have done.  In turn, we’ve learned how to make legal information happen under conditions that we can barely imagine.  Sometimes the help has been at a more practical level  – a few months ago, Sara Frug and the LII’s engineering team helped AfricanLII move its hosting services to a more stable platform in the “cloud”, offering faster and more reliable service to African users of the service.  We can be — and often are — called into a strategy session at a moment’s notice, using Skype and collaborative document writing and editing to put us “just down the hall” from AfricanLII’s headquarters in Johannesburg.

Often, we’ve been called on to explain the practical advantages of open access to law.  In Africa, open access to law helps ensure basic human rights — and it also leads to stronger economies and better public administration.  As LII Director Tom Bruce remarks, “Public legal information does more than simply saying what the law is.  Knowing what the law is has incredible value if you are involved in a legal proceeding, of course.  But legal information also provides a showcase for official bodies, advertises opportunities for economic development, provides information about the stability and likely direction of the business climate, and encourages the formation of transnational communities of practice”.

Mariya says, “We have heard of places in Africa where lawyers base their arguments in court purely on personal conviction, rather than on the law.  Where there are LIIs, we begin to see that legal argument and the quality of justice are improving.”

We’re proud to help make that happen — and not so proud that we can’t learn from those in Africa that are making it happen every day.

Nov 062013

This August, Craig NewtonCraig Newton ‘07, (re)joined the LII as our new Associate Director for Content Development. While a student at Cornell Law School, Craig was the Editor-in-Chief of the LII Supreme Court Bulletin.

He spent the last six years at the law firm Cooley LLP litigating a broad range of commercial disputes for companies such as Adobe, Facebook, and Qualcomm before returning to Ithaca.  Having left a career as first a naval flight officer and then an intelligence analyst to attend law school, Craig calls upon all facets of his prior experience as he mentors teams of law students, manages our network of volunteers and legal professionals, monitors the website to discern usage trends and patterns, and pursues new partnership initiatives–all with an eye toward improving a range of products, including the Supreme Court Bulletin and case collection, the WEX legal encyclopedia/dictionary, the constellation of materials surrounding the US Constitution, and our ever-more capable editions of the US Code and the Code of Federal Regulations.

He and Associate Director for Technology Sara Frug are working together at the intersection of legal content and engineering to improve search and navigation features, as well as on a number of experiments intended to make our content more discoverable and more usable.

We are enthusiastic about his presence and the capabilities he adds to our team, and we look forward to your continued suggestions and feedback on our editorial content.

With the addition of Craig — and of consulting designer Manolo Bevia – the LII crew now numbers 9 1/4, delivering services to over 24 million unique visitors each year.

mohammedThe Semantic Technology and Business Conference showcases business applications from the leading semantic web companies and researchers: RPI, Stanford, MIT, and PARC, as well as Hoffmann-La Roche, Walmart, Yahoo, and Google. At the conference, the LII’s semantic web engineer, Mohammad AL-Asswad, Ph.D., presented approaches to improving access to import/export regulations in agriculture. We had observed that off the shelf, a search engine doesn’t know how to establish the context of a section of the CFR. Mohammad showed the results of his work combining a set of natural language processing techniques with a government-supplied subject vocabulary and our own metadata in order to improve search results.

In July, the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists brought together 125 delegates from 28 countries for its World Congress, hosted this year by Cornell University’s Mann Library. Agriculture librarians presented the results of research on subjects ranging from innovation proliferation among small scale pineapple farmers in Ghana to digital librarianship in Indian agricultural libraries to open access in institutional repositories. Mohammad presented at the poster session, showing the connections between agricultural regulations and scientific literature.

Why? Regulators need to know about the science related to the regulations they are making and enforcing. Scientists need to know about regulations that affect their research; they often also want the opportunity to know about new rulemakings that affect areas in which they have expertise. Using natural language processing techniques, Mohammad was able to find topics in the regulations that map to keywords in the agricultural ontology AGRIS. You can see preliminary results of this feature using the “Find the Science” feature here.

Nov 062013

Shutdown_government_graphic_20131001182006_320_240The morning of October 2, the United States Government shut down for the first time in nearly 18 years, as a congressional stalemate froze funding and furloughed some government workers.

Aside from more overt casualties — closed federal offices, and shuttered national monuments and parks — some of the government’s websites were not updated or taken completely offline. Behind the scenes, some large data sets were made unavailable, as in the case of the the Library of Congress whose machine-readable schemas became unavailable to applciations around the world that depend on them. Our engineering team made copies of the MODS, MADS and PREMIS schemas available on LII servers to help other applications survive the shutdown.

On the front end, many affected sites posted notices on their home page or on splash screens that attributed the outages to “a lapse in federal government funding,” and those that remained open, like the National Weather Service, continued to point blame at funding while stating that they were remaining available in the “interest of public safety and security.” But who exactly decides what’s in the public interest? It seems to us that the laws of the United States are pretty important, but if the government were to suddenly take them offline completely (as they did with other public sites like the United States Census and NASA) we would still be expected to know and to follow government laws and regulations, wouldn’t we?

Of course, we see this as yet another reason why LII is so important– making the laws available without cost and protecting our right to know and understand these laws without being subjected to the whims of political in-fighting. But this shutdown also produced out some interesting traffic data, which demonstrates just how vital the LII remains to those working in the government sector.

In the two weeks of the shutdown, the LII saw a modest, overall three percent increase in traffic to our site, but when we looked at the locations people were accessing from, those statistics told a different story. Visits from several large cities were up significantly, 14% in New York, San Francisco and San Diego, for example. But traffic from cities with a high degree of federal offices fell drastically– 22% in Boston and 20% in Washington DC. Conversely, the state of Maryland, home to many Washington DC workers, demonstrated a 25% increase in traffic during the same time period.

These numbers might suggest that people who needed access to law continued to receive it at the official government websites, or that they came to the LII thinking that the government sites would be shut down. But it also suggests that a significant number of government workers on furlough from their jobs in DC and Boston visit the LII each day. And that says something even more important. It suggests that thousands of federal workers prefer the LII to the official government primary legal collections, which would confirm anecdotal evidence we hear from government employees all the time. So even though the official sites remained open, the LII is the site of choice for many who rely on accurate current legal information to perform the government’s work. And that’s a recommendation we’re proud to have.