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Bruce Thomas

Thomas R. Bruce is co-founder and director of the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, the first legal-information web site in the world. He was the author of the first Web browser for Microsoft Windows, and has been the principal technical architect for online legal resources ranging from fourteenth-century law texts to the current decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Bruce has consulted on Internet matters for numerous commercial, governmental, and academic organizations on four continents. He has been a fellow of the Center for Online Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts, and a Senior International Fellow at the University of Melbourne Law School. He is an affiliated researcher in Cornell's program in Information Science, where he works closely with faculty and students who experiment with the application of advanced technologies to legal texts. He currently serves as a member of the ABA Administrative Law Section Special Committee on e-Rulemaking, on Cornell's Faculty Advisory Board for Information Technology, and is a longtime member of the board of directors of the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. He has been known to play music at high volume.

Sep 072011

Virtual makeoverBy now, you may have noticed that the look of the LII site has changed a little bit ;) .   And that’s not all.  Behind the scenes, we’ve made some very ambitious architectural changes, expanded some collections, and added major new things.   We’ll have more surprises over the next couple of weeks; today, we’re just putting up the new skin.

Unfortunately, not all of the surprises will be pleasant ones.  We had to wade through a lot of old stuff and make a lot of changes in very scattered places to get all of this to happen.  We know that there will be intermittent problems with random parts of the site for a while, and — while we’ve done a lot of chasing already – our four engineers will be doing their best to chase down problems as they arise.  Just let us know via our contact form.  Repairs won’t be instantaneous, but we’ll get to them as quickly as we can.  Frankly, with such a small group here, we have to rely on you guys to tell us what’s wrong; we’d have no hope of going through nearly half a million web pages to find all the bugs.

This is our first major makeover in seven years, and the biggest engineering change ever at the LII.  Dave, Wayne, Dan, Brian, and Sara have been pushing hard for more than a year, and we’re almost there.

Wish us luck on the bug hunt, and enjoy the new look.  Soon, we’ll have some things we think you’ll like even better…..

We are conducting scheduled website maintenance on Friday, August 5, 2011, around 6AM to 9AM EST.

Most of the website should be available, but you may experience problems accessing Wex, the Constitution, the Supreme Court collection, and a few other sections of the site tomorrow.

We expect things will be back to normal for most users by the afternoon that same day.

Thanks for your patience,

- The LII Team

Yesterday, Fastcase announced the recipients of the inaugural “Fastcase 50″ award.  In their words:

The Fastcase 50 award recognizes today’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders in the law.Numerous nominations were submitted from industry leaders, peers, and individuals around the world who recommended candidates deserving of this recognition. The 2011 Fastcase 50 winners are individuals who are visionaries, leaders, advocates and innovators in technology, the legal community, and beyond.

LII Director Tom Bruce was among those honored, as were frequent LII collaborators Tim Stanley, Stacy Stern,  Carl Malamud, Erika Wayne, John Joergensen and Sarah Glassmeyer, and VoxPopuLII editor Robert Richards.

We’re grateful to Fastcase for recognizing so many in the open-access community.

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.

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.

The Supreme Court hears 4 cases during this last week of oral argument for the 2010-11 Term.  The topics range widely, and include securities fraud, criminal sentencing, data mining of medical information by pharmaceutical companies, and free speech.  You can read our LII Supreme Court Bulletin analysis of each case by clicking on the links below.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This week, the Supremes hear oral argument in 4 cases.  Topics touch on global warming, patent infringement, sentencing, and attorney-client privilege in a large lawsuit brought by a Native American tribe against the Federal government.  As always, you can read the LII Supreme Court Bulletin analysis of the case by clicking on the links below.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LII Director Thomas R. Bruce just returned from a trip to the Seychelles — a small island nation located about 1500 miles east of the African coast, in the Indian Ocean.  The Chief Justice, Frederick Egonda-Ntende, has a strong interest in providing open access to the entire output of the country’s judicial and legislative branches.  The need is compelling; there have been no official law reports since 1993, and the last official consolidation of Seychellois laws took place in 1991.  Things are all the more pressing because recent changes in financial regulations in the Seychelles will position it as a center for offshore finance.  It’s the clearest case we’ve yet seen for the use of law publishing and transparency to enhance institutional competence and foster economic development, and we’re delighted to help out in any way that we can.

Of course, Bruce is having a difficult time convincing his colleagues here in the cold, rainy climes of Ithaca, New York that any work actually took place during a trip to an 85-degree island paradise with world-renowned beaches…..