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Pratt Judith

The Swedish legal publisher Notisum AB has been on the Swedish market for online legal publishing since 1996.  Our Internet-based law book at www.notisum.se is read by more than 50,000 persons per week and our customers range from municipalities and government institutions to Swedish multinationals.

Now we are heading for China, and I would like to share with you some practical experiences from this highly dynamic market and our challenges in trying to conquer it.

The case for a legal monitoring tool, codenamed “EnviTool”

In close co-operation with our customers, we had developed a set of specialized Internet based tools  in Sweden for supporting the process of legal compliance and legal information sharing within big organizations. The key driver of these needs was the growing number of certificates according to the international environmental management standard ISO 14001:2004.

ISO 14001 is a worldwide industry standard to help companies to improve their environmental performance through the implementation of an environmental management system. There is much to say about management systems. Continuous improvement is the heart of the matter–it is all about doing the right things right. Establish a plan, do what you planned, check your results and then start all over by correcting your plans. Plan, Do, Check, Act.

According to the standard, you have to identify the relevant environmental legislation for your organization. You need access to those laws and regulations, and you have to keep an updated list. You should also make the information available to the people of your organization.

By providing an online legal register, monitored for changes, with a whole set of information sharing and workflow features, Notisum helps the certified companies to comply with the environmental legislation.

We developed this system step by step.  When it came to going outside the borders of the Kingdom of Sweden, we changed the name from Rättsnätet+Miljö to EnviTool.

The case for China

Sweden is a country of very high penetration of the ISO 14001 standard, and the use of the standard is in a mature phase in most organizations. China, on the other hand, is number one in the world, with more than 70,000 certificates issued. The growth is double-digit. So China is the place to be if you have products for this specific customer group. The users of the standard are yet immature in China, so we knew there were some challenges out there.

The market for legal information tools is overall immature in China and legal compliance is not always on top of the manager’s priority lists. However, Notisum took the first steps, starting in 2009, to take on the challenge to make China our second home market. Many challenges, expected and unexpected, were waiting for EnviTool.

Step one – the product

Like many commercial ventures, the EnviTool project was the result of a randomly started chain of events. Our Swedish CEO was playing golf with a professor at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.  The professor was in charge of a student exchange program between National University of Singapore (NUS) and KTH. We were asked to host an internship for an ambitious computer science student in our company for one academic year.

The internship was successful, our student was doing a great job and we learned a lot about Asia and the Chinese culture. We have now hosted three excellent NUS students from Singapore, all good representatives of their university and their country.  And all of them bilingual English and Chinese. That’s when we decided that China would be an interesting market to try. And yes – China is far away from Sweden, it is terribly big and it was really too large a challenge for our company. We wanted to try anyway, with the hope that Singapore could be the bridge for us.

We decided to start a subsidiary in Singapore and so we did. It is easy, by the way. According to the World Bank, Singapore ranks number one in the world in ease of doing business. Coming from Sweden, ranked number 50 in the world in terms of how easily you pay your taxes, I had an almost religious moment when we got a letter of gratitude from the Singaporean tax authorities after paying our taxes. Not so in Sweden, I may add…

With the first NUS intern now as our first employee, we started translating and adapting our internet tool together with our development manager in Sweden. The technological challenges were there, of course. We base our technology on the Microsoft.NET platform, but the support for the simplified Chinese character set was not totally implemented everywhere.  Multi-language support was developed, and plenty were the occasions in the beginning when Swedish words popped up unexpectedly. The search function in Chinese is different in EnviTool and the relations between the legislative documents were so different from the Swedish and European law that we had to re-design our database structure.

Step two – the market research

With good help from the Swedish Trade Council in China, we did market research to see if there could be a similar market in China and if our business model could work.

After three journeys and two projects together with the trade council, we decided to give it a try. The EnviTool China project was about to take off. Learning to eat properly with chopsticks was part of the experience. Learning to appreciate the Chinese food was easier although there are some zoological challenges there too, outside the scope of this blog entry.

At this point in time we also employed a Chinese/Swedish project manager with extensive knowledge and experience in the field.

Step three – the content

Translating the tool to Chinese and English was the easy part. When it came to the content, we had to throw out everything from Sweden and put in Chinese legislation and comments. We soon found interesting challenges.

Our first experience of the Chinese legal tradition,which is in many ways different from where we come from, was the search for a standard for citations. In the Swedish databases we had successfully used computer software to automatically find citations, law titles, cross references and other document data.  It became clear to us that there were no shortcuts in the Chinese material. We had to input all data manually.

We decided to restrict the information to cover relevant legislation in the EHS (Environmental, Health & Safety) and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) field and to concentrate on the national level with some provincial/municipal areas like Beijing and Shanghai. The EHS/CSR users are professionals in their field of work and their industries. They are not lawyers and not very used to legal information systems. EnviTool were developed with EHS/CSR managers in our minds. We wrote the editorial content to suit the needs of our target audience.

We realized that we needed a partner in China to provide fast and timely information. In ChinaLawInfo, established by Peking University in association with the university’s Legal Information Center, we found a great partner. They are the most important legal information provider in China and we saw that Notisum of Sweden and ChinaLawInfo had many similarities in experience and way of working. Yes, we are small and they are big, but that goes for Sweden and China all over. So  EnviTool now provides the EHS/CSR laws and regulations from both ChinaLawInfo and government sources. We also have an on-going editorial co-operation in Beijing.

By now we also had good content. The EnviTool Internet service and database, provided from our Singapore company servers, were released in its first version in the fall of 2010.

Step four – market introduction

If company start-up was a short track in Singapore, it was a longer journey in the world’s second biggest economy. After having tried 50 other names, Envitool finally was translated to 安纬同 in Chinese and we got the business permit in August 2011.

We employed the people we needed and found a partner to help us with HR and finance issues.  Since then we have started our sales and marketing activities, moving slowly forward. The use of legal information tools served from Singapore is combined with management consulting from our team in Shanghai. We provide training in using the tool and can assist the clients in finding the laws and regulations relevant to their operation.

The second generation of the site is up and running at www.envitool.com and we are proud to have customers from China, the US, Japan and four different European countries.

What we have learned and what we think of the future

To get to know China and the Chinese people is of course one part of the fun. Being a European, you make many mistakes, sometimes because of language, sometimes cultural.

One example of this confusion was when I intervened in the editorial process. In EnviTool we provide bi-lingual Chinese/English short and long comments to laws and regulations. In the Swedish service, which I am more familiar with, the short comment is rendered in italics with the longer comment below in plain text. In the English version of the comments in EnviTool, the short one was not in italics. I complained and our programmer quickly changed this. Shortly thereafter, at a customer meeting, I showed the comments, now in Chinese language version. (I don’t understand a word of Chinese.)  Can you imagine Chinese characters in italics? I can tell you, it makes no sense and it looks bad. That was the language mistake. The cultural mistake was managerial. A Swedish employee would have told me how stupid I were, if I came up with such a bad idea. The Asian employee (highly intelligent and highly educated) probably saw the problem and maybe thought “the boss is more stupid than usual, but he is my boss so I have better do what he tells me!”. A lot to learn, many aspects to consider.

To conclude, the start-up was a bit slow because of the red tape but so far, our government contacts have been smooth. We have felt very welcome at the Chinese authorities like the Ministry of Environmental Protection and local governments. In the end, our goals are similar: better environmental and occupational health & safety legal compliance – better environment and better life for the citizens.

We know it will take a long time for us to get the knowledge and experience needed to be a significant player in the Chinese market, and we are prepared to stay there and step by step build our presence.  It took many years to build a loyal and substantial customer base in Sweden. It will take even longer in China.

 

Magnus Svernlöv is the founder and chairman of the Swedish online legal publisher Notisum (www.notisum.se) and its Chinese subsidiary Envitool (www.envitool.cn). He holds an MBA from INSEAD, France, a MScEE degree from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden and a BA from the School of Business, Ecnomics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He welcomes any comment or feedback to ms@notisum.se

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Editors-in-Chief are Stephanie Davidson and Christine Kirchberger, to whom queries should be directed. The information above should not be considered legal advice. If you require legal representation, please consult a lawyer.

 

As a first year law student, a handful of things are given to you (at least where I studied): a pre-fabricated schedule, a non-negotiable slate of professors, and a basic history lesson — illustrated through individual cases.  During my first year, the professor I fought with the most was my property law teacher.  Now, I realize that it wasn’t her that I couldn’t accept; it was the implications of the worldview she presented.  She saw “property law” as a construct through which wealthy people protected their interests at the expense of those who didn’t have the means to defend themselves.  Every case — from “fast fox, loose fox” on down — was an example of someone’s manipulating or changing the rules to exclude the poor from fighting for their interests.  It was a pretty radical position to accept and I, maybe to my own discredit, ignored it.

Then, I graduated. I began looking at legal systems around the world and tried to get a sense of how they actually function in practice. I found something a bit startling: they don’t function.  Or, at least not for most of us.

Justice: Inaccessible

At first glance, that may seem alarmist.  Honestly, it feels a bit radical to say.  But, then consider that in 2008, the United Nations issued a report entitled Making the Law Work for Everyone, which estimated that 4 billion people (of a global population of 6 billion at the time) lacked “meaningful” access to the rule of law.

Stop for a second. Read that again. Two-thirds of the world’s population don’t have access to rule-of-law institutions. This means that they lack, not just substantive representation or equal treatment, but even the most basic access to justice.

Now, before you write me, and the UN, off completely as crackpots, I must make some necessary caveats. “Rule-of-law institutions,” in the UN report, means formal, governmentally sponsored systems.  The term leaves out pluralistic systems, which rely on adapted or traditional actors, many of which exist exclusively outside of the purview of government, to settle civil or small-scale criminal disputes.   Similarly, the word “meaningful,” in this context, is somewhat ambiguous. Making the Law Work for Everyone isn’t clear about what standards it uses to determine what constitutes “access,” “fairness,” or relevant and substantive law (i.e., the number and content of laws). While the report’s major focus was on adapting an appropriate level of formalism in order to create inclusive systems, the strategy of definitionally avoiding pluralism and cultural relativism while assessing a global standard of an internationally (and often constitutionally) protected service significantly complicates the analysis offered in the report.

What’s causing the gap in access to justice?

So, let’s work from the basics. The global population has been rising steadily for, well, a while now, increasing the volume of need addressed by legal systems.  Concurrently, the number of countries has grown, and with them young legal systems, often without precedents or established institutional infrastructures. As the number of legal systems has grown, so too have the public’s expectations of the ability of these systems to provide formalized justice procedures. Within each of these nations, trends like urbanization, the emergence of new technologies, and the expansion of regulatory frameworks add complexity to the number of laws each domestic justice system is charged with enforcing. On top of this, the internationalization and proliferation of treaties, trade agreements, and institutions imposes another layer of complexity on what are often already over-burdened enforcement mechanisms. It’s understandable, then, why just about every government in the world struggles, not only to create justice systems that address all of these very complicated issues, but also to administer these systems so that they offer universally equal access and treatment.

Predictably, private industry observed these trends a long time ago. As a result, it should be no surprise that the cost of legal services has been steadily rising for at least 20 years.  Law is fairly unique in that it is in charge of creating its own complexity, which is also the basis of its business model.  The harder the law is to understand, the more work there is for lawyers. This means fewer people will have the specialized skills and relationships necessary to successfully achieve an outcome through the legal system.

What’s even more confusing is that because clients’ needs and circumstances vary so significantly, it’s very difficult to reliably judge the quality of service a lawyer provides.  The result is a market where people, lacking any other reliable indicator, judge by price, aesthetics, and reputation.  To a limited extent, this enables lawyers to self-create high-end market demand by inflating prices and, well, wearing really nice suits. (Yes, this is an oversimplification. But they do, often, wear REALLY nice suits).   The result is the exclusion (or short-shrifting) of middle- and low-income clients who need the same level of care, but are less concerned with the attire.  Incidentally, the size and spending power of the market being excluded — even despite growing wealth inequality — are enormous.

Redesigning legal services

I don’t mean to be simplistic or to re-state widely understood criticisms of legal systems.  Instead, I want to establish the foundations for my understanding of things. See, I approach this from a design viewpoint. The two perspectives above — namely, that of governments trying to implement systems, and that of law firms trying to capitalize on available service markets — often neglect the one design perspective that determines success: that of the user. When we’re judging the success of legal systems, we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about what the average person encounters when trying to engage legal systems.  For most people, the accessibility (both physical and intellectual) and procedure of law, are as determinative of participation in the justice system as whether the system meets international standards.

The individuals and organizations on the cutting edge of this thinking, in my understanding, are those tasked with delivering legal services to low-resource and rural populations. Commercial and governmental legal service providers simply haven’t figured out a model that enables them to effectively engage these populations, who are also the world’s largest (relatively) untapped markets.  Legal aid providers, however, encounter the individuals who have to overcome barriers like cost, time, education, and distance to just preserve the status quo, as well as those who seek protection.  From the perspective of legal aid clients, the biggest challenge to accessing the justice system may be the fact that courts are often located dozens of miles away from clients’ homes, over miserable roads.  Or the biggest challenge may be the fact that clients have to appear in court repeatedly to accomplish what seem like small tasks, such as extensions or depositions. Or the biggest challenge may be simply not knowing whom to approach to accomplish their law-related goals.  Each of these challenges represents a barrier to access to justice.  Each barrier to access, when alleviated, represents an opportunity for engagement and, if done correctly, an opportunity for financial sustainability.

Mobile points the way

None of this is intended as criticism — almost every major service industry in the world grapples with the same challenges.  Well, with the exception of at least one: the mobile phone industry.  The emergence of mobile phones presents two amazing opportunities for the legal services industry: 1) the very real opportunity for effective engagement with low-income and rural communities; and 2) an example of how, when service offerings are appropriately priced, these communities can represent immensely profitable commercial opportunities.

Let’s begin with a couple of quick points of information.  Global mobile penetration (the number of people with active cell phone subscriptions) is approximately 5.3 billion, which is 78 percent of the world’s population.  There are two things that every single one of those mobile phone accounts can do: 1) make calls; and 2) send text messages.  Text messaging, or SMS (Short Message Service), is particularly interesting in the context of legal services because it is a way to actively engage with a potential client, or a client, immediately, cheaply, and digitally.  There are 4.3 billion active SMS users in the world and, in 2010, the world sent 6.1 trillion text messages, a figure that has tripled in the last 3 years and is projected to double again by 2013.  That’s more than twice the global Internet population of 2 billion. It’s no exaggeration, at this point, to say that mobile technology is transformative to, basically, everything.  What has not been fully explored is why and how mobile devices can transform service delivery in particular settings.

Why is SMS so promising?

Something well-understood in the technology space is the value of approaching people using the platforms that they’re familiar with.  In fact, in technology, the thing that matters most is use. Everything has to make sense to a user, and make things easier than they would be if the user didn’t use the system.  This thinking largely takes place in technology spaces, in the niche called “user-interface design.” (Forgive the nerdy term, lawyers. Forgive the simplicity, fellow tech nerds.)  These are the people who design the way that people engage with a new piece of technology.

In this way, considering it has 4.3 billion users, SMS has been one of the best, and most simply, designed technologies ever.  SMS is instant, (usually) cheap, private, digital, standardized, asynchronous (unlike a phone call, people can respond whenever they want), and very easy to use. These benefits have made it the most used digital text-based communication tool in human history.

User-Interface-Design Principles + SMS + Legal Services = ?

So. What happens when you take user-interface design thinking, and apply it to legal systems?  Recognizing that the assumptions underlying most formal legal systems arose when those systems originated (most of the time hundreds of years ago), how would we update or change what we do to improve the functioning of legal systems?

There are a lot of good answers to those questions, and moves toward transactional representation, form standardization (à la LegalZoom), legal process outsourcing (à la Pangea3), legal information systems (there are a lot), and process automation (such as document assembly) are all tremendously interesting approaches to this work.  Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on any of those.

FrontlineSMS:Legal

I work for an organization called FrontlineSMS, where I also founded our FrontlineSMS:Legal project.  What we do, at FrontlineSMS, is design simple pieces of technology that make it easier to use SMS to do complex and professional engagement.  The FrontlineSMS:Legal project seeks to capitalize on the benefits of SMS to improve access to justice and the efficiency of legal services.  That is, I spend a lot of my time thinking about all the ways in which SMS can be used to provide legal services to more people, more cheaply.

And the good news is, I think, that there are a lot of ways to do this.  Pardon me while I geek out on a few.

Intake and referral

Mobile Justice HousesThe process of remote legal client intake and referral takes a number of forms, depending on the organization, procedural context, and infrastructure. Within most legal processes, the initial interview between a service provider and a client is an exceptionally important and complex interaction. There are, however, often a number of simpler communications that precede and coordinate the initial interview, such as very basic information collection and appointment scheduling, which could be conducted remotely via SMS.

Given the complexity of legal institutions, providing remote intake and referral can significantly reduce the inefficiencies that so-called “last-mile” populations — i.e., populations who live in “areas …beyond the reach of basic government infrastructure or services — face in seeking access to services. The issue of complexity is often compounded by the centralization of legal service providers in urban areas, which requires potential clients to travel just to begin these processes. Furthermore, most rural or extension services operate with paper records, which are physically transported to central locations at fixed intervals. These records are not particularly practical from a workflow management perspective and often are left unexamined in unwieldy filing systems. FrontlineSMS:Legal can reduce these barriers by creating mobile interfaces for digital intake and referral systems, which enable clients to undertake simple interactions, such as identifying the appropriate service provider and scheduling an appointment.

Client and case management

After intake, most legal processes require service providers to interact with their clients on multiple occasions, in order to gather follow-up information, prepare the case, and manage successive court hearings. Recognizing that each such meetings require people from last-mile communities to travel significant distances, the iterative nature of these processes often imposes a disproportionate burden on clients, given the desired outcome. In addition, many countries struggle to provide sufficient postal or fixed-line telephone services, meaning that organizing follow-up appointments with clients can be a significant challenge. These challenges become considerably more complicated in cases that have multiple elements requiring coordination between both clients and institutions.

Similarly, in order to follow up with clients, service providers must place person-to-person phone calls, which can take significant chunks of time. Moreover, internal case management systems originate from paper records, causing large amounts of duplicative data entry and lags in data availability.

To alleviate these problems, we propose that legal service providers install a FrontlineSMS:Legal hub in a central location, such as a law firm or public defender’s office. During the intake interview, service agents would record the client’s mobile number and use SMS as an ongoing communications platform.

By creating a sustained communications channel between service providers and clients, lawyers and governments could communicate simple information, such as hearing reminders, probation compliance reminders, and simple case details. Additionally, these communications could be automated and sent to entire groups of clients, thereby reducing the amount of time required to manage clients and important case deadlines. This set of tools would reduce the barriers to communication with last-mile clients and create digital records of these interactions, enabling service providers to view all of these exchanges in one easy-to-use interface, reducing duplicative data entry and improving information usability.

Caseload- and service-extension agent management

Although this article focuses largely on innovations that improve direct access to legal services for last-mile populations, the same tools also have the effect of improving internal system efficiency by digitizing records and enabling a data-driven approach to measuring outcomes. Both urban and rural service extension programs have a difficult time monitoring their caseloads and agents in the field. The same communication barriers that limit a service provider’s ability to connect with last-mile clients also prevent communication with remote agents. Mobile interfaces have the effect of lowering these barriers, enabling both intake and remote reporting processes to feed digital interfaces. These digital record systems, when used effectively, inform a manager’s ability to allocate cases to the most available service provider.

Applied to legal processes, supervising attorneys can use the same SMS hubs that administer intake and case management processes to digitize their internal management structures. One central hub, fed by the intake process that information desks often perform, and remote input where service extension agents exist can allow managers to assign cases to individual service providers, and then track them through disposition. In doing so, legal service coordinators will be able to track each employee’s workload in real time. In addition, system administrators will be able to look at the types and frequency of cases they take on, which will inform their ability to allocate resources effectively. If, for example, one area has a dramatically higher number of cases than another, it may make sense to deploy multiple community legal advisors to adequately address the area of greatest need.

Ultimately, though, SMS use in legal services remains largely untested.  FrontlineSMS is currently working with several partners to design specific mobile interfaces that meet their needs.  These efforts will definitely turn up new and interesting things that can be done using SMS and, particularly, FrontlineSMS.  These projects, however, are still largely in the design phase.

In addition to practical implementation challenges, there are a large number of challenges that lie ahead, as we begin to consider the implications of the professional use of SMS.  Issues such as security, privacy, identity, and chain of custody will all need to be addressed as systems adapt to include new technologies.  There are a number of brilliant minds well ahead on this, and we’ve even jury-rigged a few solutions ourselves, but there will be plenty to learn along the way.

The potential is great

What is clear, though, is that SMS has the potential to improve cost efficiencies, engage new populations, and, for the first time, build a justice system that works for the people who need it most.

I don’t think any of this will square me with my property-law professor.  I’m not sure I’ll ever fix property law.  But I do think that by reaching out to new populations using the technologies in their pockets, we can make a difference in the way people interact with the law. And even if that’s just a little bit, even if it just enables one percent more people to protect their homes, start a business, or pursue a better life, isn’t that worth it?

[Editor's Note: For other VoxPopuLII posts on using technology to improve access to justice, please see Judge Dory Reiling, IT and the Access-to-Justice Crisis; Nick Holmes, Accessible Law; and Christine Kirchberger, If the mountain will not come to the prophet, the prophet will go to the mountain.]

Sean Martin McDonald is the Director of Operations at FrontlineSMS and the founding Director of FrontlineSMS:Legal. He holds JD and MA degrees from American University. He is the author, most recently, of The Case for mLegal.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Editor-in-Chief is Robert Richards, to whom queries should be directed. The statements above are not  legal  advice or legal representation. If you require legal advice,  consult a  lawyer. Find a lawyer in the Cornell LII Lawyer Directory.

The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, referred to as UELMA, is ready for introduction into state legislatures.  It has undergone its final proofing and formatting process by the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL, or ULC) and has been posted on NCCUSL’s archival Website at the University of Pennsylvania, and is soon to come to NCCUSL’s official site.  The Act will be sent to the American Bar Association’s (ABA’s) House of Delegates for approval at the ABA Midyear Meeting in February, 2012 in New Orleans.

The UELMA addresses important issues in information management, providing sound guidance to states that are transitioning legal publications to digital formats.   The Act is citizen-oriented, and leaves all issues concerning commercial publishing to state policy and contract law.   Most importantly, the Act is outcomes-based, keeping it flexible in the face of changing technologies and evolving state practice.  A brief account of UELMA’s development and its main provisions is included in this posting.

The UELMA was drafted in response to a request from the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), following the AALL’s 2007 National Summit on Authentication of Digital Legal Information. The purpose of the Summit was to bring national attention to the issues surrounding the rapid rise in the number of states publishing primary legal information resources electronically and, in some cases, cancelling print resources and publishing legal information only in electronic format.  Foremost among the issues were ensuring the trustworthiness of online legal resources  and preserving the electronic publications to provide for continuing accessibility.   The drafting of a uniform act on these topics was one of the top recommendations of the Summit’s attendees.

The ULC agreed to consider the development of a uniform law and appointed a Study Committee for that purpose.  The Study Committee recommended that a law be developed and a Drafting Committee was charged with the task.  After two years of consideration, including several face-to-face meetings, conference calls, and circulation of numerous drafts by email, the UELMA was read to and debated for the second time at the Annual Meeting of NCCUSL in July 2011.  After more than six hours of floor consideration, the NCCUSL Committee of the Whole passed the draft act, sending it to a Vote of the States.  UELMA passed its final hurdle with a positive Vote of the States, gaining approval by a vote of 45-0 (with 1 abstention and 7 jurisdictions not voting).

The UELMA, as it passed the Conference, requires a state that publishes official versions of its legal information in electronic format to do three things:

1.  Authenticate the information, by providing a method to determine that the legal material is unaltered from the version published by the state officer or employee that publishes the material;
2.  Preserve the information; and
3.  Ensure public accessibility on a permanent basis.

At a minimum, legal material that is covered by the Act includes the most basic of state-level legal information resources, including the state constitution, session laws, codified laws or statutes, and state agency rules with the effect of law.  In recognition of potential separation of powers issues, the UELMA does not automatically include judicial or executive materials, leaving it to the enacting state to decide whether and how to include those resources.  States may choose to include court rules and decisions, state administrative agency decisions, executive official documents, or almost any other information resources they designate as legal material.

For each type of legal material, the state must name a state agency or official as the “official publisher.”  The official publisher has the responsibility to authenticate, preserve, and provide access to the legal material. If legal material defined by the Act is published only electronically, that material must be designated “official” and meet the requirements of the Act.  If there is a print version of the legal material, an official publisher may designate the online version “official,” but the requirements of the Act to authenticate, preserve, and provide access must be met for the electronic version.

The requirements of the Act are not ended if the official electronic legal material is superseded, overruled, or otherwise ceases to be current law.   Legal material does not lose its value even if it is no longer in effect.  Accordingly, once a source is designated as official, it continues to be covered by the provisions of the UELMA.  Historical sources must be preserved and made available.

The Act does not affect any relationships between an official state publisher and a commercial publisher, leaving those relationships to contract law.  Copyright laws are unaffected by the Act. The Act does not affect the rules of evidence; judges continue to make decisions about the admissibility of electronic evidence in their courtrooms.

The comments to the UELMA provide a great deal of background on the decisions and intent of the Drafting Committee.  In many instances, the comments offer guidance to legislators who will be asked to consider the UELMA for passage.  The comments are included with the Act on the University of Pennsylvania’s Biddle Law Library Website.

Some issues specific to one of the three parts of the Act (authentication, preservation, and public access) are as follows.  More information on these points can be found in the comments to the Act.

Authentication (Sections 5 and 6) :

The Drafting Committee considered a wide range of approaches to authentication before settling on a policy of presenting a technology-neutral, outcomes-based document, leaving the choice of method used to authenticate legal material up to the states.  This approach also leaves it to each state’s discretion to change methods, as necessary or desirable.  What is required is that the official publisher provides a method for the user to determine that the electronic record is unaltered from the one published by the official publisher.

By the terms of the Act, the authenticated electronic legal material will receive a presumption of accuracy, the same presumption that is created by publication of legal material in print form.  The burden of proving inaccuracy shifts to the party that disputes the accuracy of the electronic legal material.   Electronic legal material from other states with substantially similar laws will receive the same presumption of accuracy.

Preservation (Section 7):

The Drafting Committee spent considerable time debating the preservation provisions.   The biggest issues were finding a way to describe what legal material would be covered by a preservation requirement, and how legal material should be preserved.

The Drafting Committee decided that, ultimately, all legal material covered by the Act’s authentication provisions should also be subject to its preservation requirements.  This was stated simply as requiring preservation of legal material “that is or was designated as official” under the Act.  This language requires that states preserve superseded or amended legal material, which retains importance despite its no longer being currently effective.  The comments to Section 7 make clear that the Drafting Committee intended the Act to cover not only the text of the law, but also the materials commonly published with the legal material.  This would mean that the lists of legislators and state officials typically published with session laws would be preserved, as would proposed or final state constitutional amendments, legislative resolutions, and any other type of information published with a legal material source.

The Drafting Committee decided to use an outcomes-based approach for the preservation requirements, similar to its approach to authentication.   The ultimate outcome of preservation is that legal material may be preserved in an electronic format, in print, or by whatever method the state may choose in the future; consistent with an outcomes-based approach, state policy and preference dictate the preservation method.

If legal material is preserved electronically, the UELMA requires that the integrity of the record be ensured, including through backup and disaster recovery preparations, and that the continuing usability of the legal material is ensured.  Recent natural disasters in the U.S. have highlighted the importance of disaster recovery preparations.  Further, information that is preserved in an unusable format is of no value.  The comments make clear that migration to new formats or storage media will be required from time to time.

The comments also note that the Drafting Committee intended that legally significant formatting be preserved.  The complexity of presentation of some legal materials — evident in indentations, italicization, and numbering of internal subdivisions, for example — may indicate or explain legislative or regulatory intent.  Preservation should not change the meaning of the legal material, but rather should ensure that the legal material is capable of being authenticated.

The Act recognizes that states have decades, and in some instances centuries, of expertise in preserving print materials, and does not specify preservation requirements or outcomes if the state chooses to preserve legal material in print.  Nor does the Act impose a duty on an enacting state to retrospectively convert its print material to an electronic format.  If, however, the state chooses to digitize previously non-electronic legal material, and if that newly electronic legal material is designated as official, then the requirements of the Act must be met.  Publication of legal material in an official electronic version subsequent to the adoption of the UELMA, even if the same legal material was published previously in print, triggers the requirements of the Act.

Permanent Access (Section 8):

Citizens must be informed as to government actions if they are to participate effectively in their government.  Legal material is an essential information source for citizens to access to become informed.   The UELMA recognizes this in requiring reasonable availability, on a permanent basis, of legal material, even that which is amended, repealed, or superseded.

The Drafting Committee debated conditions of access over several meetings, finally concluding that states already have long-term, relevant experience in making other materials available through archives, libraries, and state offices.  The enacting state has discretion to decide where, when, and how to provide access, including whether to charge fees for access.  Section 8’s requirement of permanent access does not require a state to provide unlimited access to its preserved legal information.  This drafting decision is consistent with the rest of the UELMA, which defers to state policy and practice in its other provisions.  Eventually, the Committee decided that the individual states could set their own requirements for access to legal material preserved under the Act, as long as the access is reasonable and in perpetuity.  For this reason, the Act does not address whether states can charge fees for access to preserved electronic legal material.

The Standards section of the Act (Section 9) directs official publishers of electronic legal material to consider developing standards and best practices as they choose and to implement methods for the authentication, preservation, and permanent access of electronic records.  The “Guiding Principles to Be Considered in Developing a Future Instrument,” the best practices document of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, were important guidelines that were repeatedly consulted in the drafting process.

Throughout its deliberations, the Drafting Committee was advised and informed by a large number of advisors and observers who came from federal and state governments, commercial legal publishers and software vendors, and a number of interested organizations.  Two American Bar Association advisors brought knowledge of and experience with technologies to the drafting process.  The observers were very helpful in assisting the Committee in its understanding of the possible impacts of proposed sections of the Act.  In some instances, the observers were able to explain existing and emerging technologies that might be used to accomplish the Act’s specified outcomes.  The Committee watched technology demonstrations and investigated various authentication processes already in effect.  The drafting process was strengthened by the level of support and expertise the advisors and observers brought, but, in the end, the Act was entirely the Committee’s work.

By designating the Committee’s product a uniform law, the ULC recognized the importance of the topic and urged wide adoption of the Act.  The final step in the UELMA’s development will be its introduction into state legislatures.   Bill sponsors are being identified, and the ULC anticipates the UELMA will be introduced in at least 8 states in January 2012, with the possibility of introduction in as many as 12.

The ULC has appointed an Enactment Committee for the UELMA to assist the larger ULC Legislative Committee with its charge to “endeavor to secure the enactment of [uniform] legislation.”   The Enactment Committee prepares “talking points” and summaries of the legislation, and works with individual legislatures, on occasion, to answer questions and further the introduction and approval of the Act.  Volunteers from several interested associations are also preparing to work towards the Act’s approval.  With strong support from the ULC and volunteers working on its behalf, by next summer the Uniform Act may itself become “legal material” in one or more states.

Barbara Bintliff
Barbara Bintliff is the Joseph C. Hutcheson Professor in Law at The University of Texas School of Law, and Director of Research at the School’s Tarlton Law Library and Jamail Center for Legal Research. She is The Reporter for The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Editor-in-Chief is Robert Richards, to whom queries should be directed. The statements above are not legal advice or legal representation. If you require legal advice, consult a lawyer. Find a lawyer in the Cornell LII Lawyer Directory.

Free Access to LawHow are free access to law (FAL) services being used throughout the world? And how can these services be made sustainable? This post describes a research effort devoted to answering those two questions. The effort is funded by IDRC, and is being conducted by the Chair on Legal Information at the University of Montreal.

[Lexum -- the Canadian legal technology firm that created and administers CanLII, the Canadian Legal Information Institute -- began its existence as LexUM, a research unit of the University of Montreal. In 2009, LexUM was divided into two parts. One part, called Lexum, became an independent company, while the second part, called the Chair on Legal Information, remained with the University of Montreal. For purposes of simplicity, "LexUM" and "Lexum" will both be referred to in this post as "Lexum."]

This post also describes my personal experience of participating in this research and learning about free access to law.

Project Overview

At the Chair on Legal Information at the University of Montreal, with a team of researchers situated all over the world, we’ve been working on two on-going research projects since 2009: (1) A review of legal information in four West African countries, and (2) a global study on the sustainability of Free Access to Law initiatives.

In conducting these research projects over more than two years, we have interviewed lawyers, magistrates, judges, law students, public servants, law librarians, and anyone else we could find who could talk about legal information in their countries.

Here is how I came to be involved in this effort.

Being Introduced to Free Access to Law

Earthquake in IndonesiaOctober 2009: a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hits Indonesia; U.S. President Barack Obama receives the Nobel Peace Prize; we’re in the midst of the global financial crisis; and unbeknownst to me, I’m about to discover a world I have never heard of before: the world of Free Access to Law (FAL).

The idea of Free Access to Law, although it has been around for nearly 20 years in Canada, was entirely new to me in October 2009. Prior to that, I hadn’t worked in the field of law, although I had spent years in its neighbouring field, political science, and worked for a number of groups and organisations involved in issues concerning human rights and social justice.

A fairly simple concept it seemed to me, this FAL creature. How much could there be to know about putting the law on the Internet? Through our research, I was to find that FAL is a very complex phenomenon — a world of knowledge and expertise, questions and debates, values and principles; and a movement in which hundreds upon hundreds of individuals from all around the globe are active — and that many factors influence the effectiveness and sustainability of FAL services.

The First Study: The Use of Free Access to Law Services in West Africa

For the first study, our purpose was to find out how lawyers were accessing and using legal information in our subject countries: Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

Map of West AfricaThe context for this study was the development of free access to law services in these countries. In the first half of the 2000s, free access to law (FAL) initiatives for the countries of Burkina Faso and Niger — JuriBurkina and JuriNiger, respectively — were launched with the coordination of Lexum. Once JuriBurkina and JuriNiger had begun operations, efforts were soon in place to develop similar sites in Senegal and in Togo. In Senegal, after expressing initial enthusiasm for the idea, the Bar eventually lost interest in the project and declined to cooperate in moving the project forward. In Togo, the Bar expressed its interest in the project a little late, so Lexum included them in a review of legal information project, while seeking their support for FAL efforts at the same time

In our first study, we sought answers to the following questions: What kind of information did lawyers in these countries need, in what format, how often, and for what purpose? How had these FAL Websites changed the way lawyers in these countries do their job?

Here are the key findings of the first study. First, many legal professionals in these countries knew little about the FAL sites’ existence, let alone their purpose. Second, JuriBurkina and JuriNiger were found to have had a limited impact on the way the lawyers who are their target audience conduct their research, mostly because the lawyers either didn’t know about the sites or didn’t find what they were looking for on the sites.

The legal professionals we met during our research were not talking about how they are and have been using the sites, nor how free access to legal information online has changed their research habits. Rather, we were being told about the potential of the sites, and what is likely to change -– and this only in the instances in which the respondent had ever heard of or used either JuriBurkina or JuriNiger.

Third, the content of the FAL sites in these countries was very limited. These content limitations appeared to affect users’ perceptions of the relevance of the sites. When we examine the sites, we see little in the way of updates and few documents. JuriBurkina, hosted locally, was also down on a regular basis until Lexum brought it back on its servers, where it’s been available ever since.

Fourth, contextual factors contributed significantly to these content limitations. In Burkina Faso, Lexum and the local Bar were hoping to launch an all-inclusive legal information portal for the country, where users could access statutes, statutory material, case law, and eventually secondary material as well. Yet restrictions on access to legislative content led to the launch of a site containing mostly case law — in a civil law country. In Niger, access to judgments was greatly limited following the 2010 coup. With a military regime in place, data sources were less than keen on handing over decisions.

Fifth, differential access to technology may have affected the perceived usefulness of the FAL services. Both the lawyers and law students we met in West Africa have greater access to mobile phones (that lack Internet access) than they do to computers with Web access, and the West African FAL sites are available only via the Web.

The Second Study: The Sustainability of Free Access to Law Services

Our second, global study is known as the “Free Access to Law – Is it Here to Stay?” research project. [Editor's Note: The first report related to this study is available here.] With partners in Asia, Southern Africa, and West Africa, we have attempted to evaluate how we could ensure that sites providing legal information for free to the public can continue to do so in the long term. We were interested not just in funding models, but also in organizational models, taking into consideration variables related to political, social, and technological contexts. We asked: Can a strong team of dedicated individuals, with know-how and funding, build sustainable FAL initiatives?

For this second project, too, we went around interviewing the usual suspects — users and makers of freely accessible legal information — in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa. We asked the makers of FAL such questions as: How were they running their sites, coping with limited resources, deciding on which projects to undertake, and managing relationships with data sources?

Here are some key findings of this study. First, contextual factors, particularly political and technological, are critical to an FAL initiative’s capacity to ensure sustainability. Without the participation of those who make the law, be it legislative or case law, it is difficult for an FAL initiative to fulfill its mission.

Technological contextual factors are of particular importance respecting the sustainability of FAL initiatives. Legal Information Institutes have elected the Web as the best way to offer public and free access to legal information: The Web is relatively cheap, and reaches unparalleled numbers of users instantaneously. But easy and inexpensive Internet access — unfortunately, like many things in this world — is not a universal fact of life. Although perhaps one of the most democratic forums of our time, the Web is still far from being available in most households around the globe. [Editor's Note: The ITU's The World in 2010 pamphlet provides recent data on Internet use and access in developing countries.]

Second, respecting securing user buy-in to an FAL site, we found that the key is to ensure that the information published is highly relevant: that it is the information most needed by the site’s users. If FAL is to continue to play the pivotal role it has had in defining how users access legal information, sustainability is going to depend on our capacity to adapt, such that we provide a service needed by specific groups of users operating in specific contexts.

Common Findings of Both Studies

The findings of the studies actually coincide in more than one way. The first concerns the importance to users of the perceived relevance of information available from FAL services. This may seem like an obvious conclusion, but it was not expressly stated by our respondents, and had to be inferred from our data. The users we met had a tendency to speak of the “comprehensiveness” of collections as being one of the primary factors determining whether they would adopt an information source for their professional needs. A strong majority also said that before searching online, they would refer to their firm’s private collection, to their national archives, or to their Bar’s library. But their firm’s private collections were far from being “comprehensive.” What those collections were, though, was targeted, and focused on the lawyers’ specific informational needs.

The second common finding concerns the importance of contextual factors to the sustainability and perceived usefulness of FAL sites. Many free access to law initiatives are faced with limited access to technological, human, and financial resources. For initiatives working under such constraints, carefully choosing which information to prioritize for publication is essential. Yet, as noted above, our research suggests that the information that is published must be perceived as highly relevant by the users of the FAL service, if users are to “buy-in” to the service for the long term and integrate the service into their research practices.

In addition, the contextual factor of technology seems to affect both the sustainability of FAL sites and users’ perceptions of the usefulness of those sites. The evidence from West Africa suggests that the inability of lawyers and law students to access FAL sites via mobile phones may have contributed to users’ perceptions that the sites lacked relevant information. Respecting sustainability, the persistence of low levels of Internet access in developing countries poses a possible obstacle to widespread public buy-in to Web-based FAL services over the long term.

Issues Needing Further Research

In addition to the issues raised by the findings discussed above, our research on the use and sustainability of free access to law services has also highlighted additional issues that warrant further study. The first concerns justice and the rule of law. Free access to law, as a movement, gives itself the mandate to reinforce the rule of law. But in societies where a great social distance divides those who produce the law and those governed by it, we may need to go beyond the concept of law and start thinking about justice.

The second concerns the role of law in highly unequal societies. What is the role of a free access to law initiative in a context in which the law and legal information are not considered to belong to the public? In which legal information — written in a language not spoken by the majority of the population — is effectively the property of the elite? In which the law in force is a tool of oppression and segregation?

The third concerns access to technology and the digital divide. Limitations on Internet access must be taken into consideration not only respecting sustainability and users’ perceptions of the relevance of FAL services, but also to insure the coherency of FAL’s mission to democratize access to legal information. After over a decade of free access to law around the world, we must never stop thinking about what’s next and how we can best ensure open access.

Reflections and Conclusion

April 2011: I’ve now worked on IDRC-funded free access to law projects with Lexum and the Chair on Legal Information at the University of Montreal for just less than two years. When I began this work in the fall of 2009, free access to law seemed to me to be a relatively “simple” concept. Now, after eighteen months of research, I’ve come to understand the complexity and large scope of free access to law: that it involves hundreds of professionals working on six continents; that its success and sustainability are influenced by numerous technological, political, and social factors;One Size Fits All and that its value depends in large part on cultivating relationships with users in their particular social and cultural contexts.

Keep an eye out for our case studies coming out this summer—but to sum things up for now, it would be simply that, like most things in the social sciences, one size does not fit all.

[Editor's Note: For an earlier commentary on the sustainability of legal information institutes, please see Mariya Badeva-Bright's VoxPopuLII post, Is Free Access to Law here to stay?]

[Editor's Note: The original version of this post contained an error. The original version of the post stated that the studies described in the post are being conducted by Lexum and the Chair in Legal Information of the University of Montreal. That information is incorrect. The studies described in the post are being conducted solely by the Chair in Legal Information of the University of Montreal. Lexum has no role in the studies. We regret the error. The post has been corrected as of 5 May 2011.]

 

Isabelle MoncionIsabelle Moncion is a research assistant at the Chair in Legal Information of the University of Montreal, and a project manager with Lexum. She holds an MA in political science with a specialisation in international development from the University of Quebec in Montreal, and a B.Sc. in political science and communications from the University of Ottawa.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Robert Richards is Editor in Chief.

The Problem: URLs and Internal Links for Legislative Documents

LegisLink LogoLegislative documents reside at various government Websites in various formats (TXT, HTML, XML, PDF, WordPerfect). URLs for these documents are often too long or difficult to construct. For example, here is the URL for the HTML format version of bill H.R. 3200 of the 111th U.S. Congress:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr3200IH/html/BILLS-111hr3200IH.htm

More importantly, “deep” links to internal locations (often called “subdivisions” or “segments”) within a legislative document (the citations within the law, such as section 246 of bill H.R. 3200) are often not supported, or are non-intuitive for users to create or use. For most legislative Websites, users must click through or fill out forms and then scroll or search for the specific location in the text of legislation. This makes it difficult if not impossible to create and share links to official citations. Enabling internal links to subdivisions of legislative documents is crucial, because in most situations, users of legal information need access only to a subdivision of a legal document, not to the entire document.

A Solution: LegisLink

LegisLink.org is a URL Redirection Service with the goal of enabling Internet access to legislative material using citation-based URLs rather than requiring users to repeatedly click and scroll through documents to arrive at a destination.  Let’s say you’re reading an article at CNN.com and the article references section 246 in H.R. 3200.  If you want to read the section, you can search for H.R. 3200 and more than likely you will find the bill and then scroll to find the desired section.  On the other hand, you can use something like LegisLink by typing the correct URL.  For example: http://legislink.org/us/hr-3200-ih-246.

LegisLink Screen Shot

 

Benefits

There are several advantages of having a Web service that resolves legislative and legal citations.

(1)   LegisLink provides links to citations that are otherwise not easy for users to create.  In order to create a hyperlink to a location in an HTML or XML file, the publisher must include unique anchor or id attributes within their files.  Even if these attributes are included, they are often not exposed as links for Internet users to re-use.   On the other hand, Web-based software can easily scan a file’s text to find a requested citation and then redirect the user to the requested location.  For PDF files, it is possible to create hyperlinks to specific pages and locations when using the Acrobat plug-in from Adobe.  In these cases, hyperlinks can direct the user to the document location at the official Website.

For example, here is the LegisLink URL that links directly to section 246 within the PDF version of H.R. 3200: http://legislink.org/us/hr-3200-ih-246-pdf

In cases where governments have not included ids in HTML, XML or TXT files, LegisLink can replicate a government document on the LegisLink site, insert an anchor, and then redirect the user to the requested location.

(2)   LegisLink makes it easy to get to a specific location in a document, which saves time.  Law students and presumably all law professionals are relying on online resources to a greater extent than ever before.  In 2004, Stanford Law School published the results of their survey that found that 93% of first year law students used online resources for legal research at least 80% of the time.

hanoicyclers.png(3)   Creating and maintaining a .org site that acts as an umbrella for all jurisdictions makes it easier to locate documents and citations, especially when they have been issued by a jurisdiction with which one is unfamiliar.  Legislation and other legal documents tend to reside at multiple Websites within a jurisdiction.  For example, while U.S. federal legislation (i.e., bills and slip laws) is stored at thomas.loc.gov (HTML and XML) and gpo.gov (at FDsys and GPO Access) (TXT and PDF), the United States Code is available at uscode.house.gov and at gpo.gov (FDsys and GPO Access), while roll call votes are at clerk.house.gov and www.senate.gov.   Governments tend to compartmentalize activities, and their Websites reflect much of that compartmentalization.  LegisLink.org or something like it could, at a minimum, provide a resource that helps casual and new users find where official documents are stored at various locations or among various jurisdictions.

(4) LegisLinks won’t break over time. Governments sometimes change the URL locations for their documents. This often breaks previously relied-upon URLs (a result that is sometimes called “link rot”). A URL Redirection Service lessens these eventual annoyances to users because the syntax for the LegisLink-type service remains the same. To “fix” the broken links, the LegisLink software is simply updated to link to the government’s new URLs. This means that previously published LegisLinks won’t break over time.

(5)   A LegisLink-type service does not require governments to expend resources.  The goal of LegisLink is to point to government or government-designated resources.  If those resources contain anchors or id attributes, they can be used to link to the official government site.  If the documents are in PDF (non-scanned), they can also be used to link to the official government site.  In other cases, the files can be replicated temporarily and slightly manipulated (e.g., the tag <a name=SEC-#> can be added at the appropriate location) in order to achieve the desired results.

RocksAlternatives

While some Websites have implemented Permalinks and handle systems (e.g., the Library of Congress’s THOMAS system), these systems tend to link users to the document level only. They also generally only work within a single Internet domain, and casual users tend not to be aware of their existence.

Other technologies at the forefront of this space include recent efforts to create a URN-based syntax for legal documents (URN:LEX). To quote from the draft specification, “In an on-line environment with resources distributed among different Web publishers, uniform resource names allow simplified global interconnection of legal documents by means of automated hypertext linking.”

The syntax for URN:LEX is a bit lengthy, but because of its specificity, it needs to be included in any universal legal citation redirection service. The inclusion of URN:LEX syntax does not, however, mitigate the need for additional simpler syntaxes.  This distinction is important for the users who just want to quickly access a particular legislative document, such as a bill that is mentioned in a news article.  For example, if LegisLink were widely adopted, users would come to know that the URL http://legislink.org/us/hr-3200 will link to the current Congress’s H.R. 3200; the LegisLink URL is therefore readily usable by humans. And use of LegisLink for a particular piece of legislation is to some extent consistent with the use of URN:LEX for the same legislation: for example, a URN:LEX-based address such as http://legislink.org/urn:lex/us/federal:legislation:2009;
111.hr.3200@official;thomas.loc.gov:en$text-html
could also lead to the current Congress’s H.R. 3200. A LegisLink-type service can include the URN:LEX syntax, but the URN:LEX syntax cannot subsume the simplified syntax being proposed for LegisLink.org.

The goals of Citability.org, another effort to address these issues, calls for the replication of all government documents for point-in-time access. In addition, Citability.org envisions including date and time information as part of the URL syntax in order to provide access to the citable content that was available at the specified date and time. LegisLink has more modest goals: it focuses on linking to currently provided government documents and locations within those documents. Since legislation is typically stored as separate, un-revisable documents for a given legislative term (lasting 2 years in many U.S. jurisdictions), the use of date and time information is redundant with legislative session information.

The primary goal of a legislative URL Redirection Service such as LegisLink.org is to expedite the delivery of needed information to the Internet user. In addition, the LegisLink tools used to link to legislative citations in one jurisdiction can be re-used for other jurisdictions; this reduces developers’ labor as more jurisdictions are added.

PathwayNext Steps

The LegisLink.org site is organized by jurisdiction: each jurisdiction has its own script, and all scripts can re-use common functions. The prototype is currently being built to handle the United States (us), Colorado (us-co), and New Zealand (nz). The LegisLink source code is available as text files at http://legislink.org/code.html.

The challenges of a service like LegisLink.org are: (1) determining whether the legal community is interested in this sort of solution, (2) finding legislative experts to define the needed syntax and results for jurisdictions of interest, and (3) finding software developers interested in helping to work on the project.

This project cannot be accomplished by one or two people. Your help is needed, whether you are an interested user or a software developer. At this point, the code for LegisLink is written in Perl. Please join the LegisLink wiki site at http://legislink.wikispaces.org to add your ideas, to discuss related information, or just to stay informed about what’s going on with LegisLink.

Joe_CarmelJoe Carmel is a part-time consultant and software developer hobbyist. He was previously Chief of the Legislative Computer Systems at the U.S. House of Representatives (2001-2005) and spearheaded the use of XML for the drafting of legislation, the publication of roll call votes, and the creation and maintenance of the U.S. Congressional Biographical Directory.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Editor in chief is Robert Richards.