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In the fall of 2009, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) put out a call for volunteers to participate in our new state working groups to support one of AALL’s top policy priorities: promoting the need for authentication and preservation of digital legal resources. It is AALL policy that the public have no-fee, permanent public access to authentic online legal information. In addition, AALL believes that government information, including the text of all primary legal materials, must be in the public domain and available without restriction.

The response to our call was overwhelming, with volunteers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia expressing interest in participating. To promote our public policy priorities, the initial goals of AALL’s working groups were to:

  • Take action to oppose any plan in their state to eliminate an official print legal resource in favor of online-only, unless the electronic version is digitally authenticated and will be preserved for permanent public access;
  • Oppose plans to charge fees to access legal information electronically; and
  • Ensure that any legal resources in a state’s raw-data portal include a disclaimer so that users know that the information is not an official or authentic resource (similar to what is included on the Code of Federal Regulations XML on Data.gov).

In late 2009, AALL’s then-Director of Government Relations Mary Alice Baish met twice with Law Librarian of Congress Roberta Shaffer and Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.org to discuss Law.gov and Malamud’s idea for a national inventory of legal materials. The inventory would include legal materials from all three branches of government. Mary Alice volunteered our working groups to lead the ambitious effort to contribute to the groundbreaking national inventory. AALL would use this data to update AALL’s 2003 “State-by-State Report on Permanent Public Access to Electronic Government Information and the 2007 “State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resourcesand 2009-2010 updates, which revealed that a significant number of state online legal resources are considered to be “official” but that few are authenticating. It would also help the Law Library of Congress, which owns the Law.gov domain name, with their own ambitious projects.

Erika Wayne and Paul Lomio at Stanford University’s Robert Crown Law Library developed a prototype for the national inventory that included nearly 30 questions related to scope, copyright, cost to access, and other use restrictions. They worked with the California State Working Group and the Northern California Association of Law Libraries to populate the inventory with impressive speed, adding most titles in about two months.

AALL’s Government Relations Office staff then expanded the California prototype to include questions related to digital authentication, preservation, and permanent public access. Our volunteers used the following definition of “authentication” provided by the Government Printing Office:

An authentic text is one whose content has been verified by a government entity to be complete and unaltered when compared to the version approved or published by the content originator.

Typically, an authentic text will bear a certificate or mark that conveys information as to its certification, the process associated with ensuring that the text is complete and unaltered when compared with that of the content originator.

An authentic text is able to be authenticated, which means that the particular text in question can be validated, ensuring that it is what it claims to be.

The “Principles and Core Values Concerning Public Information on Government Websites,” drafted by AALL’s Access to Electronic Legal Information Committee (now the Digital Access to Legal Information Committee) and adopted by the Executive Board in 2007, define AALL’s commitment to equitable, no-fee, permanent public access to authentic online legal information. The principle related to preservation states that:

Information on government Web sites must be preserved by the entity, such as a state library, an archives division, or other agency, within the issuing government that is charged with preservation of government information.

  • Government entities must ensure continued access to all their legal information.
  • Archives of government information must be comprehensive, including all supplements.
  • Snapshots of the complete underlying database content of dynamic Web sites should be taken regularly and archived in order to have a permanent record of all additions, changes, and deletions to the underlying data.
  • Governments must plan effective methods and procedures to migrate information to newer technologies.

In addition, AALL’s 2003 “State-By-State Report on Permanent Public Access to Electronic Government Information” defines permanent public access as, “the process by which applicable government information is preserved for current, continuous and future public access.”

Our volunteers used Google Docs to add to the inventory print and electronic legal titles at the state, county, and municipal levels and answer a series of questions about each title. AALL’s Government Relations Office set up a Google Group for volunteers to discuss issues and questions. Several of our state coordinators developed materials to help other working groups, such as Six Easy Steps to Populating Your State’s Inventory by Maine State Working Group coordinator Christine Hepler, How to Put on a Successful Work Day for Your Working Group by Florida State Working Group co-coordinators Jenny Wondracek and Jamie Keller, and Tips for AALL State Working Groups with contributions from many coordinators.

In October 2010, AALL held a very successful webinar on how to populate the inventories. More than 200 AALL and chapter members participated in the webinar, which included Kentucky State Working Group coordinator Emily Janoski-Haehlen, Maryland State Working Group coordinator Joan Bellistri, and Indiana State Working Group coordinator Sarah Glassmeyer as speakers. By early 2011, more than 350 volunteers were contributing to the state inventories.

Initial Findings

Our dedicated volunteers added more than 7,000 titles to the inventory in time for AALL’s June 30, 2011 deadline. AALL recognized our hard-working volunteers at our annual Advocacy Training during AALL’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, and celebrated their significant accomplishments. Timothy L. Coggins, 2010-11 Chair of the Digital Access to Legal Information Committee, presented these preliminary findings:

  • Authentication: No state reported new resources that have been authenticated since the 2009-2010 Digital Access to Legal Information Committee survey
  • Official status: Several states have designated at least one legal resource as official, including Arizona, Florida, and Maine
  • Copyright assertions in digital version: Twenty-five states assert copyright on at least one legal resource, including Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island
  • Costs to access official version: Ten states charge fees to access the official version, including Kansas, Vermont, and Wyoming
  • Preservation and Permanent Public Access: Eighteen states require preservation and permanent public access of at least one legal resource, including Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington

Analyzing and Using the Data

In July 2011, AALL’s Digital Access to Legal Information Committee formed a subcommittee that is charged with reviewing the national inventory data collected by the state working groups. The subcommittee includes Elaine Apostola (Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library), A. Hays Butler (Rutgers University Law School Library), Sarah Gotschall (University of Arizona Rogers College of Law Library), and Anita Postyn (Richmond Supreme Court Library). Subcommittee members have been reviewing the raw data as entered by the working group volunteers in their state inventories. They will soon focus their attention on developing a report that will also act as an updated version of AALL’s State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources.

The report, to be issued later this year, will once again support what law librarians have known for years: there are widespread issues with access to legal resources and there is an imminent need to prevent a trend of eliminating print resources in favor of electronic resources without the proper safeguards in place. It will also include information on: the official status of legal resources; whether states are providing for authentication, permanent public access, and/or preservation of online legal resources; any use restrictions or copyright claims by the state; and whether a universal (public domain) citation format has been adopted by any courts in the state.

In addition to providing valuable information to the Law Library of Congress and related Law.gov projects, this information has already been helpful to various groups as they proceed to advocate for no-fee, permanent public access to government information. The data has already been useful to advocates of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act and will continue to be valuable to those seeking introduction and enactment in their states. The inventory has been used as a starting point for organizations that are beginning digitization projects of their state legal materials. The universal citation data will be used to track the progress of courts recognizing the value of citing official online legal materials through adopting a public domain citation system. Many state working group coordinators have also shared data with their judiciaries and legislatures to help expose the need for taking steps to protect our state legal materials.

The Next Steps: Federal Inventory

In December 2010, we launched the second phase of this project, the Federal Inventory. The Federal Inventory will include:

  • Legal research materials
  • Information authored or created by agencies
  • Resources that are publicly accessible

Our goals are the same as with the state inventories: to identify and answer questions about print and electronic legal materials from all three branches of government. Volunteers from Federal agencies and the courts are already adding information such as decisions, reports and digests (Executive); court opinions, court rules, and Supreme Court briefs (Judicial); and bills and resolutions, the Constitution, and Statutes at Large (Legislative). Emily Carr, Senior Legal Research Specialist at the Law Library of Congress, and Judy Gaskell, retired Librarian of the Supreme Court, are coordinating this project.

Thanks to the contributions of an army of AALL and chapter volunteers, the national inventory of legal materials is nearly complete. Keep an eye on AALL’s website for more information as our volunteers complete the Federal Inventory, analyze the data, and promote the findings to Federal, state and local officials.

Tina S. Ching is the Electronic Services Librarian at Seattle University School of Law. She is the 2011-12 Chair of the AALL Digital Access to Legal Information Committee.

 

Emily Feltren is Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries.

 
 

[Editor's Note: For topic-related VoxPopuLII posts please see: Barbara Bintliff, The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act Is Ready for Legislative Action; Jason Eiseman, Time to Turn the Page on Print Legal Information; John Joergensen, Authentication of Digital Repositories.]

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.

Recently I, like many law librarians (including Dean Richard Danner, James Donovan, and the panelists at the University of South Carolina School of Law’s colloquium on “The Law Librarian’s Role in the Scholarly Enterprise” [scroll down & click on "Part 9: Roundtable"]), began to devote more thought to disintermediation in legal information services.  One way that law librarians can adapt to disintermediation is by learning more about the study of legal information systems, that is, legal informatics.  When I began looking closely at legal informatics scholarship last fall, I was dismayed at not being able to locate any single resource that aggregated all of the major scholarly information resources in the field.   As a result, I decided to build one; it’s called Legal Information Systems & Legal Informatics Resources. To provide current information, the site has an accompanying blog , the Legal Informatics Blog, and a Twitter feed.   Building these sites has allowed me to cast a novice’s eye on the field of legal informatics.

Eye

Here is what I’ve glimpsed in the past few months:

I. Surveying the Sources

My exploration of legal informatics has focused initially on information resources. A relatively circumscribed set of scholarly journals, other article sources, preprint services, indexing & abstracting services, blogs, and listservs regularly report research results in legal informatics. A small set of subject headings will retrieve most monographs and dissertations in the field. Accordingly, aggregating access to these resources has been relatively easy, and automating discovery and delivery of many of these sources seems feasible sooner rather than later.

Conferences are trickier.   The number of conferences at which legal informatics issues are addressed is substantial, for several reasons: a large number of researchers from industry as well as academia (see, e.g., the lists of individuals compiled by Dr. Adam Wyner and the organizers of the DEON deontic logic conferences, and this list of departments & institutes), energetically engaged in applied as well as theoretical research, are producing a sizeable output; many of those researchers work in multiple fields; and the pace of technological change is accelerating the research and communication processes.  Several Websites, such as those of the International Association for Artificial Intelligence and Law (IAAIL) and the DEON deontic logic conferences, monitor these meetings, however. Access to proceedings is available from several sources, including ACM’s Portal service, the other major information science indexing services, OCLC WorldCat, and the Legal Information Systems site. As a result, access to most legal informatics conference information and proceedings can be streamlined and hopefully largely automated before too long.

Projects have proven even trickier. Much legal informatics research takes the form of grant-funded projects, of which a great number, particularly in Europe, have been undertaken during the past decade. Political integration in Europe and democratization in many regions encouraged certain governments during the past two decades to fund applied research on legal information systems. Identifying and linking to all of these legal informatics projects seems important for enabling access to legal informatics scholarship. Such a process is quite labor intensive, however, because of the great number of such projects, the lack of a comprehensive list of them, and the many languages in which project documentation is written. A long-term goal of the Legal Information Systems site is to build a database of as many of these projects as can be identified, with links to project Websites, deliverables, and publications.

Since standards and protocols, such as those respecting descriptive metadata and knowledge representation, and data sets constitute additional key resources for legal informatics research, links to many of them have been collected on the Legal Information Systems site. Because many researchers in the field focus on a particular research topic or category of legal information, aggregations of resources on major topics in the field, such as e-rulemaking, evidence, and information behavior, to which the Legal Information Systems site has dedicated pages, and argumentation, to which Dr. Adam Wyner’s blog devotes several pages, may yield efficiencies for researchers. In addition, collections of resources on applied topics such as citation standards, computer-assisted legal research (CALR) services, court technology, the Free Access to Law movement (discussed here by Ginevra Peruginelli & Enrico Francesconi of ITTIG-CNR, with links to resources here), institutional repositories, instructional technology, law practice technology, and open access may be of use to researchers and practitioners alike.

II. Detecting a Communications Gap

From a preliminary scan of the field of legal informatics I’ve learned that legal informaticists and law librarians do not appear to be communicating to any significant extent. For example, law librarians seem to play little or no role at legal informatics conferences and are rarely published in legal informatics journals. (Sarah Rhodes & Dana Neacsu’s recent paper seems an exception.) This seems particularly odd, given that law libraries are developing some of today’s most innovative digital legal information systems, such as the Chesapeake Project Legal Information Archive (a project of the Georgetown University Law Library, the Maryland State Law Library, the Virginia State Law Library, and the Legal Information Preservation Alliance), the Law Library of Congress’s Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), the Harvard Law School Library’s Digital Collections, the digital law libraries created by the Rutgers Camden and Rutgers Newark law libraries, and the USC Law Library’s English Medieval Legal Documents Wiki. Law library scholarship — although it often addresses legal informatics topics such as legal citation (as in studies that reveal information resources utilized by courts), legal information behavior (as in the work of Dean Joan Howland & Nancy Lewis, Dr. Yolanda Jones, and Judith Lihosit ), and the functioning or design of legal information systems such as computer assisted legal research (CALR) services (as in recent studies by Julie Jones, John Doyle, and Dean Mason) — rather infrequently refers to legal informatics scholarship. That is, two communities of experts respecting the same subject — legal information systems — seem for the most part to be talking past each other.

Communication failure

Yet information sharing between law librarians and legal informaticists would substantially benefit both groups.   Law librarians would gain valuable insights into the functioning of the legal information systems they use every day and the likely direction of the legal information industry, as may be gleaned from recent monographs collecting conference papers in the field as well as from the program of the 2009 International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (ICAIL 2009).   Those works show that the primary topics of recent legal informatics scholarship include argumentation and deontic logic (as discussed, for example, in recent dissertations by Dr. Adam Wyner & Dr. Régis Riveret); agent/multi-agent systems; decision support systems; document modeling; several natural language processing issues including multi-language systems, text mining including automated classification and indexing, summarization, segmentation, and information retrieval, as, for example, discussed in proceedings of the TREC Legal Track, and notably in the context of electronic discovery; other applied research topics, particularly concerning e-rulemaking, online dispute resolution, negotiation systems, digital rights management, electronic commerce and contracts, and evidence; and the use of XML, ontologies, and the development of the Semantic Web respecting legal information.

By cooperating with law librarians, legal informaticists for their part would gain access to expert users of legal information systems, quality input respecting the contexts of legal information use (ranging from the information lifecycle to the information behavior of lawyers), and ideas for further research.

Here are some specific suggestions respecting how law librarians could make meaningful contributions to legal informatics research.   First, law librarians could continue to perform legal information behavior research, building on the important recent activity in this area. Second, law librarians who are developing innovative legal information systems could present papers on those systems at legal informatics conferences and write articles about those systems for legal informatics journals.

Third, as expert users of legal information systems and close observers of lawyers, judges, law students, and lay users of legal information, law librarians could generate legal informatics research questions based on their experience and observations. For example, law librarians could recommend research on such little-studied but important legal information systems as conflict of interest control systems and bankruptcy claims agents’ Websites, or on the application of information science and computer science concepts to legal information systems errors, such as those arising from faulty legal drafting practices and overly complex statutory and regulatory schemes.

Fourth, law librarians could provide legal informaticists with expert practitioner and policy perspectives on issues that law librarians have prioritized as a profession, such as authentication, digital preservation, metadata content and management, and user interface design.   Fifth, law librarians could furnish legal informatics researchers with input respecting system capabilities from the vantage of an “expert user,” as Dr. Stephann Makri recently did by including law librarians in his study of lawyers’ information behavior.

Sixth, law librarians engaged in developing innovative digital legal information systems could partner with legal informaticists to study those systems. Seventh, law librarians who are also lawyers could contribute their knowledge of substantive and procedural law to legal informatics research projects, particularly where not all of the legal informaticists involved have legal training.

Finally, law librarians could draw on their in-depth knowledge of legal information systems and users to partner with legal informaticists on the design of research studies.   In particular, those law librarians with training in social science research methods could encourage legal informaticists to employ those methods in their studies of legal information systems, which might benefit from increased use of multiple methodologies.

Handshake

III. Bright Prospects

Greater cooperation between legal informaticists and law librarians would benefit both communities.  The Legal Information Systems site will be developed with an eye toward demonstrating and fostering that cooperation.

[NOTE: This post was updated on 22 August 2011 to reflect new URLs.]

Robert Richards  edits Legal Information Systems & Legal Informatics Resources and its accompanying blog , the Legal Informatics Blog, and  Twitter feed.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt.