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The best part about fundraising is the people we meet and the stories they tell us about why they support our mission.  We’re so grateful for each and every one (donors AND stories!), and we want to hear your stories. Our new friend Gretchen Eikermann sent us a donation last week and told us this story:

The reason I was using the website last night was to assist my niece, an 8th grader, with her homework. The homework was essentially to determine whether the narrator of A Telltale Heart would qualify for the insanity defense in any of its iterations for a mock trial this Friday. Although I specialized in defending persons suffering from mental illness and developmental disability as a Public Defender, I would have been hard pressed completing this assignment following her teacher’s instructions to use the inscrutable search results Findlaw produces as my reference. My niece called me utterly confused and panicked trying to figure out what the heck M’Naughten and Durham were. I sent her the link to your site’s Insanity Defense page and by the time I called her back to “explain the law” she had pretty much figured it out herself after reading your site’s clear and accessible, but not “dumbed down” information on the law of insanity defense. She is no longer panicked but excited for her mock trial.  I was excited that she was excited about the law.

We sit in a literal tower on a college campus in a little city in Upstate New York.  Over 40 million people use our resources each year. In the typical year, we only hear from a few hundred of you (most donors don’t leave comments of any sort.)  So, for every great story we hear, we’re sure there are lots we don’t. So we thought we’d ask.

Please consider taking a minute to email us your best story about how you’ve used the materials at www.law.cornell.edu or www.oyez.org by clicking here.

Or, if you’ve been meaning to support our fundraising efforts anyhow, you can click on the button below and leave your story in the Comment box on the donation page.

GIVE NOW

Thanks,

Tom, Sara, Craig, Val, Nic, Sylvia, Jim, Ayham & Neli

We understand that when you choose to donate to the Legal Information Institute you are likely choosing among a number of causes you care about deeply. On behalf of everyone here, I’d like to say thank you to those who have already given this year and to those who plan to make a gift before year’s end.

When you support the LII, you are also supporting many, many other worthwhile organizations who use our website to support their own operations. We know that 58 branches of the United Way, 126 YMCA centers, 94 cancer research and treatment centers, 27 offices of the American Red Cross, and myriad other worthy causes have looked up the law on our website in support of their own mission.

“Your site constantly helps me give Veterans the help they need for their claims”
– recent donor Debra T.

We also hear from attorneys doing pro bono and “low bono” work, government employees (local, state & federal), and even individuals navigating some aspect of the legal or regulatory landscape without professional advice–all of whom say the collections we provide help them in ways large and small.

“I find Cornell’s Legal Information Institute a valuable resource in my job as Legal Counsel for the Michigan Legislature. I think LII does a great job keeping information up to date, for which I am very grateful!”
– recent donor Lorna B.

When you support us directly, you are supporting all of them indirectly. On this Giving Tuesday, we hope you get as much satisfaction from that as we do.

HELP US HELP THEM: DONATE NOW

Thank you,

Craig Newton
Associate Director
Legal Information Institute

We can never say it enough: thank you. Your contributions help millions of others to find and understand the law. More than that, they are a powerful vote of confidence in the LII’s mission, and in the strategies we use to provide an objective source of legal information to more than 30 million people each year. One purpose of this letter — and it’s a long one, to be sure — is to show you just how many things you have to be proud of. Your contributions support a stunning variety of activities that help millions of people.

Your support does much more than simply providing “more free law stuff” to the world. To be sure, we reach remarkable numbers of people in remarkable places.  Those 30 million people come from more than 240 countries and territories in addition to the US.   India is home to the largest foreign audience, at well over half a million.   Nearly 200,000 of our users prefer to browse the web in Chinese. 15,000 are in Iran.  3 reached out to us from Christmas Island, one of the most isolated spots on the globe. Because of your help, our work reaches everywhere on the planet.

Your donations increase the range and quality of the objective legal commentary that we offer.  On that front, this year’s biggest news is our new edition of the United States Constitution Annotated (CONAN), a comprehensive explanation of the United States Constitution and of the key Supreme Court cases that interpret it.  The base text is a scrupulously objective commentary written by the Congressional Research Service for the benefit of the Congress and its staffers.  We’ve made it better, adding navigation, search, and links to the Supreme Court opinions.  The result is an accessible, usable, and objective guide to some of the key issues before us as a nation. You can read more about this project here.

CONAN and our Federal law collections serve around 13-15% of the adult population of the US. But your contributions also help particular groups of people who are at risk. The editors of our Women & Justice collection work with our law firm partners White & Case and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to provide free online access to global gender justice jurisprudence, legislation, and reports representing 116 countries, three regional human rights organizations, and international criminal tribunals and treaty monitoring bodies.  The information is used by advocates and judges around the world who are dealing with issues of domestic violence, acid attacks, sexual violence in conflict zones, and other aspects of justice for women.

But people also come to the LII for a lot of things that simply help them understand and anticipate all the important but far less dramatic ways in which the law can affect their business, their livelihoods, and their families. In January and early February last year, we saw a huge spike of interest in 15 USC 206, Standard Gauge for Sheet and Plate Iron and Steel.  The reason?  Announcements about tariff changes on imported metal products, which affect thousands of businesses and those who work for them.   We could name a hundred more pages on our site that get that kind of attention when people want to know how the actions of government are going to affect them.  No single one is dramatic  — but all of them together inform hundreds of thousands of people — people that you have helped to understand how the law is likely to affect them. Others take notice of the work that your donations make possible.  Whenever there is a hot-button issue in the public eye that requires an understanding of the laws that govern us, you will see media outlets linking back to the LII. The recent topic of birthright citizenship is a prime example, as a wide spectrum of publications linked to our pages, including The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico, NBC News and The Atlantic.

It’s a little hard to find a big collection of dry legal text entertaining, but the LII reaches into popular culture, too.   Our work has appeared on the Colbert Show, in murder mysteries on television and in print, as an important part of an episode of “This American Life”, and (quite recently) in a Jeopardy question about the Supreme Court.  And audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments, taken from the LII’s Oyez site, are an important part of “Roe”, Lisa Loomer’s play about Roe v Wade.  “Roe” has been presented at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Berkeley Rep, and the Arena Stage in Washington, DC.  Last month, a playwright pal of ours ran into Lisa Loomer’s agent at a conference, and learned that Roe will be produced in Minneapolis this year, and has been optioned for production on Broadway.  You won’t see “LII” in lights, but audiences will see an LII credit in the program.

For the last few years, we’ve had a hard time filling vacancies in our engineering staff.  Ithaca has always had a small startup culture, but in recent years it’s grown, and become a significant competitor for the kind of advanced technical talent that makes our work possible.  This year, we were extremely lucky to hire two very talented individuals.  Ayham Boucher came to us from the Ag-Analytics project at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ag-Analytics.org is a web application that integrates geographical, weather, and precision agriculture data collected by farm equipment; it used big data and predictive analytics techniques to help farmers assess different possible crop insurance strategies.  Jim Phillips came to us from the Gleason Corporation in Rochester, where he has worked for over 20 years, starting as a Controls Engineer and most recently working as a Software Engineer in Research and Development. Like Ayham, Jim is a full-stack developer with experience working “close to the metal” on hardware projects. He is also highly curious and a tinkerer. At Gleason, he worked on some of the company’s first web applications. A qualified paramedic, he’s also certified as a cave scuba diver and wrote software to mix his gases — an extreme exercise in trusting your own work as a developer.

We also realized we need more help in better communicating our work and mission to the world so Neli Karabelova joined us as our new engagement specialist. Neli came to us after working as a marketing professional for Miller Mayer, LLP, an international law firm with a heavy emphasis on immigration law. She led a successful full rebranding campaign for them among others, and if you’ve ever tried to get two lawyers to agree on something, you’d understand what an accomplishment that is. Neli has also been a photographer for over 10 years and will use her creative eye and love for visuals to give you colorful relief from our penchant for big blocks of text.

If you’d like a refresher on what our full team looks like, head over to our staff page.

When you think about it, though, it’s amazing — nine people in Ithaca, NY serving the needs of 30 million around the globe.  And your contributions make it all possible.

The LII is a small band of experts — Val, Neli, Ayham, Jim, Nic, Sylvia, Sara, Craig, and me.  Over the years, we’ve transmitted that expertise to people in state and Federal government, to international bodies like the UN and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, and to more than 25 operations like ours serving people around the globe.  We’ve testified to Congressional committees and advised operations on five continents.  With your help, we’ve built new technologies and taken new editorial approaches to make the law easier to find and understand. Your contributions have helped hundreds of thousands of advocates to help millions and millions of people to understand and solve problems that affect their lives in important ways.  That is huge.

Let me just close by saying one more thank-you.  Your contributions support an incredible range of work on behalf of millions of people worldwide.  We are very, very grateful for your past support, and are looking forward to the future.

All the best from all of us,

Tom, Sara, Craig, Neli, Val, Ayham, Jim, Nic, and Sylvia

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Read the Constitution Annotated here!

  • The Constitution Annotated is well-known and highly regarded as an invaluable resource for non-partisan explanations of Constitutional concepts.
  • Previously only available to the public as a PDF or in print, the Constitution Annotated now exists in XML courtesy of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.
  • The LII’s Constitution Annotated is navigable, accessible, hyperlinked, searchable, and fully up-to-date.

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute is celebrating Constitution Day by publishing the first publicly-available web version of the Congressional Research Service’s Constitution Annotated, a non-partisan publication that helps readers appreciate how Americans’ collective understanding of our governing principles has changed throughout our history on timely issues such as the scope of presidential power, limits on free speech, or the right to bear arms.  

While the Government Publishing Office makes the Constitution Annotated available in print and online as a 2800 page PDF, it does not release the software “roadmap”(XML) that other publishers need to make feature-rich variations.  With assistance from open government advocates Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, the LII re-created that map and then used it to improve upon the government’s PDF.  In addition to being fully up-to-date, LII’s Constitution Annotated (available at  https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution-conan) is navigable, accessible, hyperlinked and searchable.  Subsequent versions will use Semantic Web technologies to assist interconnection and data integration with other online resources. The projects started with a group of Cornell Computing and Information Science students –  Anusha Chowdhury, Garima Kapila, Tairy Davey, Brendan Rappazzo, and Max Anderson, organized with the help of Professor William Arms. They developed software to convert the original PDF into data the LII’s developers could use as a starting point to building out the full version you see today.

“We have created an enhanced version that will not only be better in and of itself, but also act as a resource for improving other parts of our collections, notably our set of Supreme Court cases,” explained LII Director Tom Bruce.  “For example, we can make use of citations in footnotes to establish relatedness between cases, allowing us to show which of the cases that are related to a particular case by citation are actually the most related with respect to a particular topic.  We think it is going to be quite something.”

The Library of Congress refers to the Constitution Annotated as “one of our most important resources in answering questions about the Constitution and its history.”  Former Senator Russ Feingold has described it as “an invaluable resource for students, scholars, and other individuals interested in learning how the U.S. Supreme Court interprets our nation’s governing document.” By publishing the text as XML, the LII and its colleagues hope to help the document live up to its full potential.

The Legal Information Institute is an independently-funded project of the Cornell Law School dedicated to identifying, exploring, and implementing technical solutions that make legal information more accessible to all. Our team of technologists unlock government-published legal information and present it at www.law.cornell.edu and www.oyez.org in feature-rich and user-friendly collections used by more than 40 million people each year to find and understand the law.

And now, at the end of a busy year,  we know.  And you should know how much good you do.  They’ve come to us from all corners of the country, all corners of the globe, really.  From all points along the political spectrum.  Knowing a lot about law or trying to remember that civics class they took in high school. Every last one of the 35 million of them wanting to read the law for themselves.  Every one able to do that without having to pay for that basic right because you helped make it available.

We’ve heard from high school teachers in Texas and a real estate professional in Florida and an Army Inspector General.  From public defenders and Federal prosecutors.  From tax lawyers and helicopter charter pilots and soldiers and sailors and plenty of people who identified themselves as “ordinary citizens”.  Every one needing to find and understand the rules that govern them.

Here at the LII we always knew that it is that way.  People need to be able to find the law for themselves, to read it and understand it, without having to pay for that,  so that they can understand what is happening around them.  We always knew that.  We just couldn’t really prove it to you until now.  So many, with so many needs, have come here.

Not that we needed a lot of proof.  You believed too — you thought there should be a service that made the law available without fee, to anyone who wants it, whenever they want it.  You generously gave us your support and you made it happen just as much as we did.

Because of you, this year’s fundraising campaign has been remarkably successful.  We are running 25% ahead of where we were last year at this time, and well ahead of our ambitious goal.  Thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done.  And if you haven’t given, but would like to, just follow this link.

Before I go, I’d just like to direct your attention to something we mention elsewhere in this newsletter.  Over the year, we’ve directed your attention to our series of 25th-anniversary blog posts. I think you’ll find them interesting and I recommend them to you.  And, if you’re interested in the LII’s future, you’ll find it expressed in two blog posts by my colleagues Sara Frug and Craig Newton.  Please do read them.

In the meantime, my best wishes, and best wishes from all here, for a happy holiday and a prosperous New Year.

Like Kleenex, Xerox, or Velcro, “Legal Information Institute” is a generic term for organizations that offer free and open access to primary legal materials, worldwide. More than 20 years ago, a group in Canada asked us if they might use “LII” in their name — they became “CanLII”, quickly followed by “AustLII” and a raft of others.  There are now at least 20 LII namesakes worldwide.  Along with other like-minded organizations, they have created a mostly-informal, globe-spanning  alliance that calls itself the “Free Access to Law Movement’.  Over the years, we have provided advice and support to many of its members, creating global goodwill and impact from the contributions of our supporters.

Each year, the organization holds a conference called “Law Via the Internet” (LVI).  LVI2017 was held last week at the Rutgers-Newark School of Law. It was, to say the least, an eclectic event.  There were presentations on everything from a standard system of identifiers for courts worldwide to bias in search-engine algorithms to information services for the Kenyan judicial system.  Keynote speakers were longtime LII friend Ed Walters, CEO of FastCase, and Corynne McSherry, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The LII was a strong presence.  Sara Frug, the LII’s Associate Director for Technology, Sylvia Kwakye, and Nic Ceynowa described their work on Docket Wrench.  Docket Wrench, originally developed by the Sunlight Foundation, is a regulatory monitoring system that we are extending and improving with the help of students from Cornell’s Masters of Engineering in Computer Science Program.  Craig Newton, the LII’s Associate Director for Content,  talked about what we’ve learned from the strong surge in usage of our site by people checking up on statements made by government officials.  And Peter Martin, the LII’s co-founder and co-director emeritus, presented work on the realities of availability of Federal caselaw.

The real value of conferences is in informal discussions, and there were many.  We get at least as much help as we give. For example, anyone who has ever had to build a legal information system from scratch by scanning moldy legal documents has a lot to teach us. And our audience has a great deal to gain from alliances between the LII and other partners who create large caselaw collections.  All in all, it was a worthwhile and gratifying experience for us. The work being done here and elsewhere is having profound effects throughout the world, and it is nice to be reminded of that.  It all started here, and it continues because of the generosity of people like you and the ingenuity and forward-thinking of many like us around the world.

PS:  We were delighted to see a number of you at our cybersecurity panel event in New York just before LVI.  We’re doing another in Washington, DC on the 9th of November, and would be delighted if you could join us (don’t be scared if it looks like it’s an event for Cornell alumni — we told them they could come if they agreed to behave themselves).

At LII we think a lot about the relationship between the law and the general public. This year at the Law Via the Internet Conference, LII staff gave presentations that each, in their own way, were about how members of the public interact with the law.

Craig Newton gave a presentation entitled “When Law Goes Viral: The Implications of Social Media for Online Law Publishers.” He showed data from more than 28 million user sessions on the LII web site from January through June of 2017, exploring the specific characteristics of social media-driven traffic – particularly the smaller amount of time people referred by social media spend on the page they’ve been referred to and the smaller number of pages they tend to visit.

Sara Frug, Sylvia Kwakye, and Nic Ceynowa presented the engineering team’s progress reviving the Docket Wrench application, which makes it easier to review electronic rulemaking comments. The recent concern over fake comments on net neutrality submitted in bulk to the FCC has renewed interest in public participation in the notice-and-comment rulemaking process. The Docket Wrench application will help people involved in regulatory work find comments from repeat corporate participants and see how members of the public are weighing in.

Whether we’re looking at public participation in the development of future regulations or public self-education about what the law really says, LII has a unique set of opportunities to see what people care about and help provide them with more context for what they are reading. In other words, we help *people* find and understand the law.

In our last newsletter, we invited you to some events we were hosting around the country in recognition of our 25th anniversary.   We were in the heart of Silicon Valley in late September, and the middle of Manhattan just last week.   For those of you who couldn’t make it (and, with more than 40 million visitors expected to the site in 2017, we’ll say that was “most of you”), we wanted to provide a quick recap, as well as some public thank yous.

At Morrison & Foerster on September 26, Friend of the LII and Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School Steve Yale-Loehr led a panel discussion on how recent and expected future changes in US immigration policy might impact the tech sector.   One highlight of the evening was when a software developer in the audience stood up and shared his own immigration story from more than twenty years ago.

Last week at Dechert LLP in midtown Manhattan, LII Bulletin alumna Micaela McMurrough moderated a panel on cybersecurity in an era of deregulation.  Not only was the panel equal parts informative and entertaining, the views of some of Manhattan’s most recognizable landmarks from Dechert’s 28th-floor conference room were something our contingency from Ithaca won’t soon forget.

Why host an immigration law panel in Palo Alto and a cybersecurity panel in New York City to celebrate 25 years of rescuing public legal information from for-profit publishers and government file cabinets?   Why not have a lovely dinner party instead?   There are several reasons, and we’ll focus on just a few here.

First, our 25th anniversary marks an occasion for some introspection–to see how much we’ve grown up from the days of Tom Bruce, Peter Martin, and some servers in a utility closet.   Of the many, many things that have surprised us about our subsequent success, one of the more powerful is our capability as a convenor.   We’ve had good luck (and even better results) building bridges over daunting chasms such as those that often exist between, for example, government and the private sector, technologists and lawyers, or academics and, well, everyone!   Calling up our friends and putting together diverse panels speaking on important topics with broad appeal across all of those areas is its own kind of celebration of the status we now enjoy.

Second, we have always been and always hope to be a public-facing information service.  A big part of that is building a creative space where some of the best and most dedicated minds in legal informatics can experiment with new ways to process, format and present useful information to the world.   The website you know and support is as much a byproduct of that work as it is the product of that work.  But bringing people important information in new and better ways is our passion.  Panel events on topics in the headlines are very much in that tradition.

Finally, the best reason for these events is you.   We sit quite literally in a tower in a law school on a campus in the “centrally isolated” community of Ithaca, New York.  There are millions and millions and millions of you whom we serve but will never meet.   While events like these will never come close to helping us reach out and connect with everyone, everywhere, it does help us connect with a tiny cross-section of our audience.  Whenever we come down out of that literal tower and leave central New York to meet with users of our website, we always walk away with valuable feedback and invaluable inspiration.   

If you’re in the DC area on November 9th, please come join us for our next event. 

In March of 2015 Alfred Mahlangu, of AfricanLII, stayed with us for a month to create LII in a Box. He was “here to get ideas”, and he felt it was a great opportunity to work with the LII team as a whole. We wrote about Alfred’s visit here, but it’s been awhile, so thought we would reach out and see how it’s been going and what else he might be working on.

Tell us about what brought you to the LII originally

The aim of the trip was to learn about how things are handled technically and have more direct interaction with the technical team at LII given that LII has been around for sometime and were best suited to offer advise on how to go about technical side of things and the experience has been very valuable for me to date.

Can you remind us what LII in a Box is?

LII in a Box is a Drupal packaged distribution that powers up standards-based free and open access legal information websites

What was the hardest part of getting LII in a box off the ground? Is that still a challenge?

Since I was new to Drupal for me it was learning about Drupal standards on how to structure modules but it got better with time.

What was the hardest court or country? – what were its challenges?

We tested with Afghanistan and translation into the Arabic was a bit of a challenge

Did anything surprise you in the way it’s being used (or anything else surprising or interesting)?

Not really

How many are using it now?

We have about 13 websites that are using it

What modifications have you made from the prototype as it’s evolved?

The big modification made was of including enabling legislation to be directly consumed from a platform called Indigo and be presented on the LII-in-a-box site as well as the use of ApacheSOLR as a search engine to give users more alternatives in terms of how they want to filter the search results.

Tell us about the work you do

You work for AfricanLII – what is your job with them?

I am the IT Coordinator for AfricanLII and my main duties include Software Development and System Administration, Project Management and Leadership

What should we know about South Africa and it’s Free Law movement?

Free Access to Law movement is good for a country like South Africa as it ensures accountability and access to justice for ordinary citizens.

What is AfricanLII’s future look like, goals, challenges, successes)?

AfricanLII’s main goal is to promote Free Access to Law and Open Justice in Africa.

Are you working on any new projects?

We have Pocket Law project that enables users who have internet connectivity challeges to  still be able to access legal information as well as mobile apps

Tell us about yourself

We see you also work with South African National Parks, what are the challenges of improving the awareness and reputation of SANParks?

South African National Parks is an organization I worked for prior to joining AfricanLII

What are your favorite parks or sites – what should we see if we visit?

My favourite park is Kruger National Park, seeing the big 5 animals

What do you like to do in your free time?

I read books on Economics,Philosophy and Politics

I keep seeing pictures of you in headphones spinning records – what’s that all about? What types of music do you play?

🙂 every now and then I get invited to be a DJ at functions and that’s why the earphones, with regards to the music type, I would say anything that has Good Tone, Rhythm and Vibration.

Are you ever coming back to Ithaca (or the states)?

In the near future yes

Last month, Attorney General Sessions described civil forfeiture as “a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed.”  Politicians and media outlets on both sides of the aisle were skeptical about his decision to curb some fairly recent federal restrictions on the practice.  But what, exactly, is civil forfeiture and how did the practice come about?  A new wex article by Cornell Law student Stephanie Jurkowski answers those questions and more.  Read it here:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/civil_forfeiture.