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On February 14, LII Director Thomas R. Bruce was asked to testify before a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.  The subject of his testimony was the future direction of PACER, the recordkeeping system that is used by the Federal courts to keep track of their work, to publish the resulting Federal court decisions, and to allow efficient submission of documents needed for that process.  He was the sole expert testifying before the committee on that matter.

PACER has long been controversial for a number of reasons.  The biggest is the system of fees associated with it.  Established in order to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the system, PACER fees now generate millions of dollars in excess revenue each year, becoming, in effect, a general fund for court technology projects. Second, it is very hard to find things in PACER.  PACER’s search-and-retrieval technology for judicial opinions is severely outdated, but attempts at change have been strongly resisted out of fear of change. Finally, there are a number of more technical problems involving the apparatus of citation and metadata in use in the system.

Unsurprisingly, Tom’s testimony argued for major changes in the system, most importantly that fees be removed and the publication process be handed off to the Government Publishing Office, which already has a useful pilot program in place. Removing PACER fees, and thus bringing about fairer and more open access to all Federal judicial opinions, would be a major victory for open access to law.   Let’s hope it happens soon.

Tom’s full written testimony is here.  Other reports on the hearing are here (FreeLaw Project), and here (SLAW).

It’s a cruel reality that the busiest time for the leadership of our student-run Supreme Court Bulletin Previews is the very first month of their tenure.  In the weeks immediately following their appointment, the new Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor have to recruit, vet, and select 24 new associates from the class behind them.  They must choose a real case from the Court’s final docket of the term with adequate briefing already on file to support a writing competition, then they have to grade the applicants’ submissions and schedule interviews.  At the same time, they must learn their jobs from the outgoing leadership before those students graduate and join the working world as new lawyers. While it’s a daunting amount of work, we’re confident the new team is equal to the challenge.  

The new Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin is Laurel Hopkins.  Laurel graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College in 2014 with a degree in psychology.   She is a Charles Evan Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law and has already won three awards for her writing. Equally impressive is her resume as a volunteer, which contains activities ranging from coaching high school debate to spending summers working at an orphanage in Haiti.  “My favorite part of working for the Bulletin” Laurel explains, “is the opportunity to learn about Supreme Court cases while making information accessible to a broader audience. The transition process has been exciting because we get to both take a larger role in the Bulletin’s work and select new associates who are just as enthusiastic about carrying out the Bulletin’s mission.”

The new Executive Editor is Jaeeun Shin.  A native of South Korea, Jaeeun received her degree in International Studies from Yonsei University in Seoul but also studied as an exchange student at the University of California, Berkeley.  Jaeeun is active within Cornell Law School as a member of the Briggs Society of International Law, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Society and an associate on the Cornell International Law Journal.   “I thought writing previews as an associate was fun and challenging, but being part of the editorial board has already proven to be much more so,” Jaeeun says. “It’s been a busy few weeks so far but I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to be involved. We’re confident that we can look forward to another year of great previews.”

Laurel and Jaeeun have already selected a number of their classmates to serve as Managing Editors.  These MEs will work with pairs of new Associates to create Previews when the Supreme Court begins its 2017 – 18 docket in October.  Those new Associates will be selected by Laurel, Jaeeun and their team in the coming weeks.  That process consists of a writing competition and then interviews with each candidate.  They are looking to find students with both the skills and the desire to communicate to the public a clear, unbiased explanation of the issues and arguments for each case the Court hears. Your donations help us pay them as graduate research assistants.

Click here to access our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews, and find our students on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Dan Dwyer is a senior attorney with 17 years of experience, currently serving as the in-house lawyer for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).  He is another great example of a donor who contributes to our work for the good of others–a large part of his job is to provide legal advice to people making decisions that affect how commuters get to work every day. We were intrigued by Mr. Dwyer’s role and wanted to learn more.

Can you describe your occupation and what a typical day is like for you at Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)?

I am a corporate and real estate attorney for the fifth largest transportation authority in the United States.  Although we work in all mass transit modalities except ferries, most of my work is focused on commuter rail. There are all manner of agreements, be they ground leases, equipment leases, licenses, development agreements, construction contracts and services contracts, letters of intent and memorandums of understanding that must be agreed upon with other railroads, developers, adjacent property owners and services providers. I also do a fair amount of state and federal legislative and regulatory analysis with an eye to giving my clients very succinct advice about what they can and can’t do.

Since you have experience in both, what would you say are some differences between working at a firm and working as an in-house attorney?

In a law firm, the lawyers is a revenue center whose primary job is to do legal work and her legal work product is the end goal. An in-house is a cost center and part of a bigger organization whose goals must be achieved. I tell the younger lawyers that they must balance three roles. The first is an attorney with all the professional and ethical obligations that entails. The second is an employee of an engineering organization who must function as a part of engineering project teams. The third role is that of a public servant. This is a broader set of obligations than those that I faced in private practice.

What do you find most challenging about your job? Most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect of my job is the aspect that is also most rewarding. I have to get-up every morning and do everything I can as a lawyer to help keep the trains running. There is no better feeling than looking at the trains during a service crisis and knowing what I did to assure that there was service. I ride to work in the morning and see people riding in cars that I leased over lines and through signals whose maintenance contracts I negotiated. It is challenging to keep everything moving but worth it.    

Thanks for your recent gift to the LII. In what ways has the LII been helpful to you in your work?

Commuter rail has been heavily regulated and legislated over the last 40 years. Sometimes it is not enough to know what the current legislation requires. You need to know how we got here and why things were done differently 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 years ago. Railroads are all about history and LII helps me access the legislative history that I need.     

How did you first come across our site?

I was directed to it by my dear friend and brother-in-law, John Joergensen, of Rutgers Law Library.

You mentioned that John Joergensen, our friend at Rutgers Law School, convinced you to support the LII. What did he say that inspired you to give?

He said two things. The first was to stop being a free-riding deadbeat. He also told me that, although information – particularly legal information – should flow freely, there is a cost to that flow.  If you don’t pay that cost, it won’t be available. It is the old “problem of the commons.”  If everyone shares a benefit, but can free ride on its upkeep, you eventually lose the benefit.

When visiting our site, do you always find what you need? If not, do you have suggestions for how we might improve access to certain parts of the law?

It is a great site. I wouldn’t presume to tell you your business.

If you were to tell others about the LII and why it’s worth supporting, what would you say?

The law should be readily available to everyone because if ignorance of the law is never an excuse than knowledge of the law is a necessity. In an internet-driven society, the access to the law must be on the internet and not behind a pay-wall for most people. LII takes the law from behind that pay wall.

What is one interesting fact about yourself?

I read about the history and development of administrative law for fun. The administrative state is a big part of our everyday lives  and to know what to do with it next, we have to know what we have been trying to do with it all along. I have little time for the highfalutin big idea political discussions we so often hear.  I want to think and talk about using law to fix big problems in, perhaps, little ways. My friends are getting sick of talking to me because of this.

Three weeks ago, a faculty workshop caught our eye. Professor Wendy Wagner of the University of Texas School of Law visited Cornell Law School, bringing with her 70-degree weather and a working draft of her article, “Dynamic Rulemaking”.

The article was the result of a collaborative empirical study of the rulemaking process in three federal agencies: the Federal Communications Commission, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It traced the lineage of a set of regulations to find revisions to rules and found that 73% of the rules they traced were revised at least once after promulgation. Many of the revisions did not undergo the standard notice-and-comment process.

The workshop also surfaced some questions for us about how our work is consumed by researchers. Alongside our enhanced copy of the eCFR we publish information about rulemaking activity. This semester, our M.Eng. team is working on a project which includes software to help compare regulatory language (we’ll be saying more about that project in future newsletters). We hope that as the new offerings become available, academics will be able to take advantage of the data we’re enriching.

It’s a little technical, but a new report from the European Union’s BO-ECLI project may well interest a fairly broad swath of our information-policy, librarian, and legal-information-retrieval friends, as well as those of you who are interested generally in questions of citation.  The report surveys and compares online publication practice throughout Europe. That would be valuable enough in itself.   But it is more broadly useful than that, in that it also looks at anonymization (privacy) policies, metadata inclusion, and other more generally applicable practices.  It can, and should, provide additional valuable information to other resource listings/catalogs, such as GlobaLex ; for comparative research on caselaw publication practices; and for information-policy specialists interested in such subjects as public records privacy.

At 178 pages, it is extremely detailed, but many will get a good deal of value from reading the more manageable and exceedingly well-written executive summary.  We’ve been watching the development of ECLI for a couple of years now with great interest.  This report represents only one aspect of this valuable activity, and we look forward to more.  

For more information on ECLI, see the project website here.

While it’s not a statistic we actively track, none of us here can remember a time that individual statutes and regulations dominated the list of our most visited pages like they have for the past few weeks. Since January 20th, 8 USC 1182, 1187 & 1152 (all immigration statutes), 50 USC 3021 (National Security Council), and 5 CFR 2635.702 (“Use of public office for private gain”) have all been among our most-visited individual pages. Over the same three weeks of 2016, for example, there were no individual statutes or regs among the thirty most-viewed pages, while all five listed above cracked the top twenty this year.   

This is our starting point for an article meant to be the next installment in our occasional series spotlighting how traffic arrives to our site. In May of 2016, for example, we wrote about hyperlinks from news websites. In October, we put the spotlight on social media. So, what’s new this time?

Whether it’s presenting the statutes and regs, explaining legal concepts in Wex, or writing about the Supreme Court in our Bulletin Previews or over on our Oyez website, we always strive to be viewpoint neutral above all else. We want to be the place where folks of any political stripe–or with no stripes whatsoever–can come and read what the law actually says for themselves. And for the past few weeks, that is exactly what’s been happening.  

On these sections of primary law in particular, we’ve seen on balance a lower percentage of traffic coming to us from search engines and a higher percentage from social media and other web traffic. Sure, there’s the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Insider, and US News in the normal spots as high-volume referrers of traffic. And we always see a lot of links (and traffic) from Slate.com and Huffingtonpost.com.  But, in those same materials during the same time, there is an awful lot of traffic from Fox News, The National Review, Theblaze.com, and Theconservativetreehouse.com. For folks who are unfamiliar with and unlikely to visit some of those sites, we’re also seeing traffic from Palmerreport.com, Occupydemocrats.com, and Thinkprogress.org.  

We see that and we think we’re doing something right. (A lot of things, actually, but we’re trying to stay humble.) People (A LOT of people)–regardless of how they think or how they vote–are reading about laws discussed on their favorite news websites and coming straight from there to our website to read those law for themselves. We think that’s good. We think that’s important. We love that you do, too, and that you support us in our efforts.   

Lastly, no discussion of recent hyperlinks is complete without noting that some of our Bulletin Preview students were particularly excited to see this snarky shout-out to us as a “super untrustworthy source” on GQ’s website. On one hand, the 181 referred users coming from that link would otherwise be insufficient to warrant mention in this article. On the other hand, we feel we should mention it because we always assumed our Dean would make Gentleman’s Quarterly before we did.  🙂

The LII served over 30 million unique visitors last year, but back in 1992 that number was a lot smaller. Paul Manson, now a researcher at Portland State University’s Center for Public Service, is one of a few who has read our publications from the very beginning. When he recently showed his appreciation by making a donation, we were curious to know more about what he does and why he has found the LII useful these 25 years. So we asked him!

Can you share with us a little bit about Portland State’s Center for Public Service, and what your role is there?

The Center for Public Service at Portland State University is a community oriented center that provides technical services and training to federal, tribal, state and local governments. It also has a strong international series of programs. The Center connects practitioners with the academic and research efforts of the Hatfield School of Government here at PSU. I am a researcher with the Center and work with partners in agencies and NGO’s to help through applied research. In my work I try to bridge the science and policy communities to help craft community tools to prepare for an uncertain future. My focus is on disaster and resilience research – though I also support our elections research and leadership development programs. Projects I have led include developing planning tools for coastal communities facing tsunami and earthquake risks.

What would you say influenced your interest in this kind of research?

I grew up in coastal communities in Alaska and the lasting effects of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake were still visible. This was the largest earthquake the United States has experienced. Sunken forests, images of crumbled downtown buildings, and remnants of damaged homes remain today. I was always intrigued by the science behind these events, but I also enjoyed the policy side of the discussions. How do we interpret science and integrate it into decision making? How do we understand uncertainty or rare events when we face so many pressing needs in society? This brought me to my research at the nexus of science and policy – trying to span to two spheres.

What do you find most challenging about your work? Most rewarding?

Today our efforts to make our communities healthy and prosperous face so many challenges. We live in an era of economic uncertainties, challenges from climate change, and a growing distrust in government. With declining public revenues, increasing public costs, and many vulnerable communities – we face a concerning future. I am optimistic that we can rebuild faith in how communities can come together to become better together. But we face many political, cultural and economic challenges to get there.

Thank you for your recent donation to the LII. Could you tell us why you made that donation?

I should have given sooner considering how long I’ve been a reader! But I was motivated recently by the mix of political news and changes on the Supreme Court. If ever there was a need for independent resources to make sense of the legal and political landscape – it’s now!

When did you first learn about the LII, and in what ways has it been useful to you since then?

As a high school student in Alaska I became interested in the law – maybe I can blame all the television procedural dramas focused on law firms in the 1990’s. But a fellow student suggested I join him at an organization focused on helping students learn about the law and also help provide a valuable service of youth in my community. This organization was Anchorage Youth Court (AYC), and it provides a diversion for juvenile criminal defendants in Anchorage, Alaska. The youth court processes their cases from charging to trial to sentencing. All of the officers of the court are high school students, the juries are also students. AYC provides the training for high school students to be the lawyers and judges in the process. Through that I found LII to learn more about constitutional and criminal case law (and that was early internet years for all of us!) During high school I interned for the Alaska Court System and Alaska Attorney General’s office. I continued to actively rely on LII to be informed.

Ultimately I decided against a career in law directly – but now over 20 (!) years later I still read LII and appreciate the emails. I have since returned to academia in public administration and I still suggest colleagues and students follow LII to stay atop of the news.

Can you recall any specific situations where finding legal information at the LII had an important or interesting impact?

To be honest – the main value for me with LII is first the email bulletin and previews. I am able to peruse the issues and just be a little more aware. My main areas of interest are administrative law and environmental law. But I always scan through and often become curious about some other case that is in a new part of law for me. I’ve even been known to post previews on Facebook as a law nerd…

What legal information would you most like to see published that is currently unavailable or hard to find?

Because of the work and research I do, administrative rule making is my primary area of interest. I subscribe to the Federal Register table of contents email service, but there are many issues to follow and the rulemaking process can be done in fits and starts making monitoring harder. [editor’s note: stay tuned!]

If you were to tell others about the LII and why it’s worth supporting, what would you say?

It is remarkable that LII has been going for so long – other internet startups can’t claim such a long track record! But I recommend it to new students here at Portland State who come into political science or public administration. I think the recent news about the Oyez project coming to LII is exciting and also requires us to continue supporting the Institute. I hope others join me in making sure this part of our legal education and knowledge continues growing into the future!

It was a pleasure getting to know yet another incredible donor that helps contribute to what the LII is today. Not a subscriber? Stay informed with us!

The first words Brian Hughes ever said to me were, “Hello, I’m Brian Hughes”. He was starting work on a project I was doing with the Harvard Law School Library. He has greeted me that way every time I’ve seen him, for nearly two decades. I later found out from his wife that those are the first words she hears from him each and every morning.

The Harvard project was called LEDA, and Brian was to be its principal programmer. The idea was — in 1999 — to build an institutional repository for working papers and other gray literature, one that could operate across multiple institutions. Harvard’s law-library director had proposed it, I was a consultant on it, and Emory and Duke were on board to participate. It was pretty advanced stuff, and full of a million details of metadata, document conversion, foreign-language support, and so on. Brian was exactly the kind of careful soul needed to compensate for my more cowboy-ish approach, and it was a good collaboration. Unfortunately, it was also more than a decade ahead of its time.Though quite viable, it could not survive a storm of inattention from academic law libraries.

But Brian is quite a find, and we brought him here to work with us at the LII. For over 17 years, we have been glad we did. He built our first shell around the CFR, a raft of software to support donations, and a lot of the software that supports our publishing of Supreme Court opinions and the LII Bulletin. Linguist by training, librarian and programmer by experience, Brian is, at the end of the day, a craftsman.  

Like a lot of craftsmen, Brian has eccentricities. It is hard to know how many are real and how many are jokes that he is playing on the world. He insists that plants with variegated foliage have no reason to live. He claims an exaggerated fear of deer. He labels his spice jars with the Latin names of the plants. I once saw him order rice pudding in a restaurant, only to greet its arrival by saying, “But this has rice in it”. He has the finest collection of 20th century classical music I’ve ever seen, and he is a fierce advocate for women composers. He is one of only two people that I have ever heard use the word “hosie”, which is evidently some kind of weird New England slang for “call dibs on”. He knows more about trees than anybody.

Brian retired at the end of January. He was the second-longest-running employee at the LII after myself, and a big part of its soul. We are going to miss him, out among the trees, warily looking for deer.

The LII relies on financial support from individuals to fund a substantial portion of its applied research and publication. We try to follow up with everyone to find out why they gave, and for constructive feedback on our work. Every so often, one of those responses leads to a longer conversation. John Reed, Manager of Procurement and Compliance at Food Gatherers, a food bank and food rescue organization serving Washtenaw County, Michigan, relies on the LII for quick and easy review of operational regulations. When he showed his gratitude by making a donation in December, he mentioned who he worked for, and we couldn’t resist asking him a few questions.

Could you tell us a little bit about Food Gatherers and who it serves?

Food Gatherers is the food bank and food rescue organization serving Washtenaw County, Michigan.  Started in 1988, we were the first food rescue in Michigan and also the first hunger relief organization in the nation to be founded by a for-profit business, Zingerman’s Deli.  We’ve received Charity Navigator’s 4-star rating for twelve consecutive years, placing us in their top 1% of all rated charities nationwide.

In addition to providing simple hunger relief, we strive to connect the dots between hunger and health by providing healthy food options for our neighbors in need.  Nearly 40% of all the food we distribute is fresh produce, and we have met Feeding America’s Foods to Encourage metric with 71% of our distributed food so far this fiscal year.

We work with a network of about 150 non-profit distribution programs across Washtenaw County, including soup kitchens, emergency pantries, meal assistance for seniors and children in need, and organizations whose primary function isn’t hunger relief but who also provide food and can use help with their food budgets in order to focus their own resources on their missions (e.g., substance abuse recovery programs, shelters and programs for homeless or at-risk youth, free health clinics)

What is your role in the organization?

My title is Manager of Procurement and Compliance, which includes specifically:

  • purchasing food to supplement the donations that come in (food donor relations are handled by someone else) so that we have a consistent mix of healthy food options for our network to access
  • purchase supplies and equipment needed for operations
  • manage written programs and training activities related to operational regulatory compliance (e.g., FDA, DOT, OSHA, etc.) – I’m not responsible for compliance with financial regulations (e.g., IRS)
  • act as the point of contact for operational regulatory inspections and audits
  • manage the maintenance of our facility and the leasing of our fleet of 7 refrigerated trucks
  • manage the relationship with our IT services provider

Also, since I have the second-longest tenure on Food Gatherers’ staff at 14 years (and because I have a tendency to stick my nose in everyone’s business anyway), I sit on multiple interdepartmental committees to help provide historical context and high-level views of emerging and ongoing issues.

How did you get into procurement and compliance?

I have worn many different hats at Food Gatherers over the years: driver, warehouse assistant, inventory control, operations manager.  My current role was designed to fill gaps in other staff roles that match my skills.  I tend to be a bit of a “utility player”. My skills and knowledge have been mostly self-taught and on-the-job.

It must take a lot of hands to move 6.4 million pounds of food each year. What kinds of partners does Food Gatherers work with, and how do you evaluate and manage the supply chain?

Indeed, our operation has a lot of moving parts.  We receive food from dozens of retail donors (supermarkets, etc.) on daily pickup routes, hundreds of food drives throughout the year, thousands of individual walk-in gifts, a dozen or so purchasing vendors, and the USDA via The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).  We also receive food as a benefit of our membership in the Food Bank Council of Michigan and Feeding America, the national network of food banks.  Once received, each donated item is inspected here in our warehouse for quality and food safety by staff or trained volunteers.

Our staff then combines the food resources described above (donated, purchased, and USDA) to fulfill the distribution needs of our individual partner agencies – relying on a combination of push-and-pull strategies: agencies can choose some items themselves (pull), and we fill out the rest from whatever we have on-hand (push).  Many agencies receive free delivery service by our paid staff, while smaller partners usually come to our warehouse to pick up their orders.

Our staffing needs are met with 30 full-time paid employees and more than 7,000 volunteers annually (individuals, families, corporate groups, church/school/civic groups, etc.).

What are the biggest legal and regulatory compliance challenges facing Food Gatherers?

Food Safety probably presents the greatest challenge to our work.  While internal policies and procedures work fairly well to meet most regulations, keeping food safe relies heavily on forces beyond our immediate control – food donors handling food appropriately before we pick it up; partner agencies handling it correctly once they receive it from us.  We work continuously to proactively manage and document our safe food handling practices and to provide training and feedback to our donors and agencies to make sure the food resources ultimately making it into the hands of our needy neighbors are safe and wholesome.

Do you have any specific, interesting compliance situations that you’ve anticipated or resolved?

There tends to be a misconception in the community that since we are a food bank, food safety regulations don’t apply to us.  Of course, the truth is that we are held to the same standards as any food business and in many cases even stricter regulations than most because the people we serve are considered “vulnerable populations” within the FDA regulations.

How has the Legal Information Institute (LII) helped you do your job?

The information at the LII tends to be more easily searchable and navigable than other sources of the same information, so it saves me time in researching any particular topic.

You made a donation to the LII. Could you tell us why?

Working for a non-profit myself, I recognize the need to financially support those institutions I value.  It was just a small gift amount, but I see myself being a regular supporter in the future as long as I continue to find value in what the LII has to offer.

At the LII, we believe that everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost. That’s fairly analogous to the belief at Food Gatherers that “in a land of plenty, no one should go hungry.” Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and its causes in Washtenaw County; what could the LII learn from that example to alleviate ignorance of legal information and its causes?

I’m not familiar with everything that the LII does (so maybe you already do some of these things), but off the top of my head, here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage rule-making bodies to use language that leans toward plain-English whenever possible
  • Provide resources to explain the differences between, key characteristics of, and interactions between the various primary sources of law
  • Develop portals for specific industries to help newbies learn all the stuff they didn’t know they didn’t know about their business – e.g., when I first started tackling regulatory compliance here at the food bank, I had no idea that having big lead-acid batteries in our forklifts could require registration and regular reporting to government agencies; I still occasionally run into smaller food banks or pantries who have no idea that their truck drivers are likely subject to DOT regulations

Food Gatherers uses a carrot in its logo because “it’s nutritious, practical and has deep roots.” What would you say could be the LII’s equivalence of a carrot?

Perhaps an open book?

I wish I could say that it seems like only yesterday… but it’s been a quarter-century.  We started the LII in 1992, just Peter Martin and I,  and, a little later, a student employee who became our first full-time sysadmin. There were 30 web servers in the world then, and I got excited when we got more than 100 page views in a day.  All those numbers have increased a lot since then — there are nine of us, and we serve as many as half a million pages on any weekday.   We’ve come quite a distance, and we’ve accomplished a lot along the way

During the coming year, we’ll be doing a few special things to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the LII.  We’re not extravagant — these will be low-key events, but we think you’ll like them.  The longest-lasting and most interesting will be the dedication of our popular VoxPopuLII blog to a series of articles by 25 leading thinkers and doers in the field of legal information — a collection of academics, publishers, scientists, librarians, and government officials who collectively represent the history of the field from then until now.  The series — published on an irregular schedule averaging twice a month — is called “25 for 25”.   We hope you’ll enjoy it.  I’ve kicked off the series with a first article here.