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One part of this job that never gets old is seeing traffic pop up in unexpected places: a seldom-accessed section of the US Code, an obscure regulation buried deep in the CFR, or an arcane Supreme Court case that’s somehow made its way into the public consciousness. And we learn a lot about how people interact with the law when current events drive people to our website. Most importantly, these moments make us feel good that we are contributing to the public discourse by making primary source materials easily available to the public, so that debate is informed by what the law actually says and not by what some pundit or Twitter troll claims it says. We watched a textbook example unfold just last week, and we thought it might be fun and informative to share the story with you in a series of images.

It all seems to have started on Twitter:

Tweet by Dennis Merserau @wxdam: It is a violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast and pass it off as official, as President Trump did here. 18 US Code 2074

18 USC §2074 quickly became the most viewed page on our website:

Google Analytics live view: right now: 1298 visitors

It’s always interesting to see where the traffic is coming from. Here are the top 20 sources of traffic into 18 USC §2074 last week (t.co is Twitter):

We even made Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” monologue! (3:20)

By the end of the weekend, the excitement had mostly abated and traffic to 18 USC §2074 had slowed to a mere trickle compared to its peak a few days earlier:

Which brings us back to where we started.  By freeing the law from behind commercial paywalls and ponderous government websites, we help people find the answers they need to run their businesses, solve their problems, understand the world around them, do their jobs, or sometimes just to argue on Twitter.  Thank you for your continuing interest in, and support of, that mission.

If you receive this newsletter, that means you probably care about Free Law in America–or at the very least you’ve benefited enough from it in your personal or professional lives to become acquainted with us in a way that distinguishes you from our other 38 million annual users.  

This term, the United States Supreme Court will hear Georgia vs. Public.Resource.OrgThat link will take you to the case page on our Oyez Project website. 

State’s asserting copyright in their laws has been a problem since the dawn of online legal research–if not longer.  In 2011, Fastcase CEO Ed Walters penned a blog post for our Vox Populii blog he titled, “Tear Down This (Pay)Wall:  The End of Private Copyright in Public Statutes.”  

Since it turns out that posts on geeky blogs, no matter how well-reasoned and impassioned, tend not to bring about major structural changes in our legal system, Ed (now also known as “Professor Walters” based on his adjunct gigs at both Cornell Tech and the Georgetown University Law Center) re-worked and re-published that article in 2019 in this post from Medium.  

If you want to see free legal resources, access to justice projects, and legal technology thrive in this country, you should be aware of this case.  Needless to say, we at the LII share Ed’s point-of-view. We hope you’ll take a minute to read the two linked pages above and learn about this issue that impacts the LII and our friends in the Free Law Community.

Twenty five years anniversary. Birthday cupcake with white burning candles with red border in the form of number Twenty five.

The LII’s Supreme Court Bulletin staff has begun its work researching and drafting Previews of all the cases the Court will hear in its 2019 – 2020 term. The Bulletin has changed and grown since its original founding by members of Cornell Law School’s Classes of 1996 and ‘97.  Until 2004, it focused almost exclusively on New York’s highest court–the Court of Appeals. (LIIBulletin-Patent examined patent cases before the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court in the late ‘90s.) In 2004, the Bulletin switched its focus to the United States Supreme Court.  Since 2005, it has provided student-written analysis of every case to be argued there. These days we reach over 16,000 email subscribers and over 290,000 website visitors every year with our Supreme Court previews. We are also consistently referenced by SCOTUSBlog and featured in each issue of the Federal Bar Association’s magazine, The Federal Lawyer.

In March, we introduced you to the new student leadership of the LII Bulletin, Editor-in-Chief Kathryn Adamson, Executive Editor Angela Zhu, and Outreach Coordinator Isaac Syed.  They are now joined by a complete team of Associates (second-year law students) and Managing Editors (third-year law students who worked as Associates last year) to continue the Bulletin’s work for the twenty-fifth year.  

With the students of the LII Bulletin looking to the future, the staff of the LII is taking a moment to look back to the past.  Twenty-five years is a very, very long time in the life of the internet! The LII is grateful for all the hard work and dedication of the over-500 students who have worked for the Bulletin during that time.   

If you aren’t already familiar with the Bulletin, please have a look here, and we invite you to sign up here to receive this free service via email.  

LII_team

LII spent the past year rebuilding and preparing for a big transition, but as far as our audience was concerned, we like to think we didn’t miss a beat – and maybe learned a new trick or two. 

During the past year, we replenished our core staff, added a communications specialist, and passed the leadership baton. Jim Phillips is now our new front-end developer; Ayham Boucher, our back-end developer, and Julie Pizzuti, our fundraiser. Neli Karabelova has spearheaded our outreach, spreading the word about the resources we offer, gathering impact stories that help us improve, and keeping us connected to the ever-growing Free Law community. And the biggest change, in case you missed it: in the wake of our co-founder and Director Tom Bruce’s retirement at the end of June, Craig Newton and Sara Frug, the LII’s two Associate Directors since 2013, now lead the LII as Co-Directors. 

Some highlights from the past year: 

Last fall, we celebrated Constitution Day by publishing a new version of the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) U.S Constitution Annotated. Unlike the PDF published by CRS, our version is easily searchable, browsable, hyperlinked, and accessible to visually impaired users. The launch was picked up by RollCall, SCOTUSBlog, the American Association of Law Librarians, and others, and the collection has been used over a million times since then. 

During the past year, our law students wrote over 70 previews of U.S. Supreme Court cases, which they published on our website and in the Federal Lawyer magazine. They updated our legal reference Wex, supported our accessibility initiative and our work at oyez.org, and, under the leadership of  Editor-in-Chief Jocelyn Hackett, helped expand our Women & Justice collection. 

LII staff participated in and spoke at a variety of conferences this year, including the Law Via the Internet Conference; the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) annual conference; the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and the Law; and the New York State Civil Legal Aid Tech Conference. 

We embarked on an overhaul of the more than 600,000 pages of the LII website in order to meet modern web accessibility standards. As we go through each collection, we’ve been adding machine-readable information to help external search engines find our content and streamlining our own search results to make them easier to use. 

All of this work has helped us reach a constantly-evolving audience of people and machines. On March 7, 2019, the Legal Information Institute became a truly global source of information when our first visitor from Antarctica came to www.law.cornell.edu.  That reader joined over 30 million other people from all around the world who came to our website more than 53 million times in the last year, as well as another 7.5 million unique visitors making over 15 million visits on our other website, www.oyez.org.  The two websites have appeared in over 1.16 billion search results in the last 12 months. 

We saw traffic from 3207 universities, 274 community colleges, and 811 school districts, as well as 1669 hospitals and 2967 banks.  We had visitors from the Berklee College of Music and the Berkeley National Laboratory as well both the Environmental Protection Agency and the William Morris Agency.  Tens of thousands of user sessions originated within the internal networks of the United States Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court. The Administrative Office of the US Courts alone was responsible for more than 90,000 sessions.  Within the executive branch, the VA, DOD, and DOJ were our three largest customers.   

The Washington Post was among the top sources of referral traffic to the LII site this year, along with Wikipedia and every major social media platform.  A little further down that list we find Google Classroom, GovTrack, uscourts.gov, the ABA, CNN, MSN, NPR, the Atlantic, SCOTUSBlog, Slate, Politifact, the National Review, NBC News, the Library of Congress, the New York Times, Fox News, and Forbes. 

On a more individual level, an awful lot of people sent us notes. A few of our favorites: 

“As in house counsel for a nonprofit, I appreciate the access very much.”

“I’m a state lawyer. I use Cornell’s website almost daily.”

“We work in healthcare, we could not make it through a day without you all!”

“I rely on original sources rather than someone else’s interpretation of them. LII gives me access to much of what I need to know.” or “I love this site because it’s the only one, on the first page of Google results, that doesn’t include someone’s opinion. It is the law as written, officially.”

“When citizens have access to clear information, they can make better choices and the nation benefits. Knowledge is empowering. Thanks for what you do.” 

And last, but not least: in the past year, your donations made it possible for all of this to happen while we continued to operate within our budget. Beyond that, in honor of Tom Bruce’s retirement, we were able to raise an additional $130,000 to establish the Tom Bruce Legal Innovation Fellowship Fund, which will provide an annual fellowship (usually during the summer months). The Fellow will explore new technologies and techniques of potential application within legal informatics, computer science, or legal tech, helping us continue to innovate while maintaining our ever-expanding collection of information resources. We would not have been able to do any of this without your support. Thank you! 

We’ve been heartened by the overwhelming response to Tom Bruce’s May letter. We’ve heard from students and teachers, from regulators and compliance professionals, from new grads and retirees, from civil servants and activists. Some have been using the site for decades, others have just discovered us via a link or a search engine. We are grateful for the vote of confidence this feedback represents, and heartened by the number of people who have stepped forward to help us help others find and understand the law.

DONATE NOW

Your support makes it possible for us to continue to reach the millions of people who rely on the LII website to provide the objective, non-partisan information they need to make sense of what is going on in the world around them. Our readers tell us they want to read and understand the law for themselves, and we continue to work in a variety of ways to make this ever more possible.

Tom_Bruce_Sara_Frug_9_students_team

This spring, we recruited a team of eight talented engineering students to develop new ways of analyzing and presenting how real people use the LII website. The team’s work, part of an engineering practicum course, came to us as part of a long-standing relationship with Cornell Computing and Information Sciences. The resulting software has given us new insights about the relationship between current events and the public’s exploration of legal information.

We’ve also extended new search functionality across our most heavily used collections. We’ve added machine-readable data to our web pages to help people better find the resources we offer when they start with an outside search engine. Most importantly, we have set out to ensure, by the end of the calendar year, that the content on LII fully conforms to the accessibility standards that have been adopted in the U.S., Europe, and beyond.

We are grateful for your help in bringing legal information for free to an ever-expanding world of curious participants in civic life.

Thank you.
Sara

DONATE NOW

Friends:

Twice each year — once in December, and once as the Supreme Court term draws near its end — we ask you to contribute to the LII. We are deeply grateful to you for every donation, not only because you donated, but because your contributions are a vote of confidence in us and in our mission of helping others find and understand the law.

DONATE NOW

Last year, you helped 31 million people from 240 countries to view 150 million pages of legal information. The vast majority come from the United States; we estimate that the LII reaches around 10-13% of the adult population here. Many who visit us come here because of personal crisis or business need, but in recent years it has become clear that the site plays an important role in educating people about current events. Your contributions provide an important source of objective, non-partisan information for citizens who have questions about our system of government and how it works. People from all points on the political spectrum have thanked us for our objectivity and accuracy. We take a great deal of pride in that, and we certainly hope that you do too.

I’m pretty sure that this will be the last time I ask you for a donation. As many of you know, I’ll be retiring at the end of June. Over the past 27 years I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some of you, far fewer than I would have liked. I think it’s safe to say that the LII has one of the most interesting and diverse groups of donors on the planet. Among you there are a President of the World Bank and a manager of a Michigan food bank, judges in Federal courts and traffic courts, a woman who teaches in Alaska, and a guy who makes prototype machine parts up in Rochester, NY, among thousands and thousands of others. I’m only sorry that I haven’t met more of you in person. You’re a fascinating and dedicated group, and it has been a pleasure to turn your contributions into action.

As for the future of the LII, I could not be more confident. My successors, Sara Frug and Craig Newton, are smart, capable, and creative. We’ve had time to plan the transition and it has gone extremely well, except for one thing. My successors refuse to believe that I can use a sports metaphor effectively.

So…. it’s my last time at bat as a fundraiser. Will you help me hit it out of the park?

My best regards — and deepest gratitude — to you all.

T.

DONATE NOW

As Tom announces his retirement, there will be lots of looking back at a long and spectacularly successful career.   But lest you think we’re resting on our laurels, I wanted to take a minute to update you on the original content we’ll be adding in the coming months.  This summer, we’ll continue our recent program of using Cornell law students to review and improve articles in our Wex legal reference, an effort that has seen more than 250 articles revised, updated or simply verified as accurate and current.  

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we eagerly await beginning a partnership with our African LII counterparts and the Democratic Governance & Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town.  Goals include collaboration on training programs for judges from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), remote clerking for judges throughout the SADC, and building a database of pan-African human rights caselaw.

Also in the last newsletter, we introduced you to the new leadership for our student-run LII Bulletin Previews.  Kathryn and Angela have selected their new roster of associates for the 2019 – 2020 Supreme Court term and will spend the summer reviewing and revising the group’s procedures and style guide.  Meanwhile, April arguments (and April Previews) still await.

So even as we pause briefly to admire Tom and our collective past, we never really stop here at the LII.

Craig Newton
Associate Director


Tom may be retiring this summer, but we’re shamelessly squeezing every last bit of work from him before he goes. In addition to giving seminars on legal informatics for the new and long-standing engineers, he’s been wrapping up work on a data model for federal agency structure, which will make it easier for everyone to get information about federal programs and agencies, no matter what they’re called this year.

On the product development front, we’ve started adding links to external named entities like chemicals listed in the CAS registry. These links will help make it easier to find information about things in the world, regardless of how many nicknames they have.

Over the next several months, we’ll be rolling out features that improve the accessibility of our entire website. Thus far we’ve partnered with Public.Resource.Org to swap machine-readable information for low-quality image files. These substitutions will make it possible for people with vision impairments to read the figures in the Code of Federal Regulations. You can see the first batch of equations at 34 CFR 685.203 and read more about the initiative on our blog.

We look forward to updating you on our progress in our next newsletter.

Sara Frug
Associate Director

portrait_of_Thomas_bruce

So, it’s time.  June 30th will be my last day as Director of the Legal Information Institute.

That is good reason for mixed feelings. The LII has been the center of my professional and personal life for the last 27 years. The step away will leave a large gap in both.  Some of the challenges have not changed much over three decades, but many have. It’s time for fresh perspectives. And I’m ready for a third career, or a seventh, depending on how you count.

I’m proud of what the LII has done.  We’ve helped a lot of people to find and understand the law — over the years, hundreds of millions. That is the most important thing to the world, I think. It is not the most important thing we have done.  We were among the first, if not the first, to break the commercial publishers’ intellectual monopoly on legal information.  When Peter Martin and I came on the scene, legal-information publishing was whatever WEXIS said it was.  Legal publishers were deeply concerned with the breadth of their collections, and hardly at all with improved presentation or integrated information architecture. They could not have cared less about the needs of non-lawyers.  It was all a mile wide and an inch deep. The time was ripe for change, and we were the first to use the Web to try our hands at it. We started something that has gone a long way and is still going, all around the world.

No doubt others might have done that. A very few preceded us, using methods that existed before the Internet. Certainly many joined us after our first forays in 1992. But I think the LII’s concern for the non-lawyer public and the deep need that it has for access to primary legal texts was and is unique — even (maybe especially) among open-access providers.  Regulations remain the largest contact surface between the global public and the legal system. Case law remains the primary concern of the vast majority of legal publishers, commercial or otherwise. There’s a disconnect there.   When we are at our best, our work reconnects the public with the system that governs them. Since 2016, that work has become both more prominent and more urgent.

Most of all, I am proud of all of the things that the LII has become, of all of the ways in which it has changed and grown over time, of its resilience and of the endless inventiveness of those who have worked here.  That has ensured our relevance for much longer than is usual for any program based in an American law school. I know of only one or two of any kind in any law school that have been as durable. None has performed a greater public service.  Our small group has preferred hard problems over shiny techno-trends, resisted dogma, and shunned facile media-friendly approaches. We have never assumed that serving a good cause guaranteed that our choices and methods were necessarily the best.  Bob Wilson once said that an artist asks “what is it?” rather than saying “that is what it is”. I hope that we have been legal-information artists in exactly that way. Most of the time, we have been.

Our place within a first-rate American law school has provided us with faculty expertise and enthusiastic and knowledgeable students. It has often been a good home.  Deans Osgood and Schwab grasped our vision and provided significant understanding and support. Eduardo Peñalver has, more than anyone since the very early days, seen the importance of the mission and understood the many intangible benefits that we bring to Cornell.

In 2007, we began a series of partnerships and entrepreneurial activities that, greatly enhanced by support from many of you, promise to keep the LII financially sound for the foreseeable future. That support has meant the world to me. Ed Walters has been our most enthusiastic cheerleader and supporter as well as a fantastic source of advice and information. Invaluable contributions of time, resources and especially wisdom from Jack Lewis and Tim Stanley helped us chart a new course and gave us a bright future. The LII’s artistry has been fueled by their Diet Coke, athletic coaching, and tremendous expertise. I am indebted to them for all of that and for what it has made it possible for us to do.  

My place will be taken by Sara Frug, who will direct the LII’s technical efforts, and Craig Newton, who will be in charge of the editorial and outreach facets of the organization.  They are superbly talented individuals. Sara has greater experience of the organization than anyone. She is the only person who has ever run both its editorial and technical sides. She has done that with insight, fortitude, daring, and compassion. Craig is a talented editor, litigator, and administrator who first joined us in 2006 as the (then-student) editor-in-chief of the LII Supreme Court Bulletin, and came back in 2013 as our editorial director. They have been running the place for the last year or more. I have alternately nodded approvingly and tried their patience, using the time-honored techniques of admonitory finger-wagging coupled with a certain amount of get-off-my-lawn codgering and conjuring-up of past glories. Despite this help, they are creating something that is far better and more resilient than anything I could have imagined when the three of us began planning this succession more than five years ago.  They lead a crew that is the most capable and innovative we have ever had.

My confidence in them is unlimited.  My expectations for them, and for the LII’s future, are high. I hope that in five years I will find the LII unrecognizable; that is how I will know that it’s doing what it should.  I hope that all of you will help them, as you have helped me.

Now, as to helpers: any 27-year movie is bound to have a very long list of credits at the end.  Writing this, I felt I had a choice between a list of acknowledgements and important thank-yous that did justice to far too few of you and a more accurate and equally heartfelt one that would be 700 pages long.  I remain unable to make that decision, but there is a very small gallery of people who taught me a great deal.

The first is a stagehand whose name I never caught. In the summer of 1979, I made my greatest contribution to the American theater by assisting in the removal of a show called “Got Tu Go Disco” from the stage of the Minskoff in New York (yeah, it was pretty much what you’d think, and it closed after an 8-performance run).   Colliding with another stagehand who was headed through the same loading door, the Anonymous Stagehand dropped whatever it was he was carrying and exclaimed, in at-the-top-of-his-lungs Brooklynese, “Excuse me, PLEASE!  I am just trying to WOIK heeah!” That short statement, and the sentiment behind it, accurately capture three decades of my attempts to maintain a creative, innovative space inside an academic bureaucracy.

At Cornell, I have had many enablers. Peter Martin, my original, most generous, and boldest partner in this strange enterprise; Sara Frug, who has worked the hardest and smartest the longest for the least, and done so with skill, humility, and penetrating intelligence;  Craig Newton, who saw that a species of normalcy is both possible and desirable at the LII, and has worked steadfastly toward that happy state using a skilled lawyer’s acumen, deep insight, and unfailing diplomacy. I also owe a huge debt to each and every one who has, as part of our little band, worked to make us successful, and to the many more within Cornell and a few other places who have made it possible, in ways both large and small, for us to woik heeah.  There are some people important to my own professional and personal development that most of you are unlikely to know: Ron Socciarelli, Bill Warfel, Frank Torok, Tom Blandford, Chris Locke, Pat Nefos, Merle Kessler, Howard Stein, and Rob Orchard all showed me, either through teaching or example, how to do many of the things that I do to make it possible for me and others to do the things that are important to do.

Finally, there is Lenny Simons, prop man for the Miami Opera. Lenny did not suffer fools gladly. His review of my best efforts:

“Kid.”

(slow head shake)

“Kid.”

(another, slower head shake)

“Kid, you’d look good working for Flugle Brothers Dog and Pony Circus.”

(ominous pause)

“And I’m puttin’ in a call to Colonel Flugle RIGHT NOW.”     

Almost forty years later, I’m still waiting for the Colonel to call back.  In the meantime, there are tons of antique tools that wait for me to revive a business that sells them, maybe build a few more things with them,  and a lot of exotic music to inflict on others.  I am looking forward to that, and to whatever else comes next.  

Some plan will doubtless present itself.

All the best,

T.

As is our custom, we close with a musical selection.

lady-liberty-statue

In anticipation of International Women’s Day, we’re excited to announce significant expansions of the Women & Justice Collection, our global database of gender justice caselaw, legislation, and reports from international mechanisms, regional courts, and 116 countries. Almost two years ago, we announced our plans for the Collection, which we inherited from the former Avon Global Center for Women & Justice. Since then, we created a website for the Collection’s new home at LII, where it has doubled in size thanks to our pro bono partners at global law firms White & Case and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The first vetted and searchable database of its kind, the Collection provides free online access to these materials to advocates, researchers, practitioners, and lay people.

As part of the Collection’s expansion, our student research associates Ana Gomez, Cornell Law School Class of 2020, and Jenna Kyle, Cornell Law School Class of 2019, have started adding native-language summaries to make our resources searchable in their native language as well as in English. This spring, we are hoping to begin a partnership with our Democratic Governance & Rights Unit and African LII counterparts at the University of Cape Town. The Collection’s Editor in Chief, Jocelyn Hackett and her team of  summer research fellows will draw on our ever-increasing resources to collaborate on progressive training programs for judges from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), remote clerking for judges throughout the SADC, and building a database of pan-African human rights caselaw. We are currently seeking funding to send future research fellows to work as summer interns at African gender justice advocacy organizations and interview women throughout the country in which they work to assess women’s access to justice and socioeconomic autonomy.

You can find the Women and Justice Collection here.