Skip to main content workshop wraps up

picture-12.pngThe LII-hosted workshop at Cornell wrapped up on schedule yesterday afternoon.    It generated more ideas than we can think about, and a mountain of notes from our dutiful session recorders.  We’re going to be sending that material on to Central HQ in its raw form, and posting lightly-edited versions on our own LexCraft wiki for practical legal informatics knowledge, but that will take several days. There is some particularly interesting stuff about metadata registry support and other scaffolding for openly accessible legal information, and detailed work on the URN:lex standard in practice with American legal materials.  But that will just have to wait a few days before we can show it to you.

For one thing, we’re a little worn out after this high-energy brainstorming event.  And our partners from are here today, working out with us the technical underpinnings for some lawyer-directory features and benefits we think you’ll like.

Our thanks to Carl Malamud and to all the participants for an excellent experience.

LII hosts standards workshop

picture-12.pngToday and tomorrow, the LII is hosting a standards-development workshop as part of the national initiative (#lawgov)  The aim is to produce a body of work that will inform standards and practices for metadata and markup for bulk-delivered legal information.

This is geeky stuff, but it’s important.  Standards lead to interoperability (a favorite blog topic of ours — see here and here). Interoperability, in turn,  creates a much more favorable environment for the development of innovative, jurisdiction-spanning software applications.  The workshop will focus on four specific activities:

We’ve assembled a talented group to work on these problems, with representatives from the law schools and libraries at Cornell, Yale, Rutgers,  Harvard, and Columbia; the Law Library of Congress; the US Government Printing Office; the Princeton Center for Information Technology and Policy; Lexis-Nexis; the National Center for State Courts; the Sunlight Foundation; and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction among others.

These words, from the CEN/Metalex Workshop Agreement, strike us as particularly meaningful:

Legislative documents are in a strange position with regard to standards. On the one hand, legislative drafting technique has a long tradition, and often its own standards of what legislative documents should look like. This makes descriptive markup combined with strict content models very tempting. On the other hand, there are so many exceptions that can be found in concrete examples throughout the legislative history of the average state that we sometimes just want to give up on precise description altogether and resort to incredibly generic elements, in particular because there should be not one iota of difference between the original expression of the legislator and the XML manifestation of that expression.

If we are too normative we end up preventing the markup of a possibly large range of documents, especially legacy documents. On the other hand, giving up on description of elements we end up preventing the analysis of the content of legislative documents, and permitting a chaotic and anarchist approach to legal document management that will prevent any further application of sophisticated automated assistance.

We’re expecting great things over the next couple of days.  Follow us at hashtag #lawgov .

Sunlight Foundation proposes Public Online Information Act

lock.jpgThe Sunlight Foundation, and its Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman, today announced the introduction of POIA — the Public Online Information Act.  The Act is proposed Federal legislation that would require government to provide meaningful access to its information online.  In the words of its organizational sign-on letter:

The Public Online Information Act requires government information that is public to be made available in the broadest, most accessible manner — online.  Our vital public information can enhance accountability, spur commerce, and empower citizenship, but only if we create and require meaningful digital access to it.  POIA creates this meaningful access through two mechanisms.

First, POIA mandates that the Executive Branch make public records permanently available on the Internet, with a few exceptions.  To coordinate this new mandate, POIA creates new authority within existing structures to strengthen responsibility for transparency.

Second, POIA creates an advisory body of government officials and private citizens to ensure that all three branches of government work together to establish best practices for making this information available online.  This special federal advisory committee will coordinate the development of government-wide Internet disclosure policies.

POIA also empowers citizens by creating a new public inventory of agencies’ information, and by granting a private right of action that strengthens citizens’ ability to access government information. Private individuals or organizations may make “POIA requests” for an agency to publish public records online. Denied requests may be appealed in federal court, under procedures similar to those available under FOIA, where a judge may order improperly withheld public records to be published online.

While POIA will dramatically improve public access to government information, it does so in a pragmatic manner.  Its online publication requirements apply only to newly created information, are subject to a few exceptions, and become enforceable three years after enactment.

We urge Congress to take the next step in building a more transparent government by holding hearings on the Public Online Information Act.

We think this is important legislation and that everyone who is concerned with public legal information should support it.  It will go a long way toward untangling difficult issues and dealing with the uneven and often behind-the-times implementation of government information policy, in a way that is both measured and responsible.  More information about POIA is available here.

The LII Lawyer Directory: Good value that does good

lii_gold.gifFor attorneys, registering for your free profile in the Justia/LII Lawyer Directory is a no-brainer. You can customize your directory profile and add professional details. Most importantly, a free directory profile makes it easier for potential clients to find you online.

Once registered, consider adding the LII profile badge. Badge holders have always been given preference at the top of directory listings, like the attorneys/badge holders at the top of these local and specialized listings.

But we’ve added another benefit for LII badge holders: preference in the new lawyer listings that appear in our Wex legal encyclopedia and in the LII US Code pages.

If you take a look at our WEX page on (say) real estate transactions,  you’ll  see  attorney listings for real estate lawyers in your area. As you browse other Wex entries, you’ll notice that the attorneys’ area of expertise matches the Wex page topic. “Find a lawyer” Wex listings come from the Justia/LII Lawyer Directory with a major preference for LII badge holders. Gold LII badges are always listed in random order before silver, silver before bronze, bronze before non-badge holders.

So purchase a LII badge to start rising in the Lawyer Directory listings.

Plus it’s a nice way to show your support for LII’s mission to provide free access to legal information.

Charbonneau in VoxPopuLII

cropped-voxmega.jpgThis week in VoxPop, Olivier Charbonneau comments on granular, recombinant interactions between the public, legal documents, and legal commentary by the public and by the bar. He imagines a rich combination of bibliographic tools, rated and approved commentary as part of a larger project of increasing public exposure to (and debate about) the law.   These are aims not too different from those of our friends and collaborators at CeRI, who are working on similarly rich environments for public commentary on proposed Federal regulations. at Columbia

Last Thursday, LII Director Tom Bruce (here conferring with White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck) attended the latest workshop, hosted by Stuart Sierra and Tim Wu at Columbia Law School.  A wide-ranging discussion brought together representatives from academia, government, and commercial legal publishing.  Many issues were discussed, including the proper role of technology standards, methods of inventorying federal law, archival preservation, and creating favorable conditions for high-accuracy crowdsourcing as a means of improving and generating legal content.  A very worthwhile day, even as Manhattan was blanketed with a foot of… well, they called it “snow”, but “slush” would be closer.  

Plans are now proceeding apace for the LII’s own workshop, to be held on 22-23 March in Ithaca.

Mokanov on Legal Citations

Today in VoxPopuLII, Ivan Mokanov of CanLII (our neighbor to the North) talks about vendor-neutral, media-neutral citations. These are critical building blocks for public legal-information infrastructure. Work on neutral citation in the US has been going on since the mid-90’s, with a few significant adopters and some very good work from the American Association of Law Libraries Citation Formats Committee.  But it is far from universally adopted in the US, and it should be.  For some of the reasons why, read this paper by LII co-founder Peter W. Martin.  This is certainly an area to which we will pay increased attention as the effort gains traction.