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:
18 USC §2074 quickly became the most viewed page on our website:
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.Org. That 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.
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 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!