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Those of you who have supported us for a while probably know that we, like Cornell University, operate on a fiscal year that runs from July through June. Creating and sharing an Annual Report for the recently-completed fiscal year each summer is one of our oldest traditions. Though this has been a year like no other, that tradition continues. 

As we suspect is the case for most of you, the global COVID-19 pandemic affected LII in ways large and small. We’re fortunate to be able to carry out our mission via remote work, to have a large and ever-growing audience that needs our service, and a large and dedicated group of supporters like you who motivate us in good times and bad.  

What follows is our Annual Report for Supporters. We hope it tells you where we are and where we are headed.    

Group of people working on laptops

Traffic

According to Google Analytics, close to 35.5 million unique visitors came to the LII website in Fiscal 20. They engaged in 61.75 million sessions and viewed almost 157 million pages of content–all of which are new records.    In all, visitors spent more than 759.5 BILLION minutes at law.cornell.edu in the past twelve months. That translates to well over 126 million hours, 5.25 million days, or more than 53.5 thousand years that people from around the globe spent on law.cornell.edu in just the last 12 months to access, learn about, and understand the law.  

World events once again drove information seekers to learn about the law at LII. During the impeachment (remember that?), readers came to LII to read our original content and the US Constitution Annotated on impeachment, bribery, separation of powers, and Article II of the Constitution. They read 52 U.S.C. § 30121 – Contributions and donations by foreign nationals; 18 U.S.C. § 1505 – Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees; 50 U.S.C § 3033 – Inspector General of the Intelligence Community [regarding whistleblower complaints]; and 18 U.S.C. § 2381 – Treason. They returned to a frequently perused topic, the Second Amendment, and, disturbingly, our Wex article on the law of cannibalism. Following a dramatic flourish by Speaker Pelosi at the State of the Union Address, traffic to 18 U.S.C. § 2071 spiked to the tune of 300,000 extra page views as readers sought clarity on the claim that tearing up a copy of the President’s speech constituted mutilation of government documents.

COVID-19-driven traffic sent new referrals to the website, particularly from the Small Business Administration, the Veterans’ Administration, state government resources on unemployment, and the Centers for Disease Control. Trending pages included the Wex article on force majeure; 20 CFR Part 625 – Disaster Unemployment Insurance; 13 CFR part 121 – [Small Business] Size eligibility provisions and standards; and 18 U.S.C. §1001, which includes penalties for lying to obtain unemployment benefits.  As lockdowns took effect, we witnessed what we’ve come to describe as the “DC inversion”: although DC metro area year-over-year session numbers were stable for the period from March 15 through June 15, the number of sessions originating from inside the District of Columbia dropped by 81%, while the number of sessions originating from Silver Spring, MD grew by 272%, and from Arlington, VA, by 157%.  Unlike during federal government shutdowns, we saw similar inversions from city to suburban traffic throughout the country.

“When I’m writing for SCOTUSBlog or any other paper, and need to embed citations, cases, or other authorities, LII is always the first source. Thank you!”

Rory Little
Professor of Law
UC Hastings

Starting in late May, antiracism demonstrations drove considerable numbers of new referrals as well. Trending pages included original content on qualified immunity, no-knock warrants, and the definition of “reasonable”; US Constitution Annotated articles on martial law, the Third Amendment, and the civilian Commander-in-Chief; and primary sources such as 4 U.S.C. § 8 – Respect for flag; 18 U.S.C. § 242 – Deprivation of rights under color of law, and 18 U.S.C. § 1369 – Destruction of veterans’ memorials. Also, as is expected from the June blockbuster season, the U.S. Supreme Court once again drove numerous referrals to LII, particularly for precedents underlying high-profile cases such as June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (news sources tend to prefer PDF from the Court’s own website for the new opinions themselves). 

Overall, LII received significant numbers of referrals from news sources such as the New York Times, CNN, and Fox News. Federal government entities such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission all linked to LII. Educational and civic content sources such as Govtrack, iCivics, Google Classroom, and Nolo, as well as more than 3500 educational domains referred readers to LII this year, with incoming links from general information resources, library guides and learning management systems. 

Disability sign saying step free route

Projects and Activities

Both before and since COVID-19 changed our daily routines, LII made great headway in its mission of providing free legal information to the public. Most notably, we concluded a comprehensive sitewide web accessibility remediation project, conforming all LII resources to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard. The project was highly collaborative: Public.Resource.Org donated machine-readable images; students developed descriptive text; LII content creators and editors updated authoring standards, and LII engineers applied a wide range of artificial intelligence techniques to enhance non-conforming government source data.  LII’s publications of US Supreme Court opinions, the Federal Rules, the US Code, and the CFR now all offer significant accessibility augmentations beyond the government’s feature set. 

If the pandemic had a silver lining, it was the availability of many more law students for summer employment than usual as other summer employment evaporated and many were left suddenly looking for summer work as the spring semester ended. With this large talent pool at our disposal since late May, we’re well on our way to improving upon thousands of dictionary-like definitions in our WEX legal reference. Each revised definition is longer, more complete, and better linked to other free resources (on our website and others) than its predecessor. 

We also have more students than ever working on a variety of tasks for the Women & Justice Collection. While COVID-19 interrupted plans to send students to Cape Town this summer to work with our partners there, our students have continued to contribute to our growing database of human rights-related cases and summaries.  

As always, we pay our students by the hour for their expertise and effort.  Donations from our supporters make all of this possible, and we hope you notice and appreciate the improved original content that results.  

“I’m a policy researcher who relies on you as a source of federal and state statutes and court decisions. Thanks!”

Garen J. Wintemute, MD, MPH
Professor of Emergency Medicine
University of California, Davis

But, even before COVID-19 changed the labor pool considerably, we mentored an  unprecedented number of teams of students from computer science and information science working for course credit as part of their curriculum’s practical experience requirement. This year, M.Eng. students worked on four separate projects. The first used new measures of similarity to connect descriptions of federal agencies published by the government to additional information compiled by Wikidata. Applying scaling techniques to such similarity measures, another M.Eng. project helped surface unique comments from among millions of machine-generated fakes in notice-and-comment rulemaking proceedings. In the spring, that project’s team recruited two new members to explore the use of natural language processing techniques to automate substance-preserving legal-content simplification tasks described by the federal judiciary in their Guidelines for Drafting and Editing Court Rules. Finally, a Computer Science 5150 Software Engineering Practicum team revamped the U.S. Constitution Annotated processing software to use the new data source that the federal government made available in the fall, thus enabling us to extend the feature set of the Congressional Research Service’s popular commentary.    

Finances

Even without our typical June fundraiser (did you miss us in your inbox?) our financial performance was strong despite tough times. Once again, we  finished our fiscal year with more resources than expenditures. Though Cornell gives us meaningful material assistance such as access to students, HR/payroll support, and office space (remember when people went to offices to work?), the University does NOT give us any money. Our advertising revenue, corporate partners, and philanthropy from individual supporters like you fund 100% of everything we do.  We couldn’t do it without our supporters, and we try to never miss an opportunity to say THANK YOU!  

US Map outline

What’s Next?

We’ve now secured outside funding for our next big project, a 50-state regulations service. For years, we’ve been thinking about how to extend our “what is the law of where I’m standing right now?” approach beyond individually-researched original content features and manually curated prototypes—a challenge whose relevance became all the more stark as state governments took the spotlight in the wake of COVID-19. Now, for the first time, we’ll be able to make use of standardized raw data to publish state regulations and, more usefully, help readers know when and how regulations are changing over time, find state regulations from the federal regulations they cite, and understand how real-world topics are addressed at the state and federal level.

We’ve also been energized in the midst of this chaos by what we can accomplish when we’re able to involve more students in our work. We’ve already begun examining things large and small we can do to build on our current momentum in that arena. We hope you will see that reflected in next year’s Annual Report.  

“I strongly believe that the public should have free access to the laws that govern all of our lives. LII has been a great resource to me as an undergrad student, a law student, and as a lawyer.”

Bethany Gross
Attorney

The Supreme Court recently announced all oral arguments scheduled between March 23rd and April 1st will be postponed in light of public health concerns. While remote work options are expanding, the Court will remain open and filing deadlines will not be extended. You can read the announcement in full for more details. We will hold off on distributing Previews during this time; but, as new dates are set for the postponed arguments, we will resume the release of the corresponding Previews. We are committed to being flexible and adapting the LII’s Bulletin services with changes to the Court’s schedule. 

While we certainly don’t have any “inside information,” we expect that the Court will continue to issue opinions deciding cases it has already heard. Though we have transitioned to working remotely for the time being, we’ll get the opinions published on our site and Bulletins sent to all of you in short order, as always.  

If you are used to keeping up with the Supreme Court term on our website, and would like to have Previews and Decisions delivered straight to your inbox, you can subscribe to our Supreme Court Bulletin.

We hope that by continuing to maintain reliable access to legal information the LII can assist you during times of uncertainty like these. We watch with curiosity during snow storms or government shutdowns as our usage patterns change, and we’ll be checking the log files and analytics data to see if folks are using our website differently as remote work becomes increasingly prevalent. Beyond a mere curiosity, observing changing patterns and learning from them tells us about who our users are and what they need from us. Meanwhile, our thoughts are with those who are impacted by current events, and we wish good health and good luck to you and your families, friends and communities. 

The LII Team

Friends,

Something special happens when you make legal materials available to the world without cost or other access barriers: people use them. And not just for themselves, but to help others.

“I use your site regularly in my efforts to advocate for individuals with disabilities. I appreciate it very much.”

And today only, your gift goes twice as far. Our friends at Justia have pledged to match every gift we receive this Giving Tuesday. No limits. No restrictions. No fine print.

DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT TODAY ONLY

Everyone wants to give more, to do more, to help more. Your (doubled!) gift funds our work, which in turn enables thousands of worthy causes to carry out their good works without paying for access to expensive legal databases.

“Your site constantly helps me give Veterans the help they need for their claims.”

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

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

The calling card of the LII website has always been the creative application of technology that allows 30 million people each year to get the law without cost. But the real magic of the LII is the way our website empowers so many of those people to take their knowledge of the law and go help others. We couldn’t be more proud of that. And we couldn’t be more grateful for the way you make that possible–today and every day.

DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT TODAY ONLY

Thank you,

Craig Newton
Co-Director
Legal Information Institute

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.