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Remember MeOne of the great things that happens at the LII is working with the amazing students who come to study at Cornell — and finding out about the projects they’ve been cooking up while we weren’t distracting them by dangling shiny pieces of law before their eyes. This spring, Karthik Venkataramaiah, Vishal Kumkar, Shivananda Pujeri, and Mihir Shah — who previously worked with us on regulatory definition extraction and entity linking —  invited us to attend a presentation they were giving at a conference of the American Society for Engineering Education: they had developed an app to assist dementia patients in interacting with their families.

The Remember Me app does a number of useful things — reminds patients to prepare for appointments, take medications, and so forth. But the remarkable idea is the way it would help dementia patients interact with people in their lives.

Here’s how it works: the app is installed on both the phone of the dementia sufferer and their loved ones and caregivers. When one of the people whom the dementia patient knows comes into proximity to the patient, the app automatically reminds the patient who the person is and how they know them by flashing up pictures designed to place the person in familiar context and remind the patient of their connection. Given the way that memory is always keyed to specific contexts, this helps patients stay grounded in relating to people whom they love but which their disease may hinder their recollection of.

One notable feature of the app is that it was designed not for a class in app development but in cloud computing, which means that the app can be used by a large number of people. The nature of the app also presented additional requirements: the team noted that “as our project is related to health domain, we need to be more careful with respect to cloud data security.” Further, although the students were software engineers who were tasked with developing a scalable application, their app reflects a thoughtful approach to developing a user experience that can benefit people with memory and other cognitive impairments. Associate Director Sara Frug says “among the many teams of talented M.Eng. students with whom we have worked over the years, Karthik, Vishal, Shivananda, and Mihir have shown a rare combination of skill and sophistication in software engineering, product design, and project management. Their app is a remarkable achievement, and we are proud to have seen its earliest stages of development.”

The Remember Me app has been developed as a prototype, with its first launch scheduled for August.

 

This month, the prize will go for the best answer to the question, What’s wrong with this picture?

walkways

We’d hoped that the CFR caption contest would work like a kind of inkblot test for our fans, and if it did… well, we’re not sure whether to be exhilarated or terrified.   There were identifiable tribes among the contestants:

1) Literalists.  This krewe was bound and determined to come up with something that would spell out “CFR”.  So, for example,  we got “Communicating for Righteousness”.

2) Panglossians. All regulations are for the best in this best of all possible worlds, it seems, so you guys gave us, “Researching regulations has never been easier”.  The next group would probably agree that that is true…

3) Cynical so-and-so’s.  You guys are seductive, but so, so… not into rules.  Personal favorite: “If you’re not confused, you will be.”

Now, for the winners. It was, believe it or not, a tough choice:

1st Prize (and an adult beverage, should we ever meet) to John Gear for “Because ignorance of all this is no excuse”.

Runner-up kudos (and a Virtual Straw Boater)  to Scott Matheson for  “Making Ideas Concrete (and regulating concrete)”

Thanks everybody.  Let’s see if we can get an even bigger turnout this month!

I just got back from the 2016 CALI conference at the
Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta, Georgia.CALI2016update

This report of my time there is by no means an exhaustive or even chronological record of the conference. It’s more of a highlight reel.

This was my second time attending and it still holds the title as my favorite conference. The food was great, the talks were excellent and there was a lot of time between sessions to have interesting conversations with many of the diverse and smart attendees who came from all over North America. Kudos to the organizers.

The conference officially started on Thursday, June 16th, when Indiana Jones, aka John Mayer, executive director of CALI, found the golden plaque of CALI after a harrowing traversal of the conference room, dodging obstacles. He gave a brief but warm welcome address and introduced the keynote speaker, Hugh McGuire, founder of PressBooks and LibriVox.org. With anecdotes from his biography, Mr Mcguire encouraged us to be proactive in solving big problems.

We had another keynote speaker on Friday, Michael Feldstein of Mindwires Consulting and co-producer of e-Literate TV. He confessed to being something of a provocateur and he succeeded in raising a few hackles when he asked “Do law schools exist?” among other questions.

He challenged us to do better at teaching students with different learning styles and skill-sets.

My two favorite presentations out of many excellent sessions that I attended were “The WeCite Project” by Pablo Arredondo from Casetext and “So you’ve digitized U.S. caselaw, now what?” by Adam Ziegler and Jack Cushman from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.

Pablo described teaching students to be their own legal shepherds by gamifying the creation and categorization of citator entries. The result of this effort is a database of every outgoing citation from the last 20 years of Supreme Court majority opinions and federal appellate courts, unambiguously labelled either as a positive, referencing, distinguishing, or negative citation. This data will be hosted by us (LII) and made freely available without restriction. In addition to the valuable data, he also shared how to engage students, librarians and research instructors as partners in the free law movement.

After a brief presentation of some of the ways they are beginning to use data from all the digitized case laws, Adam and Jack invited us to imagine what we could do with data. I can see possibilities for topic modeling, discovery of multi-faceted relationships between cases, and mapping of changes in contract conditions, etc. Many more features, tools and use cases were suggested by the other attendees. We welcome you to send us your personal wish list for features to make this information useful to you.

I also participated in a panel discussion on software management of large digital archives, moderated by Wilhelmina Randtke (Florida Academic Library Services Cooperative), along with Jack Cushman and Wei Fang (Assistant Dean for Information Technology and Head of Digital Services, Rutgers Law Library).

There was so much interest in the Oyez Project moving to the LII, that Craig’s presentation on LII’s use of web analytics, was replaced by a discussion hosted by Craig and Tim Stanley (Justia) on the transition. The rather lively discussion was made all the more entertaining by an impromptu costume change by Craig. The prevailing sentiment after the discussion was that the Oyez Project was in the best possible hands and ‘safe’.

An unexpected bonus were the number of LII users who made it a point to complement the LII and express how useful they find our services. One particularly enthusiastic fan was DeAnna Swearington, Director of Operations at Quimbee.com (Learning tools for law students). I also met Wilson Tsu, CEO of LearnLeo and a Cornell alum, who had fond memories of when the LII first started. There were also several former law students who told me how invaluable the LII collections had been to them in school and continues to be in their current occupations.

All in all, a successful and enlightening conference. A big thank you to the organizers. They did an excellent job. I am already looking forward to next year!

Sylvia
LII Text Systems Developer

Thank you — all of you — for your generosity during our June fundraising appeal. hattip
Your exceptional generosity made this the most successful June campaign in the LII’s history by a very wide margin ( a 15% increase over its next nearest competitor, in June of 2014).
Your donations make it possible for us to do what we do in important, innovative ways.  The LII is, and always has been, more than an online service offering the raw text of American statutes and regulations.  We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make legal information easier to use and understand, and it’s your contributions that let us put those ideas into action.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be quietly rolling out two important improvements to our Code of Federal Regulations collection.  It will now use the e-CFR as its base text, making it the most up-to-date and usable version of CFR available online.  Experiments with the eCFR text have been underway for a few months, and we now think it’s reliable and full-featured enough to put in the “top spot”.  And — after three years of experimentation and development work with natural-language processing techniques — we’ve extracted and linked all of the defined terms in the text of CFR to the definitions that apply to them.  This is a very basic — but very important — step in helping people to understand the law.  Definitions are, after all, the first step for most people in figuring out whether a reg applies to them or not.
It’s your donations that make all this possible.  Thank you, once again.

In 2008, more than 70 judges from around the world attended the
Senior Roundtable for Women’s Justice in Women & JusticeWashington, D.C. They expressed a desire for a permanent place where they could continue their fight to improve the status of women and girls around the world. Cornell answered the call, lined up funding from the Avon Foundation for Women, and opened the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.

For most of the last decade, the Avon Center pursued four major initiatives in support of its mission: holding events, undertaking clinical projects; providing legal research assistance for judges; and developing an online database of relevant case law from around the globe.

Unfortunately, outside funding has come to an end, and the Center is closing.  This is where the Avon Center’s story becomes an LII story.

At the request of the outgoing Executive Director and with the approval of Law School Dean Eduardo Penalver, we will take over the operation of the Women & Justice caselaw collection.  

“We do a lot at the LII, but this one is special” says Associate Director Craig Newton.  “One of my best friends during law school was the first Avon Center Fellow, and I called her right away when I learned we might have a role in keeping the Center’s work alive.”  But, the mission is more than personal: “this is a unique and valuable collection of case law, and we are perfectly positioned not just to host it but to grow it.”

Newton plans to leverage the LII’s network of volunteers to help find and summarize additional cases for the database.  To help, please email us at LIIwomenandjusticeproject@gmail.com.

Once we have the database ported over to LII’s servers, we’ll begin organizing our work to make this important database downright essential to those in pursuing justice for girls and women on a global scale.  

If you can’t contribute your time and expertise to this project, please consider making a financial contribution that will enable and enhance our abilities to manage this and other projects in the future.  

The Power of the Hyperlink, May 2016 Edition

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Jun 072016

add_link-512Each month, we plan to share with you a cross-section of the websites that have referred traffic to our collections–collections that you help maintain and grow with your support of the LII.  These are actual examples of how journalists, bloggers, and scads of folks on social media all amplify our efforts to provide free legal reference information by sharing our materials on the Internet.  In turn, they magnify your support of those efforts.

In May, visitors from 16,392 different websites around the world followed links to our content.  At the top of the list are the usual suspects like major social media sites and Wikipedia.  While we love those sites–and their traffic, of course–we thought this sampling of other websites who sent traffic our way might interest you. Our focus this month: News outlets.

There’s the “fourth estate” folks:

Baltimore Sun

  • Linking to Federal Rules of Evidence 413 & 414

CNBC

  • Linking to a section of the Affordable Care Act

Los Angeles Times

  • Linking to a section of the Communications Decency Act

NY TImes (here, here, here, here, here, here & here)

  • Linking mostly to U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Washington Post  

  • Quoting and linking to our Wex definition of defamation

Then, there’s the little guys:

Bangor Daily News

  • Linking to a section of federal labor law

Picayune Item

  • Quoting the federal definition of an “open alcoholic beverage container”

Rome (Ga) News Tribune

  • Linking to our Bulletin Preview of Foster v. Chatman

And, of course, there’s plenty of “new media” too:

Ars Technica (here & here)

  • Quoting the four-factor test for fair use in federal copyright law

Huffington Post (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here & here)

  • Linking mostly to U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Slate (there were 130 from slate.com, this one sent us the most traffic)

  • A little bit of everything….

 

These were just some of our favorites.   Feel free to let us know when you see the LII quoted by your favorite websites.

cfr-logo-final-3.0.2015-07-13-104248No, it’s not a logo and tagline for the Code of Federal Regulations we all know and love (it actually belongs to an IT firm in Kuala Lumpur).  But it got us thinking:  what tagline should be on the CFR?  So we thought we’d run a caption contest and see what you come up with.

We can’t offer prizes beyond bragging rights, but the first, second, and third-place winners will be reported in our next newsletter, and if you’re ever in the same town as Tom Bruce, Craig Newton, or Sara Frug, they’ll buy you a beverage of your choice.   

Have fun!

 

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The Full Value of Our Donors

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Jun 072016

moreOK, I’ll come right out and say it:  I’m an amateurish and awkward spokesman for the LII, and I often look around to see how other organizations talk about themselves and their donors.   

Yesterday, I ran a Google search with that in mind. The first page of 10 search results contained 8 mentions of money and two of blood (before you worry about what that means, exactly, recall that the Red Cross is a big presence on the Web).  It was a little frightening, in the age of Wikipedia, crowdsourcing, and contributed content,  to see how many organizations see the communities that share their mission and beliefs exclusively as a source of financial support.

It’s true: your support often comes to us as money. We’re very grateful for that. But it means much, much more.  In ways both large and small, you help us to bring law to millions of people for free.  And you remind us that there are people out there, like you,  who care about the same things we do.  That’s a very, very good thing for us — we meet so few of the people we serve, and there are things that analytics and usage data just don’t give us.

Thank you for every bit of that.

The LII is, more than anything else, a creative space — somewhere where it’s possible to try new things.  24 years ago, we started out as a couple of guys who were thinking differently about how legal information could be communicated, and even more differently about who needs legal information and why.   You help us protect and maintain that space, in more ways than one.

You’re one of the few ways we have of finding out what our impact really is.  We can look at logfiles and statistics all day, and while we do learn something from that, it mostly takes the form of dry if impressive statistics — 30 million people used the site last year, but why?  To find out more, we ask you to complete surveys, or answer questions, and a surprising number of you do.   A good few of you have sent us stories over the years that describe in detail what you use the LII for and what sort of impact it has on your life, or on the lives of those that you help in turn.  We’ve talked to a few others (too few) in person, and every time we do we learn something interesting about the effect that open access to law has on real people with real problems. We’d like to hear more about that.

(of course, those stories are also a reminder that your donations are changing things for hundreds or thousands of people)

Others help us out with expertise — and that expertise comes in every size and shape that you can possibly imagine.  Some of our users pay very careful attention to changes in the statutes and regulations — and tip us off when we need to correct something. Others have suggested features; three of our users more or less simultaneously suggested that we link the IRS written determinations to the sections of the tax code that they interpret (one of them was the tax expert for our parent University). Margaret Felts, a long-time LII donor, donated her expertise in environmental law to a fracking-law visualization project we did a couple of years ago.  Frank Wagner, a long-time LII supporter who just happens to have been the longest-serving Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court, mentors the students who write the LII Supreme Court Bulletin.  And many of you have written materials for WEX. As Craig writes elsewhere in this newsletter, we just received 10,000 hours of audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments (and the website that publishes them) as a charitable gift — that’s really big.  But every single one of you who sends us even the smallest correction or question or suggestion improves the site for everyone.

2017 will mark our 25th year of operation — that’s at least a sesquicentennial in Internet time. We’re thinking about what it means to have been around for so long, and where we want to go next.  You have been a big part of shaping that history and you’ll be a big part of shaping our future.  We’d like to know more about what you value about us, what you can imagine us doing, where you would like us to go.  Let us know by writing me.  I promise you it’s going to be interesting.

And once again, thank you for all you’ve done for the cause of open access to law, and for the 30 million people who benefit from the LII’s services every year.

Cornell Saves the Oyez Project

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Jun 072016

logoThat was the headline of a recent post at Southern California Appellate News reacting to an article earlier that day by Tony Mauro in the online National Law Journal detailing an arrangement between the LII and Justia Inc. to assume operations of Oyez, the online home of Supreme Court oral argument transcripts and audio files.

Since we’ve never been very good at talking about ourselves, we thought we’d let the others do it for us this time.  When he broke the story in a May 25th article titled “‘Oyez Project’ New Home Will Keep Supreme Court Audio Free to Public,” Mr. Mauro aptly noted that the United States Supreme Court “has taped oral arguments for the last 60 years and deposited them with the National Archives. Oyez makes the audio available on its website with additional information, including searchable transcripts that are synchronized to the audio.”

Several other bloggers picked up the National Law Journal story, such as Friend of the LII Paul Caron in his popular TaxProf Blog, and Jamie Baker blogging as The Ginger (Law) Librarian.  James R. Jacobs at Free Government Info (www.freegovinfo.info) called the NLJ story “great news.”  Mr. Jacobs wrote he was “afraid that some for-profit publisher like Westlaw or LexisNexis was going to scoop it up.”  He concluded, “Public domain crisis averted!”

In addition to the NLJ story, LII Director Tom Bruce along with Justia CEO Tim Stanley and Oyez founder Jerry Goldman also sat for an interview with Legal Tech blogger and LII friend Bob Ambrogi.  Bob’s story succinctly describes the new arrangement as such: “Oyez will move to the LII as its new home, with infrastructure and technical support from Justia, which had already been quietly supporting the Oyez site for several years.”

        Bob’s story goes on to quote both of LII’s partners in this project:

“I couldn’t be more pleased to know that Tom and his folks at LII will be the stewards and curators of Oyez,” Goldman told me yesterday during a phone call that also included LII Director Thomas R. Bruce and Justia cofounder Tim Stanley. Both Goldman and Bruce gave Stanley credit for his role in orchestrating the move.

“I think this will be good for Oyez,” said Stanley. “The LII has lots of good tech and editorial people. I also personally like that it’s going over to an academic nonprofit group. I think that to keep it open and available is really important.”

But, as usual, the last word belongs to LII Director Tom Bruce.  As he told Bob Ambrogi, “Are there a million things that we can do? Yes. Are there ways that we can use it to up our game in terms of our own Supreme Court resources? Absolutely.”

We look forward to “upping our game” with Oyez; and, when we do, you’ll read about it here.

New Supreme Court Bulletin Student Leadership

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May 062016
20160419_142014

Jenna & Nicole

We recently selected new leadership for our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews.  Jenna Howarth is the new Editor in Chief, and the new Executive Editor is Nicole Greenstein.   

Jenna graduated magna cum laude from Boston College in 2014 with a degree in English and a minor in Economics.  While an undergraduate, she interned at a Boston courthouse, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ Justice Initiative, and a Boston law firm.  After her first year at Cornell Law School, she spent the summer working in the Child Protection Unit of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.  Add to that the time she spent at a publishing company, and it’s easy to see the intellect, experience, and passion she brings to the Supreme Court Bulletin.  

Jenna is excited to lead the Bulletin during the Court’s 2016-17 term.  She says, “I have really enjoyed the work I have done for the Bulletin this past year, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to contribute even more in this new role going forward. We have already begun implementing some of our new ideas for the Bulletin and have selected a very strong Editorial Board and associate class to create more great previews next year.”

Nicole is a self-professed “grammar geek” who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 with degrees in English and Political Science.  With minors in both Journalism and Consumer Psychology, she spent two summers working at TIME Magazine.  During those stints, she saw her reporting featured as the #1 “Most Popular” story on TIME Politics and #3 on TIME.com.  Reporting on politically charged issues such as the 2012 elections, US foreign relations, and revelations about the National Security Agency, Nicole decided that law school was the next step for her.  

Nicole balances her interest in politics with the Bulletin’s decidedly apolitical editorial policies.  She says, “I have always admired LII’s mission to inform the public about important legal issues in an accessible manner. It is an honor to be a part of such a wonderful organization, and I look forward to another great year for the Bulletin.”

Traditionally, the EIC is responsible for setting and enforcing standards and deadlines, as well as training and overseeing the work of the Managing Editors who work directly with the Bulletin’s Associates to create each Preview.  The EE manages the Bulletin’s relationship with the Federal Lawyer magazine and works with LII volunteer Frank Wagner to ensure the pieces we send to the Federal Bar Association for their publication have an additional layer of polish.