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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.

This fall will mark the fifteenth year we’ve published LII Bulletin Previews–student analysis of the cases to be argued before the United States Supreme Court.  (From 1996 – 2004, students previewed cases to be argued before New York State’s highest court–the Court of Appeals.)

Even though the work of this year’s Bulletin Preview staff won’t be complete until the Supreme Court finishes hearing arguments for this term in April, we are already planning for next year.  The first step was choosing leadership from among this year’s class of associates. We are pleased to announce that Kathryn Adamson will be the Editor-in-Chief for 2019-2020 term of the LII Bulletin.  Her Executive Editor will be Angela Zhu.

Kathryn Adamson graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Diego, where she studied International Relations and Spanish.  At Cornell Law, in addition to working on the Bulletin Preview staff, Kathryn is an associate on the Cornell Law Review and an Honors Fellow for the first-year Lawyering skills program.  She has also participated in both mock trial and moot court while at Cornell. Her past legal internship experience includes time at the United State’s Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California and the California Court of Appeal.   

Angela Zhu studied Financial Engineering with a minor in Applied Math and Economics at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.  Like Kathryn, Angela donates her time to the Cornell Law Review. She is also the IT Director for the Cornell Law Students Association and is the President of the Cornell Association of Law and Economics.

I have really enjoyed serving as an associate on the LII Supreme Court Bulletin for the past months. I not only learned about areas of law that I would not encounter in classrooms, but I also formed friendships with other members. As an Executive Editor, there are a lot more responsibilities but I am excited about welcoming new members to the Bulletin and look forward to another great year of previews.

Angela Zhu

Kathryn and Angela will be joined by Isaac Syed as the Bulletin’s Outreach Coordinator, as well as ten of their classmates who will take the title “Managing Editor” and do the critical work of editing the Previews to be produced by next year’s associates.  Kathryn, Angela, Isaac, and the ME’s will choose those associates in the coming weeks through a competitive application process. All of our new leaders are excited about the greater responsibilities of their new positions and are particularly looking forward to welcoming new associates in the fall.   

Click here to access our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews, and find our students on Twitter and Facebook, too.

conan_the_barbarian

The Constitution Annotated, popularly known as CONAN, has been published by the Congressional Research Service since 1913 and provides analysis of the Supreme Court cases interpreting the Constitution. CONAN is highly regarded as a non-partisan publication that helps readers appreciate how Americans’ 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.

For many years, the LII published CONAN on our website and regularly updated it each time the Government Publishing Office (GPO) released a new version. But then GPO stopped making the underlying code publicly available, choosing instead to release only a print version and an unwieldy 2800 page PDF online. Without the software “roadmap” that facilitates not only re-publication but also the sort of feature-rich improvements that distinguish our collections, our online CONAN fell out of date. But, in 2018, with help from open government advocates Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, the LII re-created that XML software map, put it on the web and then used it to improve upon the government’s online version. In addition to being fully up-to-date, LII’s CONAN is easy to find online, to navigate and to search. It’s also accessible to people with disabilities; and, it links directly to close to 9000 Supreme Court cases on our site. Subsequent versions will use Semantic Web technologies to assist interconnection and data integration with other online resources.

“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.”

SCOTUSBlog and Roll Call wrote about our new resource, and The American Association of Law Libraries spread the word in their newsletter. Looking at our traffic stats, we can tell it’s been very popular among educators, from high schools across the country to Duke University and the U.S. Naval Academy. It’s also been used by journalists covering current events and linked to in articles by the Washington Post and the Atlantic among others. Most recently, CNN included a link to Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 that explains the power that Congress has in deciding how money should be appropriated from the Treasury for government projects in an article covering the national state of emergency declared by the President in order to build a wall on the southern border.

Since we made it available to the public this Constitution Day (September 17, 2018) CONAN has now been viewed more than 570,000 times!

We set out to refurbish this resource without being quite certain of the audience because we knew there WAS an audience and thought someone ought to do it form. CONAN is an invaluable document that helps us understand how our interpretation of the Constitution has evolved over the years. Now, a few months in, we are glad to see how quickly it’s been adopted and grown in popularity. And we’d like to say thank you – without your support, this would not be possible! 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.”, and we look forward to making it even easier to find and understand.

You can find the Constitution Annotated here.

Friends:

Just a quick note to say thanks to all of you who made contributions to the LII during our end-of-year fundraising campaign. Your gifts make it possible for millions of people around the world to find and understand the law. You should be proud.

How proud should you be? Good question. We know that your contributions help many, many people in ways that you may not expect. Some of the impact is direct:

I have relied on your website for reliable, quality information for years as a policy researcher for the White House and the NC Lieutenant Governor and Senate, as well as many clients, both nonprofit and governmental. Keep up the great work.

Thank you for providing access to education law, so parents can find & understand the regulations that apply to ed. assessment and placement. We are the parents of a child in the 10th grade. Although we’ve provided multiple, full IEEs at our own expense, our schools refuse to acknowledge any disability. Our son’s poor, basic literacy skills place growing limitations on his current & future access to education. We can’t afford private intervention.

As a retired federal prosecutor who helped put dozens of people in prison and now as a member of the public without a law office, I strongly support free, universal access to the law as the best way to create respect for it. This is the 21st century equivalent of the musty law libraries in thousand of county courthouses across the land.

Some is indirect. A lot of people in our audience make use of what they find here to help others:

Access to your resource helped me to assist a victim of crime in an application for a US visa. My client is a father who, I am arguing, suffered “direct and proximate harm” from his son’s murder. I used your resource to help explain my request for support to a local law enforcement agency.

Your info has helped me win many VA claims for my clients as well as give great info to pro se Veterans. Thank you!

As a solo practitioner, your website has given me the opportunity to conduct legal research on a wide range of topics, without the expense to the client.

This year, we’re especially grateful to you because so many of you pitched in. It was easily the most successful fundraising campaign in our history. Over 4,000 of you helped out, contributing far more than in any prior campaign. More, we’re excited by your endorsement of our work. We meet very few of you in person — but your contributions and your comments remind us of the importance of what we are doing together.

There is one more thing you could do for us. We learn a lot about the impact of our work from the comments that supporters leave when they make online donations. We need to learn more, and so we’ve come up with a survey for donors and non-donors alike. If you could do us a favor and take a few minutes to fill it out, it would be extremely helpful.

Start the survey…

Again, thank you, from all of us. Your generosity means a lot.

T.

Law matters.

I see that theme over and over again as I read our supporters’ comments and stories. We are grateful for each supporter, each donation, each comment, and each story.

Whether it’s a solo practitioner in zealous advocacy for her client, the regulatory web facing small business owners, the daily grind of a career in government service at any level, or just Americans looking to stay informed and empowered, our supporters make it clear time and time again that they support us because we embody something they believe – law matters.

“Simply stated, you bring the power of the law into the reach of ordinary citizens. I am most appreciative. Keep up the good work!”

LII donor Mark D.

The Legal Information Institute started 26 years ago with a simple question: we’re all bound by the law, why don’t we all have access to it? This old video we made still rings true. When we started, creators and publishers of legal materials balked at the notion that the law needed to be easily accessible by the public. Now accessibility is the default, and those who would profit from putting the law behind paywalls must explain themselves.

That means that each day, more and more “ordinary citizens” are finding reliable yet free answers to their questions about newsworthy topics that relate to politics, the Constitution, or the Supreme Court, as well as the more mundane but no less important sections of the US Code and the CFR that govern our lives

High-quality, structured, machine-readable data is becoming the standard, and the result is a bevy of free and low-cost services, databases, and “legal tech” of every shape and form. Attorneys, students, and even the judiciary are becoming ever less reliant on high-priced subscriptions and poorly-designed government sites as Free Law takes hold.

Those aren’t mere conveniences: they increase access to justice.

“I visit your site frequently, especially when researching 49 CFR for my consulting work, and 38 CFR for veterans’ claims. Since my work with veterans on their disability claims is pro bono, having the laws readily available, easily searchable and free is extremely helpful. Thanks for all the good work.”

LII Donor Margaret Felts

Law matters. It’s what we do. It’s what so many of you do, too. Thank you for helping us.

We know you’re busy this time of year – thank you for taking the time to read this. Many of you have already pitched in or are planning to make a donation to help LII this year. It makes an enormous difference to the nine of us who provide this service and the millions and millions of people who use it. Thank you.

This time of year has been keeping us busy as well, and the feedback you’ve been sending us has been truly heartening.

“I look up Federal Rules and statutes on LII all the time. It is the easiest and best-formatted site for a quick lookup.” – recent donor William Hubbard

Not long ago, I popped by my colleague Val’s office and discovered her making final pre-publication checks for the Federal Rules updates before they went into effect on December 1st. Unlike the rest of the US Code, the Federal Rules are not made available in a machine-readable format until after they go into effect, so we have always reviewed each change and new rule individually and incorporated them by hand into the text so that users like you would have the changes as soon as they go into effect. The last step is the pre-publication review: where Val’s colleague Craig reads the new text aloud while Val reviews the copy we’ve edited and are ready to share with users like you. It’s painstaking work, and not really the kind of thing a tech-forward group like ours usually talks about, but then we get to hear from some of the two million law students, paralegals, judges, and lawyers who rely on those rules.

“I am an MS Taxation student and I am using this site every day. It is wonderful” – Anji, a recent donor

LII’s engineering team has been prototyping new features for the US Code and the Code of Federal Regulations for some time now. But when we went to bring these features to the public, we realized that our publishing software was too slow. Even though we could keep up with legislative or regulatory updates (there are usually no more than a few thousand in a day), it was a strain to regenerate the hundreds of thousands of web pages to deploy each new feature across every section – or even just the Tax Code. So the engineering team rebuilt our web publication pipeline from the ground up – Sylvia tuned the software that finds the processed text; Nic automated bringing in extra cloud hardware for processing; Ayham wrote a new search back end, and Jim wrote the software to generate the website from the content. Now, when we learn something new about the Code, we’ll be able to get it to you – and 20 million other readers of the US Code and CFR – without delay. We know you appreciate that.

“I use your site regularly. It is the most current, and easiest to use, free site for access to the US Code.” – an anonymous donor

Your support helps us help millions of people advance their educations, earn a living, make government more effective, or simply find and understand the law. We hope you will continue to help us help out.

DONATE NOW

Thank you,

Sara Frug
Associate Director
Legal Information Institute

The best part about fundraising is the people we meet and the stories they tell us about why they support our mission.  We’re so grateful for each and every one (donors AND stories!), and we want to hear your stories. Our new friend Gretchen Eikermann sent us a donation last week and told us this story:

The reason I was using the website last night was to assist my niece, an 8th grader, with her homework. The homework was essentially to determine whether the narrator of A Telltale Heart would qualify for the insanity defense in any of its iterations for a mock trial this Friday. Although I specialized in defending persons suffering from mental illness and developmental disability as a Public Defender, I would have been hard pressed completing this assignment following her teacher’s instructions to use the inscrutable search results Findlaw produces as my reference. My niece called me utterly confused and panicked trying to figure out what the heck M’Naughten and Durham were. I sent her the link to your site’s Insanity Defense page and by the time I called her back to “explain the law” she had pretty much figured it out herself after reading your site’s clear and accessible, but not “dumbed down” information on the law of insanity defense. She is no longer panicked but excited for her mock trial.  I was excited that she was excited about the law.

We sit in a literal tower on a college campus in a little city in Upstate New York.  Over 40 million people use our resources each year. In the typical year, we only hear from a few hundred of you (most donors don’t leave comments of any sort.)  So, for every great story we hear, we’re sure there are lots we don’t. So we thought we’d ask.

Please consider taking a minute to email us your best story about how you’ve used the materials at www.law.cornell.edu or www.oyez.org by clicking here.

Or, if you’ve been meaning to support our fundraising efforts anyhow, you can click on the button below and leave your story in the Comment box on the donation page.

GIVE NOW

Thanks,

Tom, Sara, Craig, Val, Nic, Sylvia, Jim, Ayham & Neli