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Multiply your Giving Tuesday impact

We have a lot to be thankful for. With the help of supporters like you, we have weathered difficult times of the pandemic and emerged with a sense of wonder and excitement, ready to use the dizzying array of new tools we can now bring to bear on the challenge of making the law accessible and understandable for the public. Although circumstances have changed dramatically – and often chaotically – for many of our supporters, those who are able to pitch in have continued to come together and help ensure not only our continued operation but also a future we can envision with optimism. And for today, Giving Tuesday, a generous group of donors have agreed to multiply the impact of your gift by matching all donations up to $20,000.   

Thanksgiving is well known as a time of year when everyone comes together. For us, it is also the start of one of those magical seasons when everything comes together. The U.S. Constitution Annotated is fully updated and will remain so for a while; the annual federal rules update is teed up to be published as soon as the new rules go into effect; the law and engineering students we work with are bringing their fall semester projects to their respective conclusions, yielding new content and features for our ever-growing collections. 

“I reference LII almost daily for work. I find the cross-references and organizational structure intuitive and easy to navigate.”

Most importantly, it is the season when we get to hear from people for whom the website makes a difference: people from all walks of life – and all corners of the globe – who are empowered by the information you help us provide day in, day out, for free. 

“The LII is invaluable, especially to laypeople, to whom it allows easy access to the law, and to law students (I teach them) whom it frees from the need to buy expensive statutory supplements. Thank you!”

“I am a freelance English to Chinese translator and use your site often. Thank you for providing great and valuable legal information on this site!”

“I have used this resource for 20 years. Thank you!!”

I can’t say it often enough: we could not do any of this without the support you offer us. Thank you for your help. 

With gratitude from all of us at LII.

What Birthday is Complete Without Presents?

We got ourselves a little something for our birthday.  And it was, admittedly, some time in the making.  

Just before our former Director and LII co-founder Tom Bruce retired in the summer of 2019, we sat him down along with LII’s other co-founder, Peter Martin, for an interview about LII’s founding and its early days. Fastcase CEO and Cornell Law School Adjunct Professor (and all-around great guy and friend to Free Law) Ed Walters generously agreed to conduct the interview.  

We spent that year’s budget just getting the interview filmed, and before we could spend the next year’s allocated funds to edit the video, COVID-19 changed the game. So we’ve been saving our pennies and holding on to the raw footage all through the pandemic. We decided to splurge a little bit for our birthday, and we went ahead and hired a vendor to edit the raw footage and produce a finished product.

We hope you’ll take some time to learn a little bit more about the humble origins of this service that now helps more than 40 million people each year find and understand the law. 

Watch the video here.

Pictures from Our 30th Birthday Party

On October 25th, we went ahead and threw ourselves and the students, staff, and faculty of the Cornell Law School a 30th birthday party.  In less than 45 minutes, we’d handed out close to a hundred (tiny) slices of a (giant) sheet cake as well as all 72 cupcakes we’d prepared for the occasion (and also all 144 cans of various flavored sparkling waters we bought “just in case” folks wanted something to drink, too). It was waaay more food than the school’s event planner had recommended for a “typical” event, and it was gone.  Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, providing for free the good stuff that people value and breaking traffic records in the process is just what we do!  
Anyway, we hope you enjoy these photos from the event.  

A Birthday Glow-Up

We know we look our age–and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But everyone can use a little glow up on occasion.  So, we’ve taken some time over the last year to think through what we want the LII “brand” to convey to everyone from those of you who are on our site almost every day to others who arrive for the very first time from a search engine and don’t know what they’re looking at.  

While we are far from finished, we are ready to show the world some small changes–starting with the new logo on the birthday cake photo in the first article.  You may have already noticed the new template of our newsletter or this blog post.  You’ll see similar changes on our social media accounts.  Bulletin subscribers will also see a new design on the Previews that arrive in their inbox next month.  There are even some small changes to the website itself.  There’s more to come in the long term, but in the meantime we’ll spare you the press release lingo and simply say we hope you like the new look. 

Over 30, but Still Trustworthy

The phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” has its roots in the student activism of the 1960s. LII turned 30 years old last month but we very much hope that you’ll continue to trust us as an unbiased source for statutes, regulations, Supreme Court content, and everything else we publish. The original sentiment behind that phrase – don’t trust anyone over 30 – was, according to the person who uttered it, meant to dismiss a reporter who implied that there must be some “sinister” group behind the student activism that was sweeping across many college campuses. In other words, the Establishment is old, new ideas are young, and the two don’t mix.

As LII contemplates its own future, we feel aspects of this paradox acutely.  For us, the question usually presents itself as how do we continue to experiment and innovate while maintaining a service that more than 40 million people rely on each year? Processing the latest quarterly update to our State Regulations collection or updating old Wex entries usually doesn’t feel like pushing the envelope, but it’s what a mature organization must do in order to keep the goodwill we’ve earned over the past three decades.  

So, we choose new projects carefully. We collaborate with other organizations enthusiastically. We employ students liberally to explore new ideas and technologies. And we constantly strive to strike that balance between stoking the flame of enthusiastic innovation on one hand and maintaining reliable resources on the other.  

And you can trust us on that.  

New Addition to the LII Team

We’re pleased to announce Eric Gullufsen has joined LII’s engineering team as an application developer. A self-taught technologist, Eric began his coding adventures at college in Northern California, where he earned a B.A. in Mathematics. Eric is adept in many coding environments and has contributed to several large open-source projects (LLVM, FreeBSD). Prior to working for LII, Eric was a senior software developer at the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development. Thus far at LII, his work has focused on Continuous Integration/Testing systems and server-side/backend code.

International Open Access Week Talk: What does “open access” look like for the incarcerated?

LII’s Original Content Collections Manager (and resident librarian) Nichole McCarthy moderated a talk as part of Cornell University’s line up of events for International Open Access Week. 

What does “open access” look like for the incarcerated? The short answer is, there is no such thing as “open access” in a correctional facility. However, access to information and education in correctional facilities is still essential. Instead of talking specifically about “open access” efforts, the panel discussed the ways in which The Cornell Prison Education Program and Cornell Library work together to provide access to information to those receiving an education while incarcerated.

Watch a recording of the talk here.

2022 Frank Wagner Prize for Best Supreme Court Bulletin Preview

As we start the new Supreme Court Term, we’d like to announce the winners of our annual Frank Wagner Prize contest for outstanding work during the prior term. The Frank Wagner Prize is funded by an anonymous donor and named for Frank Wagner, the longest-tenured Reporter of Decisions at the Court and a friend of the LII until his passing in 2016.

The runner up from the 2021-22 term was the Preview of Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, written by Danielle Dominguez (‘23) and Jennifer Seidman (‘23) and edited by Alyssa Ertel.  

The winner of the Wagner Prize for the 2021-22 was the Preview of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, written by Arisa Herman (‘23) and Amaris Cuchanksi (‘23) and edited by Marisa Pagan-Figueroa (‘22).

A special thank you to Adjunct Professor Michael Sliger, whom the students consulted for Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta and Professors Nelson Tebbe & Michael Heise who lent their expertise to the winning Preview, as well as to all the faculty at Cornell Law School who graciously share their time and their knowledge with LII students as they seek to understand the issues, arguments, and ramifications of each case argued before the Supreme Court and then share those insights with readers of our Supreme Court Bulletin service. 

Annual Report 2022

Impacts

Traffic 

LII is reaching more people than ever. In Fiscal ‘22, 45 million people visited the website, engaging in 74 million sessions and viewing 177 million pages of content. Though delighted, we were frankly a bit surprised. If you read our FY21 annual report, you’d have seen an acknowledgment of the Cornell Chronicle article on the traffic spikes we experienced around the major events of 2020-21 (Covid, Black Lives Matter protests, and January 6th insurrection). And if you’d asked us to make a prediction, we’d have expected traffic to decrease. Even though it was clear that the U.S. Supreme Court was headed for controversy, the coverage from the Court’s own website, along with news outlets, blogs, and, for any given issue, advocacy organizations with deep subject matter coverage typically keeps our own traffic to Court-related content at a relatively steady level. 

Yet, LII sustained a traffic spike on decision day for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that was roughly equivalent to the traffic level of January 6, 2021. Our copies of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the U.S. Constitution Annotated on abortion, and LII’s Wex article on privacy trended alongside Dobbs itself.  For the weekend that began with the release of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Friday, June 24, more than 1.1 million people came to the website and viewed almost 2 million pages of content.  (That is 270% more visitors and 130% more pages viewed than during the same weekend in 2021.)

Surrounding this large traffic spike were smaller trends — often showcasing the work of Cornell Law students: the LII Supreme Court Bulletin preview for West Virginia v. EPA began trending on June 23rd, bringing the total pageviews for the fiscal year above 14,000 after fewer than 200 at the time of initial publication. The Wex article on separation of church and state (updated by the students on the Wex Definitions Team in the spring of 2021) trended alongside Kennedy v. Bremerton School District when it was decided on June 27th. And the preview of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen received over 1000 pageviews on decision day, finishing the term with over 27,000 hits. Perhaps most impressively, LII Supreme Court Bulletin previews received an average of over 22 minutes of users’ attention — many times the average time on page for the vast majority of LII content.

Who entrusts us with their readers

We are proud to say that nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, news outlets, and all levels of government continued to extend their vote of confidence in our resources by sending us their readers. In the past year, we received referrals from the Small Business Administration, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the government of Massachusetts. The American Bar Association, iCivics, and the Tenant Resource Center all sent us traffic. We received referrals from learning management platforms like Google Classroom and universities across the United States. Although we’ve yet to top the January 6th related peaks in links from news articles, we received referrals from news outlets including the Washington Post, NPR, CNN and Fox News.

Global reach

Beyond the United States, LII served more than 9.4 million readers across the world in 242 countries and territories. Although the composition of the top countries by traffic is remarkably stable year over year, the rankings shifted a bit: this year, China increased its traffic by better than 58%, rising above Canada and the UK to reach #4 (behind India and the Philippines). Nigeria captured the #10 slot, and North Korea registered visitors for a second year, though this time only two readers instead of three. 

But the traffic report only goes so far. We rely—flourish, really—on feedback from our readers, most of whom use LII for their work, but whose work varies quite broadly. This year, we were grateful to hear from so many who were willing to let us share their testimonials:

An indispensable source for scholars who are not lawyers. 

John M. Abowd, Edmund Ezra Day Professor Emeritus of Economics, Statistics and Data Science at Cornell University

I’ve long relied on LII working for a tiny federal agency without a large budget. Over the past year, I found myself using it with my child to help with remote learning. Thank you!

Dorothy Avery

A retired lawyer with experience in a wide range of specializations, I still do considerable pro bono legal work. Now on a fixed income I can do so in part because you make that so much easier. Keep up the great work.

Kathleen F. O’Reilly

Thank you so much. I point my students in college to your site as reliable info. YAY!

Stella H.

Legal resources provided by LII have aided me in law enforcement for more than 25 years. I greatly appreciate the service.

Steven Douglas

Whenever I have needed to find administrative law filings by the Federal Communications Commission affecting the amateur radio service and other wireless services that were difficult to find elsewhere, the excellent indexing of the Legal Information Institute has always provided me that for which I had sought.

Brent L Carruth, PhD

Invaluable resource for people who don’t subscribe to pricey legal search engines.

Mark Weston

I use your site regularly to review historic Supreme Court cases regarding the Constitution, to properly understand the Oath I swore when accepting my commission. Thank you for a resource an engineer can understand.

Douglas M.

I have used this resource for 20 years. Thank you!

Chrysti Gilbreth

Thank you for your invaluable service!  You enhance Cornell’s reputation.

Rosemary Pye, JD ’74

Project Updates

Wex

Fiscal ‘22 saw clear results from the emphasis we have placed in recent years on improving Wex, our collection of original, straightforward explanations of legal terms and concepts. Our students have now revised or created more than 4,000 Wex entries since this renovation initiative began in 2020. As a direct result, the public is finding Wex in much higher numbers than ever before. Wex usage in Fiscal ‘22 jumped over 40%, from a little more than 16 million pageviews in FY21 to almost 23 million in FY22. The most popular Wex pages over the last fiscal year were articles explaining the Second, Fifth, and First Amendments to the US Constitution, followed by the definitions of “contract,” “federalism,” “due process,” and “defamation,” as well as our summary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion.

Supreme Court Bulletin

As always, the thirty-six students who research, draft, and edit our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews provided the public with important analysis of the arguments made by the parties in every case that court heard. Unsurprisingly, the highest-profile cases yielded the most pageviews, with tens of thousands of people reading our students’ explanations of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and West Virginia v. EPA, along with others from the term such as Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. We want to acknowledge the many Law School faculty who assist our students in understanding these cases as they do their research and writing.

The other half of our Bulletin service, where we immediately publish and circulate to subscribers all Supreme Court opinions from a direct feed from the court’s administrators, was also busy in Fiscal 22. Our collection of US Supreme Court opinions saw 40% more traffic during Fiscal 22 than in Fiscal 21. As an interesting insight into how many news services now publish new opinions, as well as the progress the Supreme Court itself has made in publishing its own output, it’s worth noting that our most viewed opinion of FY22–with more than a million unique pageviews–was Roe v. Wade, which returned to the spotlight for obvious reasons.

Women and Justice Collection

Our Women & Justice Collection at the Legal Information Institute provides open access to legal resources related to gender justice from around the world. The first vetted and searchable database of its kind, the Collection hosts domestic, regional, and international caselaw, legislation, and other legal instruments. Each resource is accompanied by a plain-language, one-paragraph summary to help ensure that everyone can understand the laws that govern them. Student researchers edit summaries provided by pro bono law firm associates from White & Case and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; translate summaries; and perform comparative law research for the Collection’s NGO partners. NGO partners include the Democratic Governance & Rights Unit (DGRU) at the University of Cape Town and Cornell’s Death Penalty Worldwide. A representative research project from FY22 summarized evidence laws of 12 southern African countries (Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe) for local bench guides for the Judicial Institute for Africa at the DGRU.

State regulations

Our new state regulations collection, made possible by Public.Resource.Org’s multi-year Code Improvement Commission project, continues with the collaboration of LII, Fastcase, Inc., Justia, Inc., and others. In the past year, we revamped the collection to take advantage of a new, more consistent raw data source. We refined our tools for ingesting, processing, standardizing, enriching, and publishing the regulations of the 50 states in a user-friendly and accessible format, while maintaining access and timely updates for an audience that grew from just a half-million pageviews in FY21 to more than 4 million in FY22. Most importantly for our effort to improve the discoverability and readability of the regulations, we worked with two teams of M.Eng. students to analyze and mine the text of the regulations for legally significant features (e.g., definitions) that are not marked up explicitly in the text. These applied research projects both leverage what we have learned from our prior work with federal regulations and enable us to take in a much broader range of drafting conventions among the many agencies across the 50 states. We look forward to bringing the resulting features to the public on the LII website over the next year. 

Collaboration

LII staff members continued to serve as a resource to the free access to law movement and legal technology projects, collaborating with a number of groups in government, non-profits, and industry—including the Government Publishing Office, the Center for Computer Aided Legal Instruction, and a range of startup companies. We continued to serve as a formal advisor to the National Science Foundation-funded project FAI: Using AI to Increase Fairness by Improving Access to Justice, and two of our technologists with experience in legal informatics research joined the FAI research team, exploring techniques and providing feedback on evaluation. We also maintained representation on the editorial boards of two journals: the Journal of Open Access to Law, and Law in Context, which “publishes socio-legal articles that explore the social, historical, economic, political, and technological aspects of the operation of law”.

Finances

Though a part of Cornell Law School, LII receives no direct funding from Cornell and is entirely self-funded.  As always, none of this would be possible without support from friends like you.  As we are fond of saying: we would be irrelevant without real people using the information we publish to solve real problems, and we would be impossible without your generous financial support each year. Thank you again this year for your support of LII.

What Are the Resources at Public.Resource?

We’ve written quite a bit in this newsletter and in others about Public.Resource.Org. While one might get the impression that “PRO” exists primarily to engage the kind of litigation that led to, for example, its 2020 Supreme Court win in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, there is much more to the organization than going to court to fight for Free Law. While we’ve also written recently about the PRO-led coalition that puts the regulations of all 50 states on our website, we thought we’d use this installment in our series of spotlighting other free legal resources online to talk about some of what PRO makes available to the public directly through its webpage.  

PRO is largely the work of one person, Carl Malamud–though he’s always quick to give credit to other contributors to his projects, no matter how small their role. The homepage at public.resource.org features mostly Carl’s activism on behalf of freeing the law from behind paywalls. There, you can explore current and past PRO projects and watch videos where Carl articulates the problems and his solutions. 

At the top of the page is a second tab labeled “law.resource.org.” Clicking on that will take you to a new page. From there, you’ll find hyperlinks to official state codes, thousands of global safety codes, and even the public safety codes of India. Many of these collections are actually housed at the Internet Archive though furnished by PRO. Some are “bulk access” downloads of the text or data associated with the entire collected statutes of a particular state (like this), and others are individual volumes of a state’s codes (like this). And, yes, of course the Official Code of Georgia Annotated is among PRO’s offerings.