Did you know that irs.gov, the official website of the Internal Revenue Service, points visitors to our website? In fact, so far in 2023 it trails only the major search engines, social media platforms, and wikipedia for the number of visitors it has sent to law.cornell.edu.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when all of the traffic referred by irs.gov was to our US Code collection, and that traffic made up almost 5% of visitors to that collection. While the IRS still points to our US Code, there is much more. In fact, only 5 of the top 10 pages on our website for receiving traffic from irs.gov are U.S. Code sections. Four others are in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
Most exciting, though, is the top page on law.cornell.edu to receive traffic from irs.gov: this one. That is the statutory definition of “recovery startup business,” as extracted from 26 U.S. Code Section 3134(c)(5) by an automated technique we first developed more than a decade ago. And this seems to be the IRS webpage that points there.
While it’s always gratifying to see anyone (and especially government agencies) point to our website to help information seekers find what they are looking for, it’s especially exciting to see our Definitions Feature gaining traction with the outside world. (We’ve long watched with satisfaction as an increased number of visitors each year have clicked on the machine-extracted definitions while reading our U.S. Code and CFR collections.) Part of that excitement stems from our current focus on expanding the Definitions Feature to our newest major collection–state regulations. When we get that up and running, you’ll definitely read about it here!
The New York Civil Legal Aid Tech conference is another favorite of ours. A few times we’ve been able to attend in person. This time, the conference was designed to be attended virtually, making it affordable for a much broader audience than ever before. The virtual conference was also structured to enable attorneys to earn Continuing Legal Education credits, thus maximizing the utility of the time attendees were able to spend.
Topics ranged from access to justice and technology leadership to cybersecurity and web accessibility. A number of presentations reflected on the ways in which the experience of the pandemic shifted the ground with regard to online forms, remote legal services, and remote legal proceedings. And, of course, no conference this year would be complete without a presentation on artificial intelligence and access to justice. There, the topics ranged broadly from algorithmic bias to accuracy and data privacy concerns arising from rapid adoption of large language models via services like ChatGPT.
We were delighted to see Cornell represented at this conference, which has lately been hosted at Cornell Tech. Matt D’Amore, Director of the Law, Technology & Entrepreneurship Program at Cornell Tech and Cornell Law, moderated a panel on building cultures of innovation, focusing on the ways in which legal service providers can learn from the experiences of law schools in developing innovation programs, as well as the ways in which they can foster collaboration. Cornell Law students Kyle Burrus and Eliza Hong presented the application their team developed for the Cornell Law School Tenants Advocacy Practicum, the Tenant Rights Chatbot.
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Suffolk Law School’s Legal Innovation and Technology Lab (LITLab). This year’s LITLab conference, which coincided with the Lab’s tenth anniversary, showcased another year of exceptional achievements in building software, training students, and supporting government and non-profit initiatives which serve the public.
The conference started with an address by Suffolk Law School Dean Andy Perlman, who reflected on how much has changed in the Lab’s ten years, noting the continuity of innovation in legal services and the access to justice goals such innovation supports. LITLab Director David Colarusso and Practitioner-in-Residence Quinten Steenhuis designated the first presentation session as a showcase for the people they called the “hidden stars” of the lab — the students who engage in hands-on technology innovation projects as part of their clinical work serving clients. Each of the presentations showed completed work that arose from a challenge to providing service. Tools developed by students included tools that automated the assembly of documents to help clients with needs ranging from tribal court participation to FOIA requests to uncontested divorce to housing voucher discrimination.
The presentation on secrets to collaborating at scale was another standout. Sheriece M. Perry, Director of Court Services and Law Libraries for the Massachusetts Trial Court’s Office of Court Management, Matt Newsted of Illinois Legal Aid, Rochelle Hahn, Director of the Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project, and Amanda Brown, founder and executive director of Lagniappe Law Lab, a new legal aid technology nonprofit serving Louisiana’s justice community, shared hard-won wisdom about identifying problems, building support, trying out ideas, bringing them to fruition, gathering feedback and then going through the process again.
Throughout the presentations, the topic of new AI-based tools arose frequently. Refreshingly, the projects presented had all given careful thought to the exact capabilities of the tools they were using and how to align these capabilities with their goals. One tool from the Lab was a plugin to some of the form fields that enables users to ask a question in their own words or request a simple explanation or summary of a set of rules or instructions.
There were also some memorable quotes from the presentations – some favorites included:
– “If ChatGPT had existed 10 years ago and you’d asked it for a list of oxymorons, “Legal Innovation” would have been on the list.” (Dean Andy Perlman, Suffolk Law School)
– “Humans are bad at guessing about what other humans want and need.” (Daniel Yi, Senior Counsel for Legal Innovation, Civil Rights Division, US Department of Justice).
– “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African proverb quoted by Sheriece Perry, Director of Court Services and Law Libraries for the Massachusetts Trial Court’s Office of Court Management).
Around this time last year, we used the occasion of the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org to spotlight some other early-stage litigation relevant to open access to law. One year later, it seems appropriate to revisit that litigation and provide an update.
Last year we focused on three cases: American Society for Testing and Materials v. Public.Resource.Org., Inc., 13-cv-1215 (D. D.C.); International Code Council, Inc. v. Upcodes, Inc., 1-17-cv-06261 (S.D. NY); and National Fire Protection Association v. Upcodes, Inc., 2:21-CV-21-5262 (C.D. Cal.). We’ve also previously written about a company called ROSS AI and its litigation with Thomson Reuters, the owners of WestLaw. This is an update on all four cases:
Public.Resource.Org (PRO)—the same group that won the right in the US Supreme Court to publish the official Code of Georgia, Annotated in 2020—remains in litigation with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). ASTM appealed the trial court’s March, 2022 ruling that deemed most of PRO’s publication of ASTM standards fair use where those standards were incorporated by reference into the law of several jurisdictions, and ASTM could demonstrate neither any actual damages nor any profit by PRO resulting from the latter’s publication. The Court of Appeal for the D.C. District heard oral arguments on March 23, 2023 and will issue its opinion in due course.
According to its website, UpCodes, Inc. provides “a comprehensive code compliance platform for anyone involved in the design, construction, or occupancy of buildings.” It has been locked in litigation since 2017 with some of the private entities who draft building codes that are later incorporated by reference into the codes of various jurisdictions. In July of 2022, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss in one of three cases between UpCodes and the International Code Council (ICC). Now, three cases brought by ICC against UpCodes–two alleging copyright infringement and one alleging false advertising–are consolidated and in the discovery phase in the Southern District of New York.
The National Fire Protection Association also sued UpCodes in 2020 in the Central District of California for direct and indirect copyright infringement. Motions for summary judgment are expected and due in mid-May, with a hearing set for late July. Early motion practice makes clear that ICC’s defense of copyright fair use will be front-and-center in those motions.
While these cases are all important to Free Law, primarily for the way they will test and shape the doctrine of copyright fair use in these sorts of materials, nothing looms so large on the horizon as Thomson Reuters v. ROSS Intelligence,1:20-cv-00613 (D. Del.). That is because, in addition to defending itself on the basis of fair use (among myriad other affirmative defenses), ROSS has alleged via counterclaims that WestLaw violates Sections One and Two of the Sherman Antitrust Act as both as an unreasonable restraint of trade and an unlawful monopoly in the “legal search platforms market.” The gist of these claims is that WestLaw uses “anticompetitive sales and licensing regimes supported by a web of sham copyrights and intimidation tactics to crush potential rivals like ROSS.” (Dkt No. 225 at p13, para. 9.) These claims survived a motion to dismiss in 2022 and are not part of the dueling summary judgment motions on other claims now pending before the court.
While the implications of all this litigation should be fairly obvious to supporters of Free Law publishers like LII, the ramifications feel quite a bit larger. For example, we’ve written about our work in supporting an academic artificial intelligence project at the University of Pittsburgh. Copyright law potentially implicates how machine learning and neural network projects are able to access and use primary and secondary legal materials, and these cases will definitely provide clarification on the contours of those limitations.
We’ll keep you updated as these cases resolve. When they do, we’ll have thoughts on what we and others think they seem to mean for Free Law and the legal AI initiatives.
Although AI has been in the news mostly after the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the field of Law and AI research is going strong after more than 30 years. This year, LII language and data scientist Dr. Sylvia Kwakye and engineer Matt Carey, JD, have continued to collaborate with a multi-university research team focusing on applying artificial intelligence techniques to summarize legal texts.
In addition to being involved in meetings of the research teams, Matt is able to apply his legal training to evaluate results, ranking machine-generated summaries of case law to compare what they capture as arguments and identify as issues, reasons, and conclusions, with summaries created by individual experts who read the opinions.
These interrelated research projects aim to increase fairness in the application of artificial intelligence within the legal domain. As we mentioned in other articles, technologies used to serve and govern are front and center for legal practitioners. It’s exciting to see how the research underpinnings of the products we’re all starting to use and experience continues to develop.
The Legal Information Institute welcomed more than 47 million unique visitors to our website in 2022, that’s five million more than last year and an increase of over 12%. A lot of that increase can be attributed to the maturation of some of the projects we’ve been telling you about in recent years. So, we thought we’d give you an update on our progress on those fronts.
So let’s count down the top three LII collections by percent traffic increase for 2022:
Our third busiest collection was busier than ever in 2022, with 40% more user sessions than in 2021. Ever since 2020 when we started the project as a way to employ more students who lost their summer jobs due to COVID-19, we’ve been actively improving this collection by using student workers to revise existing Wex articles and create new ones. And 2022 was no exception, as we improved or added 1,619 definitions. LII staffer Nichole McCarthy supervises the impressive amounts of student labor needed to make that kind of impact, and her colleague Valarie Kimber ensures they all get signed up and paid properly for their work through Cornell University.
In 2021, we added a sizable new collection when we published the regulations of all 50 states in our role as members of the Code Improvement Commission, which is headed by Public.Resource.Org. In 2022, usage of that new collection more than doubled. In fact, our State Regulations collection saw 152% more sessions in 2022 than in its debut year of 2021.
Honorable mention: Our Homepage
Though it’s not a “collection,” our homepage saw a 65% increase in sessions in 2022 versus 2021. Those who’ve visited that page since our 30th Anniversary have seen a revamped page with a new look and feel that has permeated to the entire website. Spearheaded by LII staffer Neli Karabelova, our arguably-overdue brand refresh gives us a cleaner new look that is nowhere more evident than the homepage.
Looking forward to 2023, we have a number of exciting projects that we’re ready to talk about:
First up is the expansion of our definition identification feature from the Code of Federal Regulations into our aforementioned State Regulations, a project led by LII staffer Dr. Sylvia Kwakye and relying on the expertise of Cornell Masters of Engineering students. Readers are already finding the definitions in the federal regulations to be quite useful, with 20% more sessions in the definitions than in 2022.
We’re also excited about a new dataset, prepared by LII staffer Matt Carey, which is an extraction of Standards Incorporated by Reference appearing in the state regulations. This work has exciting ramifications not only for those looking to find and understand the law, but also for researchers attempting to track and explain the pervasiveness of privately-owned standards, which are often difficult for the public to find and access affordably, into the regulations that govern most facets of commercial activity in this country.
Another collection in which we hope that invested technical effort will yield increased public usage is in our newly enhanced version of the Congressional Research Service’s U.S. Constitution Annotated (CONAN). Changes in the source data made this a much more complicated undertaking than we’d hoped, but thanks in no small part to indefatigable new LII staffer Eric Gullufsen, we were able to get it done. Early indications were that traffic to topics in the news supported keeping the collection up to date. Thus far, we’re heartened to see many-multiple increases in readership for articles “Commander in Chief Power and Doctrine and Practice“, “Taxing Power“, “Regulation of the Media“, and (not too surprisingly) “Right to an Abortion“.
Finally, we’ll leave you with a few testimonials from our recent fundraising campaign:
“I have been getting legal information from LII for YEARS. You do very important work, making so much information available to the public. LOVE the SCOTUS reports. Keep up the good work.”
“It is a great site; very informative, useful and easy to access. Thank you!”
“Thanks for providing easy access to statutes and regulations.”
“The Legal Information Institute is an incredibly valuable, free source. I use it frequently in my work as a reporter and editor. I have included links to the Institute’s explanations in my articles far more times than I ever could count.”
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.
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.
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.
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.