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One part of this job that never gets old is seeing traffic pop up in unexpected places: a seldom-accessed section of the US Code, an obscure regulation buried deep in the CFR, or an arcane Supreme Court case that’s somehow made its way into the public consciousness. And we learn a lot about how people interact with the law when current events drive people to our website. Most importantly, these moments make us feel good that we are contributing to the public discourse by making primary source materials easily available to the public, so that debate is informed by what the law actually says and not by what some pundit or Twitter troll claims it says. We watched a textbook example unfold just last week, and we thought it might be fun and informative to share the story with you in a series of images.

It all seems to have started on Twitter:

Tweet by Dennis Merserau @wxdam: It is a violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast and pass it off as official, as President Trump did here. 18 US Code 2074

18 USC §2074 quickly became the most viewed page on our website:

Google Analytics live view: right now: 1298 visitors

It’s always interesting to see where the traffic is coming from. Here are the top 20 sources of traffic into 18 USC §2074 last week (t.co is Twitter):

We even made Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” monologue! (3:20)

By the end of the weekend, the excitement had mostly abated and traffic to 18 USC §2074 had slowed to a mere trickle compared to its peak a few days earlier:

Which brings us back to where we started.  By freeing the law from behind commercial paywalls and ponderous government websites, we help people find the answers they need to run their businesses, solve their problems, understand the world around them, do their jobs, or sometimes just to argue on Twitter.  Thank you for your continuing interest in, and support of, that mission.

Twenty five years anniversary. Birthday cupcake with white burning candles with red border in the form of number Twenty five.

The LII’s Supreme Court Bulletin staff has begun its work researching and drafting Previews of all the cases the Court will hear in its 2019 – 2020 term. The Bulletin has changed and grown since its original founding by members of Cornell Law School’s Classes of 1996 and ‘97.  Until 2004, it focused almost exclusively on New York’s highest court–the Court of Appeals. (LIIBulletin-Patent examined patent cases before the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court in the late ‘90s.) In 2004, the Bulletin switched its focus to the United States Supreme Court.  Since 2005, it has provided student-written analysis of every case to be argued there. These days we reach over 16,000 email subscribers and over 290,000 website visitors every year with our Supreme Court previews. We are also consistently referenced by SCOTUSBlog and featured in each issue of the Federal Bar Association’s magazine, The Federal Lawyer.

In March, we introduced you to the new student leadership of the LII Bulletin, Editor-in-Chief Kathryn Adamson, Executive Editor Angela Zhu, and Outreach Coordinator Isaac Syed.  They are now joined by a complete team of Associates (second-year law students) and Managing Editors (third-year law students who worked as Associates last year) to continue the Bulletin’s work for the twenty-fifth year.  

With the students of the LII Bulletin looking to the future, the staff of the LII is taking a moment to look back to the past.  Twenty-five years is a very, very long time in the life of the internet! The LII is grateful for all the hard work and dedication of the over-500 students who have worked for the Bulletin during that time.   

If you aren’t already familiar with the Bulletin, please have a look here, and we invite you to sign up here to receive this free service via email.  

LII_team

LII spent the past year rebuilding and preparing for a big transition, but as far as our audience was concerned, we like to think we didn’t miss a beat – and maybe learned a new trick or two. 

During the past year, we replenished our core staff, added a communications specialist, and passed the leadership baton. Jim Phillips is now our new front-end developer; Ayham Boucher, our back-end developer, and Julie Pizzuti, our fundraiser. Neli Karabelova has spearheaded our outreach, spreading the word about the resources we offer, gathering impact stories that help us improve, and keeping us connected to the ever-growing Free Law community. And the biggest change, in case you missed it: in the wake of our co-founder and Director Tom Bruce’s retirement at the end of June, Craig Newton and Sara Frug, the LII’s two Associate Directors since 2013, now lead the LII as Co-Directors. 

Some highlights from the past year: 

Last fall, we celebrated Constitution Day by publishing a new version of the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) U.S Constitution Annotated. Unlike the PDF published by CRS, our version is easily searchable, browsable, hyperlinked, and accessible to visually impaired users. The launch was picked up by RollCall, SCOTUSBlog, the American Association of Law Librarians, and others, and the collection has been used over a million times since then. 

During the past year, our law students wrote over 70 previews of U.S. Supreme Court cases, which they published on our website and in the Federal Lawyer magazine. They updated our legal reference Wex, supported our accessibility initiative and our work at oyez.org, and, under the leadership of  Editor-in-Chief Jocelyn Hackett, helped expand our Women & Justice collection. 

LII staff participated in and spoke at a variety of conferences this year, including the Law Via the Internet Conference; the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) annual conference; the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and the Law; and the New York State Civil Legal Aid Tech Conference. 

We embarked on an overhaul of the more than 600,000 pages of the LII website in order to meet modern web accessibility standards. As we go through each collection, we’ve been adding machine-readable information to help external search engines find our content and streamlining our own search results to make them easier to use. 

All of this work has helped us reach a constantly-evolving audience of people and machines. On March 7, 2019, the Legal Information Institute became a truly global source of information when our first visitor from Antarctica came to www.law.cornell.edu.  That reader joined over 30 million other people from all around the world who came to our website more than 53 million times in the last year, as well as another 7.5 million unique visitors making over 15 million visits on our other website, www.oyez.org.  The two websites have appeared in over 1.16 billion search results in the last 12 months. 

We saw traffic from 3207 universities, 274 community colleges, and 811 school districts, as well as 1669 hospitals and 2967 banks.  We had visitors from the Berklee College of Music and the Berkeley National Laboratory as well both the Environmental Protection Agency and the William Morris Agency.  Tens of thousands of user sessions originated within the internal networks of the United States Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court. The Administrative Office of the US Courts alone was responsible for more than 90,000 sessions.  Within the executive branch, the VA, DOD, and DOJ were our three largest customers.   

The Washington Post was among the top sources of referral traffic to the LII site this year, along with Wikipedia and every major social media platform.  A little further down that list we find Google Classroom, GovTrack, uscourts.gov, the ABA, CNN, MSN, NPR, the Atlantic, SCOTUSBlog, Slate, Politifact, the National Review, NBC News, the Library of Congress, the New York Times, Fox News, and Forbes. 

On a more individual level, an awful lot of people sent us notes. A few of our favorites: 

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

“I’m a state lawyer. I use Cornell’s website almost daily.”

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

“I rely on original sources rather than someone else’s interpretation of them. LII gives me access to much of what I need to know.” or “I love this site because it’s the only one, on the first page of Google results, that doesn’t include someone’s opinion. It is the law as written, officially.”

“When citizens have access to clear information, they can make better choices and the nation benefits. Knowledge is empowering. Thanks for what you do.” 

And last, but not least: in the past year, your donations made it possible for all of this to happen while we continued to operate within our budget. Beyond that, in honor of Tom Bruce’s retirement, we were able to raise an additional $130,000 to establish the Tom Bruce Legal Innovation Fellowship Fund, which will provide an annual fellowship (usually during the summer months). The Fellow will explore new technologies and techniques of potential application within legal informatics, computer science, or legal tech, helping us continue to innovate while maintaining our ever-expanding collection of information resources. We would not have been able to do any of this without your support. Thank you! 

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

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

We understand that when you choose to donate to the Legal Information Institute you are likely choosing among a number of causes you care about deeply. On behalf of everyone here, I’d like to say thank you to those who have already given this year and to those who plan to make a gift before year’s end.

When you support the LII, you are also supporting many, many other worthwhile organizations who use our website to support their own operations. We know that 58 branches of the United Way, 126 YMCA centers, 94 cancer research and treatment centers, 27 offices of the American Red Cross, and myriad other worthy causes have looked up the law on our website in support of their own mission.

“Your site constantly helps me give Veterans the help they need for their claims”
– recent donor Debra T.

We also hear from attorneys doing pro bono and “low bono” work, government employees (local, state & federal), and even individuals navigating some aspect of the legal or regulatory landscape without professional advice–all of whom say the collections we provide help them in ways large and small.

“I find Cornell’s Legal Information Institute a valuable resource in my job as Legal Counsel for the Michigan Legislature. I think LII does a great job keeping information up to date, for which I am very grateful!”
– recent donor Lorna B.

When you support us directly, you are supporting all of them indirectly. On this Giving Tuesday, we hope you get as much satisfaction from that as we do.

HELP US HELP THEM: DONATE NOW

Thank you,

Craig Newton
Associate Director
Legal Information Institute

We can never say it enough: thank you. Your contributions help millions of others to find and understand the law. More than that, they are a powerful vote of confidence in the LII’s mission, and in the strategies we use to provide an objective source of legal information to more than 30 million people each year. One purpose of this letter — and it’s a long one, to be sure — is to show you just how many things you have to be proud of. Your contributions support a stunning variety of activities that help millions of people.

Your support does much more than simply providing “more free law stuff” to the world. To be sure, we reach remarkable numbers of people in remarkable places.  Those 30 million people come from more than 240 countries and territories in addition to the US.   India is home to the largest foreign audience, at well over half a million.   Nearly 200,000 of our users prefer to browse the web in Chinese. 15,000 are in Iran.  3 reached out to us from Christmas Island, one of the most isolated spots on the globe. Because of your help, our work reaches everywhere on the planet.

Your donations increase the range and quality of the objective legal commentary that we offer.  On that front, this year’s biggest news is our new edition of the United States Constitution Annotated (CONAN), a comprehensive explanation of the United States Constitution and of the key Supreme Court cases that interpret it.  The base text is a scrupulously objective commentary written by the Congressional Research Service for the benefit of the Congress and its staffers.  We’ve made it better, adding navigation, search, and links to the Supreme Court opinions.  The result is an accessible, usable, and objective guide to some of the key issues before us as a nation. You can read more about this project here.

CONAN and our Federal law collections serve around 13-15% of the adult population of the US. But your contributions also help particular groups of people who are at risk. The editors of our Women & Justice collection work with our law firm partners White & Case and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to provide free online access to global gender justice jurisprudence, legislation, and reports representing 116 countries, three regional human rights organizations, and international criminal tribunals and treaty monitoring bodies.  The information is used by advocates and judges around the world who are dealing with issues of domestic violence, acid attacks, sexual violence in conflict zones, and other aspects of justice for women.

But people also come to the LII for a lot of things that simply help them understand and anticipate all the important but far less dramatic ways in which the law can affect their business, their livelihoods, and their families. In January and early February last year, we saw a huge spike of interest in 15 USC 206, Standard Gauge for Sheet and Plate Iron and Steel.  The reason?  Announcements about tariff changes on imported metal products, which affect thousands of businesses and those who work for them.   We could name a hundred more pages on our site that get that kind of attention when people want to know how the actions of government are going to affect them.  No single one is dramatic  — but all of them together inform hundreds of thousands of people — people that you have helped to understand how the law is likely to affect them. Others take notice of the work that your donations make possible.  Whenever there is a hot-button issue in the public eye that requires an understanding of the laws that govern us, you will see media outlets linking back to the LII. The recent topic of birthright citizenship is a prime example, as a wide spectrum of publications linked to our pages, including The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico, NBC News and The Atlantic.

It’s a little hard to find a big collection of dry legal text entertaining, but the LII reaches into popular culture, too.   Our work has appeared on the Colbert Show, in murder mysteries on television and in print, as an important part of an episode of “This American Life”, and (quite recently) in a Jeopardy question about the Supreme Court.  And audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments, taken from the LII’s Oyez site, are an important part of “Roe”, Lisa Loomer’s play about Roe v Wade.  “Roe” has been presented at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Berkeley Rep, and the Arena Stage in Washington, DC.  Last month, a playwright pal of ours ran into Lisa Loomer’s agent at a conference, and learned that Roe will be produced in Minneapolis this year, and has been optioned for production on Broadway.  You won’t see “LII” in lights, but audiences will see an LII credit in the program.

For the last few years, we’ve had a hard time filling vacancies in our engineering staff.  Ithaca has always had a small startup culture, but in recent years it’s grown, and become a significant competitor for the kind of advanced technical talent that makes our work possible.  This year, we were extremely lucky to hire two very talented individuals.  Ayham Boucher came to us from the Ag-Analytics project at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ag-Analytics.org is a web application that integrates geographical, weather, and precision agriculture data collected by farm equipment; it used big data and predictive analytics techniques to help farmers assess different possible crop insurance strategies.  Jim Phillips came to us from the Gleason Corporation in Rochester, where he has worked for over 20 years, starting as a Controls Engineer and most recently working as a Software Engineer in Research and Development. Like Ayham, Jim is a full-stack developer with experience working “close to the metal” on hardware projects. He is also highly curious and a tinkerer. At Gleason, he worked on some of the company’s first web applications. A qualified paramedic, he’s also certified as a cave scuba diver and wrote software to mix his gases — an extreme exercise in trusting your own work as a developer.

We also realized we need more help in better communicating our work and mission to the world so Neli Karabelova joined us as our new engagement specialist. Neli came to us after working as a marketing professional for Miller Mayer, LLP, an international law firm with a heavy emphasis on immigration law. She led a successful full rebranding campaign for them among others, and if you’ve ever tried to get two lawyers to agree on something, you’d understand what an accomplishment that is. Neli has also been a photographer for over 10 years and will use her creative eye and love for visuals to give you colorful relief from our penchant for big blocks of text.

If you’d like a refresher on what our full team looks like, head over to our staff page.

When you think about it, though, it’s amazing — nine people in Ithaca, NY serving the needs of 30 million around the globe.  And your contributions make it all possible.

The LII is a small band of experts — Val, Neli, Ayham, Jim, Nic, Sylvia, Sara, Craig, and me.  Over the years, we’ve transmitted that expertise to people in state and Federal government, to international bodies like the UN and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, and to more than 25 operations like ours serving people around the globe.  We’ve testified to Congressional committees and advised operations on five continents.  With your help, we’ve built new technologies and taken new editorial approaches to make the law easier to find and understand. Your contributions have helped hundreds of thousands of advocates to help millions and millions of people to understand and solve problems that affect their lives in important ways.  That is huge.

Let me just close by saying one more thank-you.  Your contributions support an incredible range of work on behalf of millions of people worldwide.  We are very, very grateful for your past support, and are looking forward to the future.

All the best from all of us,

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

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