For some of you, we can keep this really, really short: go to our donation page, right this very minute, and make a tax-deductible donation. For those who can be convinced to do so by conventional means, I reproduce the letter that we are sending to our supporters, below. But I think that readers of this blog are, maybe, a little different in the way they look at legal information. So I’ll add a layer to our usual pitch. It’s really meant for people with professional concerns about the future of public access to law in the US, and it’s one you may not have thought about.
The real questions before us now are not questions about whether it’s a good idea to put caselaw on the Web. That is, so far as anything can be, a done deal. We know how, and for the most part we know who. The challenging questions are questions about standards — how things interoperate, how we tie secondary materials to primary law, how we find out about the law in a new place given knowledge of law in our own place. Some of these are research questions. Some of these are metadata-wrangling. Some of them are matters for careful drafting of standards that are lightweight enough that they can easily be implemented and still deliver maximum results. Some, maybe most, are contemplated in Carl Malamud’s law.gov effort — or will be brought into sharper relief by it, or become suddenly more interesting to a wider public because of it. All of them are things that require time, effort, and most of all participation. Most are areas where the LII has developed considerable, dare I say unique, craft knowledge over the 17 years it has been in business.
Standards are shaped by those who have time to draft, and participate, and airfare to get to the meetings. That means that participation — and the power to shape the standard — comes most easily from industry groups, large commercial players, professional organizations, governments, and others who can afford to give someone time away from “real work” to work on projects with no immediate operational impact. At the moment, that doesn’t describe the LII, and it probably never has. Nor are these concerns — or legal-information concerns in general, it seems — particularly compelling to foundations, or even to donors who see an operation like ours as primarily one that provides a public service in the form of a public library. Those donors value the part of what we do that has a direct and immediate impact on people — the part that makes for good story. We do have that impact, and we are deeply grateful for the support we get because of it.
It takes a more sophisticated audience to appreciate — and engage — a need that is no less real because it operates at one remove from the direct delivery of services. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, that’s you. Detractors of open access to law are betting that cooperative, standards-based approaches can’t produce the level of integration and utility that has been achieved in the private sector. At this point, I’d be less than the geek I pretend to be if I failed to point out that a lot of people said that about Linux, too.
Bottom line: we want you to buy us time, time to participate in standards development, and to shape the legal infosphere for the next generation. Please do so by making a donation, or by supporting us in other ways.
Our regular donor letter follows.
Dear friends:Each year at this time, we ask our audience to help support the Legal Information Institute. Every year we are impressed by your generosity, and by your involvement with our goal of making law available – for free. We’d like to say thanks to all of you, not only for your willingness to give, but for the sense of appreciation that it offers us personally and professionally. We are deeply grateful.I’m sure that many of you are carefully rethinking your giving priorities this year. I am – there is a lot of need, and resources are more limited. Here are three reasons why you should support the LII by making a donation at http://www.law.cornell.edu/donors :
I am a licensed attorney and I do pro bono work when I can. Recently I signed up to take an immigration case. I used a manual from the Immigrant Legal Resources Center and the LII to learn about federal immigration law. When I had to look up specific provisions in the INA for my case, I used the LII. I am thankful that I can rely on the LII for accurate and up to date legal information–otherwise, I might not be able to take these cases.
The LII is used by literally hundreds of nonprofits and public service organizations – local, national, and international — whose leadership and legal staff can’t afford commercial legal information services. As budgets for government and nonprofits become more and more strained, we help provide the information they use to help others.
Last month, Maricopa County’s controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio claimed the authority to make arrests of illegal aliens under a Federal statute that just doesn’t exist. Using the LII site, reporters were able to quickly verify that no such law is found in the US Code – Arpaio’s “law” was made up by a nativist organization in Connecticut. Everyone needs to be able to find out what the law is. We meet that need with unbiased, unfiltered access to accurate legal information as it is delivered by the courts and legislatures that create it – without bias or external agendas.
Since 1992, the LII has been a technical and editorial leader in open access to law. We introduced law to the Web by mounting the first web-based collections of Federal legislation and judicial opinions. Since then we have grown into a service that is relied on by more than 90,000 people for both primary and secondary legal information – each day. Our editorial and technical innovations have been widely adopted by others. Over the last 17 years, open access to law has grown into a global movement, with more than 20 namesake Legal Information Institutes worldwide.
We are 5 people maintaining more than 500,000 web pages used by more than 2,000,000 visitors each month. About 85% of our half-million-dollar budget goes toward salaries for the staff and for stipends paid to student editors. The remaining funds take care of machinery and technical infrastructure – costs that we are now reducing by use of advanced cloud-computing techniques to replace expensive physical hardware. Increasingly, we are able to leverage your contributions into broader support by offering a variety of sponsorship opportunities that appeal both to lawyers wanting to reach clients and others who wish to reach lawyers. This hybrid approach is, we believe, the key to our sustainability for many years to come.
90,000 individuals visit the LII each day. Although their legal circumstances and expertise vary hugely, most of them are trying to answer some variation on a common question: “What am I expected to do?” A gift of $100 to the LII is little more than the cost of a single search using a commercial legal-information service. That gift supports unlimited use of the LII by 3 people for about 13 months. It’s the generosity of our donors that makes our service available to so many, and we are grateful for the vote of confidence that represents.
We can make effective use of any and every dollar that you choose to give us. We suggest a $100 donation. More will help us do more. It’s up to you. It’s the generosity of our donors that makes our service available to so many, and we are grateful for the vote of confidence that represents.
We’ve made a short video that explains the case for open access to law. You can see it on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYGfrBVBkpE . We hope you’ll take a few minutes (three, to be precise) to take a look at it and tell us what you think.
The mechanics for making a contribution (or supporting the LII in other ways) appear at the bottom of this note, below my signature. I’d also be very grateful if you’d send in any suggestions, questions, complaints, or stories you might have. We need to understand much more than we do about why our audience values us, what we’re doing that’s working, and what we can improve. We love knowing more about the impact we’re having, and only you can tell us that.
Thank you again for your help and support, and our best wishes for the coming year,
Tb. (along with Dave, Brian, Sara, and Dan)
- All contributions are tax deductible.
- Online contributions at http://www.law.cornell.edu/donors
- Contributions by check, made out to the LII, should be mailed to: Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, Box 223623, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-2623
- If you want to be listed in our free lawyer directory, see http://lawyers.law.cornell.edu/ .
- You can take advantage of sponsorship and other business opportunities that help support us. See http://topics.law.cornell.edu/lii/business_opportunities.
- Friend us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Law.LII . You can also keep up with the LII via our blog at http://blog.law.cornell.edu/ . Other popular LII-related blogs are Tom Bruce’s b-screeds ( at http://blog.law.cornell.edu/tbruce ) and VoxPopuLII (at http://blog.law.cornell.edu/voxpop )