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If you polled the team at Fastcase about our influencers – the people who we look up to the most – there would be many companies on our team’s lists, but the first on everyone’s list would be Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.  For its creative solutions, free law ethos, and its longevity, the LII is an inspiration not just for our team, but for so many others around the world.

The LII turned 25 years old in 2017, and anyone who has worked in the software world can tell you, creating software for a big audience is demanding.  But to stay at the forefront, to innovate and dare the way the LII team has over a quarter century, well, those are all city miles, my friends.  

Most software companies started in 1992 are long gone.  Of the few that remain, most have fallen by the wayside, as their founding teams exhausted or quit, unable to keep up with the relentless demands of thesoftware world.  Designing for multiple Web browsers, plugins that work until they don’t, updating to new tech stacks, recreating everything in new hardware stacks, supporting high-volume Web traffic without a venture-backed budget, training new generations of law students each year – you get the picture.   The challenges of running the LII are not insignificant.

But to the world, the site is effortless.  Beautiful, modern renderings of the law, continuously updated both as to form and substance.  The LII crew has stood the test of time, not by chasing every passing fad (of which there have been many in 25 years), but by simply being the best at what they do.

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute is an amazing show that has run daily for 25 years.  There’s no way that Director and co-founder Tom Bruce could have known that his background as a production manager for an opera company and as a jazz tour lighting designer would have prepared him to create a show like the LII.  He, and his successors, are managing a gifted group of artists, all performing in public for a quarter century.

Today, the LII’s influence extends globally.  The Legal Information Institute is a go-to source for American law, from Wall Street to global capitals, and from the headlines to mom-and-pop shops trying to understand the law.   Over 25 years, the LII has become a proving ground for some of the most creative minds in legal tech, and the diaspora of LII alumni have brought its energy to law firms, corporate legal departments, legal publishers, and legal technology companies.

Co-founder Peter Martin’s influential scholarship and work has changed the way we think about legal information.  A dozen states have changed the way they publish law, creating media-neutral citations to make judicial opinions citeable independent of the printed book.  

Perhaps most importantly, the LII has inspired more than 20 Legal Information Institutes around the world – it has become the new model for how nations should publish their laws.  Free, open, and public is the de facto standard.  It didn’t have to be this way, but inspired by the team at Cornell, the world is publishing law the LII way.  Indeed, the LII is our team’s most prominent influencer.

The LII’s 25-year production has created a beautiful, enduring way of accessing the law, inspired generations of law students and engineers, changed the way we cite the law, and created a lasting reputation for Cornell Law School as an innovator in legal technology and publishing.  Tom Bruce — and now Sara Frug and Craig Newton — may not be lighting shows for jazz troupes, but their work at Cornell has been a shining light for the world.

Ed Walters is the CEO of Fastcase.  He teaches The Law of Robots at Georgetown University and at Cornell Tech.

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