skip navigation

The purpose of this “25 for 25” series has been to celebrate 25 years of the Legal Information Institute, to recount its greatest achievements, and to place its accomplishments large and small in the greater context to which they belong.   That was overdue and fun to read and, I assure you, quite flattering for all us.  (Ed Walters, we’re still blushing.)

Elmer Masters ended the most recent of these posts by hoping to write about our leadership when another two-and-a-half decades have passed.   I decided to wait two-and-a-half days instead.

Back when I practiced law for a living, a question I learned to ask myself while writing was, “So what?”—or, to phrase it more politely, “Why am I telling you this?” or “Why does this matter?’  Maybe I learned it as an English major long before that.  Anyway, it’s a thing.

And it’s a thing I brought with me and have used repeatedly over the last four-plus years I’ve been Associate Director-ing here at the LII.  Whether it’s allocating scarce resources or writing a newsletter article, I have to ask myself “so what” all the time.  I say it out loud in meetings probably far too often.

Many of the guest bloggers who’ve sung our praises have answered the “so what” question about our impact and our value—our legacy, if you will.  But a legacy is what’s left at the end, and we are just getting started.   Here are just a few brief insights into the things on our mind as we look at we are right now and where we might be headed:

The LII as a big tent

We now do this, and this, and this, and even this.  Why?  Because we were asked to.  In each case, somebody—respectively, Jerry Goldman, Peter Martin, the (now-defunct) Avon Center, and (the also now-defunct) Sunlight Labs— built something really cool and then asked us to care for it and feed it and put a roof over its head.   And we did!   You’ve read a lot in this space over the last eleven months about how the LII has served as a beacon for others in the free law movement—many have steered by that beacon and, as it turns out, some have steered toward it.  

So what?  We don’t expect that phenomenon to end abruptly or soon.  There will be more projects to adopt from their creators and to adapt to our purpose.  Though the tent is big, it’s likely to get crowded.  Whether these additions show up as new features on our site or as entirely new sites, in each case anything we do will advance our mission of making law easier to find and understand.  But each new project we adopt will come with its own demands, be they technical, administrative, managerial, or economic.  Like a puppy under the Christmas tree, these are gifts that eat.  We’ll need to innovate in new ways that are just as likely to require business acumen as technical or legal skills. 

Students, students, students

First, it’s important to note that we work with computer science and information science students, as well as law students.  But when it comes to creating new secondary content, my focus is usually on the law students.

And we hire a lot of law students.  In fact, in our own unofficial estimation we are the largest single employer of Cornell Law students each year.  We have in excess of 40 law students on the books right now working on the Supreme Court Bulletin Previews, Wex, and even over at Oyez.  On the Oyez website, we also employ students at the institution from which we adopted it, the Chicago-Kent School of Law.  

So what?  That we were able to navigate the administrative and managerial challenges of hiring and supervising law students from another institution bodes well for our future.  Though it’s my alma mater as well as my employer, I’ve never believed that Cornell Law School holds a monopoly on bright, energetic, and enthusiastic law students.  Knowing that we can employ qualified and capable student labor from anywhere whenever our reach exceeds our grasp allows us to reach farther and grasp for more.


Increasingly, our busiest days are fueled not only by additional traffic coming from search engines but also from links contained in social media posts.  These days, the difference between a day of heavy traffic day and a day of very heavy traffic is usually the number of visitors arriving via links from Twitter and Facebook.

So what?  One of the reasons we’re such a common source for hyperlinks in social media is because folks find us on a search engine when they want primary reference material to help make their point.  While this phenomenon currently accounts for a small (but growing) source of traffic, aren’t these exactly the kind of users we should be particularly interested in?  Say what you will about social media, but that’s where debate is happening.  That people are pointing to the US Code, the CFR, the Constitution, or whatever else they find on our site to justify their stance on the issues of the day is a very good thing.

What happens when a social media user’s friends or followers click on that posted link?  We know that these visitors behave differently from users arriving via their own internet search or from a link in a news article or another website.  They don’t stay nearly as long, they view fewer pages, and they are for more likely to “bounce” from the site without interacting with it at all.   How do we give them the context they need to place that one little piece of the law they’re looking at into the bigger statutory or regulatory framework that is required to understand it?  On a more pragmatic level, how do we give them a page they can read and digest on their phone?  (We get more traffic from Facebook Mobile than Facebook.)  

None of these challenges are 25 years away.  With technology, the operative cliché is “the future is now.”  In terms of the challenges we face, there’s a lot of truth to that.   So, thanks for spending the time over the last 11 months helping us look back on our success and for sticking around as we look forward to how we can continue to be the flagship for open access to the law for decades to come.      

Craig Newton is the LII’s Associate Director for Content Development.  

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>