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1.8 Million US Court Rulings Now Online

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the star-wars-kid-v.-lol-cats dept.

The Courts 94

I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "For a long time now, lawyers and any serious law students have been bound to paid services like LexusNexis for access to case law, but that is slowly changing. Carl Malamud has posted free electronic copies of every U.S. Supreme Court decision and Court of Appeals ruling since 1950, 1.8 million rulings in all, online for free. While the rulings themselves have long been government works not subject to copyright, courts still charge several cents per page for copies and they're inconvenient to access, so lawyers usually turn to legal publishers which are more expensive but more convenient, providing helpful things like notes about related cases, summaries of the holdings, and information about if and when the case was overturned. This free database is not Carl's first, either. He convinced the SEC to provide EDGAR, and helped get both the Smithsonian and Congressional hearings online."

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fp (-1, Offtopic)

genican1 (1150855) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477614)

any rulings on first post?

Re:fp (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22477812)

REVERSED AND REMANDED. Moderators, et al concur. IT IS SO ORDERED.

Re:fp (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22478844)

Fucking no-sense-of-humor mods.

And the response... (4, Informative)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477632)

...from Thomson, the provider of Westlaw services:

http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/letter_to_west_response.pdf [resource.org]

Seems a pretty reasonable response to his initial query:

http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/letter_to_west.pdf [resource.org]

Thus, Thomson is justified in asserting copyright on materials which represent unique, original, or significant contributions to the content, and does not assert any copyright whatever on material which is in the public domain.

And if this work helps provide greater access information which is already publicly, but not easily, available, then it's a Good Thing.

But Westlaw and LexisNexis do a lot more than just make case law available online. There is a lot of editorial work, summarizing, organization, not to mention costs often imposed by the courts themselves, and Carl Malamud correctly acknowledges that.

Re:And the response... (1)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477952)

http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/letter_to_west_response.pdf
Holy crap! A legalese laced letter a mere mortal can comprehend!

So.... (4, Funny)

fictionpuss (1136565) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477700)

Now that lawyers can access without charge documents created from the public purse, when should we expect to see these savings trickle down to the public as reduced legal fees?

Re:So.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22477774)

You won't. They'll trickle upward as increased profit margins.

Re:So.... (4, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477864)

Lawyers will not use these services much, they will continue to use annotated and commented editions. This is more a victory for the common man who wants to better understand the machinery of U.S. law and justice.

Re:So.... (2)

biolitch (1242242) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478158)

And the common man will need access to these if there have already been 1.8 million court cases.

Re:So.... (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22481430)

And the common man will need access to these if there have already been 1.8 million court cases.
Hmm...

The US Constitution was enacted in 1787 -- 220 years ago.

There are three levels of federal court, including 94 District Courts. Each Court can have more than one judge -- but even if there wasn't, that only leaves each court about 88 cases per year -- that is, one every four days.

And that's not counting the Appellate courts, or SCOTUS itself.

Re:So.... (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482398)

FYI, it looks like the database goes back to 1880, not back to 1787. But that means one every other day.
I'd guess that the number of cases per day plotted on a graph over time, since 1787, looks a lot like the infamous hockey stick graph, or at least like a scimitar.

Re:So.... (3, Informative)

spiritraveller (641174) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479842)

Lawyers will not use these services much, they will continue to use annotated and commented editions. This is more a victory for the common man who wants to better understand the machinery of U.S. law and justice.
This is very true. In my solo practice, I tried so hard to make use of the free materials that my state bar makes available online. The system is called Casemaker, and it's actually quite good. But as good as it is, it doesn't come close to what Westlaw provides.

With Westlaw (and Lexis as well), every case has a little symbol in the top left corner. If it is green, it is probably good law. If it is red, then the case is no longer good for at least one point of law. Considering the amount of time that this feature saves, it is well worth the $120 a month that I pay to another law firm to use one of their Westlaw passwords. In fact, if I were to deal directly with West, I would pay at least $200 a month and they would lock me in to a 12 month contract. Other lawyers gladly sign up.

When you think about how much energy it takes to categorize and flag every single case that comes out and cross-reference it with a semi-subjective interpretation of how it treats all the cases that it cites, and to categorize every single paragraph in a case for the specific legal question that it covers, these services are well worth the cost.

If it were just the text of the cases and statutes, then it would be a rip-off. But the text of the cases and statutes are almost always available for free from other sources. Every state government should provide its statutes and caselaw online for free. As far as I know, most of them do. The same is true of the Federal system. But it's hard to make significant use of that if you don't have any of the tools that are available in a good law library. Westlaw and Lexis are like a law library at your fingertips.

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22478068)

Your lawyer should properly detail how much of what he charges you goes to what. "Fees" would not typically include costs, like photocopying or case research. Many lawyers will have an unlimited access plan with Westlaw or Lexis, and so the lawyer can't charge you--you being one client among his man--costs for access to those services. It's more like an overhead expense that the lawyer has to absorb.

Good lawyers will still need access to a commercial service, though, to make sure the holding they are citing has not been thrown out. Like another post said, this free, public database is competing in a different marketplace.

Think about it this way. Would you want 10 Terabytes of unsorted data? Or would you want 1 Gigabyte of sorted data? What this new offering represents is akin to the 10 TB of unsorted data. Pretty much useless for lawyers.

Re:So.... (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478284)

Would you want 10 Terabytes of unsorted data? Or would you want 1 Gigabyte of sorted data?
Hmmm.. the internet .. or wikipedia.. PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE!!! :(

Re:So.... (3, Insightful)

MaceyHW (832021) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478280)

You get what you pay for -just look at the quality of the free editing of that summary. lexisnexis; "any serious law students"; "free online copies . . . for free".

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22481026)

He should've called it Carl's Judicial Reference.

Or Carl's JR for short.

Re:So.... (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482734)

Never. You're actually going to pay more now that they've increased the number of keystrokes expended per day online. Gotta cover the cost of those replacement keyboards, you know; a million lawyers banging away at a million keyboards...

No search feature (5, Informative)

lib3rtarian (1050840) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477766)

I think this is a great idea, but from the brief glance at the site that I took, it would appear that is has absolutely no search feature at all. LexusNexxus and the other sites have sophisticated search features. 1.8 million records stored in 1000 pdfs is more or less worthless IMO.

Re:No search feature (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22477966)

I think this is a great idea, but from the brief glance at the site that I took, it would appear that is has absolutely no search feature at all. LexusNexxus and the other sites have sophisticated search features. 1.8 million records stored in 1000 pdfs is more or less worthless IMO.
I expect someone will use something like Nutch [apache.org] to index and make this searchable pretty soon.

Re:No search feature (3, Interesting)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478036)

I think this is a great idea, but from the brief glance at the site that I took, it would appear that is has absolutely no search feature at all.
True, but this is just the beginning. A way to search court documents, track the legal history of the case itself and whether or not all or part of the decision was overturned would make a great open source project.

Re:No search feature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22478510)

A way to search court documents, track the legal history of the case itself and whether or not all or part of the decision was overturned would make a great open source project.

Vis-à-vis Canlii [slashdot.org] or Austlii [austlii.edu.au] ? Thanks to entrenched commercial interests (vis-à-vis LexisNexis & Westlaw), America is still in the dark ages when it comes to free legal information.

Re:No search feature (1)

wrastler (996175) | more than 6 years ago | (#22481734)

While you're at it, please thoroughly annotate everything in detailed semantic markup, and provide an inference engine that can answer questions like "How can I get the search thrown out where they found the bodies in my trunk?"

Re:No search feature (2, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22487634)

If this doesn't have "new wiki project" written all over it, I don't know what else could.

While 1.8 million records does seem like quite a bit, Wikipedia (at least the English edition) has close to that many articles.

The real question would be this: What kind of person would be interested in digging into case histories and provide the meta linking information in order to make this sort of information useful?

Next question: What sort of skills would be necessary to make this happen? I know you don't necessarily need a J.D. in order to understand case law, but this seems to be a bit higher level of knowledge than the typical internet user, or even Wikipedia contributor.

Re:No search feature (3, Interesting)

layer3switch (783864) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478762)

search for keyword...
http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Abulk.resource.org%2Fcourts.gov%2F+Google [google.com]

or search PDF file...
http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Abulk.resource.org%2Fcourts.gov%2F+filetype%3Apdf+Google [google.com]

I think, it's a compromise until there is a better way.

Re:No search feature (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482414)

Don't worry ... the Google spider will crawl his site eventually, if it hasn't already.

New Court Ruling (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477832)

I wonder how fast he's going to get sued by the legal publishers that the article refers to as "more expensive", and thus quite successful and profitable?

Re:New Court Ruling (4, Insightful)

Improv (2467) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477954)

Probably never Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw are mainly used for the additional value they provide beyond the plain content of each case. Until and unless he determines a way to provide something similar and duplicate the effort of all the people working for LN and Westlaw that do that work, there's not a lot of real competition.

Re:New Court Ruling (1)

metalcoat (918779) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478220)

Why not a wikipedia type summarization idea? User submitted summarizations etc. I do understand, that you would not want to use this summarization in court, or a published paper, but you get the idea.

Re:New Court Ruling (3, Interesting)

Improv (2467) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478740)

That would be interesting, although there may be a cost - just as Wikipedia is presumably injuring traditional encyclopedia efforts, such a summary "by the masses" may injure LN and Westlaw - not that these companies are good in themselves, but the possibility of unqualified opinion and wikiculture impacting law may be an unpleasant risk. LN and Westlaw have a huge impact on the practice of law today (even as they are largely invisible to those outside the field). Wiki technology is great, and given an appropriate cultural setting and controls it can produce wonderful results (MediaWiki, for example, is widely deployed in various businesses as a tool for knowledge retention/content creation). If there were a way to get qualified people to lead content creation as you suggest and produce quality at least as high as LN or Westlaw, that would be positive, but given that it would be open, anything created (good or bad) would likely kill the commercial industry when it got big enough. If the same cultural struggles present on Wikipedia (particularly the anti-elitism) were to take place on what eventually is to be the primary source of legal interpretation (and fact) for most law in the United States, the US legal system will have a time of troubles. If it were to do better than Wikipedia (and LN and Westlaw) to enough of an extent, it would be fantastic.

Re:New Court Ruling (2, Funny)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 6 years ago | (#22480166)

but the possibility of unqualified opinion and wikiculture impacting law may be an unpleasant risk... ). If there were a way to get qualified people to lead content creation as you suggest and produce quality at least as high as LN or Westlaw, that would be positive...

I found a group of highly knowledgable legal experts [slashdot.org] who don't mind sharing their expertise online for free.

Re:New Court Ruling (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22487790)

The real worry, at least in terms of a legal profession, is that an informed electorate with access to these precedents could start to question the legal profession from the outside with hard and specific examples. Changes in the legal profession wouldn't happen immediately or be revolutionary, but there would be an impact when you have lawyers dealing with clients who know more about the case law in a narrow scope of the law than they do themselves.

For myself, anything that can help to provide for a better informed electorate is a good thing, at least from a basic democratic principle that includes freedom to know what our government is doing at all levels. Not everybody is interested in everything the government is doing, but if you open up the process like this there is likelihood that somebody somewhere is going to care about even the obscure stuff, and raise a stink if something doesn't seem right.

Re:New Court Ruling (1)

Improv (2467) | more than 6 years ago | (#22494390)

I don't think it's likely that many people, rare intellectuals aside, will be able to grasp the entire context law is to be interpreted in - just like with the sciences, it's easy for a layperson to think they understand something, but often if they were to "confront" a professor they'd find their understanding is broken. This would not always happen, but I've sometimes seen yahoo philosopher types go up to psychology professors and try to say something definite... sometimes it's funny to watch even as we cringe inside.

If this becomes more common, I especially worry about formalist fetishists who don't understand the "reasonable person standard" and other necessarily fuzzy (from a math point of view) concepts that are essential to how law works. I might point at a much younger, naïve, libertarian (but I repeat myself, haha) version of myself who once dreamed of law being administered by machines, and thinking that if it could be made sufficiently formal we'd have real justice. I now shudder to imaginee what a system that would have been.

Re:New Court Ruling (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 6 years ago | (#22481890)

I wonder how fast he's going to get sued by the legal publishers that the article refers to as "more expensive", and thus quite successful and profitable?

These businesses already have had some competition for years and it's still available so unless he copies what they offer directly, summaries and such, I don't think it's very likely he'll be sued. Findlaw does this, for instance searching for "John Gilmore" [findlaw.com] has the ruling in his case as well as commentary on it.

Falcon

New Court Ruling (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22477874)

Wanted For Crimes Against Humanity [whitehouse.org] .

Do not approach as he is nuclear-armed and dangerous. Considers self to be the duly selected "President" of the United States. Contact your nearest police station.

Thanks for your support of democracy and freedom

yay (5, Funny)

pak9rabid (1011935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477902)

Now I can pretend to be a real lawyer, as opposed to a slashdot lawyer.

Now IANAL (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477920)

But I know how to thumb though copies!

I don't see this being used in court, but it's a great resource as much as the public law library is. Law students, people who wish to defend themselves, or just with a strong curiosity can now have a better starting point, if not a better understanding

Re:Now IANAL (1)

KiahZero (610862) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478144)

Perhaps I'm just spoiled by my particular school, but I don't pay for Westlaw or LexisNexis. In fact, vendors from both companies routinely throw themselves at myself and my classmates to convince us to use their service.

Re:Now IANAL (1)

kingturkey (930819) | more than 6 years ago | (#22483852)

I don't pay for them either. The University's library has subscribtions for students to LexisNexis and Westlaw and the other databases like them. I would've thought this would be standard at any major institution. I think I'd be pretty pissed if I had to pay for a subscribtion on top of my mounting university fees.

FindLaw? (2, Insightful)

Napoleon The Pig (228548) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477950)

So how is this different than http://www.findlaw.com/ [findlaw.com] ? I've been using that free site to look through cases ranging from the Supreme Court to individual State courts.

Re:FindLaw? (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482002)

Yea, I've been using Findlaw for years.

Falcon

If they are . . . (1)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477970)

Simply copies of the decisions which were published by the aforementioned courts, then they are as valid as those published by either West or Thompson and can be used in court. Of course you don't get the luxury of the Key Notes, or cross references, but hey, most of the time you only want specific quotes and positions from the body of the decision anyway.

Sorry, I already patented this process (2, Funny)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477976)

And now electronic publication of all legal rulings online is mine!

My, the USPTO is gullible.

not to nitpick, but... (3, Informative)

to_kallon (778547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477986)

paid services like LexusNexis

it's actually LexisNexis [lexisnexis.com] .

Re:not to nitpick, but... (2, Funny)

magarity (164372) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478704)

Were you driven to point that out?

Re:not to nitpick, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22481882)

paid, you mean

My bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22479272)

I thought I checked the spelling of that very specifically, too. Somehow, I always think of the car instead of them...

- I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property

ignore (0, Offtopic)

Frank Battaglia (787673) | more than 6 years ago | (#22477998)

accidentally mis-moderated and can't figure otu a better undo than posting logged in

Legal Research the Free Way (2, Interesting)

ruggerboy (553525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478072)

Most courts have law libraries that are open to the public, including free (albiet limited) access to Lexis and/or Westlaw. Seems a better option that perusing thousands of pages of unsearchable data. Still, I applaud the effort to make this stuff accessible from anywhere. Can a legal search engine be the next bit open source project?

Re:Legal Research the Free Way (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478802)

It's only unsearchable today, give it a few weeks until someone OCR's the whole bunch and creates a searchable index. I'm not sure if there's a suitable open source OCR engine but there are plenty of commercial engines that can take an image PDF and output a PDF with both the image and the results of the OCR process as an additional underlying layer. Those files can easily be indexed by a multitude of open source indexing engines like Lucerne.

I can has opinions? (0, Troll)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478118)

MOAR!

meow.

Similar Canadian database (4, Informative)

fishwallop (792972) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478174)

Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis have similar subscription case reporters in Canada, where they cooexist peacefully with this free site [canlii.ca] , where you can freely search and read most "recent" Canadian case law (e.g. from the mid 1990s to date), as well as some older important appellate cases. The paid services have more "editorial content" such as detailed headnotes and cross-referencing to commentary.

The single most important thing lawyers want, other than the case itself, is to know what other cases say about it: which subsequent authorities cite the case, and why? The ability to "note up" a case ("Quickcite" on Lexis-Nexis Canada, "Shepardizing" in Westlaw-speak) to see at a glance if it has been followed, overturned or otherwise commented on is a critical feature for any online repository of case law. Until Malamud's site does this it's not true competition to the subscription sites.

Re:Similar Canadian database (2, Informative)

ebingo (533762) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478438)

Try www.canlii.org [canlii.org] to go to the website.

Re:Similar Canadian database (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22480500)

LexisNexis has Shepards & Westlaw uses Keycite.

Re:Similar Canadian database (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482444)

Until Malamud's site does this it's not true competition to the subscription sites.

Then again, I don't get the impression that that is what Mr. Malamud is trying to be.

NAME THAT CASE!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22478200)

"The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty."

and that was the dissenting opinion...

Good to hear, but... (4, Interesting)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478216)

As a law student, I'm glad to hear these things are now public. They've always been in the public domain - just never published like this, at least that I'm aware of.

But Lexis and Westlaw will remain exceedingly important and worth their fees. Publishing cases is one thing - publishing the proprietary information that Lexis and Westlaw add (headnotes, the West Key system, Shepard's citations, treatises, and countless other secondary sources) would truly make this useful for attorneys. Of course, maintaining all of these sources requires a huge effort - and is one of the reasons these databases cost as much as they do. (There are, I'm sure, less savory reasons as well, of course.)

I wouldn't count on seeing Lexis and Westlaw go belly up soon - an attorney needs much more than the raw cases. But, like I said, this is very positive for the public.

Re:Good to hear, but... (1)

celle (906675) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478484)

Maybe if an attorney had to look at the raw cases all the time there would be a grass roots legal movement to simplify law rather than constantly add to it. Wow, 1.8 million, lets hear it for micromanagement.

It's not micromanagement... (2, Informative)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479046)

People sue each other. 1.8 million over a period of 58 years comes to about 31,000 year from a whole lot of courts - not too bad, and not unheard of. If you want to cut down on case law, people will need to stop suing each other. That's not going to happen - and I'm not sure it should. The courts provide a vital means for people to settle disputes without resorting to self-help (i.e. theft, assault, etc.). This isn't even including criminal cases - if you've got a way to stop people committing crimes and appealing their sentences, that's great. Also keep in mind that many of these opinions are as short as a sentence.

There have been, actually, numerous attempts lately to simplify the common law - the restatements of torts, contracts, property, etc. The restatements, however, aren't created by elected officials but a group of law professors, academics, lawyers, and judges. Some states like the restatements and follow them. Some don't - and some legislatures (elected officials) have taken steps to change the common law as in the restatement.

Then there are other areas - the Uniform Commercial code, for example - that have helped to simplify the law. But legislatures still want to tweak these (and with reason).

Then there are other codes, such as the Model Penal Code, for criminal law. The MPC is great and all, but it has its problems as well.

A big problem with these "simplifications" of law, however, are the time required to create them. It can take decades for the ALI to come to a decision on matters and publish a restatement. A legislature can do the same job much more quickly.

Re:It's not micromanagement... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22479960)

You should all realize that the restatements and model legislation are drafted fully with the help of lobbyists. there's very little democratic about it. the lobbyists will hold a meeting where they co-ordinate with the ''esteemed members'' of any aba or ali sub sections that are drafting the legislation. then when the law is about to be adopted, the representatives will barely read it-- then the lobbyists got exactly the law they paid for. it's all legal.

Yup. (1)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22480096)

The big problem with the restatements is that they are not the result of legislative input.

On the other hand, the restatements also cover areas that legislatures have often not covered in their own proceedings - areas of law that have traditionally been left to the common law and which the people have, apparently, seen no need to change. But when the people - through the legislature - do change them, the people obviously have the power to overrule the restatements.

simplifying law (2, Funny)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482458)

Maybe if an attorney had to look at the raw cases all the time there would be a grass roots legal movement to simplify law rather than constantly add to it.

I propose a new amendment to the Constitution of the USA, all laws have to be written so the average person can read and understand it in 5 minutes.

Falcon

Re:Good to hear, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22483822)

I know as an undergrad at a bigten university I have access to lexis and many other information databases? Is the law database any different?

I think it is... (1)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22483948)

I was more of an EBSCO man as an undergraduate, so my experience with that side of Lexis was pretty slim, but from what I know there are a lot of differences. Lexis used by law students/lawyers contains all of the same information from periodicals, but also contains tons and tons of case law, legal treatises, Shepard's citations, and other information which an undergrad isn't likely to find to be useful.

I admit it - I tried a case using Google (5, Interesting)

Christoph (17845) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478320)

I got the verdict last Friday in a case I tried myself in federal court: Verdict, Gregerson v. Vilana Financial, Inc. [cgstock.com]

I'm not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed, but I did all my legal research using Google. The only paid service I used was Pacer, and that only for 2-3 cases. I bought one case from LexisNexis (Pinkham v. Sara Lee, 8th US Circuit), which cost $9.00. In the end, I was awarded $19,462 in damages (and I defeated six claims against me).

I found most of what I needed at Findlaw.com, www.law.cornell.edu. Specific state cases for Minnesota were at state.mn.us/lawlibrary/. I went to a law library only one time, and they didn't have what I needed, and I never went back.

I did get advice from an attorney on legal procedure (stuff not in any book). I would have used LexisNexis or West Law if it wasn't so overpriced ($9.00 for one webpage? All because the case was too old to be on Pacer, where it would cost about 18 cents). I'm going to try out this guy's service in the future.

(a full chronology of my case is here http://www.cgstock.com/essays/vilana [cgstock.com] ))

Re:I admit it - I tried a case using Google (1)

kidgenius (704962) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479230)

Congrats. I remember reading your story a few months ago.

Re:I admit it - I tried a case using Google (1)

onepoint (301486) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479636)

that was great reading, thumbs up !

Re:I admit it - I tried a case using Google (1)

jellie (949898) | more than 6 years ago | (#22481596)

Congratulations! I also remember reading your story a while back. The court opinion is quite a fascinating read too. Just curious - how much money did you spend on lawyer's fees and other costs, and how much time did you spend doing research, preparing motions, and being in court?

Re:I admit it - I tried a case using Google (1)

Christoph (17845) | more than 6 years ago | (#22484596)

Just curious - how much money did you spend on lawyer's fees and other costs, and how much time did you spend doing research, preparing motions, and being in court?

Lawyer's fees, court costs, service of process, depositions, etc. were around $10,000. How much time? I'm afraid to think. Some weeks were 40 hours, others were zero. Over 2+ years, it was a lot. Of course, the other side spent as much as $100,000 (or more) and they didn't get the courts to shut down my web page.

Re:I admit it - I tried a case using Google (1)

yourexhalekiss (833943) | more than 6 years ago | (#22484678)

That's actually a very clear case to read. If only they were all so easy. :-)

Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (5, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478358)

Since all these cases are now up, is there enough data in there to finally make a directory of lawyers with batting averages , so I can check whether one is actually any good at my kind of case before I hire them?

Re:Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (1)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479516)

This is similar to the problem with doctors though. Is a lawyer who wins most of his cases very good, or just very selective about only taking easy cases? A really expert lawyer could be given hard/impossible cases, because he's the only one who has a chance at winning and still lose a lot.

Re:Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479684)

That's OK. If they take my case, then I'll fit their stats. So the process would be what I'd already do: start with the best rated ones and find the first who'll take my case. If their batting average is too low, then I'll drop it.

Re:Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (1)

ffflala (793437) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479826)

The batting average metaphor doesn't translate directly.

For starters, these cases are appeals cases in which a written opinion was issued by a court. Most trial court rulings don't wind up getting reviewed on appeal. Most trial lawyers don't practice at the appellate level, also. However the names of attorneys are included in the text of court opinions, and if these .pdfs are indexed you will be able to find them.

But this ain't baseball.

Re:Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22480180)

Wouldn't that just encourage lawyers to only take on cases they are sure to win?

Re:Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22480508)

Well, like any opening of info about a mysterious but important and valuable process, especially involving lawyers, it would have many results, some conflicting.

The main motivation for lawyers is a legally enforceable obligation to take cases that meet legal requirements of validity. Lawyers cannot just refuse cases they aren't certain to win, of the case is legally sound (eg. there's evidence they're right, there's less evidence they're wrong, there's precedent in law, they have standing to sue, it's not frivolous, etc). Of course, lawyers are indeed entitled to decline cases they have evidence and cause (precise terms in the law, not just purely subjective calls that could just equal "not certain to win easily") to believe will not win, even if the lawyer does a good job and the judge is fair and reasonable. If lawyers can be proven to have done that, in a suit over a complaint they just blew off a case (eg. they were too lazy or greedy to take), they can be disbarred or otherwise punished. And it does happen, even though it would be easy to believe no lawyer would do that to another lawyer in their little club. Lawyers love cases where they can stick it to other lawyers, especially when that action "cleans up the profession" so more people trust lawyers more and give them more power and money.

The other motivation is making money. Lawyers will typically get paid (by the hour, plus expenses like marking up their $25:hour receptionist and their local phonebills to $300:hour, plus their own time using those hours) whether they win or lose. Except in share of damages compensation cases, but their share of those makes it statistically advantageous to take any of those that are above 50% chance of winning, and even some that are well below in the chance that they might pay off.

And all this is actually part of the system. Lawyers are "officers of the court": they're required to protect the courts from excessive cases, not just the most frivolous ones, by working them out without litigation, and even just turning people down when it's more trouble to the legal system than it's really worth (but with an accounting for protecting people's rights and their client's best interest, except abusive self interest).

That's how the system is structured. There's enough complexity and judgement calls, including on the part of a slighted client who would be distracted by an extra suit against the slighting lawyer, and all the wobbliness of most potential clients not realizing how sensitive are lawyers to accusations they're just cherrypicking to avoid the least profitable cases. And they do get away with it quite a bit, though they're taking some heavy chances when they try.

But then consider the power of the info. Those batting averages are just one stat (not including arbitration or settling, or at least any ability to compare that to "what would have happened in trial"), but they are better than nothing. Today lawyers are as free to turn down "hard" cases, but they don't, and clients don't have the corresponding ability to skip "bad" lawyers, except purely anecdotally. There's a complex balance, and more info will usually shift it to work more often along the lines it says it will, without hidden cycles that protect the lawyers.

I know I want to know that number every time I ask a lawyer for advice. Having it might start some cycle to cook the numbers, but that's still probably better than not knowing at all.

Re:Datamining for Lawyer Batting Averges (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22482484)

There is a site that provides close to that info.. http://www.lawyers.com/ [lawyers.com] No batting averages, but there are peer reviews. Thats about as good as you're gonna get with attorneys.. They usually protect their own.

So who will be the umpire (1)

QuessFan (621029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22483516)

Beside the selection issue already mentioned.

If you want the battling average, who is going to call the strikes and balls?

I don't know how many opinions you had read, but often it's far from clear who is the "winning" side without extensive research into all the circumstance surround a particular case.

It's not uncommon for an opinion to end with "Affirmed in part 1,3, 7, reversed in part 2, 4, and 8, with the rest remanded in part to lower court with the following instructions."

So who really had won? It really depends.

Or in a case I am somewhat familiar with, a family hired a lawyer to fight against a low-ball eminent domain case. The property was taken, but the compensation was triple the original offer, which some people would consider fair or more than fair. Is that ball or strike?

I don't think it's wise to shoehorn complex and complicate issues into simple numbers.

Re:So who will be the umpire (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22483824)

I think it can be presented in a uniform fashion that can be compared across all lawyers in the DB. One query would be which party prevailed, the first order of magnitude of results. The next would be how many of the proposed remedies were ordered, and then how close any dollar remedies were to that requested.

The "batting average" doesn't have to be a simple percentage (or "per miles", which is what baseball uses). But it doesn't have to be some great mystery, either. Law firms use formulas internally for ranking, promotion and bonuses. And those hobgoblins are probably consistent enough at some level of abstraction that they can all, or mostly, be measured according to it.

Re:So who will be the umpire (1)

QuessFan (621029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22484694)

So your strike zone definition will only rate first chair litigators.

How will your system dealing with cases like the one depicted in "Michael Clayton?"

The crude systems we have now, self-reporting(by attorneys),

http://www.verdictsearch.com/index.jsp

is already expensive enough. I shudder at how the kind of extensive analysis would cost.

Re:So who will be the umpire (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22487718)

I haven't seen _Michael Clayton_. But there is a small percentage of outliers in a huge amount of data that could be profiled by machine. Maybe it would cost a few hundred thousand dollars to profile that data into ratings as detailed and easy to understand as, say, the car profiles in the Kelly Blue Book. Business with them is worth $billions a year - bad decisions on who to do business with cost a lot more than that. And the ones harder to profile demand more examination anyway than just a batting average, so that's not a problem for the main list.

So I think this would be a good service to offer. There need to be more cases put on line - closer to all of them - to be really a representative directory. Even just finding which lawyers have experience in which kind of law in which jurisdictions, and their client list, would be a good start for asking them to defend their resume - once it exists. And if the government, or the Bar Association, doesn't publish this kind of rating free, there's still a pretty good business there to start up. It seems like a pretty good investment of maybe $100 before actually talking with a whole bunch of lawyers about their pitches. Which pitches should be a lot more honest when they can be checked in a public database.

Well! (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478398)

I see my summer reading plans are set! Woot!

They should get Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney to be the site avatar/host now that he's retired.

Volunteer Resources (2, Interesting)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478632)

He should get in contact with Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org] , that would make a nice volunteer and resource center for this project. Both have the same end goal; to get public domain knowledge freely available.

IANAL (2, Funny)

PhasmatisApparatus (1086395) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478714)

IANAL, but I'm about to sound a lot more like one.

I wonder (1)

vajaradakini (1209944) | more than 6 years ago | (#22478756)

How much do the other sources of these papers charge? If there isn't a way to search this site and look for one of 1.8 million court rulings then this might be a difficult task.
It also doesn't seem unreasonable to charge a small fee for online publications, I'm pretty sure that ApJ and the like charge at least a little to access their articles (fortunately for me, this is covered for computers on campus).

Thank You Carl! (1)

TheNinjaroach (878876) | more than 6 years ago | (#22479070)

As someone who tried very hard to study law before attempting to enter law school, I learned that almost all court decisions fall back to previous court decisions, commonly known as case law. It was prohibitively expensive for me to access some (all) of the sites listed in TFS, which was the first step of many that has since caused me to lose faith in the way laws are implemented today.

Thank you Carl Malamud for doing your part in providing public access to crucial knowledge about our laws!

Isn't that redundant? (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 6 years ago | (#22480206)

If it's just SCOTUS decisions you're after, Cornell's Legal Information Institute [cornell.edu] has been around for years.

Carl Malamud is an information hero (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22480724)

Carl Malamud is the best thing since scroll wheels.

Fros7 p1st (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22481760)

you have a play Raadt's stubborn be a cock-sucking the project is in distributions infinitesimalrly BE NIGGER! BE GAY! than its Windows distributions

If only the CFR or USC was published... (1)

RecycledElectrons (695206) | more than 6 years ago | (#22482316)

If only the federal government would puclish the Code of Federal Regulations and United States Code.

Of course, they would have to live by them, instead of making shit up when they put someone on trial, which is why the federal laws will never be published.

They claim the laws are online at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/ [gpoaccess.gov] but a search will show that 80% of the CFR and USC are actually missing. This way, a poor schlub is accused of breaking a non-existent law by a para-military storm trooper who is too ignorant to know what the Constitution says. The poor schlub protests his innocence, and is knocked to the floor by the bailiff. A few kicks later, he still protests his innocence. If he's lucky enough to be liked by the gestapo, he'll get a trial. (90% of us who ask for a trial are falsely entered as guilt pleas.) During the show trial, he's refused his right to know what he's accused of. All the defense evidence is suppressed, while the prosecutor grand-stands. (Remember, the prosecutor's office is paying the public defenders. Guess what happens to the ones that actually defend someone.) 90% of jurys convict at this point, but the ones that don't (who will never be called for jury duty again) ask for the law. The prosecutor and judge spend a few days whipping up bullshit to sound like a law, and present it to the jury.

At least this was my experience with the courts in the earl 1990's.

So you see, the CFR & USC will NEVER be published by the federal government.

Andy

Update in the Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22482704)

That O'Reilly story is over a year old; the REAL news is much more recent. As Lawrence Lessig reports [lessig.org] , Malmud's resource.org and Lessig's CC have together purchased a database with a substantial portion of all federal cases. The group has made the data available xml format free for developers to use as they wish. See the resource.org press release at http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/0_Press_20080211.pdf [resource.org]

bitcSh (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22482716)

LexisNexis and Westlaw (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22483200)

I train LexisNexis and Lexis users. Most of y'all have no idea how powerful and sophisticated the LexisNexis -- and more so, Westlaw -- search engines are. This is a homework problem I used to give: Find several court cases in which the guest of a tenant leaned against a porch rail, fell off the porch when the rail collapsed, and sued the landlord.

This shouldn't take more than 10 minutes.

Online recordings of SCOTUS arguments (1)

akratic (770961) | more than 6 years ago | (#22485004)

Oyez [oyez.org] has both the text of Supreme Court decisions and audio recordings of oral arguments. And that's not all! Other features of the site:
  • Justice interments. "Oyez can pinpoint where your favorite Justice is buried, thanks to Google Maps."
  • Oyez baseball. Which major league baseball player is most like Justice Samuel Chase? Take the quiz!

hard to access the information (1)

Snaffler (311068) | more than 6 years ago | (#22488806)

It is a good thing to give the public access to these materials. Your average citizen is not going to sign up for Lexis or Westlaw just to do some heavy legal reading. I know that depending on the size of the firm we are easily talking about five figures PER MONTH for those services.

But when I looked at the website it is obvious that this is not user friendly at all. From what I could tell, the files are either image pdf files or compressed in a tar.bz2 file. I doubt if more than 5% (I am being real generous here) of lawyers have any idea how to unpack that. (windows BZip2 for those who want a graphic interface)

I presume that somebody will OCR it and load it onto a Google-searchable website so the content can be found. Otherwise, this is just an exercise.
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