January 19

New Project

In case you missed the news, Gentle Reader, I finalized my report on my Census of State Legal Information and released it last week.  That was a big relief and I think the things I was able to discern from the data was useful information.  I hope anyway. My great hope for it is that the people that have the ability to make decisions about how to publish legal information can use it to make better decisions.

Now on to a new project!

As you may know, I was going to write a book about Access to Law.  After thinking about it and starting to do the research for it, I realized that I don’t quite have it in me to do.  Plus, even if I did have the mental acuity to do the research and sit down and write, I don’t think I could do it (or at least a decent attempt at it) in the remaining time allotted.  Kind of sucks, but dem’s the breaks.

Fortunately I have no dearth of things to do.  Even in the middle of the state legal info census, I was bothered by the niggling question of “who cares?”  That little voice became louder the more I finished up the report.  So I have decided to try and answer that question through my second research project, which is a citation analysis of state supreme court decisions.

Here’s the plan:  I’ve created a list of the 10 most recent state supreme court decisions from every state.  Slightly harder than one might think, since there are a lot of “decisions” out there that are not written opinions.  Of these 500 cases, I’m going through the Table of Authorities for each and seeing how many of the cases cited are available via either Free or State websites.

I hope to get an idea of the following three things:

  1. Whether the “lifespan of a case is about 20 years” found for US Supreme Court opinions holds true on the state level.
  2. If someone (i.e. a citizen) reading a state supreme court opinion would have access to the cases cited to read in order to better understand the law that governs them.
  3. To see if the resources needed to be a participant in the state court system are available for free or must pay law be used.

So that’s generally my spring semester, although I do plan on still messing around with some random acts of free law, investigations of legal tech and other things that catch my attention.  I feel a lot less stressed this semester about ‘trying to prove my value’ and getting the most out of the year.  It’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

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December 10

Print Code and Citation Information Data Share

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about copyright issues with state codes, the data that I collected on print state versions can be found on this google drive spreadsheet.

I also went through all of the states’ citation rules, because I was curious about citation requirements to commercial vs. public domain works as well as requirements to use The Bluebook (a proprietary citation system) itself by states.  So that data is also in that spreadsheet.  My main takeaways from that are:

  • 11 states require use of the Bluebook (in whole or part)
  • 22 states specfically require citation to West National Reporter System cases (instead of using the cite you can find, for example, via Google Scholar.)
  • 16 states use public domain citation formats, although many also require parallel cites to West NRS cases.  Of course, anything before the change over to Public Domain will require cite to a non-vendor or media neutral source.

I want to go back through the citation rule information and see how many states have their own citation manual, because it could be inferred that those that don’t are also Bluebook by default.  Although I did see instances of “any accepted citation format” as a guide, so in theory they could use Peter Martin’s free and open Basic Legal Citation.  I also want to get an exact count of how many of the Public Domain states really do require citation to commercial cites.  Sort of kicking myself that I didn’t think to keep track when I was doing it, although with only 16 states, it should be pretty easy to accomplish.

December 9

Copyright Issues with State Codes

CVyw_FcWsAAVgU8.jpg largeHello, Gentle Reader!  Long time no post!  I’m in the process of writing up my research results from my survey/census of state published legal information.   You can get a preview of my findings in my recent Slaw.ca column “What Do You Mean the Law is Closed?” or this slide show that illustrates that post with some of the data included.  I didn’t make that slide show explicitly to go with the post – I’ve been traveling and I presented on my research using that deck.

One of the topics that I’m covering in my coming research report is the copyright…well, confusion, frankly….that exists with state codes. There are so many copyright notices on state legal information webpages!  It’s not entirely clear if they mean the legal info content or if it’s just something always stuck in the boiler plate of the webpage and they don’t really mean it or something in between.  Although I’m generally trying to stick to web-based publishing of law, I thought that before I left the HLS Mothership for the holidays, I’d check out their print collection of codes and see what the situation was there in hopes that would clear some things up.


It did, however, find provide some fascinating data points.  For various definitions of the word ‘fascinating.’

For “official” print codes, I found the following numbers:

  • 4 – No Claim of Copyright by anyone
  • 22 – State Claims Copyright
  • 10 – Thomson Reuters (or some subsidiary thereof) Claims Copyright
  • 9 – LexisNexis (or some subsidiary there of, usually Mathew Bender) Claims Copyright
  • 3 Shared Claim of Copyright between State and Publisher

Sharp eyed readers will note that this only adds up to 48 codes.  That’s because some states have designated their online code to be official and some states have two official codes.


Most of the codes are annotated, so it’s entirely possible that the claim of copyright is referring to the annotations.  Whether or not that is kosher is currently being decided in State of Georgia v. Malamud.  BUT BUT BUT…  Seven codes – Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota,  and Washington – are UN-annotated and yet there still is a state claim of copyright slapped on them.  So, unless I’m making a crazy assumption here, that means that these states are claiming copyright on something that is a clear edict of government (and thus public domain.)

Harvard has more than just the official codes in their collection, so in for a penny, in for a pound and I went through 64 state codes in total.  The numbers for them ended up being:

  • 4 No Claim of Copyright by Anyone
  • 23 State Claims Copyright
  • 21 Thomson Reuters (or some subsidiary thereof) Claims Copyright
  • 13 LexisNexis (or some subsidiary thereof) Claims Copyright
  • 3 Shared Claim of Copyright between State and Commercial Publisher.

Like I said, it’s confusing to know exactly what these copyright notifications are claiming copyright on.   Annotations, Section Headings, the text of the law itself… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  However, in 3 of these codes, there was a disclaimer from the publisher (Matthew Bender each time) that they were not claiming copyright in the statutes, case quotes, etc., just the annotations.  So that I was nice.   And in one of the codes, the publisher (Thomson Reuters) said that they were only claiming copyright in the annotations and that the state had copyright in statutes.  So, score one for being clear, I guess…

And finally, in “things I didn’t realize I had to be annoyed about”, I found that Thomson Reuters (or some subsidiary thereof) fairly often had a trademark on names such as “Iowa Code Annotated.”  So if, for example, I wanted to publish my own annotated copy of the Iowa Code, I guess I would run into trademark issues with finding a clear name for it?   I’m honestly not an IP expert, so I need to think and research more about that, but on first pass/gut instinct, I thought there were some rules about trademarking common-ish names.


November 5

Regulation Data – updated

I went back and rechecked my regulation data – I got sloppy on the last column “search” when doing it initially – as I said, I finished it up on the day before I left on a vacation to Central America that I’d been planning on for about a year, so I was a little distracted – but I went back through and checked it over I’m pretty sure it all good now.


So here’s the spreadsheet containing information on the state of state regulations.

November 5

Copyright of State Documents and General Update

One of the many annoying factors in analyzing the data I have on state published law is the copyright issue.  Some states flat out say that they are claiming copyright on their published law, some just have a “copyright state of X” notice on the bottom of their webpages (which leaves it ambiguous as to whether they mean the law itself or just their groovy circa 1998 web page design), and some have no copyright notice but have a terms of use that prevents one from actually using the published law such that they might as well slap a copyright on it.   Happily, the folks at Harvard and Berkman have created this handy guide that breaks down (or at least provides some guidance) on the status of copyright on state documents.  I shall be incorporating it into my data analysis.

In other news, I’m putting Project X on the backburner for the time being and re-diving into my data collection analysis on state published law.  (I needed the break from the data and also Project X is now at a good point to break from it – I’ll really be heading into it full time in 2016.  I just was doing some preliminary work to reassure myself that there’s enough out there for Project X to work.  Possibly.  Anyway…)   I want to re-go over my regulations data – sharp eyed folks will notice I unpublished the link to it.   I found a mistake and I’m worried that my distraction in finishing it the day before leaving on a year-long planned vacation didn’t make me as cautious as I should have been.   Then I’m going to generally clean up the data so all the fun graphs and charts work right and try to figure out what it all means.  Besides the initial reaction of “omg this is so much worse than I thought.”

While I was gone at a conference in Canada, it was finally announced that the lab which I’m affiliated with – the Harvard Library Innovation Lab – is working with Ravel to digitize all of U.S. Case law.  I really admire my colleagues at LIL and all the hard work they have done to make this happen.  It’s a good thing.

Finally, the conference I went to in Canada was on law libraries and access to justice, especially in rural communities.  It was an interesting mix of legal aid attorneys, public librarians and law librarians.  It was good to see that there is interest in all sides to collaborate and make legal information and knowledge more available to communities.

October 14

Radio Silence

I’ve been struggling with my fellowship this first few weeks/months.  The freedom is great, but I need goals and markers and plans.  Figuring out what to do and finding something meaningful to do with said time has been tough.  I know…poor me.  Too much freedom.  Too many exciting things to explore and work on.

Fortunately, I have a project/plan for the rest of my fellowship time.  Let’s just refer to it as “Project X” for the time being.  However, the nature of Project X is such that I won’t be blogging as much about the process as I have been.    At least I don’t think I will be.  As with everything this year, things are meant to be fluid and able to change and not get locked into things.  So I may end up blogging more.  Who knows.

Anyway, I just wanted to post that in case this appear to be a dead blog.

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October 7

Legal Needs and Library Collections

I’ve found one survey that comes close to what I was hoping to find : 2014 Civil Legal Needs of Low Income in Washington State Survey.  (Warning: PDF)  And it’s not perfect because it’s limited to low socio-economic outcomes.  There’s  possibly a second if the people from Findlaw can get back to me with detailed  results from this five year old survey.  I’m really surprised that no one seems to be researching the legal needs of Joe and Jane Public.

It seems that, when it comes to law, the collection development of primary legal materials can be summarized as COLLECT ALL THE THINGS.  Take, for example, the AALL County Public Law Library Collection standards.   What if it turns out that this is not what people actually need?  What happens when the time comes (and it may be here already) where a library’s budget is going to only be able to afford complete primary law OR incomplete law and secondary resources on certain topical areas?

I guess basically I’m just surprised that we’ve been doing collection development in a knowledge vacuum of what subjects people actually need to research.

On a somewhat related note, I went to a talk today on The Future of Libraries (which I always like to pronounce like a 1950s sci-fi movie announcer) and one of the speakers brought up an interesting point about metadata.  Basically, metadata is not neutral – it’s heavily influenced by the people that created it.  Take, for instance, the Dewey Decimal system.  The 200s in Dewey are for religion and 200-289 are dedicated to Christianity.  All other religions are crammed in those last 10 slots.  Which of course lead me to think about the Law’s version of the Dewey Decimal System, The West Key Number system.  Like Dewey, it too is an artifact of the 19th century and created by and for western white men.  What is missing from Key Numbers and, as a result, who is getting missed?  How is our current organization of legal information failing to serve the needs of all citizens?

I think I mentioned it earlier, but one of the things I was going to play around with this year is topic modelling, which I was clued into at the 2015 CALIcon.   I wonder if a more inclusive, and not to mention OPEN, taxonomy of law could be developed and if so, what it would look like?

October 5

The Who Cares Question

Now that I’m close – oh, so close! – to wrapping up my initial survey of available law online, as well as surveyed that which is available via law libraries,  I’m brought to Part Two of my research.  The “who cares?” question.  Yes, government publication of law online seems woefully inadequate…but can I prove it?  What does information poverty mean in the context of the legal needs of the public?  How can one assess the legal needs of the public?

No, seriously, I’m looking to crowdsource some research help here…how would you assess the legal information needs of the general public (or of the practicing bar, for that matter.)?

Some ideas:

  • Look at some number of cases published (All state supreme court cases in 2015, which btw according to CourtListener is a couple of thousand) and check their Table of Authorities?
  • Use something like Rich Leiter’s Leading Case Service as a corpus to see what the “most important” cases are, and their authorities are available?
  • See the most cited cases under a certain selection of West Key Numbers (e.g. Employment, Landlord Tenant, etc.  You know, biggies. No offense to 245 LOGS AND LOGGING) and check the TOA
  • Ethnographic interviews of pro se patrons (I honestly don’t think I have the resources to do this one in the time and depth it would need to be done.)
  • See if I can get some search query data out of online legal research sites? (May apply to the West Key Number selection above.)

I mean, is there really no list or article out there on the most common legal information/research/help needs of the general public or even research on what the most common legal problems facing people are?  I’m must be missing the correct search term.


October 1

Activity Summary – Weeks Five and Six

(Note: You’ll have to forgive the flightiness of today’s post – I seem to have brought a cold back with me from Indiana.)

The theme for the past two weeks has been detours.  Partly due to some geographic change (I went home for a visit) and partly due to life throwing a curve ball at my thought processes.  As I have three trips planned for October, I predict that trend will continue.

I started in on the state regulations survey.  Thus far, what has mainly stood out is that there are no archives (except maybe for some state versions of the Federal Register) and PDFs everywhere.  So, it’s not great, but it matches all other free law provided by governments.  The lack of archives is concerning.  I mean, I hope they’re somewhere, if not online?

Now that my primary law survey is close to wrapping up (I hope to be done with the surveys by the time I leave on Trip #2 on the 16th),I’m starting to ease into phase two of my fellowship – data analysis and research.

I decided to look to libraries and their collections to see if they are filling in the gaps that government doesn’t provide    So I sent out a survey via the law-lib and some AALL listservs and have gotten over 200 responses!  So that’s exciting.  November is going to be all about the data analysis.  This is all going to the “information poverty” and ” access to justice” research pile.

I have finally gotten around to activating my legal database research services subscriptions (thank you, Harvard Law Library!), and I begun doing some secondary research.  First things first, it looks like no one has written about legal information poverty or how it relates to access to justice, so that’s good.  I guess.  I mean, it would suck to try and have to figure out something else to write about but on the other hand WHY DON’T PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THIS?  This is an important issue!  Isn’t it?

Now a weird curveball… It turns out some of my tweets became the basis of a Above the Law column. Which is sort of funny timing because I had been thinking lately that one thing I’m getting from my Berkman Center experience is that being surrounded by so many people that are “famous” makes me appreciate my anonymity and how I have been liking not arguing with people or having to defend myself against a bunch of strangers on the Internet.  I’m a small fish in a big pond and I like it.  It’s been a peaceful few weeks, basically.   But the column did make me think about the legal practice world and technologists and the interactions between the two.   So I actually cracked open my other blog and wrote some there.

It also made me think about the ethical implications of new technology and whether they are an impediment or enticement to innovation.  (Spoiler alert: I think it’s the latter.)   So I think I’ll be throwing that on the research pile.  I guess I was going to eventually come to that, since so much of what I’m studying does eventually make its way back to the legal practice world –  tools and services for the public to use in lieu of attorneys, and therefore I need to be concerned about things that the legal practice world may do to stop it.  But there’s something about the conversations had in the legal practice world about the future of legal practice that I find so unsatisfying.

I visited with my therapist when I was home and one thing we talked about was “what counts as a success” for my time here.  That’s something I’ve been struggling with.  When you have a job or are in an educational program, there are duties and benchmarks that you need to hit.  Here’s there’s no requirements or benchmarks – just what I want to do .   What happens if I don’t formally publish anything?  Is just learning and researching enough?  How soon do I need to start getting manuscripts to publishers?  What happens if I keep getting hit by detours.  It’s oddly stressful, in a way, all this freedom.


September 23

Law library collection survey

My research covers intersection of legal information, libraries and access to justice. In order to gain a better understanding of the information available to members of the public via law libraries, I have crafted a survey that will hopefully give me some insight into the collections available.   I hope you will consider taking 10-15 minutes to take this survey. It can be found at:



Thank you very much.