I’d like to extend publicly a long overdue thanks to the contributors who have helped establish the initial authored Housing Law content on FreeLegalWeb:
- To the pseudonymous Nearly Legal for helping develop the authoring system and to him and his team for providing a steady stream of case notes and articles selected from Nearly Legal. The authoring team are NL himself, Chief, Dave, David Smith, J and Francis Davey. Francis was also a key player in the gestation of FreeLegalWeb.
- To William Flack for his help developing FreeLegalWeb and for providing a number of introductory guides – which he is now developing on his Social Welfare Law Wiki.
- To Tessa Shepperson for providing a selection of excellent articles, case notes and reviews from her Landlord-Law Blog.
- To Stephen Moore of CaseCheck for generously making available for our publication the entire CaseCheck case summaries archive (only the property and landlord and tenant categories are currently used).
- To Jamal Demachkie for providing materials from the Housing Law website.
We are also establishing a channel from the PainSmith Landlord and Tenant Blog (thanks to David Smith).
Housing Law is the focus of our Pilot site, but we welcome contributions from across all areas of law. If you write about the law, please share your expertise on FreeLegalWeb.
Since launch we’ve received a number of feedback emails – thanks.
But to ensure your feedback is effectively distributed, please do post your comments to this blog. We also have a Google Group for announcements and discussion. And if you’d like to post to the blog, just ask to register.
We’ve now provisionally scheduled a meeting for Wednesday 6 October to obtain feedback and help progress the project further. Please note this date for your diary and we’ll post more details later.
At long last we have a public Beta service here at FreeLegalWeb dot org. Please do investigate and give us your feedback. Do so by commenting on this blog or Contact us directly if you’d like to post to the blog.
We’ve only just made a start, providing core functionality for browsing and searching resources and delivering authored content focused on Housing Law. There’s much we left undone and lots more functionality we plan to add. But we need your help. See the Participate page for ways you can get involved.
Thanks to Harry and the team at The Dextrous Web and to Robert at UniRom Systems for their development expertise, to the initial housing law contributors and to OPSI for our seed funding.
Well worth a read on Richard Letter’s The Life of Books: The 21st Century Law Library Conundrum: Free Law and Paying to Understand It:
The digital revolution, that once upon a time promised free access to legal materials, will deliver on that promise; it’s just that the free materials it will deliver, even if it comprises the sum total of all primary law in the the country at every level and jurisdiction, will amount to only a minor portion of the materials that lawyers need in order to practice law, and the public needs in order to understand it.
Legal Opinions on Google Scholar opens up access to full text legal opinions from US federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts and via a Cited By feature links to other cases and articles on Scholar that cite them. (Though court opinions in the US are not protected by copyright they wre hitherto only readily available for comprehensive searching via services such as Lexis and Westlaw.)
You can also use Google Scholar / Legal Opinions to follow up citations of judgments that are not themselves indexed in full text, including those from other jurisdictions. For example, one will readily find citations of leading cases such as Hedley Byrne and Donoghue v Stevenson, and more recent cases of course.
So it’s going to be useful for (US) legal research, though it will be some time before it challenges the likes of Wexis. Calm … down, says Jason Wilson.
The development is hyped by Anurag Acharya, the Distinguished Engineer (sic) behind the development, on the Official Google Blog, saying:
We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. … we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations.
I don’t buy this empowerment argument. It’s absolutely right that citizens should have access to the laws that bind them and any initiative that makes them more accessible is to be welcomed. But to empower the average citizen you have to go the extra mile, explaining the law. Lawyers and legal researchers have spent years learning the law and acquiring the skills that enable them to navigate and reliably interpret primary law and precedent.
Bob Berring is an eminent Professor of Law at the University of California Berkeley who has won significant recognition for teaching and law librarianship.
In his time he’s consulted for West. How closely associated he is I do not know; he plays West up substantially in this YouTube clip. (See also this post and the comments thereto on Thomson Reuters blog Legal Current.)
Bob kicks off his vid by saying “I do believe in the market system”. So, he’s not a commie. But what does he mean by “the market system” – it soon becomes clear.
He believes that government efforts in the provision of free legal information have failed because there are no incentives; and that “volunteer efforts”, worthy as they may be, are unlikely to be sustained. He rightly says that legal information is not easily packaged: we need a map and a compass to navigate it; it needs to be organised and value added. I think we all agree with that. But his conclusion appears to be that only Wexis have sufficient incentive and only they can mobilise the necessary army to add sufficient value for it to be useful. That’s clearly preposterous – the talk of someone living in the past.
For Bob the free legal information that’s out there is “a bunch of goo” and the only thing that can sort out the mess is “the market system”. Well I have to tell Bob that it’s more nuanced than that. Sure, people need incentives, but those incentives are not only to turn a profit for shareholders. We live in a mixed economy Bob and we live by differing values:
- government has an incentive to make legal information more accessible
- the legal profession has an incentive to make legal information more accessible
- various non-profits have an incentive to make legal information more accessible
- citizens have an incentive to make legal information more accessible
- and there are many private enterprises short of Wexis who have an incentive to make legal information more accessible
All these are players in the development of better legal information; all these are making a difference.
The Digital Engagement team are inviting developers to show government how to get the (forthcoming) UK government data site right. For now you need to apply to preview and contribute ideas via a Google Group.
With over 1000 existing data sets, from 7 departments (brought together in re-useable form for the first time) and community resources, we want developers to work with us to use the data to create great applications; give us feedback on the early operational community; and tell us how to develop what we have into a single point of access for government-held public data.
Down Under data.australia.gov.au has just launched.
US Data.gov launched in May. Its goal is nicely put:
A primary goal of Data.gov is to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
OPSI is some way down the road in developing a new Single Legislation Service (SLS) which will combine legislation from the OPSI website and the SLD. As I understand it the SLS will effectively combine and integrate the following legislation data resources:
- the “as enacted” versions of legislation from OPSI, immediately on enactment
- the revised versions of legislation from the SLD, as and when available, complete with all versioning and annotation information
- the tables of effects data maintained by the SLD which will link past legislative provisions to relevant amending provisions
- the explanatory notes, integrated with the relevant legislative provisions
Key to the utility of the service and opening up the information has been the development of a permanent URI scheme for addressing legislation, legislation fragments, versions and related resources on the new site. Say Goodbye to link rot and Hello to an intuitive format with which any external individual or website can reliably construct an address to any legislative resource. This is not just a technical nicety, but a fundamental improvement that will open up UK legislation for public consumption.
The API is now documented on the site www.legislation.gov.uk.
I’m pleased to report that last week we received our first funding commitment – from OPSI – sufficient to proceed in earnest with the first phase of development of the FreeLegalWeb Pilot Project.
At the core of FLW will be what we call the Citator – essentially linked data tables identifying and connecting everything we know about the law: both primary resources such as legislation, cases and other official documents, and secondary law resources such as publications and articles. Using the Citator we will be able to request data both internally from FLW and externally from the web via an API which will be made publicly available so that any external website can leverage that information.
In the UK OPSI is the key facilitator of public sector information policy, setting standards and providing a practical framework of best practice for opening up and encouraging the use of PSI. It also has direct responsibility for the publication (inter alia) of legislation and is advanced in its development of a new legislation website which will provide an API enabling direct addressing of legislation data and resources. Via the Citator FLW will both exploit the facilities the new legislation website offers and also help contribute to OPSI’s PSI policy agenda. On this basis OPSI is part-financing the development of the Citator.
A big thanks to John Sheridan at OPSI who has been a leading FLW supporter from the outset. Indeed it was he who first encouraged me to go public with the initiative last autumn.
We have some way to go in securing sufficient funds to commit to development of the full Pilot Project but are nevertheless proceeding with other aspects of development in the expectation that some of our other current funding prospects will come good.