Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crowdsourcing Legal Research

If you have a tough case, does it make sense to post your issue on a website and see what other lawyers will say? Legal Technology News looks at this new practice: John Edwards, Legal Research: Send in the Crowds?, LTN, April 16, 2014. The short answer: "Crowdsourcing is a powerful way of engaging legal research, but some lawyers feel it's useless, perhaps even harmful."

The article mentions two crowdsourcing websites aimed at lawyers:

Mootus logo

Mootus enables law students and lawyers to post issues and argue issues that others post. The "How It Works" page lists these steps:
  1. Create your free account
  2. Complete your profile
  3. Argue issues anonymously (find open issues, cite good law and vote other cites as "on point" or "off base")
  4. Earn reputation and status (through high quality cites, arguments and votes)
  5. Build your issue library
A free account allows you to post one issue a month. Premium subscribers can post more issues.

I signed up to take a look. The first question I saw was "Whether a state can require voters to show photo identification in order." Just yesterday I heard Lauren Watts give a presentation on her just-published comment, Reexamining Crawford: Poll Worker Error as a Burden on Voters, 89 Wash. L. Rev. 175 (2014), so I felt prepared to offer some information.

I discovered that the contribution form makes you choose Case, Statute, or Regulation, and doesn't give you the opportunity to say: "Here is a really great secondary source that will give you an overview of the issues and cite lots of primary materials." So I entered the citation for the case in Lauren's title, Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board. The "Explanation" field only allows 200 characters—not room for much nuance. I fit in:
3-3-3 plurality, upholding Indiana statute over facial challenge. Other challenges still possible. Discussion:
I also entered the citation for the Indiana case the Supreme Court upheld in Crawford, with a link to the National Conference of State Legislatures page on state voter ID laws:
See; Lauren Watts, Comment REEXAMINING CRAWFORD: POLL WORKER ERROR AS A BURDEN ON VOTERS, 89 Wash. L. Rev. 175 (2014)
There's potential here, but I'd like to see an option for secondary sources (that's where I start most of my research, don't you?) and more room for discussion.

Casetext logo

Casetext offers "legal research on the shoulder's of giants." While Mootus is issue-by-issue, Casetext is a large database of cases and statutes with annotations by lawyers and law professors.
Casetext combines state-of-the-art search capability with a free legal research platform. Casetext’s platform is unique in enabling users to add personalized meta-data to documents and then use this data to filter and refine subsequent searches. Casetext enables sophisticated queries including term proximity and keyword boosting. 
The front page currently features four annotators (a law firm and three law professors). My eye was caught by Professor Ruthann Robson, whose latest book is Dressing constitutionally : hierarchy, sexuality, and democracy from our hairstyles to our shoes (Classified Stacks KF390.5 .C56 R63 2013). What would she annotate? And what would she say?

You can see a list here. There are links to blog posts on Constitutional Law ProfBlog (e.g., this one discussing a 9th Circuit case on juror exclusion and sexual orientation). There are also links to various cases she's commented on—e.g., Zablocki v. Redhail, a 1978 Supreme Court case about the right to marry.

Casetext's mission "is to make all the world's laws free and understandable." So far it includes all U.S. Supreme Court cases, court of appeals cases from 1 F.2d on, and federal district court cases from 1980-date. It also has Delaware cases. The United States Code isn't listed in the FAQ, but when I searched for statutes I found them. There are plenty of cases that have not been tagged or annotated. The project is in its early stages. Basic searching seems fast and easy. I'd like to see an advanced search option (e.g., limiting by date or searching only annotations).

Like Mootus, Casetext offers an option for asking questions of the community. You can browse past questions and the responses. Some have never been answered, but some have helpful citations and comments.

Currently Casetext is free, but premium features are planned. You can sign in using a Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook account.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really interesting Gallagher, thanks​!​

I think that you would be really interested in some of the most cutting-edge research that I have come across explaining crowds, open innovation, and citizen science.​

And you may also enjoy this blog about the same too:

Powerful stuff, no?