Thursday, September 22, 2011

Google Search: What are Uses for the Internet?

If you were wondering what the internet is for, you've come to the right place.  Apparently, this blog is one of the top ten results for the search "what are uses for the internet".

How do I know? The Google Analytics report for this blog showed that phrase as one that led here.

So if you're wondering, my 2 cents on the subject: one great use for the internet is to make legal information more accessible. While I think that the internet can be valuable to share photos, videos, tweets, tumbles, sparks and other gems, it can also be used to share our basic legal rulebooks and court decisions in a way that is accessible to everyone who is bound by them.

California Laws: Continued progress

Our work continues to translate the results of the first California Laws Hackathon for public consumption:

A small core of hackers, consisting of Grant Vergottini, Greg Willson, Mike Tahani and myself (with support from Karen Suhaka's excellent team at BillTrack50) is moving forward to apply the sample timeline to all  sections of California's codes, and to link external data to code sections.  In particular, Matt has written functions to link's lobbyist and bill positions data to California statutes.

Meanwhile, we're working with Common Cause (Philip Ung), Sunlight Foundation (Laurenellen McCann) and Maplight (Jeff ErnstFriedman and team) to debrief hackathon results and apply this momentum to strengthen Open Government initiatives in California.

If you want to chip in, contact me, or add to the growing wiki here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

California Hackathon Update

Seven Google + hangouts, four countries, dozens of tweets, many coffees, discussions and coding sessions later, ready to call it a night for the California Law Hackathon. (twitter hashtag #calawhack).  

Special guest appearance by John Sheridan, architect of and guidance on California data APIs from Grant Vergottini, architect of California's LegisWeb and, and the Maplight team. Amazing cross-country coordination and promotion by Robert Richards.

Participants, photos, thanks, some of my embarrassing source code and early results are on the wiki and will continue to be updated:

Improved documentation of the event and access to California legislative data coming soon.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

California Laws Hackathon Details

If you haven't yet heard the news, we're having a Hackathon for California Legislation. Feel free to spread the announcement below to friends and lists who might be interested.

Join us this Saturday to hack world-class apps for California's legislation. This hackathon was born on the Sunlight Foundation's Open State project listserve, to extend the great work there! Please forward to your lists and groups!

When:      12pm -6pm Saturday, September 17
Where:     Maplight Foundation, 2223 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley (contact me for virtual participation)
What:       Build apps for California legislation, including a legislative time machine. 
                  Play with the new CA legislative APIs from and
RSVP: or contact me directly.

Sponsors Include: Sunlight Foundation, Maplight Foundation, LegisWeb, Common Cause, BillTrack50, NationBuilder, Tabulaw

Monday, September 12, 2011

California Laws: Great new ideas

Waldo Jaquith of the StateDecoded, and Matt Carey have added a number of excellent ideas for organizing California's laws as part of our California Law Hackathon (RSVP here).

Do you have ideas for the hackathon?  Add them here*:

Current ideas include:

  • Cluster related code sections, for search and navigation
  • Create a timeline view for each code section
  • Bulk downloads for codes and legislation
  • Create identifiers for useful legislative units (e.g. language on "unfair practices")
  • Track movement of statutory text from one place in the code to another
*Write to me (aih at tabulaw dot com) for access to the wiki.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Legal Technology: Change is Coming

A transformation is taking place in the legal technology industry. An article article by Paula Hane in InfoToday entitled "Upstart Legal Services Gain Traction", highlights a number of new online services that are challenging traditional models - both in technology and legal practice. (Disclosure: there is a nice section on Tabulaw's research and writing platform and our site.)

Pressures on lawyers and law firms to become more efficient, and to adopt advances in technology are now becoming publicly visible in a number of ways. One of them is the rise in online legal services that Hane describes in her article, another is the turmoil surrounding high law school tuitions and the weak market for new lawyers, a third is the growing interest in legal information from technologists and technology companies (e.g. legal content on Google Scholar and Google Venture's investments in LawPivot and RocketLawyer).

These changes highlight two essential components of law: information and judgment. A comment on judgment first:

Engineers often make the mistake of assuming that the entire function of law can be outsourced to technology. That thinking is fed by a certain line of thinking that runs straight up to the Supreme Court, that judgment is just the application of law to facts, like Chief Justice Roberts' "balls and strikes" analogy at his confirmation hearing. That suggests that judgment can be replaced by an algorithm. That, I hope, is not the direction of improved legal technology.

Where legal technology shines is in distilling information in a form that makes it easier for a decision maker to apply good judgment, and which clears out much of the information overload that surrounds many legal issues. The tech world is only now touching the surface of what can be done to distill the information of law, which is just text after all. As an example, a friend of mine, Itai Gurari, is building an engine that can identify the relevant legal points in a court opinion (check out his search engine, Tracelaw, here). If you want to get involved in this exciting field, a good place to start is with state statutes and by helping us with the first ever California Law Hackathon.