January 29, 2008
Law Prof as Toolmaker: An Interview with PreCYdent's Thomas A. Smith (San Diego)
Joe Hodnicki: On Law Librarian Blog, I've been fairly critical of law professors who venture into the field of bibliometrics without an understanding of the theory and techniques information scientists use to produce citation studies, without in many cases even an inkling of the work of Eugene Garfield, the founder of modern citation indexing and citation analysis. Most studies are more info antics than metrics but not your landmark The Web of Law study [our post, The Mother of All Law Review Citation Studies Finds Dead Papers Abound]. What made you venture into these murky waters?
Fred Shapiro, Origins of Bibliometrics, Citation Indexing, and Citation Analysis: The Neglected Legal Literature, 43 Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 337 (1992)
James F. Spriggs, II and Thomas G. Hansford, Measuring Legal Change: The Reliability and Validity of Shepard's Citations, 53 Political Research Quarterly 327 (2000)
J. H. Fowler, T. R. Johnson, J. F. Spriggs II, S. Jeon, and P. J. Wahlbeck, Network Analysis and the Law: Measuring the Legal Importance of Precedents at the U.S. Supreme Court, 15 Political Analysis 324 (2007)
Tom Smith: In 2005, I read Albert-Laszlo Baribasi's book Linked and it struck me that legal citations must form a network like those Barabasi discussed in his book. In fact, citation networks, especially of science articles, have been studied for many years, but I did not know this at the time. I decided I wanted write a paper on this topic, and went searching for data. I was able to contact a sympathetic person at Lexis/Nexis, and after much negotiation was able to get from them a license for some citation frequency data of US federal and state cases. This was strictly numerical data that told me that in California, for example, how many cases had been cited once, how many twice, how many 3 times, and so on. I did not get any network data regarding what case cited what case. Using the citation frequency data I wrote The Web of Law, which got a gratifying response among other law professors and law librarians on SSRN.
Joe Hodnicki: Your Web of Law research led you to develop your search engine, PreCYdent. How did that start?
Tom Smith: It occurred to me that if Google worked by mining information in the link structure of the Web, why couldn't a search engine be built which mined the information latent in the Web of Law? I wrote many emails to mathematicians around the country, and received one kind response from Prof. Steve Strogatz at Cornell, who said while he was no longer working on complex networks himself, he had a graduate student who might be interested. He introduced me to Antonio Tomarchio, a visiting student from the Politecnico di Milano, Italy's largest and probably most prestigious technical university. Antonio and I (mostly Antonio) wrote a long, technical monograph on the mathematical properties of the Web of Law, using such limited data as we had. At the end of 2005 I suggested we build a legal search engine, and Antonio agreed enthusiastically.
We went looking for financing. In a few months we were fortunate to find in San Diego a former aerospace engineer and entrepreneur who was willing to provide some seed money. Antonio recruited friends from among his network of friends in computer science and math grad students in Italy, and Piero Fraternali, a computer science professor at the Politecnico, agreed to be our scientific advisor and arranged for incubator space in a Politecnico building in Como.
Antonio and I formed PreCYdent as an LLC in April, 2006. Antonio and our team began designing and testing our algorithm on a database of US Supreme Court and US Court of Appeals cases assembled from various public domain sources.
Joe Hodnicki: The key to any search engine is the algorithm used to generate search results. What can you tell us about it.
Tom Smith: The PreCYdent algorithm was developed over about 18 months of intensive work by team members. Because it is the core of our intellectual property, I obviously cannot describe it in detail, but it is fair to say that it is another branch off the trunk of Cornell Professor and MacArthur Prize winner Jon Kleinberg's path breaking work in the mathematics of networks, just as many would argue Google's PageRank is. However, we found that no straightforward application of Kleinberg authority scores, for instance, worked at all well on the legal citation network, and PreCYdent team members devoted much effort to coming up with a mix of mathematical techniques that was suited to legal search. These efforts paid off handsomely though, in that in our tests the PreCYdent algorithm outperforms by a wide margin in search recall and precision (standard measures in the industry) the Westlaw natural language search engine, which is clearly the natural language search engine to beat in the industry. This means that if you were to ask an expert to list the top 20 cases he would want to see in response to a five-word query in a "Google-style" search, you would be a lot more likely to find a number of those cases in the first 20 PreCYdent search results than in the Westlaw natural language results. Of course, this is subject to the caveat that search quality is difficult to measure, and search quality is better measured by an independent consultant. So this is just our good faith, best efforts measure of our relative search quality.
Joe Hodnicki: What else should we know about PreCYdent?
Tom Smith: Currently our website has all US Supreme Court cases and US Court of Appeals cases back to the 1950s. We plan to soon have state cases going back 10 years or more from all 50 states, and ultimately all state and federal cases back to the beginning, as well as statutory and administrative materials.
You may notice that the site has ads in the margins. This is because our plan is to make all US federal and state law available free to users, and to generate revenue by advertising. We believe legal materials in the public domain ought to be public in practice as well as in theory, and to us that means available free and with effective search to anybody with an internet connection. We believe this model is commercially viable, but we also think it will make American and later other law available to interested persons all over the world, and promote the spread of the rule of law.
Joe Hodnicki: PreCYdent is currently alpha. It already contains over 300,000 opinions and 2,500 statutes. In addition to growing the database, what's on your To Do list?
Tom Smith: This is a true alpha; we are very much still in development and we will study the comments we receive carefully. We think law librarians and law professors play a critical role in the American legal system and value their feedback highly.
We are very interested in vendor-neutral citation systems, and that is on our to do list. You may also notice various Web 2.0 features of the site, such as tagging and rating of cases. We believe users may contribute useful content to a site such as ours.
Joe Hodnicki: Legal citation indexing originated with tables of cases cited which, according to Fred Shapiro, date at least as far back as 1743. Joseph Story contributed to early American efforts by supplying toolmakers with citations in the 19th century. In your own way, you are asking the legal community to follow in Story's footprints. I hope my colleagues answer your call by checking out PreCYdent. Good luck with your project and thank you for this interview.
IALL 2008 Website Award Competition Now Underway
The International Association of Law Libraries recently announced that the competition for its annual website award is now open. The winner will be announced at the 27th Annual Course in International Law Librarianship in San Juan, Puerto Rico, November 30 to December 3, 2008. The 2007 IALL Website Award Winner was GlobaLex.
From the announcement:
IALL wants to recognize valuable freely accessible legal information websites by this award. The Association would like to encourage the development of useful, authoritative, reliable, and user-friendly sites, that represent new thinking in the area. The selection panel will make its decision on this basis. Selection is not restricted to English language sites and sites based on all languages are encouraged to apply.
The selection panel for this year's Award is Ligita Gjortlere (Riga Graduate School of Law), Halvor Kongshavn (University of Bergen), and Xihn Luu (University of Virginia).
Please send the name and address of your suggested website and your argumentation for how the website meets IALL's criteria by the closing date of 30 September 30, 2008 by mail or e-mail to:
Riga Graduate School of Law - Library
Professional Reading: The Lost Meaning of the Criminal Jury Trial Right
Laura I. Appleman's (Willamette) The Lost Meaning of the Jury Trial Right is available from SSRN. Here's the abstract to this interesting and timely article:
The time has come to reevaluate the origins and historical meaning of the criminal jury trial right. The Supreme Court's most recent sentencing reforms have reaffirmed the role of the jury trial right in criminal justice, relying on the jury's historical and constitutional origins as reasons why juries must determine all aspects of punishment. Based on these reforms and the Court's underlying jurisprudence, it may be time to share the criminal jury trial right with the people, restoring some of its lost connotations. Doing so will ensure not only a proper fidelity to both the Constitution and the common law, but also a more engaged and effective use of criminal punishment in sentencing.
The question of the original meaning of the jury trial right is both timely and important. In light of the Court's most recent sentencing decisions reinvigorating the right to a jury trial, both the history and the provenance of the jury trial right take on crucial importance. In the Apprendi-Blakely line of cases, the Court held that the jury must find all facts that increase a criminal offender's punishment, focusing on the role of the community as long-standing moral arbiters. To do so, the Court relied on a thin historical gloss of the 6th Amendment and jury trial right, one that has been challenged by scholars. In response, this Article shows how a more complete understanding of the jury trial right, one that fully acknowledges the community's importance, supports the Court's new sentencing law and policy.
The central claim of this Article is that the individual liberties conception of the jury trial right, as explicated in Article III and the Sixth Amendment, is only a small part of the story. Although the Sixth Amendment ended up expanding and protecting the criminal jury trial right for defendants, the history of and the Founding-era debates over the prerogatives of the jury trial argue for a broader meaning, one encompassing the people's jury trial right.
Crafting Bipartisian Support for Legislation: A Case Study by a Washington Insider
Washington power broker John Hilley argues in The Challenge of Legislation that bipartisanship can succeed even under the toughest conditions. [JH]
Brookings Institution Press, 2007
Paper Text: 978-0-8157-3653-0, $22.95
Cloth Text: 978-0-8157-3654-7, $54.95
Description: In the mid-1990s, the outlook for bipartisanship looked equally bleak. The budget standoff between Democrats and Republicans forced the government to shut down, not once, but twice. Yet two years later, a Democratic White House and a Republican-controlled Congress passed the first balanced budget in a generation. This historic legislation not only brought an end to a period of massive federal budget deficits, but it also provided health insurance for five million children, created the HOPE scholarship for postsecondary education, enacted a child tax credit, increased funding for environmental programs, strengthened incentives to move people from welfare to work, and provided new incentives for saving and investing.
Hilley tells the inside story of this dramatic turnaround, drawing on his experience as the Clinton administration's chief liaison to Congress. He offers vivid portraits of the key players—including then Speaker Of the House Newt Gingrich, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, and President Bill Clinton—as well as unique insight into the legislative process. Equally at home with the arcane rules of Congress and the realities of political combat, he explores the highly charged relationship between party leaders and their rank-and-file, the interplay between elected officials and their professional staff, the delicate art of partisan negotiations, and the role of uncertainty and surprise. The result is a compelling look at how public policy is made, rich in lessons for both policymakers and students of legislative politics.
Thanks to YouTube, Professors are Finding New Audiences
Interesting article from the Chronicle: "Professors are the new YouTube stars: Video-sharing Web sites take scholars and their ideas out from behind ivy-covered walls and into the media mainstream." [RJ]
In the Name of Entrepreneurship?
"There has been ongoing concern that some regulations, rules, and government policies place a disproportionate burden on small businesses and entrepreneurs. For this reason, small businesses often receive special regulatory treatment, such as exemptions from legislation or extended deadlines for compliance. However, the desire to support small businesses can come into conflict with the interest in addressing the concerns that led to the regulation or policy in the first place. Moreover, it is often unclear whether special regulatory treatment for small businesses is having the intended effect. This book sheds light on these issues through analysis of the regulatory and public policy environment with regard to small businesses, including focused studies in four key areas: health insurance, workplace safety, corporate governance, and business organization. The authors offer support for the idea that the regulatory environment has a different effect on the behavior of small businesses than it has on that of large ones. However, they also demonstrate that policies designed specifically to help small businesses do not always have the intended effect. The lack of a consistent definition of small business confounds our understanding of these issues. The book suggests possible directions for future policy that achieves a better balance between the interest in restricting firm behavior through regulation and the desire to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs." [RJ]
January 28, 2008
2008 State of the Union Speech
OMB's Wiki Used to Compile Earmark Data
Today's Washington Post profiles OMB's in-house wiki, The MAX Federal Community, in Agencies Share Information By Taking a Page From Wikipedia. The wiki has 5,500 members and is growing by hundreds each month. A number of federal agencies are creating their own pages on the wiki, taking advantage of its automated tools and services that can perform multiple budget scenarios and analyze data. [JH]
Professional Reading: First Comprehensive Study of the Credentials of Today's Legal Writing Faculty
Susan Liemer and Hollee Temple's Did Your Legal Writing Professor Go to Harvard?: The Credentials of Legal Writing Faculty at Hiring Time is now availabe from SSRN. Here's the abstract:
"In this article, we share the results of the first comprehensive study of the credentials of today's legal writing professors. Legal writing professors have been working for many years to improve their status within the academy, and this study confirms that many legal writing professors hold impressive credentials comparable to typical tenure-track hires. The article situates our findings within the context of the previous research on the credentials of law professors, and calls upon the academy to explain why it has not conferred the privileges of membership (e.g., equal salary and status) upon a group of professors who have traditional professorship credentials. It also suggests that gender bias and purposeful mommy-tracking of women faculty candidates may explain some of the discrepancies."
2007 Gold Mouse Report: Lessons from the Best Web Sites on Capitol Hill
"A new report from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) on congressional Web sites says the overall quality “continues to be disappointing,” with more than 40% of congressional Web sites earning a substandard or failing grade. The report also contains recognition and praise for the best Web sites on Capitol Hill with the announcement of the winners of the 2007 Gold, Silver, and Bronze Mouse Awards.
"The good news is that 19 more offices won awards in 2007 than did in 2006, including 16 freshmen Members. The bad news is that there were 20 more D's and F's," said Beverly Bell, Executive Director of CMF, a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded 30 years ago to promote a more effective Congress. "We were glad to see good sites getting better, but discouraged to see the bad getting worse."
Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, The 2007 Gold Mouse Report: Lessons from the Best Web Sites on Capitol Hill evaluated 618 congressional Web sites, including those of all Senate and House Members and Delegates, committees (both majority and minority sites) and official leadership sites. Providing invaluable assistance for the 2007 report were research partners from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the University of California-Riverside, and Ohio State University." [RJ]
Bookmark LLSDC's Legislative Source Book New URL
The Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. (LLSDC) has transitioned its website to a new server and nearly all parts of its very useful Legislative Source Book have been assigned new URLs. The temporary site at http://www.llsdc.net/sourcebook/ will be taken off line. Here's the link to the Table of Contents for LLSDC's Legislative Source Book and here's a sampling of some of the great resources you will find in the Source Book:
- Electronic Sources for Federal Legislative History Documents With Years/Congresses Available (pdf)
- Quick Links to House and Senate Committee Hearings and Other Publications
- Internet and Online Sources of U.S. Legislative and Regulatory Information (pdf)
- Laws and Links Related to General Federal Agency Operations
- Federal Legislative History Research: A Practitioner's Guide
- Questions and Answers in Legislative and Regulatory Research
- A Research Guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations
- Selected Telephone Numbers and Web Sites with Useful Legislative Information
- State Legislatures, State Laws, and State Regulations: Web Site Links and Telephone Numbers
Future Choices: Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the Law
"In our modern world, sex is no longer the exclusive method for humans to reproduce. A new group of medical options, known as “assisted reproductive technologies,” are challenging our understanding of parenthood and biological relationships.
Louise Brown, the world’s first “test tube baby,” was born in 1978. Since then, the field of assisted reproduction has taken off, bringing increasingly new and innovative ways to create children—as well as increasingly more complex family relationships and ethically fraught medical practices.
The relationship between technology and the law in this context is symbiotic. If we think of the new technologies as plants, growing toward the sky and leading us into new medical, scientific, and ethical realms, then the legal terrain is the soil, dictating which practices can develop and thrive and which must wither away. Every decision to regulate or not creates unique incentives and disincentives for the fertility industry a! nd those it serves.
For now, the fertility industry remains largely unregulated in the United States. Where regulation of these technologies has occurred, however, it has had real-life consequences for thousands of people and ripple effects on multiple areas of the law, from adoption to abortion, from health insurance to inheritance." [RJ]
WSJ.com to Retain Subscription Component
"The Wall Street Journal's Web site, WSJ.com, will keep a significant portion of its content behind its paid-subscription wall, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said yesterday.
Speculation had been rife in recent months that News Corp., which owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Journal, would make WSJ.com a completely free site. Mr. Murdoch had signaled he was contemplating dropping the subscription model to broaden the Journal's online audience and boost its Web-advertising revenue. This, he said, could offset any loss in subscription revenue.
Mr. Murdoch made his latest comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in answering a question. "We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of The Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering" for subscribers, he said. "The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive."
January 27, 2008
Journalism in Iraq
Two new studies from the Project for Excellence in Journalism:
A Survey of Reporters on the Front Lines: "After four years of war in Iraq, the journalists reporting from that country give their coverage a mixed but generally positive assessment, but they believe they have done a better job of covering the American military and the insurgency than they have the lives of ordinary Iraqis. And they do not believe the coverage of Iraq over time has been too negative. If anything, many believe the situation over the course of the war has been worse than the American public has perceived, according to a new survey of journalists covering the war from Iraq.
How the Press Has Covered Events on the Ground: "What image of war did journalists—challenged with reporting events from Iraq—portray to the American public in the first 10 months of 2007? What role did violence play in the coverage? Who did reporters rely on for information?"
Security and Stability in the Greater Middle East
From the Center for Strategic & International Studies: This briefing provides an overview of the major security problems facing the Middle East. [RJ]