February 2, 2011
Q. What is RECOP? A. Proof of Concept. Consequence: Time for the ABA, AALS and AALL to take the next step
RECOP (Report of Current Opinions) is the first concerted private sector-nonprofit collaborative step that can lead to competition in the legal online research marketplace based on who builds the smartest tools, not who has the most comprehensive eLegal primary resources. See For Westlaw and Lexis, an AOL Moment: Fastcase's Ed Walters on LAW.GOV. Why? Because RECOP is the nation’s first public broadcast of standardized judicial opinions for bulk download.
RECOP public feeds have begun. Lanuched in mid-January, the feeds are still raw and experimental, but are fast evolving. RECOP will include new judicial opinions from all state Supreme Courts, state Courts of Appeal, federal Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The opinions will be available for download for free and without restriction under a Creative Commons CC-Zero license and will include full star pagination.
This data is being obtained through LAW.GOV's agreement with Fastcase. See both Fastcase's press releaseand Carl Malamud's O'Reilly Radar blog post. Malamud reports "We will work with our partners in Law.Gov to perform initial post-processing of the raw HTML data, including such tasks as privacy audits, conversion to XHTML, and tagging for style, content, and metadata." Law.Gov participants include both for-profit organizations such as Justia and Fastcase and academic institutions such as Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford. As noted below, William S. Hein & Co. is also providing critically important data.
The RECOP feed will include periodic releases of important segments of the back file, including:
- A release of 3 million pages of 9th Circuit briefs from 1892 to 1968 which was produced in cooperation with the UC Hastings College of Law and the Internet Archive and is scheduled for release in Q1 2011.
- Double-keyed HTML for at least the first 10 volumes of the Federal Reporter, First Series and all 30 volumes of the Federal Cases will be completed by the end of Q2 2011. This data is being furnished as part of the YesWeScan Project.
- William S. Hein & Co., which provided high-resolution scans of the Federal Cases, is providing a high-resolution scan of the Federal Reporter, First Series which will be released in Q1 2011.
Hard and Soft Deadlines. About RECOP, Malamud writes:
[W]e have set two timeouts on this new service:
First, we have built a sunset clause into RECOP. The Report of Current Opinions will be provided in 2011 and 2012 and will then terminate as a private sector activity. The government should be able to provide the basic primary legal materials in a way that meets the strong consensus arrived at in the Law.Gov Principles. The Report of Current Opinions is a transition step towards government meeting those principles, not a substitute for governmental action.
Second, the participants in Law.Gov all feel strongly that work on the Report of Current Opinions over the next two years requires the active participation of government partners, joining industry and the nonprofit sectors. We have placed active offers to work with institutions in all three branches of our federal government to help us make the feed better and to provide access to the public. We have established a milestone of July 1, 2011 by which government needs to step up to the plate and join us in helping make this service real. This service is expensive—$35,000/month for just the basic feed, not counting post-processing and hosting—and we can't justify doing this if government is not taking the effort seriously.
In a comment to his blog post, Malamud adds: "If .gov becomes a no-show, we reserve the right to come up with a plan B. But, if they step up to the plate (which I believe is going to happen … people are really enthusiastic), we’re here for the two full years."
"Proof of Concept" Is Underway; Time to Take the Next Step. I like ad hoc groups because they can take the initative in a timely manner by gathering the necessary expertise for a group effort while not being bogged down by the bureaucracy of established organizations. LAW.GOV and all its partners had led the way but we are now reaching the stage where others must join the campaign to realize the potential of what 21st century distribution of primary legal resources can bring. This is probably the most important development since John West consolidated the chaotic publication of court opinion publication via standalone offical reports and local legal newspaper publication of digests of recent state court rulings in the late 19th century. Only this time, a national reporter system is not a commercial venture. Since I can't say it any better, here's what Malamud has to say:
But now, it is time for the legal profession to step up to the bar and help make the dissemination of our primary legal materials an important issue. The ABA, AALS, AALL and other legal associations need to start wrestling at their weight, insisting that legal materials be made available to all. Our government institutions need to join with them and begin to take far more seriously their obligations to make access to justice and the rule of law a reality. There can be no due process under the law when access to the law itself is preconditioned upon access to money.
Our current system hurts innovation as much as it hurts democracy, and we are ever hopeful that our friends in industry—at companies like West, Lexis, and LoisLaw—will shoulder their responsibilities not only to their shareholders but to the public we all serve by helping make our legal system function better and more transparently. It would not only be good for their business, it would be the right thing to do.
I know that Lexis is not opposed to LAW.GOV, that the Company assumes the bulk distribution goals will be realized while being confident that its value-added services will not threatened by the project's objectives. TR Legal? Wolters Kluwer Law & Business? BNA? Others? Wait 'n see. [JH]