May 15, 2012
Now You See It, Now You Don't, Part I: Free Legal Research Services on the Web
In the early days of free caselaw research services, it seemed like new search services were popping up all over the web. But without strong financial support, many disappeared almost as quickly as they had appeared.
One of my favorites for caselaw research was PreCYdent because it provided IMHO "one of the most innovative SE algorithms offered for a free, fee-based, or a very expensive licensed legal search experience." Quoting from PreCYdent: 2006 - 2009 (Jan. 28, 2010); see also, Law Prof as Toolmaker: An Interview with PreCYdent's Thomas A. Smith (Jan. 29, 2008). But PreCYdent's funding dried up and it became "history."
PreCYdent was really a demonstration project. To the best of my knowledge, no commercial enterprise stepped up to the plate to license the search engine. For PreCYdent, WEXIS was already too late because both companies were working on their new SE algorithms. The PreCYdent SE, however, would still be a competitive alternative to WLN and Lexis Advance SEs for caselaw research. At least in the commercial space, Fastcase's SE is competitive. (Why? See Part II of this series tomorrow.)
So, what's left and by "left" I mean free online legal search services that will likely remain available awhile longer because they are financially supported. Only three come to mind and one of them has been, well, see Greg Lambert's As LexisOne Goes Dark, Fastcase's PLoL Comes Back To Life on 3 Geeks (April 13, 2012).
- Google Scholar for Legal Opinions and Journals (supported by, well you know);
- Public Library of Law (supported by Fastcase); and
- the semi-"useful" FindACase (supported by VersusLaw).
The rest of the few once-supported (read reliable) free services as annotated in the above screen capture from a section of our little county law library's caselaw research guide (click to enlarge) are "gone" or "long gone."
Endnote. For free federal and state statutory and regulartory online resources, Cornell LII just keeps getting better and better. See for example, LII's U.S. Code More Current Than Ever with New USC-prelim Feature and LII Releases Online Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). [JH]
Thanks for the kind words. Every day in every way..... :).
The sustainability issues you're implicitly raising here are ones we're trying to address at the 2012 Law via the Internet Conference (the relevant track is here: http://liicr.nl/Hne0tL ). It's a very difficult and complex problem, and so far as I know the only completely successful models have been developed in places where the national jurisdiction is relatively small and the open-access system is also the de facto national system: Canada (head tax on lawyers) and Australia (aggressively targeted stakeholder model) and Kenya (both gov-supportes and entrepreneurial). Most of the rest that are sustainable are either part of government ( with legislation.gov.uk probably the most impressive technically, to date) or subsidized activities done by good-hearted corporations like your list above (from which our friends at Justia.com are conspicuously missing). Our own approach has relied more and more on commercial activities such as advertising and lawyer directories in recent years.
You're tempting me to do a long-ish blog piece on this, but who knows when it will get written. In the meantime, anybody who's interested might look at the track description above (we'll be posting the actual track schedule very soon), or these pieces:
VoxPop piece on reaching sustainability in free access to law initiatives: http://liicr.nl/LiL1wC
Stanford Social Innovation Review piece on fundraising models: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/ten_nonprofit_funding_models/
Posted by: Tom Bruce | May 18, 2012 3:25:43 AM