Category Archives: Access to Law

Uelma and Unintended Consequences

Uelma should be enacted by the states. But while its concept of verifiable authenticity is useful, compliance with that prong of the law should not lead to excessive reliance on PDF files to share legal resources in only very limited, maximally “print-like,” and insufficiently machine-readable and bulk-processable formats. Open legal resources should also allow commercial, non-profit, community, and library entities to consume relatively “raw” government resources and add the value that makes them efficient and effective tools for an informed public.

Uelma is the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act. Promulgated by the Uniform Law Commission, UELMA covers online state legal materials that are deemed “official” (while requiring that covered legal publications produced only electronically be considered official) and requires that they be produced in a way that is capable of being authenticated, that is preserved, and that is made permanently available to the public.

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Why is so much law in PDF files?

In January, I came across Margaret Hagan’s “short manifesto,” Law’s PDF Problem, on the blog of her Open Law Lab project. She argues that too many public-facing legal resources — her examples include several explanatory and instructional charts or tools for the lay public — are locked away within PDF files, often as small parts of much longer PDFs. She argues that the lack of responsiveness of PDF files to different device sizes and screen formats, along with other obstacles to easy end-user interaction with small parts of larger PDFs, are a usability obstacle to general public access to law. As it happens, I’ve also been thinking a lot about legal publishing and the PDF, from a somewhat different angle.
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The Web vs. Apps, Librarians, and Information Freedom

Beyond choosing “app” or “web” mobile strategies for short-term tactical reasons, libraries have a critical stake in preserving the vitality of an open, standards-based, web. While developer-oriented platform debates between the application web and app-store frameworks can seem far removed from our stake in an open Internet, they deserve more attention from the library community and its allies.

I wrote the other day about the fairly narrow question of whether libraries should develop native apps for mobile platforms like tablets and smartphones, or rely on the web for delivery of their content and services. At least for most libraries, I came down on the side of the web. While acknowledging that needs might differ for some libraries with both very loyal (or very captive) users and a need for very tight integration with already-“appified” vended-content platforms, most libraries should devote their resources to websites while making those sites as mobile-friendly as possible. For most libraries—and certainly those I know best—it is hard to see an “app” strategy as an effective tactical use of resources.

Web Remains More Open

But my real concern goes deeper. There is a vital ongoing discussion about the ecosystem of the device-agnostic web versus the various app ecosystems. But libraries and librarians have mostly not been active enough as part of that debate. And libraries (and, for academic librarians, the scholarly institutions they serve) are parties with a real interest in a thriving, open, Web. As a profession far too often still mired in residual “print vs. online” debates, it is important that we don’t allow significant parts of the web ecosystem to decay just as we are, finally, coming to terms with our role in that ecosystem.
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On getting online state codes (mostly) right

This post is a slight update of one that originally appeared on lawlibrary.case.edu.

I recently had occasion to confirm a citation to the codified statutes of Wisconsin. Wisconsin happens to be one of the minority of states that produces both a directly state-published statutory Code and a commercially published (West, in this case) annotated code.

But the quality of the online availability of the “official” code, the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations is worthy of special praise. Continue reading

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Federal Statutory Codes: Free (official? authentic?) Research Here?

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve University Law Library.

I recently wrote about the fact that website distribution of digitally-signed PDF facsimiles of the “classic” printed versions of certain Government Printing Office publications made it possible to do “official” research into federal administrative regulations freely, online. Among those free resources is the Code of Federal Regulations, the codification of federal administrative-agency regulations.

There isn’t any quite comparable access to “fully official” online legal research in statutory law in the federal system, due to the complicated status of the United States Code.
Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Free, Official, Federal Regulatory Research

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve University Law Library.

In finding free, or very low cost, ways to conduct legal research one of the obstacles is often the unofficial status of freely available web-based tools. In other cases, even where the official, formal, “weight” of free (or low-cost) resources is equivalent to, say, much-prized unofficial resources like the annotated codes available in print or through Lexis or Westlaw, the effective cognitive authority and assumed merit (deservedly or not) of the resource is much lower.

In the case of Federal regulatory resources, however, the most official and formal research methods — hearkening back to those used for “old fashioned” print-bound regulatory research — are available, for free, online. There is a penalty in convenience, and there are drawbacks in terms of updating to which the wary researcher must be attentive. But the tools are there and they are used, in fact, very much in the fashion of print-based research into the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and the other tools and tables that connect those resources together in response to a real research question.

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Does WestlawNext Really Change Everything?

Ron Wheeler, of the University of San Francisco, used this title for his recent journal article, available via SSRN, and timely reading either for those having recently completed CORE classes or anticipating summer positions (with employers who may or may not have chosen to move ahead with the (costly) new platform).

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PACER:RECAP — Plug-in to assist with court dockets and filings

Wednesday is usually our day for profiling a subscription resource. Today, instead, we’ll tread the line between “freesearch” and a subscription profile, and address both a fee-based resource and a tool designed to leverage much of its content into the realm of the free.

PACER is the system used by the federal courts to allow access to case and docket information. While run by the courts themselves, PACER is not free (and in fact has a rather cumbersome paywall mechanism). RECAP is a project of Princeton researchers, and aims to augment PACER in ways that should make the use of federal dockets and filings cheaper for the researcher while also putting pressure upon a business model for PACER that the RECAPpers view as excessively closed and proprietary and arguably in violation of the E-Government Act.
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Toward an Inventory of Ohio Legal Materials

This post originally appeared on lawlibrary.case.edu

This post is a written re-cap of a 5-minute summary I gave at the Chicago (CALI/Oyez hosted) Law.gov workshop, as one of several quick presentations on various jurisdictions to be covered by the National Inventory of Legal Materials. Spurred on in part by the Law.gov initiative, while building on past efforts regarding authentication, preservation, and permanent public access, AALL has taken on the task of producing a nationwide inventory of primary legal materials. This inventory seeks to enumerate law sources from every state, their availability (in print and online), limitations like claims of copyright, and the formats, quality, and communicated status of those materials.
Our portion of the inventory for Ohio will take a much more fine-toothed look at every form of law-making work product we can identify within the state. This “5-minute” take is based on a quick survey of what I could learn from my colleagues here at CWRU, most of whom have much more experience in this jurisdiction than I do. As I presented this in person in Chicago, my “take away” points were that, essentially, no legal primary sources posted publicly on the Web from the state Ohio are considered official, little is authenticated in any form, and the one small example of authentication that exists, while a worthy experiment, is of little immediate practical importance. I could have added that the state produces comparatively little official material of its own in print, either, with many widely disseminated published materials designated as official being products of major commercial publishers.
I’m posting this summary here in hopes that those who encounter it, including librarians not participating formally in the inventory, can add comments, corrections, and additions that may help the Ohio working group begin our more focused work for the National Inventory.
Sarah Glassmeyer has posted a similar summary of what she encountered in Indiana and Kentucky, and also includes a more complete account (and links) of both Law.gov and the National Inventory.

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