In March, Cornell's Legal Information Institute (LII) hosted a Law.Gov workshop, with two dozen representatives from government, law schools, and online legal information groups. Law.Gov is a national effort to define what it would take to create a distributed repository of all primary legal materials in the United States.
In an interview, LII Director Tom Bruce noted that even government workers lack access to legal information, because every government office and every court uses different systems and standards to generate its electronic work product.
"Government publishers, like the Government Printing Office (GPO), or reporters of court decisions, have all devoted tremendous care and resources to insuring that their printed materials are in consistent, readable formats," said Bruce. "But now they are in the process of figuring out how to bring that level of care and consistency to the electronic world. And the need for consistency is even greater, because we are processing the stuff with machines."
For example, two projects have given up online versions of U.S. Circuit Court decisions, because they lacked the resources to keep up with inconsistencies in the electronic data.
At the conference opening, Carl Malamud, founder of Public.Resource.Org, said "For years many of you have been putting law on line. Now it's time to ask the government to produce an authentic bulk repository of its primary material."
Law.Gov workshops have been taking place throughout the country. The LII-hosted conference focused on the technical nuts and bolts of how the government might make statutes, regulations, and case law electronically available in an inexpensive, standardized format that any organization can use.
"We're not going to specify the entire future of legal information architecture," Bruce told the group. Instead, he asked people to come up with a concrete process of standardization, and how standards can be made, or found from other groups such as the European Union.
Tim Stanley, CEO of Justia Inc. and founder of FindLaw (now owned by Thompson-West), found the meeting very constructive. "The conference report will make the collection, distribution, and usefulness of primary materials much more useful to the legal community," he said. "It adds a step to the growing momentum of the Law.Gov movement."