Brooks Kraft

If you are not a lawyer, you may be surprised to learn that many law-making countries are not freely available to the public, in spite of the crucial role played by many in the formation and organization of American society. While documents are part of the public domain, Byzantine patchwork of legacy interfaces and expensive public paid access to restrict access to them.

Now, as part of an ambitious multi-year project, Harvard University release this information, home to the most comprehensive collection of country case-law of the US, second only to the Library of Congress, Harvard University, in partnership with the launch of technology Ravel Act digitize its law library – more than 200 years’ worth of cases – making it fully and freely search.

“Driving these efforts is a common belief that the law should be free and open to all,” said Harvard Law School Dean Minow March. “Using technology to create greater access to legal information will help to create a more transparent and fairer legal system.”

A team of seven experts on digitization, working full-time in the library of Harvard University will divide more than 40,000 physical books to prepare them for the digital afterlife. They will use the blade to cut the book “spikes, and then feed the free pages of court decisions, some 40 million of them in a massive, 12-foot high-speed scanner. But digitizing these books are just the beginning.

After scanning the material and converted into computer-readable files, Ravel will provide legal research the possibility of search. The company, founded by two Stanford University law graduates, plans to expand the new database by creating intuitive analytical tools for the public and professionals to use as the display-related cases, visually and sussing patterns throughout the history of law.

Visualization of cases related to the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade .

Ravel Act

Ravel will finance “Free Law” project. The company does not yet have an estimate of its total cost; this contributed $ 1 million to date.

“The legal information should be freely and publicly available,” Daniel Lewis, co-founder and CEO of Ravel said Buzzfeed News. “We can combine the digitized collections of Harvard with advanced tools that will be useful for professionals, but also for the general public.”

Subscribe to the dominant legal research database, LexisNexis and Westlaw, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions, depending on the size of the law firm. Ravel aims to offer up a massive store of legal information for the public, but also to provide greater value small firms with limited resources and large companies that are looking for a competitive advantage. While the search function Ravel is free, it is a payment for a subscription to its suite of analytical tools that will soon be augmented with data from the Harvard library.

“Not only the law are available, but all sorts of interesting things you can do with it as a database,” Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard professor of law and director of the law library, said Buzzfeed News. “For me it’s kind of like seeing Google Maps for the first time after being used only MapQuest,” he said, referring to the new ideas of possible user can draw from the analysis and visualization of case law.

Ravel will also open its treasure trove of information for scientists and non-profit organizations that wish to experiment with the data and the development of new tools and research projects. “I see this form of digital transcription, as a way to make room for new forms of search that can unearth the relationship between the cases that were not obvious before,” Zittrain said.

Like its partners in the Ravel, Zittrain Free Initiative views the law as a means to circumvent the high cost of access to legal material and put an unrivaled collection of Harvard in the hands of anyone with an Internet connection.

“It’s one thing just to access it in the book. It’s another to be able to build a relationship between the cases, because no one reads the law from cover to cover, from the first book.”

Zittrain said he was impressed by imaging techniques Ravel and the company’s commitment to creating an open platform for future research. While Harvard and Google previously a partner in the project of scanning books, Zittrain said he believes the search giant is not particularly interested in this type of public access digitization efforts. He also noted that the advertising model of Google, is an imperfect fit for free legal research. As part of its agreement with Harvard, Ravel makes database University law available to other commercial organizations on a pro bono basis, after eight years.

Said Zittrain, “At a time when there is some concern that the organic fabric is reduced, more and more information will be posted on the site, but being stuck in the app – and there is no way to easily find for applications – it is a good step in the opposite direction of greater openness “


Thumbnail image: Lorin Granger, Harvard Law School