Free Law Project Collaborates with vLex to Launch Complete, Updated, and Audited Open Case Law Database

Michael Lissner

Oakland, CA — In early 2010, we launched It wasn’t much, but it was a start. It could scrape decisions off court websites and whenever it found new decisions, it would send alerts by email and make the documents publicly searchable.

It was a start. It looked like this:

A screenshot of CourtListener from 2010
A screenshot of CourtListener from 2010, compliments of the Internet Archive.

Pretty soon, our ambition grew. We came to believe that an open database of legal opinions was an important part of the democratic experiment. Wikipedia said it wanted to provide access to "the sum all human knowledge." We believed we could provide the sum of all case law information.

Over the last twelve years, we've worked on this problem. We expanded to state courts and set up scrapers so we had more data coming in each day. We added bulk data downloads, the first-ever legal opinion API, and database replication, so people could get the data out. We added historical data from the Library of Congress, Public.Resource.Org, Lawbox, Inc, Justia, Harvard Law Library, and other sources. Recently, we even added a system for courts to add their decisions directly to CourtListener.

It's been a long, expensive and Sisyphean effort, but, like others working to open this data, we've never lost sight of how important it is to the country, nor of the impact it would make on the legal sector if we could pull it off.

Today, through our collaboration with vLex, we take another big step.

With their financial and technical support, we aim to finish collecting every precedential legal decision from both the federal courts and the state appellate courts. Once collected, we will clean up this data and audit our collection for completion. We will enhance our citation finder and our database of courts so they are complete. Finally, by collaborating with others in this effort, we aim to do the hard work of adding citations to our database as they are published in regional and federal reporters.

We don't expect finishing this work to be easy — What we have accomplished so far is only possible thanks to the tireless work of others, and we know this new initiative will only succeed through broad collaboration. If you represent an organization that works with case law information, we hope we can talk soon.

It is unconscionable that this information is not available to every American and the full breadth of the legal, media, and academic sectors. With vLex's support — and hopefully the collaboration of others in the legal sector — we aim to fix this once and for all.

For inquiries or to join the effort, please get in touch.

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