Detecting Judicial Corrections

One of the goals of the CourtListener platform is to enable others to analyze judicial opinions. To that end we provide all of our data as bulk downloads and try to archive any opinion that a court publishes.

On some occasions, this results in a slightly confusing search result like the following:

double
result](https://www.courtlistener.com/?q=epa+v+eme+homer&stat_Precedential=on&order_by=dateFiled+desc&court=scotus)

We realize having an opinion in the system two times can be a bit confusing, but the reason this happens is because courts will sometimes make corrections to a slip opinion after its initial release. Sometimes the new version of the slip opinion will make note of the change, other times the court makes this change silently, perhaps hoping that the public either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Usually these are minor corrections, but occasionally not. For example, in the case above, Justice Scalia made a mistake in his dissent, completely flipping the position of the EPA in the case he references. Such significant alterations are a rare occurrence and it has been widely highlighted in the press. Many systems will silently remove opinions that have such errors, but we …

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LVI 2014 Call for Abstracts

The Law via the Internet (LVI) 2014 conference will be held this year September 30 - October 1 in Nairobi, Kenya. The theme will be “The Impact of open access to legal information: Bridging the gap between accessibility and usefulness.” The call for abstracts is now available from the LVI 2014 website.

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CourtListner’s REST API Featured on Programmable Web

Yesterday Mark Boyd published a great story about the CourtListener API on Programmable Web. Mark talked to several of the API’s early adopters and really learned what the issues are and how people are addressing them. Thanks to all those quoted in the story for taking the time to talk with Mark about the CourtListener REST API. We’re excited about how you all are already using the API and hope to continue improving it. (There’s nothing like people hitting your website thousands of times a day to shake loose hard-to-find bugs…and we’ve had some of that too and hope to get any and all bugs resolved ASAP!)

I particularly like Waldo Jaquith‘s sentiment quoted in the article that 24 months from now we will find it quaint that anyone found this interesting. I sure hope so! That will mean we’ve made many advances and the thought of not having an API for United States case law will seem unimaginable. Unfortunately, free programmatic access—even digital access—to U.S. case law has been not much more than a fanciful dream for a long time in the legal technology community. For years we’ve …

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Free Law Project Calls for License-Free Government Data

Today a group of non-proft public interest organizations have released updated Best-Practices Language for Making Government Data “License-Free.” Free Law Project is glad to sign on to their statement and to support the effort to assist government agencies in making clear that their data is free of copyright or contractual restrictions and can be re-used freely.

The details can be found at http://theunitedstates.io/licensing/ See also Josh Tauberer’s blog post announcing this release.

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Free Law Project Joins Free Access to Law Movement

Free Law Project is proud to announce that it has been officially accepted as a member of the Free Access to Law Movement. FALM is a consortium of non-profit institutions dedicated to providing free and open access to the world’s law. Its members subscribe to the Declaration on Free Access to Law.

The Declaration explains in part that,

  • Public legal information from all countries and international institutions is part of the common heritage of humanity. Maximising access to this information promotes justice and the rule of law;
  • Public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and free of charge;
  • Organisations such as legal information institutes have the right to publish public legal information and the government bodies that create or control that information should provide access to it so that it can be published by other parties.

We have been operating consistently with the principles laid out in the Declaration for some time. Finding ourselves in complete agreement with the Declaration on Free Access to Law, we are excited now to make it official and to formally join with our colleagues around the globe engaged in these endeavors.

FALM members …

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Our New Authorities Table Allows Traveling to the Past

For a long time we’ve had a feature that allowed you to look at the items that cite an opinion, letting you to look into the future and see what cases found it important down the line. As of today, we’re announcing the complimentary feature that allows easy travel into the past. Starting immediately, when you look at almost any case in our collection you’ll see an Authorities section in its sidebar.

For example, Roe v. Wade looks like this:

authorities-sidebar-example

This section shows the top five opinions that were cited by the one you are looking at. If you wish to see all of the opinions it cited there is a link at the bottom that takes you to the new Table of Authorities page, which shows everything:

authorities
table

Now, when you’re looking at an opinion, you can easily travel through time to either opinions that came later or ones that came before. Doc Brown would be proud.

Posted by: Michael Lissner

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Free Law Project Unveils API for Court Opinions

powered-by
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Today marks another big day for the Free Law Project. We’re happy to share that we’ve created the first ever API for U.S. Legal Opinions. An API —- or Application Programming Interface —- is a way for computers to talk to each other and consume each others’ data in an automated fashion. From this day forth, developers, researchers and legal startups can begin consuming the data that we have at CourtListener in a granular and very specific manner.

For example, here are some very basic things that can be done with our API (these links will only work if you are signed in to your CourtListener account):

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CiteGeist Powers CourtListener’s Newly Improved Search Results

demo graph

The citation graph is made into a network to compute CiteGeist scores.

We’re excited to announce that beginning today our relevancy engine will provide significantly better results than it has in the past. Starting today, whenever you place a query we will analyze which opinions are the most cited, and we will use that to provide the best results possible. We’re calling this the CiteGeist score because it finds the spirit of your query (“Geist”) and gives you the best possible results. This is currently enabled for our corpus starting in the 1750’s up through about 1985, and the remaining years will get the CiteGeist treatment as well over the next few days.

The details of how CiteGeist works are in our code, but the basic idea is to give a high CiteGeist score to opinions that are cited many times by other important opinions, and to give a lower CiteGeist to opinions that have not been cited or that have only been cited by unimportant opinions. Once we’ve established the CiteGeist score, we combine it with a query’s keyword-based (TF/IDF) relevancy. Together, we get a combined score which is a measure of how …

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Want to Merge Millions of Legal Opinions? It Won’t Be Easy.

Note: This is the third in the series of posts explaining the work that we did to release the data donation from Lawbox LLC. This is a very technical post exploring and documenting the process we use for extracting meta data and merging it with our current collection. If you’re not technically-inclined (or at least curious), you may want to scoot along.

Working with legal data is hard. We all know that, but this post serves to document the many reasons why that’s the case and then delves deeply into the ways we dealt with the problems we encountered while importing the Lawbox donation. The data we received from Lawbox contains about 1.6M HTML files and we’ve spent the past several months working with them to extract good meta data and then merge it with our current corpus. This post is a long and technical one and below I’ve broken it into two sections explaining this process: Extraction and Merging.

Extraction

Extraction is a difficult process when working with legal data because it’s inevitably quite dirty: Terms aren’t used consistently, there are no reliable identifiers, formats vary across jurisdictions, and the data was …

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Our New Jurisdiction Picker

Note: This is a technical post exploring and documenting the work that was done in order to build our new jurisdiction picker. If you’re not technically-inclined (or at least curious), you may want to move along before getting sucked in.

While prepping to import the Lawbox corpus, one of the many things we did was redesign our jurisdiction picker so it would support more than 350 jurisdictions. Completing this efort was a collaboration between me and a volunteer contributor, Peter Nguyen. Peter and I worked together iteratively, first building a wireframe of the jurisdiction picker, then a prototype, then the final version that you see today.

Before beginning, we outlined the use cases that the new picker should support. It should:

  • Allow a user to select a single jurisdiction;
  • Allow a user to select all jurisdictions from state, federal, district, bankruptcy or all of the above;
  • Allow a user to select in hybrid mode — expanding a selection of a state courts to the related federal courts or vice versa;
  • Allow users to easily select the courts they desire by filtering to the ones they’re interested in;
  • Support more than 300 jurisdictions without taking up too much space; and …
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Free Law Project Adds More than 1.5M Opinions to its Collection Thanks to Data Donation

For Immediate Release —- Berkeley, CA

After many years of collecting and curating data, today CourtListener crossed some incredible boundaries. Thanks to a generous data donation from Lawbox LLC, our computers are currently adding more than 1.5M new opinions to CourtListener, expanding our coverage to a total of more than 350 jurisdictions. This new data enables legal professionals and researchers insight into data that has never before been available in bulk and greatly enhances the data we previously had. This data will be slowly rolling out in our front end, and will soon be available in bulk from our bulk downloads page. A new version of our coverage page was developed, and, as always, you can see our current coverage for any jurisdiction we support.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this new data. In addition to being a massive expansion of our coverage, it also brings some notable improvements to the project:

  1. For all of the new data and much of our old data, we have added star pagination throughout. For the first time, this will make pinpoint citations possible using the CourtListener platform.
  2. We’ve re-organized our database for more accurate citations enabling for the first …
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Free Law Virtual Machine Available for Academics and Developers

Update: This tool has been deprecated. We heartily recommend our new process using Vagrant.

A goal of the Free Law Project is to make development of legal tools as easy as possible. In that vein, we’re excited to share that as of today we’re officially taking the wraps off what we’re calling the Free Law Virtual Machine.

For those not familiar with this, a virtual machine is a snapshot of a computer that can be run by anybody, anywhere. With this release, we’ve created a computer running Ubuntu Linux that our developers or academics can download, and which has all of the Free Law Project’s efforts pre-loaded and ready to go.

In addition to a number of minor improvements, the following are installed and configured:

  • Courtlistener
  • Juriscraper
  • Development tools such as Intellij, Meld, vim, and Kiki
  • Bookmarks of all American courts

In addition to providing a simple virtual machine that you can install, we’re also releasing sample data that can easily be imported into the CourtListener platform. This data is available in groups of 50, 500, 5,000 or 50,000 records so that anybody can easily begin working or experimenting with our platform …

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11 New Courts Added to CourtListener and Juriscraper Comprising Nearly 50,000 New Opinions

A goal of the Free Law Project is to make legal research easier and faster. One way we do that is to scrape court websites, downloading any opinions that they have, making them searchable and finding the citations relationships among them. For many jurisdictions, we download all the opinions they host, while at others we simply start downloading their opinions on a given day and use those as fuel for our awareness project whenever new material is published.

Today we are happy to share that thanks to several volunteer contributors, we’re adding a number of new jurisdictions to the project:

Combined, these new jurisdictions already add nearly 50,000 new opinions to our collection, and as always, these are immediately available for free via our bulk downloads. As these jurisdictions publish more opinions, we will have them automatically, usually within 30 minutes from when they are posted.

We will continue adding more and more jurisdictions and opinions. This is only the beginning.

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Non-Profit “Free Law Project” Formed to Create an Open Legal Ecosystem

For Immediate Release —- Berkeley, CA

Brian W. Carver and Michael Lissner, creators of the CourtListener platform and associated technology, are pleased to announce that after four years developing free and open legal technologies, they are launching a non-profit umbrella organization for their work: Free Law Project. Free Law Project will serve to bring legal materials and research to the public for free, formalizing the work that they have been doing, and providing a long-term home for similar projects.

Since the birth of this country, legal materials have been in the hands of the few, denying legal justice to the many,” said Michael Lissner, co-founder of the new non-profit. “It is appalling that the public does not have free online access to the entirety of United States case law,” said Brian Carver, UC Berkeley professor and Free Law Project co-founder. “We are working to change this situation. We also provide a platform for developing technologies that can make legal research easier for both professionals and the general public.”

The official goals for the non-profit are:

  • To provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes;
  • To develop, implement, and provide public …
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Announcing Citation Queries and other Goodies

We’re proud to announce a big new feature today that we’ve been planning for a long time. Starting today, you can make citation queries against the CourtListener corpus. If you look in the bottom of the left hand column, you’ll see a new slider:

sliders

Sliding the handles around, you can easily filter out any documents that are too popular or not popular enough — or both. In addition to this, we’ve added citation counts to our results list, and citation count ordering to our results. For example, you can now order the results by most cited or least cited, depending on the kind of work you’re doing.

In addition, we’re also announcing two new fields that you can query: Judges and Nature of Suit. Both of these fields are currently very limited in our corpus, but as we add more documents, we want to expose these to our users. To query by judge name, you can either type the name directly into the judge text box on the left, or you can place a query using the “judge” operator and a query like [ judge:smith ]. For the Nature of Suit, the data is both incomplete …

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A few small API changes

We’re updating our code in a number of ways today and that is resulting in a number of changes to the format of our data dumps. If you use them in an automated fashion, please note the following changes:

  • dateFiled is now date_filed
  • precedentialStatus is now precedential_status
  • docketNumber is now docket_number
  • westCite is now west_cite
  • lexisCite is now lexis_cite

Additionally, a new field, west_state_cite, has been added, which will have any citations to West’s state reporters. We’ve made these changes in preparation of a proper API that will return XML and JSON. Before we released that API, we needed to clean up some old field values so they were more consistent. After this point, we expect better consistency in the fields of our XML.

If this causes any inconvenience or if you need any help with these changes, please let us know.

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Two RECAP Grants Awarded in Memory of Aaron Swartz

In memory of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, Think Computer Foundation (http://www.thinkcomputer.org) and the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University (http://citp.princeton.edu) are announcing the winners of two $5,000 grant awards for improving RECAP.

Since 2009, a team of researchers at Princeton has worked on a web browser-based system known as RECAP (https://free.law/recap/) that allows citizens to recapture public court records from the federal government’s official PACER database. The Administrative Office of the Courts charges per-page user fees for PACER documents, which makes it expensive to access these public records. RECAP allows users to easily share the records that they purchase to and freely access documents that others have already purchased.

Shortly after the unexpected death of Mr. Swartz, Think Computer Foundation announced that it would fund grants worth $5,000 each to extend RECAP and make use of data contained in Think Computer Foundation’s PlainSite database of legal information.

Two of these grants are being awarded today.

Ka-Ping Yee, a Canadian software developer living in Northern California, has created a version of RECAP for Google’s Chrome browser. This gives RECAP a much larger base of …

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Six new courts added to CourtListener

We’re excited to announce today that we’ve added five new courts to our list that we support.

Today we add the Supreme Courts for

  1. California
  2. Indiana
  3. West Virginia
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Wyoming

These are the first State courts that we support and over the next few days we’ll be adding more as the Juriscraper library supports them. We already have another seven state courts in the wings!

By launching these courts today, we’re making a small change in our plans. We were previously working towards having all 50 supreme courts ready to go so we could add them in one big push, but since that’s taking longer than we would like to develop these scrapers, we’re going to start adding state courts as they’re ready, one by one.

Today’s launch adds five courts and about 1,200 more cases to the project. We need help getting the remaining courts ready. If you’re a developer and want to help, get in touch via our contact form and we’ll get you up and coding in no time.

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Live coverage graphs now available

Thanks to a great volunteer contribution, we now have amazing graphs on our coverage page instead of simply static numbers.

The old version used to simply say the number of total documents we had for a court, leaving you scratching your head. The new version shows you a timeline indicating how many documents we have in each court for each year. It’s a great improvement that brings a lot more transparency into the coverage we have on the site.

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