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Human Flesh Search Engine

January 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The word “Human Flesh Search Engine” or “Renrou Search Engine” (人肉搜索), an online searching method with the help of numerous other netizens, was coined in China to distinguish from the traditional computer search engine, like Google and Baidu.

Basically, this type of searching is conducted in a Post a Question Online and Wait for Answers way. It has never been more prosperous in China among the huge 404 million Chinese netizens in recent years. Google even created a website titled as Google Renrou Search Engine to appeal the growing demand and interests in the Chinese market. As a result of its nature, it is not necessarily as fast as a computer-based searching engine, by which you can get the relative materials about the keyword you typed in within 0.0001 second. However, based on our former frustrating experiences, computer just cannot interpret the natural language of human beings as the way we want. Differently, you can raise a question in a casual format of language, without worries about any grammar or typing errors. And the extraordinary population never fails you. Besides from the contribution of the population, I guess the explanations for the incredible popularity of renrou search engine in China is the deficiency in the transparency of the government operations, the over control of the official media from the powers and the insecurity sense of the citizens (Though it is worth exploring. It is not the topics today. Sorry… ).

Unsurprisingly, this could develop and has already developed as an efficient way to probe into the personal information of others. The concerns started from an event on Feb 28, 2006. After several pictures, which shows a young woman torturing a baby cat to death with her high heels, were put on the Internet, thousands of people resolute to dig this person out. Within only 6 days, which was faster than the efficiency of any police departments, all the critical information, ranging from the home address and the friends of this woman were posted on the Internet. The flourishing condemnations cause a disaster to the woman in the end.

Similar events happened now and then, I was stunned to know that even the police departments began to use this method to search criminals wanted. So did the lawyers for collecting information. No laws have been enacted to regulate this type of acts. It is said that the legislature is now contemplating seriously about it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Wikipedia as a Source?

January 28, 2011 3 comments

We’ve all been told to never use Wikipedia as a source. Since the site first started back in 2003, teachers everywhere have warned students of the mortal danger of using the site. After all, how could a site that allows anyone to post on subjects ranging from the Sumatran Orangutan to Steiner chains be accurate? The funny thing is if you’re curious about what a Steiner chain is now, you’re probably using Wikipedia to look it up. There’s a reason for that. Most of us trust Wikipedia, because it is actually reliable.  Just how reliable is it?  Well, according to this Wikipedia article, very reliable.

Many people just assume that allowing thousands of non-experts to create an online community-based encyclopedia is a recipe for disaster.  In fact, Wikipedia has even been likened to a public restroom by former Encyclopædia Britannica editor Robert McHenry, “[H]owever closely a Wikipedia article may at some point in its life attain to reliability, it is forever open to the uninformed or semiliterate meddler… The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him.”  Ouch. As biting as those remarks were, I’m still not ready to quit using Wikipedia and fork over $103 per year for a premium membership to the Encyclopædia Britannica website.  Why not, you might ask?  Since Wikipedia was established, a number of studies have shown that the site is actually an accurate source of information.

In 2005, the journal Nature showed that, compared to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Wikipedia had very few serious errors. An article by the Guardian maintained that most experts who were a part of their study rated Wikipedia between a 5 and 8 with 8 being the highest possible and 0 being the lowest.  According to a review of the site by Library Journal, “While there are still reasons to proceed with caution when using a resource that takes pride in limited professional management, many encouraging signs suggest that (at least for now) Wikipedia may be granted the librarian’s seal of approval.”  There have been many other positive reviews of the site’s accuracy by academia and tech professionals, which suggests that Wikipedia may not be the public restroom of the interwebs after all.

Part of the reason Wikipedia is such an accurate source despite the lack of expertise is that administrators play a major role in cleaning up the site.  As of 2009, there were about 1,600 administrators for the English Wikipedia site.  These administrators monitor the site checking for vandalism, inaccuracies, or poorly written articles. They also have the power to ban users or lock articles to prevent them from being edited any further.  This combination of a free and open online community coupled with a significant number of experts with editorial power has led to Wikipedia becoming a surprisingly reliable and overwhelmingly vast online encyclopedia.  Did I mention it’s free too?

Although the taboo against citing Wikipedia is quickly vanishing with over 400 academic and scientific articles referencing the site in 2008 and 600 in 2009, I’m not suggesting you go cite it in your next law review note. My point is that we should probably start changing the way we think about sources and authority.  Having a centralized expert/author and editor is good, but having an entire community of enthusiastic non-experts is better (and more democratic.) There are tons of books that get published every year that really aren’t great sources (is a book by David Duke really a source at all?) and there are tons of blogs out there that provide quality information. In an age where publishing a book will soon be as easy as publishing online, we should use a critical eye when using any source.

 

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Free foreign legal research websites I

January 28, 2011 2 comments

In today’s globalized world, international transactions are on steady rise, which in turn increases instances where American lawyers need to be acquainted with foreign law.  However, in law school, legal research is focused on lexis or westlaw research that when it becomes necessary at work, you are basically on your own.  It is daunting tasks for someone with only U.S. legal education to research the relevant foreign law or even know where to look for them. Unlike U.S., where there are centralized database systems, such as westlaw and lexis, there are many countries, in fact, more countries than not, that do not have such centralized legal guide and it may be frustrating to search for law or cases that are scattered over various websites.  Of course, there are some excellent foreign legal guides such as Reynolds & Flores.  However, access to these websites are limited as they are subscription based.  Fortunately, there are some non-profit organizations that put together foreign legal documents online.  Among these websites, I found three to be most useful and well organized; GLIN, Globalex and Lexadin.  Today, I’d like to introduce GLIN and will continue with other websites on my next post.

GLIN (Global Legal Information Network)is a searchable online database containing official texts of laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations.  They do have membership, but most of the material in GLIN is freely accessible to the public and the system does not require a user ID or password for search purposes.  I had an opportunity to attend the Annual GLIN Directors Meeting held at the Korean National Assembly last year and it seemed really devoted about making legal documents available to public through online.  It seems to be realizing its mission to acquire, store and provide timely access to body of critical research and reference material.  I believe this website will continue to be an important source and suggest you to use this website as a starting point of your foreign legal research.   The website is user friendly and provides various ways to conduct research.  For the first time users, I  suggest clicking the help center tab to learn about various search functions it provides.

Next time, I will continue with other free online foreign law guides.

Categories: Uncategorized

LexisOne

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

LexisOne (http://law.lexisnexis.com/webcenters/lexisone) is a free caselaw search engine with a much more limited selection of databases than its pricey older brother, LexisNexis. It still packs a punch, however, by providing a fairly simple way to search through the past decade’s worth of United States cases in almost all the federal and many state courts. While its interface is slightly clunkier to use, and certainly much more simplified, without any of the sophisticated bells and whistles that LexisNexis or Westlaw have, LexisOne gives users the ability to look up fairly recent court opinions, either by citation or keyword, and even allows the use of some limited Boolean operators.

LexisNexis has had a longstanding and well-publicized rivalry with Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw (just walk into any law school and you can easily find the two corporate giants dueling over students), and it surprised me that Thomson Reuters’ free caselaw database, Findlaw (http://lp.findlaw.com), would receive much more attention than LexisOne. Was Findlaw really that much more superior? To compare the two websites, I performed a search of a 2008 Illinois appellate court case that should have been contained in both services’ databases. In LexisOne, it appeared at the top of the list when I searched for it by citation or keyword and party. Findlaw’s system was much trickier to use, and did not allow searching by citation. When I finally tracked down the case, it was still “processing” the opinion. I was stunned, and felt myself beginning to question my previously unshakable faith in Thomson Reuters. I was also amazed that I had never heard of a free offering from LexisNexis until now, when I went to look for it on the web – especially since LexisOne has been in operation for over a decade!

Both LexisOne and Findlaw are not free of shortcomings, and have their unique pros and cons. LexisOne allows a user to search for judicial opinions from almost every federal court, and a fair number of state courts, too, but only if they were published within the last ten years. Findlaw’s archives are much more extensive, going back as far as the early 20th century, but involve a limited range of jurisdictions – the Circuit and Supreme Courts and five or six of the larger state courts. LexisOne’s Supreme Court opinions, however, go back to the Court’s very inception in 1781. Findlaw’s date range does not travel back that far. Findlaw contains many other resources that LexisOne does not, however, such as legislative documents, forms, and current legal news, and is organized in a friendlier and more intuitive design. LexisOne’s layout looks dated and does not appear to be updated nearly as often as Findlaw’s. I found this back-and-forth ping-pong match between the two websites amusing. Both sites offer slightly different databases, but they both have their different purposes. Ultimately, the only real winner is the consumer, who has yet another free llegal resource at their disposal.

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Free on your phone

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The American Association of Law Libraries selected an iPhone application as 2010 New Product of the Year.  A pay legal research service, Fastcase, developed the application which is fee to download and free to use.  Currently limited to the iPhone, plans are in place to expand service to the iPad and to Android and Blackberry devices.

The application allows users to search case law, search statutes, or browse statutes.  Searches can be tailored by jurisdiction and by date.  You can search cases and statutes using natural language, citation formats, or terms and connectors.  The application has no built in email or print functions though reviewers report that the iPhone allows them to easily copy and paste entire opinions into an e-mail that they can then send to themselves.  It is unclear how much access the mobile application grants users.  One clear difference though is that whatever secondary sources are available to users of the standard Fastcase service are not available to mobile users.  The ability to freely search opinions  from all 50 states from single source is exciting, even if the capacity is limited.

One thing to keep in mind as you go forward is that many state bar associations and their partners now offer free Fastcase access to their members.  A complete list of participating associations can be found here.

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Going global

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The Gender Justice Observatory is the rare site that includes actual case law.  Its focus, as its name suggests, is on women and the law, ranging from reproductive rights to discrimination to violence against women.  It has a fairly extensive database of cases having to do with women’s issues from mostly international courts, like the European Court of Human Rights, and some national-level courts.  Most cases are accompanied by a brief summary of the case holding along with a pdf file of the decision itself.   The summary of the case can be very helpful because it saves a lot of time so that lawyers don’t have to read through the entire case in order to find out if a particular decision will be helpful or relevant or not.  It’s possible to search or sort through the cases by the deciding court, the country, the particular issue (e.g. abortion), or the particular law/statute/treaty that the case is based on (e.g. the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.)

The drawbacks of the site are several.  The site itself is a little frustrating to use because the search function is rather limited, at best, and requires a lot of browsing rather than simply entering in any keywords.  The case summaries are usually in English but the actual decisions are in the native language of the country, which can limit the site’s usefulness as a resource for lawyers in the U.S.   It is also rather heavily Euro-centric in the case law it has, although that may have more to do with the fact that it is significantly easier to find cases from European countries/courts than it is in other parts of the world.   (The site also doesn’t include any cases from the U.S.)

There is a plethora of other websites dealing with international women’s rights and many places where lawyers can find the main human rights documents, like the texts of the various international Conventions on human rights, but finding case law is much harder.  The Gender Justice Observatory, for all its flaws, is one of the few case law sources out there.   And, on a positive note, some of its gaps and omissions are filled in by the Legal Resources page of Cornell’s very own Avon Center, although the Avon Center is somewhat more narrowly focused on violence against women specifically, where the Gender Justice Observatory is broader in its scope.  Put together, both websites provide a very useful resource for anyone interested in researching the law of international women’s issues.

The LII Supreme Court Bulletin: a resource for anyone interested in learning about the Supreme Court’s past, present, or future docket

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

When members of the legal community think about legal scholarship, what typically comes to mind is the concept of a print law journal (e.g., the Cornell Law Review, the Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy, the Cornell International Law Journal, etc.). These works undoubtedly serve a very important function, but I wanted to write a bit about another relevant legal journal sited at Cornell Law School: the LII Supreme Court Bulletin (available here). Although Professor Haight introduced this electronic journal to our Online Legal Research class on Wednesday, it is a website that I am fairly familiar with, having served as an LII editor during the 2009-10 academic year (my now-outdated biography is viewable here). The LII Supreme Court Bulletin (“Liibulletin”) contains previews of cases on the Supreme Court’s docket. Because the previews are written with recourse to the relevant parties’ submitted briefs (the full versions of which are generally available here), and are published before the decisions are handed down, the previews generally reflect a balanced view of the legal issues unaffected by the bias of hindsight.

Liibulletin is a fantastic resource for people who are interested in keeping abreast with SCOTUS cases, but don’t have tons of free time to do so (e.g., law students who have more than enough assigned reading for courses). But one of the really neat things about LII bulletin is that it is particularly comprehensible and may be utilized by people without legal educations or backgrounds. In order to ensure that LII previews remain accessible to lay persons, all the previews contain hyperlinks to a free legal dictionary and encyclopedia. You will also note, by the way, that this dictionary, though frequently embedded within Liibulletin, is its own free-standing resource.

Each preview contains the following sections:

(1) A few key subject areas and descriptive terms. These list of terms are relevant since anyone can perform a subject matter search in Liibulletin across SCOTUS terms.

(2) An executive summary. This section, which is emailed to all Liibulletin subscribers, succinctly identifies the relevant facts, issues, and arguments of the case. It also generally addresses the legal (and, if relevant, nonlegal) significance(s) of the case

(3) Itemized questions presented. These are copied verbatim as provided on the Supreme Court’s case schedule.

(4) Itemized issues. As I mentioned earlier, Liibulletin is published with the underlying goal of making the law accessible to the public. In this way, this section can really be thought of as a simplification of the questions presented section.

(5) Factual narrative. Predictably, this section tells a balanced story of the case and discusses facts pertinent to the controversy before the Court.

(6) Discussion. This is the section that focuses on the greater picture. It calls into question the consequences of the case from largely a policy perspective. This section more or less explains the importance of the case to the lay observer.

(7) Analysis. The analysis section is a detailed and balanced analysis and explanation of the legal issues before the Court. It typically goes beyond summarizing the parties’ briefs, and actually synthesizes both lower courts’ opinions and briefs submitted by amici curiae.

(8) Conclusion. Like all conclusions of which I’m aware, the conclusions within the LII previews essentially restate the executive summaries by tying everything together. Once in a while, though, LII editors will include in this section their own opinions about how the Court should rule.

(9) Additional Sources. Each preview concludes with a list of additional legal sources that discuss the case.

I absolutely encourage anyone (or better yet, everyone) with an interest in learning about the Supreme Court’s docket to peruse the previews. If you’d like to have the previews sent directly to your email address, you can also subscribe to Liibulletin here.

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