Legal Wikis and tips on site verification
The law is slowly moving toward greater accessibility and affordability. With the proliferation of legal websites and blogs, the general public has vast resources at their fingertips. As others on this blog have suggested, the days of Wexis being able to charge outrageous fees to use their sites are numbered. After reading about an idea for a Legal Wikipedia in “The beginning of the end for the Wexis duopoly”, I quickly googled “Wikilaw” to see if anything like it already existed. I was surprised to find several wiki style legal websites! Sites with names like Wikilaw, WikiLaw3k, Wikilaw-Meta, etc. filled my screen. Some of these sites target law students and provide information that would be useful while studying for finals. Others focus on creating a resource to read and interpret case law. These sites are clearly in their infant stages of development, but I was excited to see that someone out there was at least trying!
One of the most interesting of the Wiki style legal information pages I came across was called “JurisPedia.” The site is a project developed by a number of law schools from across the globe (there appears to be no American participation however). The international scope of the site is clear from the very first page. The main page has a list of new articles that range from Moroccan bankruptcy law to Canadian employment law. The site has various categories listed on the main page, like the “Principal legal systems of the world” section or the “Theories and foundations of law.” I was disappointed, though, when I tried to learn more about Canon law and Socialist law, and found that the page was empty. So far, the site only has about 1,500 articles, which is probably much less than what the Law portal of Wikipedia has.
Unfortunately, wiki-law.org has even less to offer. In fact, there aren’t ANY articles on the site. It looks like the admin made the first post on February 6th of this year! Clearly, we will have to wait and see how the site turns out.
Wikilaw3k is another disappointing site. It does not appear to be a wiki style site at all. It uses “wiki” in its title, but it is not open to user submitted articles. I tried to find out more about the authors of the site and could find absolutely nothing on the site. I did a WHOIS look up and found that the site was registered by a Cristian Florescu from RO (Romania?) and an IP address from Houston, Texas. I looked up Cristian Florescu and found that there is a famous Romanian dancer by the same name! Hopefully, the Cristian Florescu responsible for the site is not the same guy as the dancer or else this might be the face of free legal advice on wikilaw3k (click here).
Sometimes, it can be useful to look at the source code of a website to find clues about the authors of the site. This can be done by clicking “View”, then clicking “View Source”. A “.txt” box should pop up and you can read through the raw code used to make the site. You can find useful information in the source code that does not appear on the actual site like the last time an update was performed, what program was used to make a site, or the organization/individual responsible for the site. Although knowledge of html would help tremendously, it is not necessary to know in order to spot something useful. The downside to looking through source code is that it can be extremely tedious, especially if there is a lot on the page you are looking through.
I did look through the source code for wikilaw3k to find out more about “Cristian Florescu” from Romania, but found no clues as to the identity of the author. The reason I took the time to really find out who was behind the site was because I thought it was odd that someone would give free legal advice without all the legal disclaimers that usually come with legal advice websites. It seemed like the person responsible for the site was not worried about getting sued, which means two things. First, they are not a lawyer. Second, they probably won’t be easy to find (because they live in Romania…).
Most of the site is comprised of links that anyone can post. There are a couple of articles with some common sense legal advice. One article says that you may have hired the wrong divorce attorney if,
“You are ignored or abandoned by your divorce attorney when you go to court. This happens when your lawyer goes off to joke and laugh with his pals while you are waiting for your case to come before the judge, while you stand there alone and afraid of what to expect when your case is heard. This is particularly painful when the “pal” your lawyer is off playing with is your spouse’s attorney.”
Off playing with your spouse’s attorney? How rude!
When it comes to free legal resources there is a lot out there. Slowly, free legal resources are developing into high quality sites (and a ton of sites not worth your time too!). Nothing is comparable to Wexis, but things are heading in that direction. I just hope we get a free competitor to Wexis sooner, rather than later. I graduate in May after all…