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In the future, will failure to appear really mean that Skype was down?

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

More and more of yesterday’s work and living can be done online and at home today.  We can pay bills, read, shop, buy and listen to music, watch movies, and socialize all over the internet.  These are all pretty important things.  I began to wonder that when so much of what we used to do  before the internet revolution has been so drastically changed, why the court house has not become less brick and mortar?  I wondered whether there is support for a move to virtual courts?

Well, as it turns out, my musings were pretty late to the show.  In 1994, the U. of Arizona Law school conducted a “courtroom of the future” project.  Through grants the Law School equipped a court room with the technology necessary to both transmit and receive video feeds.  The technology has since gone through several incarnations, as capabilities have increased.  Today the project serves as a functioning example of how people with disabilites may gain greater access to courts.  There is also the ability for academic interactive functions.  Administrators hope that the project will serve as a example of what technology has made possible and that the project may influence real courts in the future.

OK, so academia is pushing the envelope, but how close are we to a real ecourt?  Chris Travers argues in his blawg on Realverdict.com that the beginning stages are upon us.  Many arbitrations are already decided almost entirely virtually.  The success of online arbitration has encouraged in increase in virtual alternative dispute resolution.  The site that hosts Chris’s blawg is a forum for such dispute resolutions.  Parties plead their cases to a forum of jurors in cyber space and agree to abide by the verdict rendered.  Getting closer.

Travers argues that if a virtual court were to be adopted that dates could be obtained without long delays, court costs would be reduced because operating costs would diminish, and there would also be more time and attention to focus on the more substantial issues that would still require personal presence.

It seems that traffic court or some small claims disputes could be responsibly handled virtually.  And if there is a life of crime in my future, I hope that virtual prisons are just over the horizon.

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Keeping it all straight

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Without question, through the course of our class, I have been made more aware of the bounty of free online research materials that are available in cyberspace for the taking.  While this new state of consciousness is a welcome one, with the good comes the burden of keeping all the options straight.  I have no plans to write an outline for our class but I would also prefer that the materials and resources we have explored do not join the particulars of vertical privity in the recesses of my mind.

Thankfully, UCLA’s Law Library has a research guide devoted to online research beyond Westlaw and Lexis.  The guide does link to some pay sites, those they classify as low cost, but the rest of the free content consists of much of what we have covered in class.

Far and away, the most useful aspect of the guide is its organization.  Many free site resource pages are, in my experience, little more than headings with long lists of following links, many of which are broken.  This guide not only classifies the type of resource  into easily navigable tabs but also provides a pretty decent description of the links contained within the tabs.  I can already see the utility of these descriptions paying dividends in the near future when I’m trying to remember where to find proposed rules or where I can comment on them electronically.  They will jog my memory.

As you may imagine, the guide does have a California law lean.  The guide does lack a tab for the case law of other states.  The federal stuff is well covered,  as is administrative law.  There is a tab dedicated to legal forms that I found immediately useful.  I was able to find a form sublease that I used as a starting off point.

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Google may be fatigued, but it is keeping pace

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I was surprised by the content of Pete Cashmore’s article Human’s vs. automated search: why people power is cool again.  I use Google everyday to do most all of my searching.  In the the odd case that I do use Bing, it is by accident.  I’ll admit that my conversations don’t often turn to search engines,  but I get the sense that most of my friends are similar.  Google, as a corporation, seems to continue its web based dominance while making inroads into other facets of our lives, TV and telephones etc.  If anything, the Juggernaut appears to be gaining momentum rather than showing signs of fatigue.

Of course Cashmore is referring to the state of Google’s search engine, and the results it produces.  There are arguments that the algorithm Google uses is increasingly turning up search results consisting of spam and advertisements.  There is a call for Google to change and to add more of a human element to its approach.  Search engines like Blekko, which searches a collection of sites defined  by humans, are pointed to as possible providers of answers to Google’s problem.

I’m still trying to see the problem.  It may be that my searches are either too specialized or not specialized enough to attract the spam and marketers that the article speaks of.  I don’t have an expectation of encountering zero advertising either.  Access to information and pages is largely free and I realize that because I pay nothing to look it does not mean that it costs nothing to get it before my eyes.  Advertising is a part of the process.

I have not been able to enter  a Google search that has not produced good results on the first page.  In the event that advertisements are present, they are easily identifiable and easily avoidable.

While Google’s algorithm is subject to gaming by spammers that is not to suggest that “curated” search engines are not.  I did a quick search for “Seahawks blog” on both Google and Blekko.  I wasn’t really looking for Seahawks blogs because there really is only one that fans of the team read.  I was surprised to find the top result on Blekko was for the blog associated with the Seattle Times.  This is clearly evidence of the Times influencing the process be cause no human, without an interest in the Times, would ever recommend that blog.

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Where to turn for answers to tribal law questions that Westlaw and Lexis don’t address

February 10, 2011 Leave a comment

As tribes continue to develop more and more sophisticated insular court systems, their own constitutions, and their own rules of criminal and civil procedure, Westlaw and Lexis are failing to keep up.  So where should can a practitioner of tribal law look for answers online When Westlaw or Lexis have no answers?  A great place to start is the National Indian Law Library.

The National Indian Law Library (NILL) is a public law library devoted to federal and Tribal law.  Their goal is to develop and make accessible a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and to assist people with their Indian law information needs.  They accomplish this by publishing Tribal Codes, Tribal Constitutions, Tribal Court Opinions, and treaties.

The materials are searchable by Tribe.  While the online database is not complete, the site indicates whether NILL has a paper copy and provides tribal contact information if a paper copy is not in their collection.  Most of the constitutions and codes that are available online are via the individual Tribal websites.  They are not searchable or annotated.  It is difficult to compare the materials in the Westlaw and Lexis databases to these freely available versions because our student subscriptions do not grant us access to these databases.  It is telling though that Westlaw has 14 codes, Lexis has 7, and NILL has or provides links to access all 240.

The materials that are not available online can be shipped to the researcher for free or for a nominal charge.  NILL’s web page also provides access to the research professionals working in their physical branches.  Researchers can submit questions to these professionals via a simple interface on the NILL site.  Access to these researchers is free.

While there are advancements to be made, and room for the collection to grow, I find NILL’s site to be a more comprehensive and easier jumping off point than the pay sites at first blush.

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Forcing the government’s handout?

February 3, 2011 1 comment

In a move aimed to both add to transparency to the court system and to encourage federal and state governments to electronically publish their own court documents resource.org has plans to release a Report of Current Opinions (RECOP) through their law.gov site.  This report will include a free HTML feed of all slip and final opinions from the appellate courts of all states and  the federal government.  In addition tocurrent opinions the site has plans to release 3 million pages of 9th Circuit briefs and the first 10 volumes of the Federal Reporter.  Google has awarded the site a $2 million grant to help them realize their vision.

Resorce.org hopes that by providing the interface and initial infrastructure for publication that state and  federal governments will become involved and eventually take over publishing duties.  To encourage the government’s participation law.gov has is operating with a built in sunset clause.  Their reasons are twofold.  First the operating cost of publishing opinions is not insignificant.  Second, creators and contributors hope that federal and state governments will realize the impact they anticipate law.gov will have and continue to publish the opinions themselves after RECOP’s two years of operation has run its course.

Creator Carl Malamud indicated that the first wave of published opinions were to be up by January 11.  In my investigation of the site I could find nothing more than mission statements and directions of intent.  In order to evaluate how effective the site will be at disseminating information and at forcing the government’s had we will have to wait for the material to be published.  Though for the site to be a success, both in increasing transparency and in forcing the government to take on publication duties, the interface will have to be comprehensive  and popular.

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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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