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Here’s some solid research by the Free Law Project about Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). Amazing how much revenue PACER makes each year. That’s a TON of pages downloaded by users of public domain legal information! And they’ve got some ideas for developing a solution to this problem.
In total, that’s $1.2B that PACER has brought in over 21 years, with an average revenue of $60.7M per year. The average for the last five years is more than twice that — $135.2M/year.1 These are remarkable numbers and they point to one of two conclusions. Either PACER is creating a surplus — which is illegal according to the E-Government Act — or PACER is costing $135M/year to run.
Whichever the case, it’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong. If the justice system is turning a profit selling public domain legal documents through its public access system, that’s wrong. If the judicial branch needs $60M/year to run a basic website, that’s gross waste, and that’s wrong too.
Something needs to be done to rein in PACER, and again we ask that public citizens, Congress, journalists, and the courts work to develop a solution.
[Editor’s note: the following is a guest post by Emily Feltren, Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). This post grew out of a conversation we had about “advocacy tips” sent out to the listserv of the Northern CA chapter of AALL (NOCALL) to which I subscribe. This is a great example of how a community can advocate successfully about the important work that FDLP libraries do to collect, describe, preserve, give access to government information. Emily can be reached at efeltren AT aall DOT org.]
Last year, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) began collecting stories from our members and chapters about their use of U.S. legal materials in print. Our goal was to demonstrate to Congress that researchers, attorneys, students and members of the public continue to use and value print legal resources. I’m pleased to report that our members responded with great enthusiasm to our call for stories! Through our Print Resource Usage Log, we’ve collected more than 40 examples that illustrate the ongoing need for access to print legal materials.
Stories range from urgent faculty requests where print “saved the day,” to law review cite checking, to patron preference. In several cases, law librarians said that using the print made it easier to find exact language in a document, look at multiple provisions simultaneously, and verify language and proper citations.
We’ve already described some of the excellent entries to the log on AALL’s Washington Blawg. For example, a law librarian at a private firm noted how much more practical print resources can be when attorneys use multiple titles of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) every day. She prefers the print “to be able to look at multiple provisions simultaneously without having to continually expand the table of contents at FDsys to find other provisions, or hav[ing] to bear the search expense of looking in Westlaw or Lexis.”
Maria Willmer, Legal Research Specialist at DePaul College of Law Library, shared her story of how the print not only ruled, but it saved the day! She wrote, “During a rush request from a Professor for his class, I needed to find a Proposed Rule and track it through to when it became a Final Rule and then find where it was codified in the CFR. Using the print issues and volume were the best way to track this down. I pulled a 2010 FR issue in paper – found a proposed rule – pulled the CFR volume where this potential rule would be codified and then back tracked to find the final rule. I honestly believe having the print volumes in front of me, helped me quickly navigate and find all three documents in a short [amount] of time …print rules (pun intended)!”
AALL continues to collect stories of print usage, and we invite you to join our efforts. If you find yourself referring to print legal materials, such as the print Code of Federal Regulations, Congressional Record, and U.S. Code, please log your usage on our SurveyMonkey form. We will continue to collect the responses and share them, with names and identifying information removed, with the Government Printing Office and key Committees on Capitol Hill.
The Digital Access to Legal Information Committee (DALIC) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) has created a new website to host information about the status of online legal materials in every state with respect to authentication, official status, preservation, permanent public access, copyright, and universal citation.
- State Online Legal Information, American Association of Law Libraries.
AALL and chapter volunteers researched primary legal materials in their states to determine if online legal materials are trustworthy and preserved for permanent public access. This website brings together information from AALL’s National Inventory of Legal Materials and updates AALL’s Preliminary Analysis of AALL’s State Legal Inventories, 2007 State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources and 2009-2010 State Summary Updates. Information is provided about the online Administrative Code, Administrative Register, Statutes, Session Laws, High Court Opinions and Appellate Court Opinions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the following categories*:
Permanent Public Access
The state pages will be updated as information changes and as we learn more about developments in the states. AALL’s Digital Access to Legal Information Committee (DALIC) will monitor this site and periodically check in with AALL’s state working groups to ensure the accuracy of the information. DALIC also welcomes your additions or corrections.
- New Website for State Online Legal Information, By Elizabeth Holland, American Association of Law Libraries, Washington Blawg (April 9, 2013).
State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources (2007).
The Minnesota Historical Society has several papers on authenticating digital legal information. Here you will find white papers that address authentication issues as well as information on the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act. Links to additional resources are also provided.
- Preserving state government digital information
Project partners have identified authentication of digital material — the process by which information is assured to be what it appears or claims to be — as a common interest. The trustworthiness of online state statutes and session laws is of particular interest.
The newest paper discusses five methods of authentication and their associated costs pertaining to authenticating primary legal materials in electronic format:
Hat tip to INFOdocket!
Another note-worthy item from this past summer is the approval of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) by the Uniform Law Commission, also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), at its annual meeting in July.
A uniform law is a legislative proposal drafted by NCCUSL, a non-governmental body. Once approved, state legislatures are urged to enact the law, thus developing a uniformity of law across the states (think Uniform Commercial Code).
UELMA takes an outcomes based approach, and requires that official electronic legal material be authenticated, preserved, and accessible for use by the public. For purposes of the Act, legal material includes the state constitution, session laws, codified laws or statutes, and state agency rules with the effect of law. States may also choose to include other types of legal material such as court rules, judicial decisions, and administrative decisions.
NCCUSL’s approval of the UELMA is a particularly exciting development, full of possibility. The extent of the impact will, of course, depend on what happens now in the 50 states. Librarians, library associations, and all supporters of permanent public access to legal information should pay attention, make their voices heard on the state level, and work with their legislators.
In my view, UELMA is a positive step toward permanent public access to state law.
For more, see the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act committee page, which includes approved text, drafts, and issue memoranda.