By Kevin O'Keefe

Casetext : Social meets primary legal research

20130727-115040.jpg Bob Ambrogi (@bobambrogi) wrote yesterday about a new legal research site that combines case law with crowd sourcing.

Imagine if you could combine a full-text case law library for research with crowdsourced editing and annotating in the style of Wikipedia and user rankings of annotations and references in the style of a site such as Digg? That, roughly speaking, is the idea behind Casetext, an innovative legal research site launched this week that provides free access to court opinions together with a platform for crowdsourcing references and annotations.

Unlike some of the more suspect Internet companies started by non lawyers for lawyers, Ambrogi reports Casetext (@casetext) is the brainchild of two lawyers, Jake Heller (@jacob_heller) and Joanna Huey, who met in 2009, when Jake was president of the Stanford Law Review and Joanna was president of the Harvard Law Review. After clerking together for 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boudin and then serving separate stints as law firm associates, the two reunited to build Casetext.

In addition to being able to add quick facts or descriptions about the case, in wiki form, users can annotate the cases with secondary resources.

Ambrogi talks about, among other things, secondary resources such as news or law reviews being included in the annotations. Of course, as we move on from law reviews to blogs, it’s going to be law blogs and other social media which become the most important source for annotating not only cases, but later on codes, regulations, and treatises.

Ambrogi asks is this the future of legal research?

To my mind, Casetext reflects the sort of innovative thinking that will define the next generation of legal research. There are now plenty of sources of raw case law on the Internet. But when it comes to finding case law that is fleshed out with annotations, references and secondary sources, we remain restricted, for the most part, to the major legal research vendors. Why not build a body of annotated case law by tapping into the collective knowledge and experience of the legal community at large?

The concept Casetext delivers no doubt represents the future. Whether Casetext will grow and flourish so as to help deliver the future is anyone’s guess. As Ambrogi says, you need a critical mass of people to use it. You’re also going to need to include more than just cases.

Most important you need to remove the heavy lifting component of people manually adding and tagging information and move to ‘machine learning.’ Machine learning meaning computers with algorithms analyzing information from blogs, news sites, Twitter and the like not only looking at the content, but also the social relation and influence of the people (lawyers, clerks, judges, public) reading, citing, sharing that content.

This later, and critically important component, will need to come from larger publishers (or partnerships with large publishers), or from well funded emerging growth companies with talented tech teams.

Nonetheless, Casetext is a forward looking idea founded by some bright people. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Image courtesy of Flickr of j3net.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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