I fondly remember searching the case law while at law school in Cape Town in the early 90’s. Essentially I had three choices – the UCT law library, the records at the Supreme Court itself or gopher (that’s pre-browser Internet). My preference was always gopher. It was in fact through gopher that I had my initial mindspin epiphany – the Internet was going to change our world.
Fast forward a few years – I had the pleasure of writing head notes for commercial case law and got introduced to CaseLaw 1.0 courtesy of Austlii. In 1998 I set up one of the first major legal vertical portals, Lawstream (the big picture vision was to stream live from the courts) and achieved a million page views in month 1.
Needless to say, I’ve seen the law online since its early days and I’m really excited to see Google enter the fray:
Starting today, we’re enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar.
It would be really cool if Google were to have an open API policy with respect to these cases. What I mean is that anyone should be able to write their own headnote or summary on a case or develop a set of commentary threading together how the common law has been affected by a particular judgement or other. In true crowdsourcing style, the most popular or authoritative headnotes and commentary would rise to the top to create a Legalpedia.
I really like the way that Google, in releasing Scholar, has acknowledged the work of true legal pioneers such as Graham Greenleaf at Austlii.
Next step for Scholar? – My suggestion is that they expand out to other countries and continue to democratise the black box that is the law.