Caselaw Access Project

Caselaw Access Project

The Harvard Law School Library is pleased to announce “Caselaw Access Project” as the formal name for its long-running project to help make U.S. state and federal court decisions freely accessible online.

The Library began this project internally in 2013 under the name “Free the Law” as a pilot to explore the feasibility and viability of digitizing its nearly comprehensive collection of over 42,000 bound volumes of published court decisions. In 2015, the Library publicly announced the initiative and its unique partnership with Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics platform, to transform and provide free public access to the millions of court decisions within these volumes.

Over the past few months, we have had the privilege to work closely with Mike Lissner of Free Law Project, a non-profit working to provide high-quality legal data to researchers, journalists and organizations. Working with Mike, we have begun exploring paths for collaboration between our projects to ensure that together we are making the greatest possible impact on the problem of access to legal information. Already we have exchanged many ideas and learned a great deal from each other. Our first, small collaborative step has been to share our respective databases of reporters. We hope and expect there will be more collaboration to come.  

Through our discussions with Mike, however, it has become evident that the similarity of our projects’ names has been a needless impediment. While our projects are similar in vision and values, they are distinct. They differ in important respects. While we continue to pursue avenues for collaboration, we are eager to prevent confusion or misunderstanding, and we believe publicly naming the Harvard-Ravel initiative the “Caselaw Access Project” will help us achieve that goal.

3 comments

  1. Henri Weston Smith says:

    What an awesome project! Will the court decisions be released in open data ? If yes, when do you think you will be able to do so?

    • Adam Ziegler says:

      Hi Henri – Thanks! Yes, eventually the cases will all be released as open data. The timeframe is roughly 8 years from now at the latest, and earlier for any jurisdiction that begins to publish its new decisions online in an authoritative, citable, machine-readable manner. Illinois and Arkansas have already met this bar, so we’ll be released them as soon as the scanning and processing work is complete. In the meantime, you can get access to the cases for free via Ravel’s search interface and, if you’re a non-profit developer, you’ll be able to apply for free access to Ravel’s API when it is released in coming months. If you’re interested in more details about the project, please check out my earlier post here: http://etseq.law.harvard.edu/2015/10/free-the-law-overview/.

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