altlaw- legal search that might not suck

Tim Wu, a prof here at Columbia (he’s famous! he’s on youtube!)12, has announced the existence of AltLaw. The core idea is that instead of ranting endlessly about lexis and westlaw3, someone could actually do something about it, taking advantage of the public domain status of most court decisions to collect a database of cases, parse them into something reliable formatting-wise, and slap a search engine with actual brains on top of it.

AltLaw still has a long, long way to go- in particular, it covers only cases from federal courts and the past ten years, and it does very little to act on the copious metadata available in court cases. But it is getting there, and as it will eventually be open in all the significant senses (source code as well as data), the hope is that it will pick up speed as time goes by and more people start to contribute parsers and data.

I’m generously credited as a contributor on the about page, but realistically, I’ve just been cheerleading so far. I’m thrilled to have had the good luck to be even that involved, and hope to find other ways to contribute eventually. Stuart Sierra and Paul Ohm (sorry, no youtube yet) have really done the bulk of the heavy lifting- congrats to both of them for getting it this far, and on the positive reaction it is getting.

  1. the third video in particular is… very special []
  2. there are 700 students at Columbia who can take electives. 300 of them signed up for his copyright class this semester. []
  3. that blog post talked about searching for eBay v. Mercexchange, which I’m pleased to report altlaw does better than either lexis or westlaw []