The Report of Current Opinions: Santa Comes Early to the Open Law Movement

Public.Resource.Org will begin providing in 2011 a weekly release of the Report of Current Opinions (RECOP). The Report will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government. The feed will be available for reuse without restriction under the Creative Commons CC-Zero License and will include full star pagination.This data is being obtained through an agreement with Fastcase, one of the leading legal information publishers. Fastcase will be providing us all opinions in a given week by the end of the following week. We will work with our partners in Law.Gov to perform initial post-processing of the raw HTML data, including such tasks as privacy audits, conversion to XHTML, and tagging for style, content, and metadata.

via The Report of Current Opinions – O\’Reilly Radar.

On Sunday Dec. 19 Carl Malamud made the startling announcement quoted above. And you did read it correctly: “The Report will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government. ” To say that this is huge would be the understatement of the year.

From personal experience I can tell you that the “slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government” have never all been freely available in HTML before. Not even close. At best you could probably wrangle 75% of these opinions in PDF using a mountain of code to scrape sites and parse feeds. To have all this available as a single feed is a game changer.

As a researcher and builder of tools for legal research and education, having access to a single feed that contains all of this data is just the thing I’ve been looking for (and occasionally trying to build) for the past 15 or so years. I have no doubt that the availability of this feed will spark a flurry of development to use the data in new and interesting ways. I will certainly be incorporating it in the CALI tools I’m currently working on.

Of course there are a couple of caveats here. First, we haven’t seen the feed yet. It won’t be available for a few weeks, so right now I’m still just waiting to see what it will look like. Second, there are 2 “timeouts” built into this service, direct government involvement by July 1, 2011 and a general sunset of private sector activity in creating the feed at the end of 2012. The timeouts underscore the belief that providing free and open access to primary legal materials is a duty of the government, plain and simple. As citizens we are bound to follow the law and our government should be obligated to provide us with free and open access to that law.

I know I’m certainly looking forward to a new year that brings greater free and open access to the law. Thanks, Carl.

Paper Tablet App Lets Livescribe Echo Smartpen Write On Your PC

You can now draw virtual lines on your computer screen at the same time as you scribble them on paper.

A new smartpen app called Paper Tablet gives the Livescribe Echo smartpen some of the functionality of a dedicated graphics tablet, letting you write on the computer screen in real time and add manuscript text to files already on your computer.

“The essence of our business is the capture, access and sharing of written and spoken information,” Livescribe CEO Jim Marggraff told Gadget Lab. “We happen to have this tool in the form of a pen, but it’s really about capture, access and sharing.”

via Smartpen App Makes Paper as Mighty as the Mouse | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

In addition to creating freehand notes, the app allows for marking up MSFT Office docs and saving them (in Windows, Mac functionality is limited). The Echo can also record up to 800 hours of classroom audio, making it a great way to record lectures while taking notes. The notes can be exported to PDF, the audio to MP3, making the device quite versatile. Wired recently wrote a lengthy review indicating the pen works especially well for journalists and students.

It would be interesting to see how useful it would be in the law school classroom.

The Livescribe 4 GB Echo Smartpen and the Livescribe 8 GB Echo Smartpen are available from Amazon and other retailers.

Hewlett Foundation Awards $1.5 Million Grant for Open Textbooks

The third and last of Monday’s news developments also comes in the digital textbook arena — but from the free, rather than for-profit, perspective. The Community College Collaborative for Open Educational Resources said the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had given it $1.5 million in new funds to expand its work, which focuses on increasing the number of free, online textbooks and training community college instructors on how best to use such books. Its main resource, the Community College Open Textbook Project, has dozens of college members and seeks to significantly expand the number of freely available digital textbooks it makes available.

via News: Textbook Bonanza – Inside Higher Ed.

Would be really nice if CALI could come up with some grant money to fund development of our open education resources projects including eLangdell and the Legal Education Commons.

New Form Carolina Academic Press: Teaching Law by Design

Professors Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie Sparrow and Gerry Hess, three leaders in the teaching and learning movement in legal education, have collaborated to offer a new book designed to synthesize the latest research on teaching and learning for new and experienced law teachers.  The book begins with basic principles of teaching and learning theory, provides insights into how law students experience traditional law teaching, and then guides law teachers through the entire process of teaching a course. The topics addressed include: how to plan a course; how to design a syllabus and select a text; how to plan individual class sessions; how to engage and motivate students, even those tough-to-crack second- and third-year students; how to use a wide variety of teaching techniques; how to evaluate student learning, both for the purposes of assigning grades and of improving student learning; and how to be a lifelong learner as a teacher.

via Carolina Academic Press: Teaching Law by Design.

Form the introductory materials online it looks like a pretty good book.