Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Monday, December 14, 2015
In the era of Google Maps, instant language translation, and digital music libraries, law students still spend countless hours flipping pages to find the right subclause or definition in a statute. This process can and should be automated.
Computerized calculations have liberated STEM students from tedious, repetitive tasks so that they can focus on the more intellectually simulating and creative aspects of math, science and engineering. Word processing software has freed us all from applying whiteout and waiting for it to dry and from manually retyping manuscripts to correct a few errors. This has enabled us to focus on our ideas and not the mechanics of fixing them permanently on paper.
Law is an inherently conservative field, focused on precedent, tradition, and risk avoidance. But when the case for change is compelling, we are prepared to try new tools.
I’ve been thinking about the problems of statutory interpretation for years and how automation could streamline the process. I’m very excited to announce a new electronic statutory supplement, LawEdge. (Full disclosure: I helped develop it).
LawEdge aims to do for statutory interpretation what the calculator did for mathematics.
The U.S. Code includes thousands of defined terms. A reader must understand what each of the defined terms means to understand the meaning of each provision containing those defined terms.
Unfortunately, defined terms are not always clearly labeled. Even when defined terms are labeled as defined terms, understanding one provision may require flipping back and forth to several other locations in the code. This process can be slow and cumbersome with paper statutes. Even electronic statutes often will not take users to the precise location in the code where a definition appears, but will instead take readers to a the section containing the definition, forcing readers to search for the definition.
LawEdge makes working with defined terms simple and easy. Defined terms are clearly labeled. Clicking on a defined term generates a popup window showing its meaning. Definitions are also hyperlinked to their meaning.
Definitions are context-specific and do not apply to all sections of the code. For example, the definition of “property” in Section 317(a) of the Internal Revenue Code does not apply to Section 351 of the same title. LawEdge recognizes context and links definitions appropriately.
LawEdge is easy to navigate. For example, suppose that you wish to read § 21(b)(2)(B). With a paper statutory supplement, you could flip to section 21, then look for subsection (b), then read down to paragraph (2) and finally find subparagraph (B). The entire process might take 30 seconds, and along the way you might accidentally look at the wrong provision. With LawEdge, this process is nearly instantaneous and error free. You would simply type s21b2b in the search bar. This feature works all the way down to the subclause level.
Browsing a statute is also easier and more intuitive. Structural components are color coded to be more recognizable.
The underlying technology is algorithmic, which means it is easy to update and support as the U.S. Code changes.
LawEdge has all of the benefits of paper—notes, highlights, bookmarks, offline access—and many advantages only available electronically. It can be used on exams with the latest version of ExamSoft, which offers on option to only block internet access but not the hard drive.
If you’re interested in trying it for your class, please feel free to contact me for an evaluation copy.
A recent New York Times editorial attacking law school as “a scam” was widely criticized because of its exaggerations and factual inaccuracies (here and here). The dean of Florida Coastal, which The New York Times specifically targeted for opprobrium, wrote “the Times is saying something demonstrably false and which had not been properly fact checked. . . . [T]he Times could have had [accurate information] if it had simply asked. . . the Times . . . misled its readership by failing to properly fact check.”
Felix Salmon, contemplating recent journalistic controversies, argues that fundamental problems with journalistic methods lead errors to go undetected and unchallenged. According to Salmon, the risk is particularly high when errors originate with a powerful newspaper like The New York Times. Glenn Greenwald similarly notes the alarming pervasiveness of factual errors by respected media organizations, and how consumers rarely spot these errors unless they personally have intimate knowledge of the subject of the article—for example because they are the subject. A large survey found that news sources rarely correct errors because they believe that journalists ignore serious mistakes. Sources also fear that if they push for a correction, the media will retaliate.
To better understand the press’s incentives to carefully research their stories, I asked leading media law scholars to discuss whether The New York Times law school editorial raised any legal issues. According to both my Seton Hall colleague Thomas Healy and Howard Wasserman of Florida International, The New York Times has little reason to fear liability, even if it negligently supplies information that is poorly researched, misleading, or harmful.
Howard M. Wasserman, Professor of Law, FIU College of Law
Facts, Damn Facts, and Statistics (full analysis):
Neither Florida Coastal School of Law nor its owner, InfiLaw, has threatened to sue The Times for defamation over its October 24 op-ed. Any such lawsuit would be futile in the face of stringent First Amendment protections against defamation liability. . . .
Saturday, December 12, 2015
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Story here. That's a shrewd move, which should help the school quickly become competitive with and perhaps overtake the other public law schools in Texas outside Austin (faculty appointments in the last year or so have already closed the gap on the faculty front).
ADDENDUM: I neglected to note that Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall) also discussed this issue last week!
Tuesday, December 8, 2015