Do you find it difficult to translate a legal issue into a search query to generate a manageable list of on-point cases? Check out CARA - a new Casetext tool!
Casetext rolled out a new feature called CARA (Case Analysis Research Assistant) in July. CARA will find cases that are relevant to a particular legal memorandum or brief. Users upload a document and CARA analyzes it and generates a list of relevant cases not cited in the document. CARA does this by identifying dozens of factors including the legal authority cited and the subject matter discussed in the document. CARA uses a proprietary algorithm, then automatically searches Casetext's database to locate similar, on-point cases. CARA uses indicators to weigh relevance, including how often cases are jointly cited.
CARA could be very useful in a couple of ways:
l. If you just received your opponent's memorandum in support of a motion to dismiss, upload the document to CARA and it will quickly generate a list of cases that are on point with your issue, but that your opponent has not included in the document. This can be a very effective tool as you research and begin drafting your reply, and are trying to find potential missing arguments or alternative arguments not discussed within your opponent's document.
2. Double-check your own research, whether in rough draft or a final version, by uploading your document to CARA to see if you have missed any important cases.
CARA does not replace traditional legal research systems, but it could be a powerful supplementary tool. It may help you locate cases you missed using other search methods or help you locate cases more efficiently. Legal research continues to be a very human process, but one that can be prone to human error.
l. CARA is not effective for case law that is less than one year old. If cases cited within a document are more than one or two years old, CARA can be very effective.
2. If you are using a scanned document, be sure to OCR it before uploading.
3. CARA is not accessible in the free Casetext basic plan. Check out the cost of their research plans.
Attorneys may be concerned with security and confidentiality of legal documents they upload to CARA. Casetext, however, addresses this concern by encrypting the uploaded document and, after processing, the document is immediately deleted from Casetext's servers.
Want to Try It?
If you are a Casetext registered user, just sign in and click on the CARA link. If you are new to Casetext, you will need to sign up for a free trial.
Another exciting new development on the legal research front!
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Brilliant ideas can come at any time--like my idea for this week's post-- and you don't always have pen and paper handy. Enter Penultimate. While, not necessarily a research tool, it can be thought of as a productivity tool to help capture your research ideas, and as such, is a helpful research app for iPads. And with an estimated 79.7 million iPad users, there's a good chance you have access to one.
This is an Evernote product, so your notes sync to your Evernote account. This has several advantages. Unlike handwritten notes, these notes are searchable and you can access them from any of your devices, depending on your Evernote account. You can also export them as PDFs. Additional features include the ability to highlight, erase, and move things around.
Flowcharts and other various diagrams, like timelines, can be especially useful to help understand complex issues. However, I am reluctant to create flowcharts on the computer because of the time it takes me to design them, especially if I am short on time and need to capture my idea quickly. I do draw them on paper often, but hadn't found a good way to incorporate them into my typed notes until now.
I think this tool would be helpful also for group study sessions. 1Ls listen up! If you use Penultimate in conjunction with an Apple TV, you can project your notes from your iPad and then share them with your group members via your Evernote account.
Penultimate offers a variety of paper options in addition to the usual plain or lined versions. Just have the perfect guitar riff pop in your head? Need a break from studying? They have a paper option for that!
I think Penultimate is definitely worth checking out as an alternative to paper.
Looking for a voice recognition alternative to paper? Check out my earlier post on DragonDictation.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
The World Wide Web has become the go-to source for information in our society. We have easy access to about 47 billion web pages on the World Wide Web. This number only accounts for the surface web.* In order to be accessed web pages need to have an address.** Web pages can lose their addresses if their owner fails to pay the web-hosting bill, if the server breaks down, if the files which make up the web page are moved or deleted, or if the owner of the website simply decides to change the content. We even have a name for when a web page loses its address: link rot.
This can be a problem when conducting research. In academia, writers rely on the process of citation to show the reader where they found information. In law, jurists and expert witnesses will also use citations to inform the reader of information upon which a decision or the expert’s opinion might be based.***
Prior to the internet the citation process was straightforward because once something was published in print it was recorded in a physical and unchanging form. This is not so with web pages, since there are many reasons links may become unavailable over time.
So what can you do if you’re conducting research and come across link rot? Well, there is one thing you can try—check out the Wayback Machine.
What is the Wayback Machine?
The Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a web archive which enables users to view webpages across time. Simply go to the website and enter the URL of the website for which you’d like to see past versions in their search box. If the website has been archived, you will be brought to a page with a bar graph indicating how often the page has been indexed.
|The bar pictured is for “en.wikipedia.org”|
The bar graph consists of one box for each year since 1996. Within each box are up to 12 black vertical lines which represent each month within that year. The height of each vertical black line represents how many times the web page was archived that month. Clicking on the boxes will bring up a calendar for that year with days highlighted when a snapshot of the webpage was archived. To see the webpage as it was, click the highlighted dates.
Note: The Wayback Machine is a free service and is also very popular. This means that sometimes you may sometimes get an error message because their servers are busy—be patient.
I recently had occasion to do some research on expert witness reports. In one of these reports (link requires Westlaw password) I was surprised to find a great number of the references to an advocacy website (PFLAG) were broken due to changes to the organization’s website. Of the five links which were broken in the expert report, I was able to retrieve all five using the Wayback Machine including one pdf file. While your results may vary—if you come across a broken link while doing research the Wayback Machine may be a good solution.
* Surface web means the part web which is indexed by the commercial search engines (e.g. Google). The surface web accounts for about 4% of the total web. Non-indexed parts of the web are called the deep web and dark web. To learn more about those click here.
** Web addresses are usually thought of as Uniform Resource Locators or URLs. For more detailed information about URLs click here.
*** Legal scholars have recognized link rot as a problem. See e.g. Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, Lawrence Lessig, Perma: Scoping and Addressing the Problem of Link and Reference Rot in Legal Citations, 127 Harv. L. Rev. F. 176 (2014).
Monday, September 12, 2016
Legal researchers are familiar with Congressional Research Service (CRS), a division of the Library of Congress, and the great bipartisan reports it provides for Members of Congress. In fact I wrote about CRS previously and that post is available here. To recap, CRS “experts assist [members of Congress] at every stage of the legislative process — from the early considerations that precede bill drafting, through committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities.” (from the CRS website).
But today I discovered that the Library of Congress also authors something called “Legal Reports,” also for Congress, available freely at this link. There are differences between these Legal Reports and CRS Reports – one of the biggest of which I just mentioned – they are available for free on the Library of Congress' website.
There are also differences in subject matter covered. The CRS Annual Report states that major issues covered by CRS in 2015 included appropriations, congressional oversight, country of origin labeling, federal health insurance programs, inter alia. In other words, domestic and foreign policy issues. On the other hand, a review of Law Reports created by the LOC reveals that these Reports tend to have more of a foreign or comparative law slant. For example, there are Law Reports covering children’s rights in 16 countries, regulation of drones in 13 countries and the European Union (I could have used this last semester), the impact of foreign law on domestic judgments in 13 countries, extradition of citizens in Brazil and 157 other jurisdictions, to name only four of the more than one hundred Reports! The index for Law Reports available can be found here.
Another difference between CRS Reports and Law Reports is that there is no author attribution for the Legal Reports; the author is listed as the Global Legal Research Center. As you know, the CRS Reports are written by subject specialists and the individual’s contact information is given at the end of each report.
It’s a good day when I discover a whole new resource for research and I am happy to share this discovery with you.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Welcome back! We hope you had a productive and/or relaxing summer.
Have you heard of data visualization? Data visualization is a way of using computers to graphically present data in ways which humans can visually interpret. This can be a boon to people who are visual learners. While we all know about pie charts and bar graphs, you may not be familiar with some exciting ways in which legal information providers have applied data visualizations to help the researcher navigate legal information. Here we will be covering examples from several different providers Casetext, Lexis Advance, and Ravel.
Casetext, an innovative legal information startup, has created a heatmap, a type of data visualization in which values in a set of data are represented as colors, for their pro version. Casetext uses the heatmap within a case to show the number of citations to each page of the opinion. The line on the left is the heatmap, the boxes from top to bottom represent page numbers, and the shade of blue indicates how often the corresponding pages have been cited. The darker the shade, the more often the page has been cited. This is useful because it indicates which portions of the opinion citing courts have found to be most important.
The heatmap is not to be confused with Casetext’s “Key Passages” as pictured below. For instance, if we went to the page from the heatmap with the darkest blue, we see a callout with the number 164 just to the right of the passage. The 164 represents the number of times this passage has been quoted in subsequent opinions.
Lexis Advance, a long-time industry leader, has recently added a color coded heatmap to its search results for cases. The example uses the following search limited to U.S. Supreme court decisions since 2007.
As you can see the visualization color codes my search terms and shows where the terms fall within the opinion from Headnotes to dissent. By clicking on the bands of color within the heatmap, Lexis Advance will display the relevant passages within the case. The first example “evolving standards of decency” shows up in Justice Kagan’s opinion, note the relevant pale green bar on the heatmap is highlighted.
Below we can see where the terms “minor” and “murder” show up in Justice Thomas’s dissent. Here, note the purple-orange-purple portion of the heatmap is highlighted.
The heatmaps within the search results represent only the top hits while going into a case gives a much more detailed version of the heatmap as you can see below. What constitutes a ‘top hit’ is determined by an algorithm which looks at inter alia search term location, frequency, and proximity in order to determine the most representative language within the document.
The most obvious use for this sort of data visualization is in finding your search terms within a case, but also by paying attention to the density of search terms and where the colors are together, one can guess where in an opinion the court is discussing the interaction between the different concepts.
Ravel is another innovative legal information startup that has taken a different approach to data visualization. Ravel’s main data visualization presents a search as a series of connections between cases. The two images below represent Ravel’s visualization of a search for the phrase “evolving standards of decency” with the left image sorted by court and the right image sorted by relevance. All of the same information is present. Each circle represents a case. The size of each circle indicates the number of citations within your search results and the color of each circle correlates to the level of the court which wrote each opinion which is more easily discerned in the image sorted by court on the left.
By clicking one one of the case circles, you can obtain a relevance mapping of connections between that case and other cases. The image below reflects the relevance mapping for the case Trop v. Dulles, the case in which the phrase “evolving standards of decency” originated. The pattern in this image shows those cases which both include this phrase and cite to Trop v. Dulles directly. The connection is shown as a blue line with an arrow. The arrow points from the citing case to the cited case and the thickness of the line correlates to the number of times cited. Notice how the image below correlates to the ‘relevance’ view, above right.
The next image shows the visualization for the case Estelle v. Gamble which applies the “evolving standards” from Trop in the context of medical treatment for prisoners. The image below shows the pattern of connections of cases either cited by Estelle or citing to Estelle. Ravel’s data visualization allows researchers to see connections between cases and the development in subsequent cases.
This post included explanations of three fairly new uses of data visualization in legal research. There are many more out there and since Lexis Advance implemented such a tool the other major commercial legal databases are likely to follow suit. If your favorite legal research data visualization tool was not covered please share it in the comment section below.
* Western New England University School of Law students have free access to the pro version of Casetext, contact Artie Berns for full details.
** Ravel provides free access to its data visualization tools for free to law students. You can sign up for a free Ravel educational account here.