Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Crowdsourcing Legal Research

Crowdsourcing has become an increasingly popular (and effective) way to raise funds for projects. Wikipedia's explanation of crowdsourcing (and they should know) suggests it can be used to divide labor for tedious tasks, which describes most legal research projects.The concept of collaborating on research is not a new idea; as a librarian I do it all the time. It's the principle behind crowdsourcing that is unique when applied to legal research. "Crowd" usually implies the funding, information, etc., is coming from a vast community of users, most likely unknown to you.

According to a recent ABA Journal article, crowdsourcing may be gaining popularity in the legal research arena. One crowdsourcing hopeful, Casetext, allows you to "search a database of millions of judicial opinions, statutes, and regulations and learn insights from the annotations of practicing attorneys, professors, and other experts." This approach reminds me of using the notes in the margins in used textbooks. Casetext encourages contributors to use their real identities, so unlike in the used textbook scenario, you can determine for yourself the expertise level of the contributor. Multiple annotations for a passage are arranged by users' up or down votes. There is a chat feature for asking questions, but the annotations seem to be the main focus of that site.

The other legal research crowdsourcing site is Mootus, where users can either submit issues or argue issues. Arguing issues involves "citing law and voting other cites as 'on point' or 'off base.'" One drawback to this site is that user profiles are defaulted to "private," so you may not know who's answering your question. According to the site, there are two ways to submit issues. If you want to post an issue directly to the community, there is a "small fee ($100)." The other (free) option is to propose an issue and let the Mootus team decide if it should be posted. The focus of this site seems to be a way for law students and newer lawyers to strengthen their research skills.

I randomly searched for Randall v. K-Mart Corp., 150 F.3d 210 (2d Cir. 1998) in Casetext. Unfortunately, there were no annotations. I browsed through the "Active Issues" in Mootus and was surprised at the number of issues that had at least one answer. Still, there were many issues waiting for answers, which is not ideal for time-sensitive issues.

This is a good reminder that you may still have to go solo with your legal research, or better yet, try your nearest law librarian!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1/19/2014

    Really interesting, thanks​!​

    I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across explaining crowds, open innovation, and citizen science.​ ​In particular I feel you may find these two emerging pieces of research very relevant:

    - The Theory of Crowd Capital

    - The Contours of Crowd Capability

    Powerful stuff, no?