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Tom Bruce

Thomas R. Bruce is the co-founder and Director of the Legal Information Institute. After serving for five years as...

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Bob Ambrogi

Bob Ambrogi is the only person to have held top editorial positions at both National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly...

There are a surprising number of nonlawyers who want to know more about the law. While Google may have made access to legal information easier, it hasn’t completely solved legal information availability. In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Bob Ambrogi talks to Tom Bruce, co-founder of the Legal Information Institute (LII), about what the LII is and how it has adapted to changing technology, including using natural language processing techniques to identify defining terms in regulations and statutes and linking together related subjects. They also discuss who the LII serves today and what resources the group offers, including a complete archive of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audio.

Thomas Bruce is the co-founder and director of the Legal Information Institute. An internet and web pioneer, he developed the first web browser for Microsoft Windows.

Transcript

Law Technology Now

Legal Information Institute: Access to Legal Information for All

05/15/2017

Intro: You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.

[Music]

Bob Ambrogi: Hello, I am Bob Ambrogi.

Monica Bay: And I am Monica Bay.

Bob  Ambrogi: We  have  been  writing  about  law  and  technology  for  more  than 30 years.

Monica  Bay: Thats  right.  During that  time  we  have  witnessed  many  changes and innovations.

Bob Ambrogi: Technology is improving the practice of law, helping lawyers deliver their services faster and cheaper.

Monica Bay: Which benefits not only lawyers and their clients, but everyone.

Bob Ambrogi: And moves us closer to the goal of access to justice for all.

Monica Bay: Tune in every month as we explore the new legal technology and the people behind the tech.

Bob Ambrogi: Here on Law Technology Now.

[Music]

Bob Ambrogi: Welcome to Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. This is your  host  Bob  Ambrogi.  My  guest  today  is  Tom  Bruce, the Director  of  the  Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York. This  year  is  the  25th anniversary  of  the  Legal  Information  Institute,  my  how  time flies,  and  we’re  going  to  be  talking  to  Tom  about  the history  of  the  LII  and  what they’re up to now. So Tom Bruce, welcome to our show.

Tom Bruce: Ohthank you Bob.

Bob Ambrogi: Itgreat to talk to you, and thinking about this and I’m wondering how it’s going to be possible for me not to sound like an old fogey in talking about the  origins  of  the  Legal  Information  Institute  because  the  world  has  so  radically changed since you guys got started that I am worried about falling into sounding like my grandparents talking about when I was a kid. But I  wondered  if  you  could  maybe  kind  of  set  the  stage  for  us  for  what  the  legal information world looked like 25 years ago before the LII got started.

Tom Bruce: First of all, Bob, I have to tell you that I share the same set of concerns about aging out of this. Actually, it’s funny because you’re putting your finger right on one of the things that I think that I am actually proudest of and that I know that Peter Martin, my cofounder is as well. 

When we came on the scene in 19 – well, when I first started working in law schools in 1998 and then leading up into 92 when we actually started the Institute, it was very  clear  that  it  was  not  just  that  there  was  a  commercial  monopoly  on  legal information  distribution  actually  really  in  those  days  more  of  a  duopoly  between LexisNexis and what was then West Publishing.

But that  there  was  a  nearly  complete  intellectual  monopoly  as  well,  it  was  no  one outside those companies was really thinking about those issues very much, nobody had  data  to  work  with,  there  was  really  not  much  opportunity  and  so  the  Internet came  along  for  anyone  to  say,  well,  hey, we could try  something  different here.  It was just too expensive to do, its too hard to get your hands on source materialthere was no distribution mechanism really by which you could get it in front of the public. And  so  that  was  the  state  of  thing.  You had  two  very  large,  very  successful  and actually  very  good  commercial  providers  but  there  was  really  no  demonstrable alternative  to  whatever  they  chose  to  do.  And for  the  most  part  what  they  had chosen to do was go a mile wide and an inch deep, lawyer-oriented legal information services  have  always  had  comprehensiveness  as  their  first  goal and  that’s  a  very expensive  thing  to  maintain,  and it  doesn’t  leave  you  a  lot  of  room  to  go  deep  on certain kinds of things.

Bob Ambrogi: Well, and you make this point, but their focus was on providing legal information   to   lawyers   but   nobody   was   really   thinking   about   making   legal information available to the public at large.

Tom Bruce: Yeah, and to tell you the truth, Bob, I think initially I’m not all that sure that  we  were  eitherwhich  is  to  say  it  wasn’t  that  we  went  into  this  with  a  huge sense  of  mission  on  behalf  of  the  public,  much  as  our  views  on  that  have  evolved over a long period of time. It was that we wanted to play, I mean a lot of it was just hot rodding, but we weren’t hot rodding for long before we discovered that there was just this enormous sort  of  latent need for  this stuff  out there  and that  it  didn’t  fall into the categories that you might have expected and it still does not. Even now that more than 50of the people who make use of legislative information on our site or on legislation.gov.uk  or a number of others that were familiar with, the majority is now non-lawyer. 

So — but we very quickly became aware of was that there was this very significant audience that was not lawyers and was not people that lawyers imagined would use a  system  like  ours;  which  is  to  sayordinary  citizens  having  episodic  traumatic encounters with the legal system of one kind or another” but was instead non-lawyer professionals. People who were making continuous professional use of law but were not themselves lawyers.

(00:05:03)

So the obvious examples of people like that are police officers or journalists, but let your mind open up a little further and you start thinking about people like hospital administrators, looking at public benefits law, law enforcement training people, and ultimately,  pretty  much  anybody  and  everybody  in  regulated business,  which  is pretty much anybody and everybody in business.

Bob Ambrogi: The other part of the landscape 25 years ago that’s significant here I think is that the Internet wasn’t really a thing. I mean, the Internet was around but the web — the Internet as we know it today, the web, it really only just started to kind of move out of the lab, the first graphical web browser hadn’t really even been developed yet. I  don’t  think in 1992  I  know  you  developed  one in 1993,  and  Mark Andreesen’s  browser  came  out  in  1993,  Mosaic.  And  this  idea  of  getting  legal information  on  the  Internet  hadn’t  really  come  along.  I  mean,  there  wasn’t  legal information on the Internet at that point or there might have been some rudimentary sources through FTP sites or whatever, but what we think of today as access to legal information  nobody  had  thought  of  at that  point,  and it  seems  to me that you  and Peter were really pioneers in starting to think about that.

Tom Bruce: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I don’t think we can claim exclusive credit for that by any means. We were certainly very early to the web. We had about the — want  to  say  the  30th  web  server  in  the  world,  and  we  had  actually  the  first professionally  oriented  website  that  was  not  oriented  toward  high  energy  physics. Everything out there 

Bob Ambrogi: You had the first legal website too?

Tom Bruce: Yeah — no, absolutely. So Peter had been working extensively at that point,  experimenting  putting  teaching  materials  and  other  kinds  of  resources, statutory  supplements  for  classes  and  that  kind  of  thing  in  the  CD-ROM  form.  So hypertext was a thing that we knew about. 

And  I  remember  sending  a very  early  memo to  the  Dean  of  the  Law School  here I had to do actually with buying my time out from my day job at that point. That said that given the fact that the web was bringing this hypertext technology and that the Internet had this reach, we could see some very interesting things potentially going on in legal information distribution. But as I say, we started out hot-rodding. We put up portions of the US Code in gopher, if you are old enough to remember that.

Bob Ambrogi: May just the only one listening to you right now.

Tom Bruce: Here is this, who knows that. We did that because it was a great format in  which  to  do  stuff  that  was  essentially hierarchical  and the  statute  book  was  like that, and so we did it with Title 17. I think the web stuff was the third thing that we did. We had done a series of CD-ROM statutory supplements for courses, it was stuff like the Federal Rules before we ever did anything online.

But  yeah,  I  mean  we  saw  that  there  was  an  opportunity  there. We  had  been preceded by — Cleveland Free-Net was distributing Supreme Court decisions as early as  I  want  to  say  it  was  pre-Hermes,  so  it  was  like  1989  or  so.  They  were  taking typesetting files, they were taking  Atex files from the court and transforming those and  putting  them  online.  Atex  was  a  typesetting  composition system  known  to lawyers  or  lawyers  who  were  around  at  that  time  is  XyWrite, that  was  a  word processing program that was actually based on Atex. So they done it and there had been  a  couple  of  other  fitful  efforts  to  distribute  limited  a mounts  of  stuff,  but  that was really about it.

Bob Ambrogi: And Hermes for those who don’t know was what?

Tom  Bruce: Oh  Hermes  was  the  Supreme  Court’s  program  for  doing  rapid distribution  of  Supreme  Court  opinions  to  a  very,  very  limited  population  of subscribers. I think there have never been more than about 20. Most of them were major news organizations. So it’s the legal publishers plus The New York Times’ plus a couple of other newspapers. We joined the subscriber roster I want to say in 9495.

Bob Ambrogi: This is well before the Supreme Court ever had a website of its own. I think at least a decade before the court had its own?

Tom  Bruce: Oh  yeah,  absolutely.  I  mean,  I  think  the  Supreme  Court  started working on their website around 9899, so we had had one up for six or eight years before they did.

Bob Ambrogi: Yeah. So what was the original mission and how did you get started? Where did the money come from? Where did the resources come from?

Tom  Bruce: The  resources  originally  came  from  a  grant  that  we  got  through an organization   called   NCAIR (The   National   Center   for   Automated   Information Retrieval), and  one  of  the  more  amusing  ironies  of  our  existence  is  that  we were actually paid — our startup was actually paid for by Lexis Royalties.

NCAIR had been started by Lexis at a time when they were still having to very, very heavily lobby judges to get them to release opinions to them for online distribution, and  one  of the  sweeteners  was  they  said,  well,  we  will  put  any royalties  aside  and use  it  to  set  up  this  foundation,  we  will  help  with  information  projects  in  law  and accounting, I think it was.

So we had a pretty substantial startup grant from them that was enough to buy out my time  and to  fund us for  a  year  or so,  but, but  really  pretty much since  then — that lasted us I think about two years, but ever since then we have been to varying degrees on the books of the Cornell Law School, we are now mostly off, but it has been Cornell that has footed the bill for this thing, really right along.

(00:10:09)

Bob Ambrogi: I alluded to this earlier but it’s always fascinated me that one of the things  that  you  did  was  develop  a  web  browser,  I  mean,  that  kind  of tells you the state  of  technology  at  that  point  that  you  felt  obligated  to  do  that.  I  think  if  I understood it, it was the first web browser for Windows.

Tom Bruce: Yeah, I mean it was kind of — if you really want to know the truth, it was kind of a software development exercise in body shaming in some ways because we  saw  no  real  probability  that  any  of  the  players  then  working  on  web  stuff  who were  largely  in  a  heavily  NSF-funded  scientific  environment  that  mostly  lived  in UNIX, and to the extent that it didn’t live in UNIX lived on Macs. We didn’t see any serious  possibility  that  they  would  undertake  development  of  a Windows  oriented browser for quite some time. And so, we thought, oh, what the hell we’ll take a crack at it, and maybe if we do a good enough job or even if we do a very bad one, we can shame somebody who knows what they are doing and to doing a good onewhich I think we were ultimately successful at. 

I mean, there are still some things about our efforts that I value. I see some of those features  coming  back  in  browsers  20  years  later,  but  yeah,  it  was  essentially  a gambit to get them to take the Windows audience more seriously because we knew that  there  were  no  UNIX  desktops  and  very  few  Macs  in  law  firms at  that  point, that’s  less  true  now  than  it  was  then,  but  I  think  the  preponderance were  still Windows machines.

Bob  Ambrogi: So  25  years  later,  what  have  we  become?  What  is  the  Legal Information Institute today?

Tom Bruce: Well, it’s an interesting question. We’re a number of things. But, what I think  we  mostly  are  and  is  what  we’ve  always  intended  to  be, which  is  first  and foremost,  a  creative  space  in  which  to  work  on  legal  information  distribution problemsparticularly  for  non-lawyer  audiences  but  with  lawyers  there as  well. mean we think about everybody. So how has that shifted?

I don’t think that 25 years later at least in the United States we have a problem with what  I  would  call legal  information  availability.” Lots of people  can  put  legal information  onlinemany  people  have.  It’s  a  matter  of  time  before  the  output  of pretty much every court in the United States, every legislature in the United States is available, and yeah, I know that there are people who will raise questions about copyright barriers and that sort of thing. But from a technical point of viewthere’s nothing  standing  in  the  way  and  it’s  reasonable  to  expect  that within  a  very  few years, everything that anybody could possibly want will be somewhere on the web.

What there isn’t is a real move toward accessibility and that I think is where we’rmostly concentrating now and that is partly a matter of improving search” but really improving  discoverability  and  improving  integration  across  collection  boundariesacross governmental boundaries, across inter-branch boundaries, I mean, one of the things that I think that we here have thought about far more than anyone else are the problems of getting people to navigate fluidly between statutes regulations and judicial opinions.

The non-lawyer audience is a little bit different and even some lawyers. There are a lot  of  people  out  there  who  are  primarily  concerned  with  regulations  and  who  are interested  within  statutes  as  a  source  of  authority  for  those  regulations  and  are interested in judicial opinions as interpretations of those regulations, but they really start with regs and their questions basically revolve around compliance.

So the kind of work we’re doing now is, for example, a project with Sara Frug that’s been  underway  for  a  couple  of  years  is  to  use  natural  language  processing techniques to identify and determine the scope of statutory and regulatory definition so that we can go through the entire statute book, the entire CFR, and mark up all the  defined  terms,  because  after  allwhen  it  comes  to  compliance,  definitions  are very,  very,  very  fundamental.  It’s — does  this  apply  to  me?  Well,  look  at  the definition and it may not be a sort of intuitive definition.

The other kind of thing that we’re working on is, linking law to resources outside of law mostly involving the kind of stuff that the law is regulating. A recent experiment, for  example,  was  to  go  through  everything  in the  CFR  having to  do  with  veterans’ benefits, find all the medical conditions, and link them to the organizational system for medical literature such that you can now click on the medical condition and find effectively all the scientific papers at NIH that have to do with that condition.

So  we’re  starting  to  do  that  with more-and-more  stuff.  And honestly,  in  one  sense that’s  very  different  from  what  we  were  doing  in  1992  but  it’s  also  not,  what  our software developers asked me not long ago. Well, why are we doing all this stuff if we’re not sure that anybody’s going to make use of it? And I just looked at them and said, in 1992, we weren’t sure that anyone was going to click on the links.

Bob Ambrogi: Well, and it sounds like you’re starting from your hypertext roots and extending it as far as I can go. It sounds very much like where you started in some ways.

(00:15:02)

Tom  Bruce: No,  exactly.  I  mean,  there’s  still  that  challenge  to  meet,  and  I’m  not completely sure what people will actually do with this, I do know that it will help to facilitate  search  engine  discovery  if  we  do  because  all  of  thos– Google  is  now taking those kinds of authored connections just as it always has other kinds of links very seriously and how it does search engine presentation.

So the other thing we’d like to be able to do by that meanis, to give people a 360 degree  view  of  all  of  the  legal  avatars  of  a  particular  substance  or  process.  Our poster  trial  for  that  is  pseudoephedrine.  We  would  like  to  pop up  an  info  card  on which you can find all the ways in which the legal system relates to pseudoephedrine and you think, well, so why is that such a big deal? 

Well, it’s a big deal because it’s the basis of any number of over-the-counter medications that are regulated in the way that over-the-counter medications are regulated in terms of manufacture distribution, and the pricing et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but it is also a precursor for the manufacture of methamphetamine and heavily regulated by the DEA.
So you really like — if you are a pseudoephedrine guy for whatever reason, a manufacturer or a wholesaler or whatever, you would really like to know, okay, in how many places does the legal system hit my product, and that’s the kind of stuff we’re trying to enable.
Bob Ambrogi: It’s really fascinating. Something that I would hope that a lot of listeners to the show are aware of the Legal Information Institute, what they might not be aware of is that you’ve spawned – well, I don’t want to call them “copycats” because that sounds derogatory, but you’ve spawned LII’s all over the world.
Tom Bruce: Yeah, I mean the first to the party were the Canadians, followed by the Australians and those two systems are remarkable in that they have evolved into the de facto national legal information providers for Canada and Australia respectively. Not far behind them though are now probably 20 more that actually use the LII and their name, that are national resources for distribution of legal information, many, many of them in places that really have never had any other means of access, commercial or otherwise.
So for example, much of sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of South Africa was completely outside the scope of the commercial publishers in any meaningful way for a long, long time. There literally was nothing. I remember sitting through a conversation with a high court judge, a Supreme Court judge from Kenya at one point almost 20 years ago, where she said, well, the problem is that nobody has access to precedents and so lawyers pull out their favorite ones
sort of out of their hip pocket and only very rarely do they make them up.
Bob Ambrogi: Good.
Tom Bruce: I mean, that was the level of problem that they were trying to solve. In Kenya, of course they’ve done that very, very successfully as have many, many others.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah. I know that we talked at one point when you were experimenting a little bit with variation on crowdsourcing, I guess, to help kind of populate some of the content on your site in particular with regard to wax the legal encyclopedia; what’s the status of that? What’s going on with that?
Tom Bruce:
It’s creeping along in a sort of desultory way. We have been under-resourced personnel-wise. To be honest with you, one of our problems is that we’re having difficulty at Cornell at this point, the law university is having trouble, it seems hiring sufficient numbers of software engineers. I don’t think that’s an uncommon complaint either here or elsewhere.
And so we’ve been a bit under strengthened and a bit held up on really opening the floodgates on it because we haven’t been able to finish some of the subsystems involved. But I think that within the next six months or so, we’re going to see another surge there. In the meantime, we’ve just been populating it very, very slowly with stuff. We’ve got kind of a new impetus in that direction.
I don’t know if this has come to your attention through any of the stuff we shoot out in to the world but our traffic this year has gone up 25%.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah, I did not know that.
Tom Bruce: And all of it is interest in matters that private — really it’s about concerns that private citizens have with the federal government. So ton of looking at immigration statutes, for example, the day that the immigration ban came down the first time actually in January 30th and 31st, we had the highest traffic levels on the site that we had had since the Bush v. Gore opinion came down in 2000 and we were the only ones who had it. So there’s just a huge upsurge of citizen interest in what government is doing and what the statutory basis for it is.
I heard a story on NPR this morning, that was actually a very good story but for the fact that the reporter was trying to skate around the question of, well, how do executive orders impact statutes,
in which they sort of don’t in some ways.
But, there’s an unprecedented level of interest in that kind of stuff, and to circle back to the question you actually asked me, I think we’re going to be devoting a lot of attention just over the next couple of months in burnishing what we have by way of things like backgrounders for journalists or people who are actually curious about these issues.
(00:20:00)
And that’s one of the advantages of being where we are. We have law students available to us, we have faculty expertise, and so we are able to make that content if we focus on it, and this is certainly a very good reason to focus.
Bob Ambrogi: A piece of news that came along last year was that you’ve become the new home for the OEA archive, SCOTUS recordings and materials.
Tom Bruce: Yeah.
Bob Ambrogi: Can you — I’m not sure everybody knows what that is or what that
means, could you focus a little bit on what that is and what you’re doing about that now?
Tom Bruce: Okay, so what OEA is, I am honestly sitting here blanking on when it was actually started, but it not long after we were. I mean –
Bob Ambrogi: 1996 I think.
Tom Bruce: Yeah, Jerry Goldman who started it up at that time at Northwestern –.
Bob Ambrogi: I am cheating because I have an article in front of me but —
Tom Bruce: It was early to the party anyway and ran it at Northwestern successfully for many years and then it moved to Chicago, kind of few years back and with Jerry’s retirement he was
looking for a safe, secure and stable home for it.
And so it came to us partly through Jerry’s generosity and partly through generosity from our friends at Justia, Tim Stanley and their group. They had actually been providing with technical infrastructure for several years at the time of transfer.
We’re still in the process of figuring out how exactly we want to make use of it in the long term, what it is of course is a complete archive of all the Supreme Court oral arguments, back to I want to say around — I think we just miss Brown v. Board, I think it goes back to like ’55 or ’56. Very, very useful for scholars. Very, very interesting to political scientists and other kinds of people with deep interest in the court; and interestingly enough, apparently very much of interest to theatrical people as well. The last —
Bob Ambrogi: Interesting to you because you have a theatrical background.
Tom Bruce: I do, and I got an email one day from Jerry saying, well, there is this guy out at Portland Rep — they are doing the roleplay, the road-view roleplay and they want permission to use the audio recordings, can you give him a call? And I was quite surprised to find myself talking to a classmate from drama school. We sat and by the way Berkeley Rep and the Arena were doing it as well. So we’re happy to facilitate that kind of thing.
I say that partly because you’re right. It’s very appealing to me given my background, but it’s also just a sort of a nod to how wide the reach of this stuff really is. I mean, the thing that I keep being touched by time and time again is just how much interest there is in legal material of whatever kind from how many places and how deep that interest is. Because I think it goes well, well beyond – it certainly goes well beyond anything that Peter and I imagined in 1992, and I certainly think it goes well beyond anything that most specialists imagine as the audience or the market for this stuff.
Bob Ambrogi: The LII is often associated with like what people would call I guess the free law movement. What do you see is the significance of that movement if it’s a movement at all and where does it stand? What does it mean right now? I mean, there’s so much legal information online right now, what does it mean to talk about access to free law?
Tom Bruce: Well, I will tell you. I am — I sense a certain suspicion of movements in your voice, Bob, and I am as suspicious of them as they are, and in fact, had it really been left up to me. I don’t think I would ever have identified it as a movement.
I am told by a lot of our friends who operate — actually let me go back. 10 years ago, five years ago, even I was told by friends of ours who operate in places like Namibia or Uganda or now in the Middle East or in the stance that there actually is a tremendous validating effect for someone who is approaching a government official saying, hey, can you turn over the data for all of the judicial opinions of the High Court? There’s tremendous value there in being able to say, look
at all these other places that are doing this.
So for many years the existence of a movement that identified itself as a movement was a kind of validating force that really did help people in out-of-the-way places and some not so out-of-the-way ones, get things started. It had a validating effect. These days, honestly, I think I would agree with you.
Bob Ambrogi: I am not sure I said that, but that’s okay.
Tom Bruce: I think the movement per se is really sort of trying to figure out what next in terms of that kind of action. If only because — there’s a — I wish I could think of the case, I never can, but there’s an Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion in which he compares the judiciary to a couple of little boys who jump out in front of the parade going down Main Street. He was talking about the relationship between the judiciary and society.
So the little boys jump out in front of the parade and they go along leading the parade until the parade decides to turn right and they don’t. And to some extent that’s the sense in which the free access to law movement has led a wider movement of hope to access the law. They have been like the little boys out in front of the parade.
I think things were headed that way anyhow and I think that now frankly the LIIs and people like us are a little bit of a tail on a much bigger dog that consists largely of government free access distribution to stuff.
(00:25:02)
A year ago I would have been quite adamant on the point that the day for that had sort of come and gone, more recent events persuade me that there are still very, very ample reasons to want to see sources of government information in general and legal information in particular that exist outside of government.
Bob Ambrogi: You have been running a series of posts on the LII blog and there is a theme of 25 for 25 representing your 25th anniversary and you have one — your co-founder Peter Martin has one, there have been several others.
Peter Martin wraps up with four questions that he says that have been critical in recurring ones for the LII. One of those was the question of whether the LII should work in consort with any of the increasingly numerous commercial and public players in this field, and if so, on what terms What’s your answer to that question?
Tom Bruce: I think there’s a very broad scope of stuff that you talk about under working with. We have all manner of relationships with outside entities, some of which are commercial and some of which are not. I mean, as you well know Justia is the closest thing to an open access provider that you can be a non-profit open access provider, that you can be and still turn a profit, they are kind of in a symmetrical relationship with us not too far over the commercial line just as we are not too far over the non-profit line.
We do all manner of scientific and technical cooperation with commercial operations and with people who are cooperating with government. We have a long series of informal collaborations and consultations over the last couple of years with MITRE Corporation, which is, as you know it’s a non-profit, those consulting largely for government agencies on efficiency stuff. We have done work for Library of Congress. We have a very cordial relationship with Fastcase that has occasionally resulted in some data exchanges. So, there is a wide range of stuff there. We have done technology licensing and so forth and so on. So, there are many, many, many things possible.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah, and now to repeat questions is how to continue to innovate while maintaining the information services essential to holding and growing the LII’s audience, is that something you continue to wrestle with?
Tom Bruce: Oh yeah, it’s a never ending struggle. Some of that is just the usual case of a bunch of people with a lot of good ideas whose eyes are a little bit bigger than their stomachs, and in some ways I hope that’s a curse we will always have. There are few more ideas that we can actually do something with. To some extent it’s a product of our institutional position. It’s an odd thing to be doing in a law school, although we are also — we also very much benefit from our relationship with the law school and from our relationship with the computer and information science programs at Cornell.
We make use of probably right around 20 Master’s of Engineering students every year and doing the kind of work we have been doing with machine learning and LP, these are all guys who are — guys I say — it’s mostly women actually who are touching down between careers at Cisco and careers at Amazon to pick up a master’s degree, isn’t that fantastic? So we benefit greatly from that.
It is a challenge for us to maintain the kind of pace that we have been in the past. In 1992 just to put book ends on this thing, Peter Martin could sit down on a snowy afternoon with Two Pesos v. Taco Cabana and markup a Supreme Court opinion and HTML be the first person on earth who have done that, get Internet-wide attention for the next day and go on about is business.
Bob Ambrogi: Internet wide attention wasn’t very wide in those days.
Tom Bruce: Yeah, I know it’s about six guys, but —
Bob Ambrogi: And still good.
Tom Bruce: Yeah, but these days in order to do something that makes a comparable splash. We are talking about investments of 3 years of time from teams of 10 and 12 master’s of engineering students, plus staff software developers and so forth and so on. So it’s got to be — there is more overhead involved and the challenges are greater, but on the other hand we are tackling really big problems that we never would have thought would have been within our grasp a quarter century ago.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, you discussed some of the projects that you are currently working on and with reference to what you just said, what should we expect from the legal information institute in the coming years?
Tom Bruce: Well, I think it’s going to be what I like to think of as our usual mixture of stuff, some of it will be large, bold, attempts like the definition of work, like the work on entity linking that I was talking about, that are just their big projects that we are doing them across large amounts of material and they are to us at least somewhat stunning in their breadth and what they attempt.
Some of them are going to be where I suspect our bread and butter has often been, which is in being just a little bit smarter about the way that people are using this stuff than other people have been. So, for example, one of the things that’s sitting in my ID, right now in my programming environment is a very, very simple feature that will take the federal registered list of sections affected on a daily basis and actually pin down what has been affected to the specific subsection that has been altered. And you think, well, why would anyone care about that, and I will remind you that Section 1 of Title 26 of the CFR runs to 13 printed volumes. And yet if you look at the list of sections affected because you are trying to track a legislative issue or a tax issue or a regulatory issue; that is all the help you would get.
So we look around for little opportunities like that to just make things functional with electronics that were never functional, were never all that functional in print, and if you look at all a lot of the finding aids for federal statutes and federal regulations, there is work there for us to do for as long as we want to do it.
Bob Ambrogi: Tom, I have held you longer than I promised I would, but before we wrap up, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about with respect to the LII that we haven’t had a chance to talk about?
Tom Bruce: Well, no Bob, you have been your usual thorough yourself. I am not sure this is the vehicle to do it, but I would certainly like to say thanks to the 32 million or so people to use those last year and encourage them to continue to do so, and to hope that we can continue to surprise them with a few magic tricks.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, I hope, all 32 million of them will download this episode and listen to it, because that would be very good for our advertising.
Tom Bruce: Yeah, and if they send me a buck, I wouldn’t object either.
Bob Ambrogi: I didn’t even ask you about support, I mean, do you look to users to help support the site?
Tom Bruce: We do, we do, we run large fund-raising appeal in December, we also run one close to the end of the Supreme Court term, but you can go there and donate anytime.
We have been moderately successful with that, I wish I could say, we had been more so. It’s interesting trying to do that, we look very much toward Wikipedia for guidance with what they have done because I think they have been very successful, but they have done it with a much larger user base than we have. So, user support now accounts for, I want to say, just under 20% of our budget.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, I would, for one, thank you for everything you have done. I think the world of legal information today might not be what it is, had you not kind of set things in motion, I think you are being a little bit modest and not acknowledging the extent to which you did set a lot of this in motion, you really were — maybe you don’t like the word “pioneer”, but you guys really were pioneers, really were trailblazers at the time and it’s just been phenomenal of what you have done
over the years, and I applaud you for that, for 25 years of success.
Tom Bruce: Well, that’s very kind of you, Bob, I mean, my feeling has always been, that – it’s steam engines, when it comes to steam engine time, and I think sooner or later somebody else would have done it, but we have always been pleased to be the worst.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah, it’s good. So, Tom, thanks a lot and congratulations and best wishes on the next 25 years.
Tom Bruce: Oh thanks, it was a pleasure.
Bob Ambrogi: Good to talk to you.
Tom Bruce: Good talking to you.
Bob Ambrogi: And that wraps up this episode of Law Technology Now. Thanks to everybody for listening. Thanks to everybody at the LegalTalk Network for helping produce the show, see you next time.
[Music]
Outro: If you would like more information about what you have heard today, please visit legaltalknetwork.com, subscribe via iTunes and RSS, find us on Twitter and Facebook or download our free Legal Talk Network app in Google Play and iTunes. The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always consult a lawyer.
Christopher Anderson: I bet you didn’t think about running a business when you were in law school, but now that you have your own practice, you are constantly looking for tips on marketing, accounting, practice management, and so much more. I am Christopher Anderson and you can get expert business advice on my podcast, The Un-Billable Hour, found on legaltalknetwork.com, iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.
[Music]

 

Episode Details
Published: May 15, 2017
Podcast: Law Technology Now
Category: Legal Technology
Podcast
Law Technology Now
Law Technology Now

Law Technology Now features key players, in the legal technology community, discussing the top trends and developments in the legal technology world.

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