Access to the legal system in the United States today is shockingly unequal. One reason for this disparity is that legal materials — everything from court decisions to treatises — are often locked up in expensive and inconvenient formats. Just finding out what the law is can be an arduous process for the general public, especially those too poor to afford expensive lawyers and WestLex’s astronomical fees. We can fix this.

Our inspiration came from Wikipedia, the Web, and other “open source” knowledge generation systems, which have proven time and again the value of combining mountains of data, standardized machine-readable formats, and a policy of open access by anyone interested. They harness the creative ferment of millions of volunteers to outperform supposed “experts.” Projects like Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, public.resource,org, and Altlaw have made serious inroads at opening up the world of legal materials to the public. Open Access Laws worked to go further.

Participants of the project devised and implemented strategies to rapidly increase the quality of legal materials available to the public while massively decreasing the difficulty of consulting them. They simultaneously worked to move legal materials en masse into publicly-accessible, machine-readable, well-structured forms — and to build upon those collections to create innovative tools that assist lawyers and the public to synthesize those materials into readily comprehensible forms.

IILP Faculty: James Grimmelmann