The New York Times on Carl Malamud and his tireless battle to make the law free for all to read

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How is this even a thing? If the principle of “ignorance of the law is no excuse” holds, then the law must be public domain knowledge, otherwise we are in a sheer Kafka-esque dystopia.

Oh, wait…


In our library, we have copies of the state and county revised statutes for anyone to read. They don’t have the annotations, but I feel it’s a good start, even if it’s hard to search. What does Malamud think should be additionally available?

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The annotations presumably. As I understand it they are pretty important to understanding the modern state of any particular law. What is written on the page may be considerably diluted or strengthened by case law over the intervening decades. It’s important to know which laws have been effectively shot down by the courts, and which have been expanded past their original wording or interpreted to be more broad that you would think given the wording.


The annotations are incredibly important. There are still laws on the books that have been declared unconstitutional. Also laws that have been interpreted in ways that may not be apparent from the text of the law. They’ve been narrowed or clarified, or in some cases, totally distorted because the state supreme court sucks on the teat of big business (I’m looking at you Texas Supreme Court- Boeing v. Paxton)
In law school, we were taught that the footnotes and annotations are often even more important than the text. It’s fucked up, but true.

Lawyers usually have access to this information because services like Westlaw and Lexus Nexis are worth the expense for the search capabilities and organization capabilities. But no one should have to pay into order to see the basic structure of a law. It’s ridiculous.

@Mad Librarian- you might try contacting some law firms, law schools, or your state attorney general. As attorneys, any print editions, which would include the annotations, are generally replaced every 4 years or so. You could probably get them to donate the old set to the library. It would be slightly out of date, but better than law books without the annotations.

[Hollow laugh…]

Or possibly, much, much worse…

Are you an attorney? Have you ever tried to do your research using law books?
I’m not saying the services are cheap. They are ridiculously expensive. But they do save attorneys, including me, a lot of time. Having the annotations right there, being able to click the link to the case to read it, being able to read the law as enacted without having to go dig through the session laws (which very few places even have available), being able to trace the case history and see the notations that a case has negative history. They are useful services.
In a better world, every library, including jail law libraries, would have a subscription. But they don’t.

Solicitor. Same difference, different jurisdiction.

Yes, I am that old (just). In fact we still have some stuff that we only have physical books for.

I don’t argue that they don’t save time (although if you know your way around a law library, the time saving is more in the outsourcing of updates).

I was remarking on how incredibly crap their search functions are. And their idea of how to organise material can also be a bit …unhelpful (but way better than the search function).

Agreed. Or in fact, these things would be available free.


Huh. I wonder the search functions are worse for jurisdictions outside the US? My area of the law is super specialized, so I don’t do straight case research terribly often. I find the search functions no worse than the internet, and better in some ways. The ability to search for terms within the same paragraph or within a certain amount of words is pretty useful for me. Both companies are US based, so maybe the products for other places aren’t as nice.

I think they are much the same although the differences in the way laws are passed and published may make a difference.

I can get around with the search functions just fine and you’re right the “find these words within x” features are nice but depending on what you’re searching for, you can end up with 50 entries which have nothing to do with what you searched for and two which are vaguely relevant and will eventually lead to you to what you wanted.

I find they’re fine if you already know pretty much exactly what you’re looking for. If you don’t, say you’re looking to refresh yourself on stuff you don’t deal with that often, it can be a little more difficult.

I suppose ultimately it’s probably more a case of ‘Get off my lawn!’ on my part.

I can hardly claim that using books is just as easy and fast - if you know what you’re doing - without acknowledging that using the search features on Westlaw, LexisNexis, etc. is also fast and easy - if you know what you’re doing.

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That could be the difference right there. I’m from the generation of attorneys who received a lot more training on the services than in looking things up in books. I’m good at following a trail through westlaw to find what I need. Terrible at trying to replicate the phenomenon in print books though. My older coworkers can do some things faster in our books than online.

I’m right on the change over.

When I studied it was all books and there was lots of excitement about getting Westlaw access at the university but my first place of work post-Uni was solidly paper texts with an in-house law library. When I moved to another firm on qualifying, all that was obsolete and everything was online.

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