New Site Crowdsources the Legal Treatise

Spindle Law describes itself as “a new kind of legal research and writing system.” Its goal is to make legal research “faster and smarter.” It seeks to do this in two ways: by structuring information more intuitively and by building on the knowledge of the lawyers who use it.

Spindle Law resembles a treatise in that it assembles rules of law together with the authorities to back up those rules. Structurally, it organizes the law into a tree, with each branch leading to ever-narrowing branches. Thus, the broad branch “courts” leads to narrower branches for “evidence” and “civil procedure,” and each of those branches leads to increasingly narrower branches.

As you browse or search the tree, you are presented with rules of law. For example, in the environmental branch, there is this rule: “The general purpose of the Clean Air Act is to broaden federal authority to combat air pollution.” Under that statement is a list of three cases that support the rule.

Here is where the crowdsourcing enters in. Much like with a wiki, all registered users can add or edit authorities, edit the tree, comment on authorities, and vouch for or reject authorities. To ensure the quality of user contributions, all of this is overseen by “branch managers,” who are Spindle-designated editors with top-level editing authority.

When you find an authority that is helpful to your research, click “add to SpinDoc” and both the rule and the authority will be placed in a notepad in proper Blue Book form. Continue to add authorities to SpinDoc as you perform your research. You can also add your own notes or even begin your drafting here. When you’re ready, copy it all and paste it into your own word processor.

On the theory that the mind processes images more quickly than text, Spindle Law makes extensive use of icons to convey information. For example, a ruler icon indicates a rule of law. An asterisk indicates an exception to a general rule. A frog indicates an opportunity to jump to a cross reference or related topic. With 34 different icons, they take some getting used to. Fortunately, a convenient icon “cheat sheet” is available on every page.

Spindle Law is in the very early stages of development. So far, it has what it considers “substantial coverage” in just three areas of law: evidence, the Clean Air Act and federal securities liability under Rule 10b-5. It so far has only federal authorities – cases, the U.S. Code and rules of evidence and procedure. State authorities will come later.

Note that it does not house the full text of the cases and authorities. It provides links into free case law sources as well as into Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis and Fastcase. Spindle Law positions itself as a starting point for more quickly finding relevant authorities, thereby reducing time spent in paid legal research sites.

The chief executive behind Spindle Law, David P. Gold, is a graduate of Columbia Law School who clerked for the 9th Circuit and became a litigator in New York City before founding the company. The company’s chief business development officer, Nicholas Diamand, is also a lawyer and Columbia graduate.

So far, Spindle Law has achieved part of its mission. It has developed a structure for an online legal treatise that lawyers should find to be intuitive. But to be successful, it will need to put some meat on those bones. Given its limited coverage so far, its long-term survival will depend on its ability to attract enough lawyers to join the project and share their knowledge.