How many times have you come across the phrase “It is well settled that …” or “It is well established that …” in a judicial opinion? What if someone collected all these instances and made them searchable? When you are writing a brief or memorandum, wouldn’t it be useful to quickly locate these judicial statements of established principles?
A new website, still in its early stages of development, is doing just that. Called WellSettled.com, it mines judicial opinions for specific types of statements and phrases that either summarize a case or state a legal principle. The idea is that these judge-generated statements carry significant weight when discussing a case or legal principle. If you can easily find them, then you can incorporate them into your own research and writing.
Specifically, WellSettled.com collects three types of statements:
- Case-summarizing parentheticals. When a judicial opinion cites to a prior case, the citation often includes a parenthetical that summarizes the prior case’s legal substance. Because they are written by judges (or their clerks), these parenthetical statements have the benefit of judicial gravitas.
- Unequivocal articulations of legal principles. As noted above, judicial opinions often include statements such as “It is well settled that …,” “It is well established that …” or “It is axiomatic that … .” WellSettled.com extracts these statements and enables you to search for them.
- Case-summarizing sentences. These are similar to the parentheticals discussed above, but extracted from opinions using conventions other than parenthesis.
To use it, simply enter a word or phrase and hit “go.” I do a lot of work involving public records, so I searched that simple phrase, putting the words in quotations as “public records.” The results page shows four tabs across the top, reflecting the three types of statements the site collects and a fourth tab showing only quotes extracted from parentheticals.
I clicked on the “Settled Principles” tab to find 30 well-settled principles for public records, such as this statement from a California appellate decision, “[I]t is well established that the media has no greater right of access to public records than the general public,” and this from a Florida court, “It is well-settled that public records and reports or business records are admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule provided they are authenticated by a custodian.”
An advanced search page lets you limit your query to specific jurisdictions and provides a rudimentary ability to limit your search by date.
The statements collected on WellSettled.com include the case name and citation, but the site does not include full-text opinions. For those, the site suggests that you use a free case law site such as Casetext, CourtListener or Google Scholar, or that you use the Jureeka! browser plugin for Firefox and Chrome that automatically converts legal citations to hyperlinks.
This website was conceived and prototyped by Pablo Arredondo, a lawyer and fellow at CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, who is the vice president of Casetext (which I’ve written about here, here and here and for the ABA Journal here), and is being developed by Arredondo and Mark Bowman, also a CodeX fellow. The site cautions that its search engine “is very much a work in progress, currently residing somewhere between a prototype and a beta.”