Following up on my post this morning about the Free the Law partnership between Harvard Law School and Ravel Law to digitize and make available to the public for free Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law, I just had an opportunity to discuss the news with Daniel Lewis, Ravel Law’s cofounder and CEO. Here are some additional details provided by Lewis:
- Lewis’s relationship with Jonathan Zittrain, the director of Harvard’s law library, dates back to Lewis’s days as a student at Stanford Law School, when Zittrain was a visiting professor there. As I wrote in a May 2014 ABA Journal story, Lewis and cofounder Nik Reed began to develop Ravel Law while they were still at Stanford Law.
- The conversations between Lewis and Zittrain that led to today’s announcement started two years ago over frozen yogurt in Palo Alto, as the two discussed their mutual interests in making legal information more open and then using analytics to open even more windows into that information.
- Lewis confirmed that access to these cases will be free to everyone. Ravel Law will continue to sell access to advanced tools for case analytics and research, but the basic access to searching and reading these cases will be free.
- When I asked Lewis about the scope of this collection, his answer was, “Everything.” It is literally every published opinion from every U.S. jurisdiction from all time. It does not include opinions that were never published, such as many state-level trial court opinions.
- California cases will be available in November and New York by the end of the year. All cases will be online by the middle of 2017.
- Text of cases will include links to images showing the original cases as they appeared in print.
- Lewis confirmed what Zittrain told me earlier, which is that for any state that makes its case law available online in an authoritative, machine-readable format, then the historical collection for that state will become immediately available in the public domain. They are doing this, Lewis said, as a call to action for the states to put their case law online in an authoritative format.
- He also confirmed that Ravel Law will develop an API to let other developers work with the information. Ravel will license the data to commercial publishers and others who want to purchase it.
- Researchers who are doing empirical research will be able to apply for access to the bulk data prior to the expiration of the eight years.
Both Lewis and Harvard declined to provide me with a copy of their agreement.
“This is a really big deal,” Lewis said. “As a technology company, we wanted to be able to build technology on top of the best collection in the world. The Harvard law library is the largest academic law library in the world. This feels like a perfect fit. The more and better content we have, the better the analytics we can build on top of it.”