Thursday, January 24, 2008
Here is the link to the alpha version of the PreCYdent legal search engine created by the startup I co-founded with Antonio Tomarchio, a mathematical engineer from the Politecnico di Milano, and a team of very dedicated engineers in Italy.
Right now our library consists of all US Supreme Court cases and US Court of Appeals cases going back to the 1950s (i.e. F.3d and F.2d). Automatic updaters are in place, so new cases are uploaded in slip opinion form as soon as they are released by these courts. We are working on having the last ten years of cases from all 50 states available soon. Everything is in XML.
It's free. We believe that all law that is in the public domain should be available to everybody for free. Personally, I think I paid for it once already around April 15th or so.
We are especially proud of our search technology. It is based on the legal citation network in a way somewhat analogous to how Google's PageRank is based on the link network of the Web. However, the legal citation network is its own animal, so a lot of work was required to create an algorithm that would exploit the unique characteristics of the Web of Law. PreCYdent ranks results by "authority" -- something only we do. It is much, much more sophisticated than mere citation count, and it appears to work really well.
Search quality is hard to measure, but based on our tests, we believe our search recall and precision are on the order of three to four times better than that of the market leader's natural language search. Try it out and see what you think. You can do this experiment at home: Write down a search string in Google-style ("takings private use commercial development" or whatever) then write down the list of cases (preferably 20, but as many as you can) and then run that search string on PreCYdent (using the "authority" ranking) and also on the natural language search of the leading online legal research service (which, unless you are at a big law firm, are a student, or law professor, won't be free). Then run it on PreCYdent. Count how many of the most important cases you wrote down appear in the first 20 results of their results and the first 20 results on PreCYdent. We did that with 200 searches and were very pleased with the results.
There's a feedback button on the upper right of results pages. This feedback goes directly to the team in Italy and they will take your comments very seriously. This is a true alpha; we are still very much in development. There are plenty of rough spots, but we think early users will help us fix those.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
As the author of law review articles, I have a question for the law review editors of the world. Why does every citation require a parenthetical? For those who don't read law reviews, let me give you an example. The text of the law review article may say something like, "Judicial review was first exercised by the Supreme Court against a federal statute in Marbury v. Madison." One would then have a citation to Marbury v. Madison, such as 100 U.S. 35 (1803). But instead of leaving it at that, the law reviews often require that one add a parenthetical at that point explaining the cite. So one would add here, after (1803) (exercising judicial review against a federal statute). Now, an ordinary person would immediately understand the pointlessness of this exercise. Plus, it makes law review articles longer, and less readable. They already contain long footnotes, so why make them even longer? There has been an effort, in recent years, to make these articles shorter and more readable. Why, then, keep the parentheticals?
When I was a law review editor some two decades ago, only a small percentage of citations required parentheticals. Somewhere along the line, some legal genius decided that most citations require parentheticals. Innovations like this are enough to make you a conservative.
I sometimes ask law review editors about this and they explain that the parenthetical helps the law review editors determine whether the source actually supports the point for which it is being claimed as authority. Maybe it does, but if that were its sole function, one could use it solely as part of the editing process and then eliminate it before publishing the piece. In that case, one might wonder whether the benefits of the parentheticals are worth the costs, but at least the law review articles would not become less readable. But as far as I can tell there is absolutely no reason to leave the parentheticals in the articles. So, to the law review editors of the world, how about it? Can we lose the parentheticals?
Monday, January 21, 2008
The eminent monetarist economist Anna Schwartz blames Alan Greenspan for much of the trouble we are in:
According to Schwartz the original sin of the Bernanke-Greenspan Fed was to hold rates at 1 per cent from 2003 to June 2004, long after the dotcom bubble was over. "It is clear that monetary policy was too accommodative. Rates of 1 per cent were bound to encourage all kinds of risky behaviour," says Schwartz.
She is scornful of Greenspan's campaign to clear his name by blaming the bubble on an Asian saving glut, which purportedly created stimulus beyond the control of the Fed by driving down global bond rates. "This attempt to exculpate himself is not convincing. The Fed failed to confront something that was evident. It can't be blamed on global events," she says.
Presumably, it is Greenspan also who gets the blame for awful value of the dollar.
Recently, Gail had a post on the mandatory diversity training that the state of California imposes and the University of San Diego thereby requires its supervisory employees to undertake. I have to agree with her assessment of the training. It was very annoying. The examples were tendentious and I felt the entire time that I was being subjected to political propaganda.
It is therefore interesting that the Washington Post reports on a recent study indicating that diversity training leads to a reduction in the number of diversity hires. According to the story, the reason for this reduction is that diversity training annoys people and then leads to a backlash. While I certainly do not think that the diversity training I underwent will affect my employment decisions, I can agree that it was annoying.
Perhaps the state of California should take this study to heart and repeal the requirement. I think that the law is particularly problematic as it apparently requires employees to undertake diversity training every two years. The recent diversity training that Gail and I were required to undertake was the second training I had to incur. A one time requirement is more than enough; a requirement of training every two years is just mean.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The Foreign Minister of the Netherlands states:
It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn't mean the right to offend,' said Maxime Verhagen, the Foreign Minister, who was in Madrid to attend the Alliance of Civilisations, an international forum aimed at reducing tensions between the Islamic world and the West.
(Hat tip: Instapundit) This type of statement seems to be pretty common in Europe. Of course, it is one of the surest signs of the decline of freedom of expression. This is a very worrisome thing, but -- not to make too partisan a point of it -- I don't seem much worry on the American left about this sort of thing. Shouldn't there be?
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Tim Blair, the truly excellent Ozzie blogger who is one of my top-5 daily blog reads - and you should seriously consider him for one of yours, if he isn't already - has cancer. It's one tumour and it hasn't spread, so he ought to be OK, Deo volente, but meantime he's in for serious surgery.
Here are some of his thoughts on the subject. Read throught to the end. Really.
And keep Tim in your thoughts and/or prayers. Refuah shelemah. (That's Hebrew for "Complete cure, please".)