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.