Law.gov would be bold experiment in one-stop shopping for legal research

Have you heard about Law.gov? No? Well then, let me tell you!

Law.gov is a proposed repository for legal materials, open-sourced and open to the public. Included would be all primary materials of the United States and international governmental bodies. Law.gov would be a portal for authoritative local, state, national, foreign and international legal and legislative information. Basically, we are talking one-stop shopping.

Primary legal materials include all materials that have the force of law and are part of the law-making process, including briefs and opinions from the judiciary; reports, hearings and laws from the legislative branch; and regulations, audits, grants and other materials from the executive branch.

This sounds like a link dump, doesn't it? It's not. It is much more dynamic than that. Think of it as a MySpace or Facebook for governmental entities. Just as social media sites give you web-based software systems to build your own site, Law.gov would create its system from open-source software building blocks. This would allow states and municipalities to make their materials available as well without having to hire a full-time web master.

Now if you've ever had me in class, you have heard me say that if you are going to rely on the language of a case or statute, you must use the printed material. Errors are more likely to exist online. To alleviate these errors, Law.gov has a very interesting proposal:

TECH TALK: A Note On Authenticity. With the law, close just isn't good enough. Primary legal materials need to be authentic and digitally signed. As the American Association of Law Librarians said in their ground-breaking report at the AALL National Summit on Authentic Legal Information in the Digital Age, “it is time to save the legal information system.” We propose to enlist the law students of America as auditors during the startup phase of Law.gov, asking students to systematically compare online to printed materials. The students would gain reputation points in the registry, which they could use to demonstrate their public service when applying for jobs or clerkships. Would such a system work? When we tour the law schools, we intend to dig in and ask that very question.

This appears to be a very bold move, but one worth looking into.

Check out Carl Malamud's address to the Gov 2.0 Summit on Sept. 10, 2009, in Washington, D.C., for more information.

W. Blake Wilson
Instructional & Research Services Librarian

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