February 7, 2001

C.U. Research Tool to Expand Services

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The Legal Information Institute, operated by the Cornell Law School, will expand its popular website thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Center for the Public Domain.

The Institute (LII) pioneered the provision-free, public access to legal information in a searchable format when it was launched in 1992. Using the service, researchers can now draw from sources including the United States Code, state and federal court opinions, and the latest law events in the news. Its software connects to the Law Revision Counsel for updates and automatically places the decisions on the website.

The comprehensive legal website receives more than nine million hits a week, making it the most heavily used and linked non-commercial legal resource on the Internet.

“[LII Co-director] Tom [Bruce] and I are gratified by the Red Hat Center’s recognition of our institute’s commitment to free and effective public access to legal information, and are enormously excited by the improvements the grant will make possible,” said Prof. Peter Martin, law, co-director of LII.

The grant from the North Carolina-based Center for the Public Domain — formerly the Red Hat Center — will fund several key improvements to its website. The Institute is developing software that will permit users to read a part of the U.S. Code as it was written during a prior point in history. In addition, the site will connect to related court cases, regulations and explanatory material through links.

The funding will enable the database to be richer in code and more flexible so that the site, now in HTML format, will be available for printing as well as for application in Microsoft Word or Palm Pilot programs. LII can be accessed on the Internet at .

“[The improvements] will give more flexible access to the U.S. Code’s provisions and enable [users] to see and pursue connections between those provisions and related documents,” Martin said. “Our conviction is that this will demonstrate even more forcefully what open access to the law can mean.”

The Center for the Public Domain is a non-profit, privately funded organization. The advocacy group does not accept unsolicited proposals for grants such as the one Cornell received. Instead, the board members at the Center solicit grant bids from organizations that operate projects, such as LII, promoting values similar to their own.

“We were interested in funding LII because the law is a great analogy for open access, and all legal decisions are public information,” said Jennifer Horney, director of finance at the Center.

Tawnya Louder-Reynolds, director of public relations for the Center, said that every individual should rightfully have free access to the law, even as property rights are limited because of the high costs of publishing.

“If the only way to access [legal documents] is through a way that costs a lot of money, we’re not fulfilling our goal,” Horney said.

Archived article by Anastasia Handy