Unravel | Ravel Law's Blog

The Ice Palace Guards (Here's to the Legal Archivists)

They protect our future by guarding our past from fires and floods. From hell and high water. And most frequently, from apes with chisels and hammers.

I attended a fantastic presentation about archive digitization at SEAALL/SWALL’s annual conference this month, themed Big D: Data, Discovery, and Dicta. Erik Beck of Colorado Law described how archivists protect digitized treasures, from moving a laptop upstairs to save research from a 2013 campus flood to dispersing digital files in different formats across multiple continents. He compared in partial jest patrons in the library to apes with hammers and chisels in an ice palace who might either  “carve crystal swans... or shatter your ice table.” Beck honed in on the importance of making resources available for doing great things, while protecting unique material from injury and tampering. For our part, Ravel and Harvard Law Library are collaborating to preserve American case law by digitizing the school’s corpus of case law for free access worldwide, and storing physical backups in a salt mine in rural Utah where primates can’t get to them. Great archivists are innovating constantly to protect big data, and daydream about ideas like using cloud storage hosted in dispersed and isolated electrical grids to keep irreplaceable information safe. The contiguous United States has two major and one minor electrical “interconnections”; as Beck described them, there’s East, West, and Texas.

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New York Case Law: Digitized and Analyzed

In our digital age, data is an essential currency. Government at all levels, from local municipalities to the White House, has started to recognize the opportunities that come when open, machine-readable data is the default for government information.

Still stuck in an analog age, however, is the judicial branch. Legal materials largely remain locked behind expensive paywalls or archived in books gathering dust. Our collaboration with Harvard Law School is changing that, and we’re taking the next step in making the law open and accessible to all.

Starting today, for the first time ever, the comprehensive, authoritative collection of New York case law is now digitized and available to anyone with an internet connection. Everyone can search and read all of New York’s cases for free, including milestone cases like Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad, which greatly influenced the development of American common law on negligence and torts. Using our visualizations, anyone can explore a case map to identify key cases and trace the evolution of legal topics, taking the guesswork out of research.

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The Law School with the Most Influence Will Surprise You

Forget Yale and Harvard as the training grounds for future judges. It turns out that Michigan Law has the most concentrated impact on national jurisprudence. Surprised? So were we.

In Ravel’s new power ranking of law schools based on which schools turn out influential judges, Michigan Law tops the list. Instead of looking just at the number of judges a school graduated, we used a new data analysis to rank judges based on both quantity and quality of their work, and then we connected that analysis to where the most influential judges studied.

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What Data Science Tells Us about Merrick Garland

After weeks of speculation, President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. Now, the real examination begins of Garland’s biography, credentials, and track record. The broad strokes are familiar: Harvard Law School, clerk for Judge Henry Friendly and Justice William Brennan, federal prosecutor and former partner at an elite law firm, chief judge for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mainstream coverage of his judicial track record notes Garland’s centrism and lack of controversy. Yet, given his years of judicial experience, we wanted to see what we could learn about Garland from a statistical perspective. Would data science reveal an ideology that might surprise?

A centrist in citation

Since joining the D.C. Circuit, Garland has authored over 300 opinions. To see if we could expose conservative or liberal tendencies in these decisions, we took a deep dive with our Judge Analytics platform to identify other judges Garland finds influential (looking at who he likes to cite to).

Judges’ citation patterns can provide a powerful window into their decision-making -- whether it identifies another judge they find persuasive, someone who mentored them, or someone who shares their judicial philosophy. Over time, patterns in citations reveal themselves.

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Unraveling Scalia: Where the Similarities Begin

Known for wielding a sharp pen, Justice Antonin Scalia ranks as the most influential among current Supreme Court justices. He had a singular voice as a judge, but as we shared in our last two blog posts, he was also inclined to cite himself, Justice Byron White, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in his majority opinions. If Scalia’s citations to certain judges and circuit courts are a potential indicator of jurists and cases he found persuasive, we wondered if other judges were influenced by the same factors. Which judge would be most similar to Scalia in his or her rulings in terms of citations, if not for wittiness?

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