The WeCite Project: How the Movement to Free the Law is Teaching Law Students to Understand Case Relationships
Cite-checking a case before you rely on it is an essential part of legal research. Consequently, efforts to make legal research more accessible and egalitarian need to work toward not only making the law free, but also creating a free, reliable citator. Casetext, a free legal research and publishing platform, is leveraging technology and crowdsourcing to overcome this hurdle in free access to the law. This session will explain in-depth our approach to building this free citator, and how we’re engaging law students, librarians, and research instructors as key partners in this movement.
The progress so far has been remarkable. In the last two semesters, over 2,500 law students at over 100 law schools have used Casetext’s “gamified” platform to contribute to an effort to collectively create a crowdsourced, free citator, dubbed the WeCite Project, by creating over 300,000 citator entries. What this means is that every outgoing citation from the last 20 years of Supreme Court majority opinions has been categorized, along with the last several years of outgoing citations of the federal appellate courts. All data will be provided to Cornell's Legal Information Institute, where it will be available for any and all to use without restriction. Over 90 law librarians, spanning universities, law firms and state courts, serve as moderators for the project.
By participating in the project, law students are practicing and improving their reading comprehension skills. Reviewing isolated case relationships helps these students more deeply understand legal writing and how the web of caselaw fits together, empowering them to become better researchers in the process. Several of these students have reached out to tell us how much their participation has helped them hone this skill, and 80 have signed on as Student Ambassadors to lead the WeCite Project at their own schools.
In addition to this growing movement of law student volunteers, student-generation of citator entries has been integrated into Advanced Legal Research classes at dozens of law schools including Columbia, University of Chicago, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. The “Be Your Own Shepard” assignment is designed to teach students an important lesson: the tri-color flag systems of current citators can oversimplify, and even misrepresent, the often multi-faceted relationships between cases. Tasking students with creating a citator entry that categorizes and concisely describes how one judicial opinion impacts another helps the student to experience personally the challenge and compromise inherent in the process. This practical insight is a valuable asset for any junior attorney.
This session will describe the WeCite Project in detail, and cover the thinking behind our design of a crowdsourced citator (including the focus on law student engagement), the importance of a free citator to the broader goal of free access to the law, and the efficacy of the WeCite Project and Advanced Legal Research assignment as teaching tools. Audience feedback on the current and future contours of the WeCite Project will ideally play a substantial part of the session.