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On LawNext: The Inside Story of the Caselaw Access Project, with Three of the People Who Made It Happen

March 1 marked the culmination of an ambitious and audacious project to digitize and provide free and open access to all official court decisions ever published in the United States. Called the Caselaw Access Project, it came about, starting in 2015, through an unusual partnership between Harvard Law School and a Silicon Valley-based legal research startup called Ravel Law.

The massive undertaking involved scanning nearly 40 million pages from some 40,000 law books and converting it all into machine-readable text files, creating a collection that included 6.4 million published cases, some dating as far back as 1658. While Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab did all the work, Ravel — and later LexisNexis after it acquired Ravel in 2017  — footed the bill.

 Harvard completed that digitization in 2018, making those cases available for free to the general public, but until March 1, 2024, any commercial use of the cases was restricted by the agreement between Harvard and Ravel (and later LexisNexis). The March 1 milestone marked the full release of the cases, free of any restrictions.

On today’s LawNext, we will get the inside story of the history of the Caselaw Access Project and talk about the significance of this final lifting of all restrictions on the data. How did the partnership ever come about in the first place? What was the scanning process like? What does this data mean for the future of access to law, particularly in the face of generative AI?

To do all of that, I am joined this week by three guests who played instrumental roles in the project:

Daniel Lewis, the cofounder and CEO of Ravel Law, who is now CEO of the contract review company LegalOn.

Adam Ziegler, the former director of Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab and the Caselaw Access Project (who recently wrote a first-person account of the project)..

Jack Cushman, the current director of the Library Innovation Lab.

Nik Reed, the cofounder and COO of Ravel Law, and now senior vice president of product, R&D and design at Knowable, was also scheduled to be on the show, but had to cancel as of the recording time. 

Thank You To Our Sponsors

This episode of LawNext is generously made possible by our sponsors. We appreciate their support and hope you will check them out.

Paradigm, home to the practice management platforms PracticePanther, Bill4Time, MerusCase and LollyLaw; the e-payments platform Headnote; and the legal accounting software TrustBooks.

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