Here is a great new free case law project that came out (or at least I was made aware of 🙂 a few weeks ago. AltLaw.
Right now AltLaw is focused on getting up the Federal appellate opinions online (US Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Courts). They have aggregated opinions for the last 15 years or so (depending on the court), and have done good job presenting the cases in formated text, in addition to providing the original pdf and in a text only format. It looks like these are the slip opinions, but they can be later fixed up to match the text of the official published opinions.
AltLaw is a joint project of Columbia Law School’s Program on Law and Technology, and the Colorado Law School’s Silicon Flatirons Program. From the about page…. AltLaw’s code was/is written by Stuart Sierra and Professor Paul Ohm, with help from Luis Villa, and produced by Professor Tim Wu. And of course the Federal Judges who wrote the original opinions 🙂
My take is that one of the keys for free case law will be working with the courts to get them to publish their official final opinions online in their final form. 99.99% of the work has been done (trial, briefs, drafts, slip opinion), we just need to ask (beg?) the judiciary to make the last few text changes to the slip opinion, declare it official and put it online. Ideally this would include a form that can be cited at the time of online publication. Professor Wu clerked for Judge Richard Posner, so maybe he can help influence this influential judge from his previous positions regarding a public domain paragraph citation system (see HyperLaw – Judge Richard Posner’s letter (pro West citation system, anti-paragraph citation system), Judge Stephen Williams’ letter (pro West/slip opinion page citation system, anti-paragraph citation system) and then contrast to HyperLaw’s Alan Sugarman’s response/letter to Judge Posner). If the final official published decisions are always being made and published first by Thomson-West, then all other publishers will be at a serious disadvantage.
I will repeat one more time for emphasis… It is KEY that NEW official final versions of opinions are placed online for free in a format that can be cited. That is as important as getting the older previous decisions online in their official form, because it takes us forward.