Law Sites Guest Post: Guest Post: The Caselaw Access Project — Then, Now, Tomorrow

On my left: the edge of the off-ramp, a modest guardrail, and a fifty-foot drop. On my right, inching closer: a tractor-trailer determined to occupy my lane. I hit the brakes. The truck kept rolling. Its wheels pressed into my car as it wedged me against the curb and carved a tail-to-nose dent in my poor Toyota.

This was early 2015, on my commute to Cambridge, Mass., the morning of a critical meeting at Harvard Law School, where I worked. Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain and l were sitting down with Daniel Lewis and Nik Reed, the founders of a legal research startup named Ravel Law, along with lawyers from Harvard’s Office of General Counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton and Gundersen Dettmer. We’d all been working for over a year on a contract that would make it possible, someday in the future, for everyone to have free and open access to all the official court decisions ever published in the United States. After an exhausting year of negotiations, it was time to lock ourselves in a room and figure out if we had a deal.

About the Author
Adam Ziegler is a lawyer and software builder. He led the Caselaw Access Project and other work at Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab from 2014 to 2021. He works currently at TrueLaw, which helps law firms use AI to improve their operations and services.

Fast forward nine years, and that “someday in the future” finally is here. On March 1, 2024, our collective efforts on this project — the Caselaw Access Project — culminated in the full, unrestricted release of nearly 7 million U.S. state and federal court decisions representing the bulk of our nation’s common law. I had the privilege to lead this work at Harvard for almost eight years. Wrecked Toyota aside, it was a career-defining experience, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone at Harvard and Ravel who worked hard to make it possible.

To mark the occasion, I wanted to share some of the project’s inside story, reflect on its impact and look ahead to what I hope this data will make possible in the future.

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