Brian Sheppard, who teaches at Seton Hall Law School, in an interesting blog post on Bloomberg, raises the question whether the Harvard Law School digitization project I blogged about recently, might not really help access to justice.
His worry is that neither the search tools nor visualization tools intended for the project will deal with the reality that drafting search terms is very difficult for nonlawyers, and that most of the cases that come up will not be that relevant, and will be far from the ones on which judges rely.
Personally, I would like to think of this as a challenge. I would hope that organizations that work with the self-represented will be able to work closely with Harvard, and perhaps others, to understand how the self-represented think about their cases, as compared with the ways that those who write opinions do, compared again with how trial judges do. I would hope that with that understanding we will be able to create the front end, or maybe front ends, that handle the searching well in the light of these different ways of thinking. It is my understanding that the contract between Harvard and Ravellaw provides major opportunities for organizations to work with Harvard to make such things happen sooner rather than later.
In any event, just the fact that there will be free access to all opinions will mean that self-help oriented secondary sources can link directly into the primary sources, meaning that the secondary sources can have more depth. Indeed, with electronic filing, document assembly could include links to cited cases!
I am very impressed with the potential of this project, and am optimistic that they will be able to work well with the experts on self-representation — as well as the self-represented themselves.