Case Law Briefing



We currently provide current case law on WisBar at a cost of about $5000 per year.  It is the most popular section of WisBar.  Several years back, the BOG voted as "a show of interest" that they would be willing to spend up to $100,000 to obtain historical case law. Since then we have been working to add historical case law.

Supreme Court
As part of a settlement by which West acquired Lawyer's Cooperative the Supreme Court has a  not very clear right to historical case law from West.  After many months of diligent lobbying with the court, Mark Pennow obtained CJ Abrahamson's consent that the court would seek to exercise this right and provide to the State Bar for publication on WisBar case law back to 1940.  The court has been negotiating with West for an electronic copy of the case law.

Importance of Case Law and Control of Links
If the State Bar attempts to develop a comprehensive on line resource in Wisconsin practice law, the case law, and control of the links in the case law may be important to long term economic success.  Control of the links means that one can steer people to one's for pay materials, e.g. a court case on freedom of information can have a link "click here to see CLE book section on Wisconsin's freedom of information law". A Proposed State Bar Strategy Memo develops this more fully.  Commercial providers are increasingly aware of the economic utility of controlling links.

Current Status
The negotiations are between the Court and West.  We are able to provide some input, but are not party to the negotiations.

West currently is insisting that the case law will only be provided for "non-commercial" use by the court, must be protected against copying,  and that it will provide the case law in html format rather than in the special West folio base format only if there is agreement to include links to West's databases in the material.

We do not know the exact details of any of these conditions,e.g. does West mean that its links would be exclusive? Does "non commercial" use exclude secondary use in on line seminars or articles that are sold to users?

We do not have a good handle on what the cost of converting from West's Folio Infobase format would be.  In part this depends on unknown details such as whether it is delivered in "locked" or "unlocked" condition.  Conversion might cost several tens of thousands of dollars or might be less.  We have received a sample in Wests' html format and conversion for our needs would be fairly simple, largely consisting of conversion to XML and adding links to our materials.

Proposed Actions

At this point we would like to communicate to the person (Dennis Moran) negotiating for the Court:

(1) Our concern that "non-commercial" use not prevent our use of the case law database in for pay products like on line seminars, and a concern about what prevention of copying would entail.

(2) We are not adverse to including links to West materials, but only on a non-exclusive basis. We would want to include links to our own materials, and possibly links to Lexis or other commercial providers with whom our members may have contracts.

(3) If we include Wests' links, we would like to have West provide a continuing feed of case law.

In addition we would like to approach Lexis or other commercial providers.  Essentially we would say "If West's negotiating position succeeds, you would be frozen out of WisBar with no links to your material.  If you provide us with case law, we will include links to your and other's material, giving the user the right to choose whose products he uses."

Your comments on the above are solicited.