Just got wind of a relatively new open web legal called PreCYdent. Their mission is clear:
“PreCYdent is based on two fundamental principles. First, we at PreCYdent believe that all lawyers, law librarians, law students, and the general public should have access to state-of-the-art search technology to help them navigate through the large and complex body of legal authority. We have heard law students ask, as perhaps you have, about online legal research: “Why can’t I just do my search with a few search words, like I do on Google?” PreCYdent has an answer to that question: Now you can. Second, we believe judicial opinions and statutes must be in the public domain, in practice as well as in theory. To us this means that effective legal research in all of these materials should be free to the user — not expensive, not inexpensive. Free. We believe this principle is of vital importance not only to the United States, but to all nations that practice or aspire to practice the rule of law.”
Yes, it’s a Google-like search experience but clunky and a little rough around the edges in terms of interaction and visual design. Still, up front prior to conducting a search there are few options–you really just enter keywords and go. Then, on the results side of things there are plenty of key filters.
It’s still in its alpha mode right now, so could turn out to be rather promising. Since it allows users to upload legal documents, it could turn into a very comprehensive collection much in the same way Wikipedia is for some of us THE place to turn for encyclopedic information.