A Little Help from a Lot of People Crowdsourcing Gains Traction as a Resource in Legal Practice

Article excerpt

For inexperienced lawyers, the amount of research and case law that must be studied can prove overwhelming, especially in areas of the law that are newer or uncharted. Even for attorneys who have years of experience, using online research services can be extremely costly, not to mention time-consuming.

So why not turn to the crowd?

"Crowdsourcing," a concept that fuels many social networks, is starting to gain traction as a viable option in the legal industry. In its simplest form, crowdsourcing involves seeking input or advice from a large group, usually online. Social media networks like Twitter have helped facilitate crowdsourcing, allowing information to be shared and spread quickly.

It was the concept of seeking advice from peers that motivated Adam Ziegler, a former litigator in Boston, to start Mootus, an online platform for legal argument and insight.

"I thought there should be a way -- given that the law is public - - that legal proceedings should be some way to tap into that, for lawyers to discuss, argue and explore legal issues on the Web," Mr. Ziegler said.

The more he learned about crowdsourcing, the more it made sense as a potential tool for lawyers. Decisions in the American legal system emerge as a series of decisions over time, he pointed out, "not so much with one court dictating, but a bunch of different sources, usually in uncoordinated activity.

"That, to me, is a form of crowdsourcing, just a lot slower and more inefficient."

On Mootus, users can propose an issue for argument. For instance, "Is a Facebook 'like' considered free speech protected by the First Amendment?" and other users can weigh in, citing case law or other opinions. Users then vote on whether citations are "on point" or "off base," which helps earn status that gives their input more weight.

Mootus isn't just a popularity contest, though, Mr. Ziegler said, but a way for lawyers to practice the much-needed skill of effective argument. "Junior lawyers don't do enough citation of primary law before they enter practice," he said.

For Jake Heller, a former litigator with Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, the idea of using already-existing sources of legal expertise was something he had considered since graduating from Stanford Law School. …


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