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Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Changing the Face of Legal Research
In the world of higher education, the appearance of prestige is almost as important as prestige itself. The Ivies, and other universities with well-regarded stature also immediately have access to other important things-good faculty, wealthy students, and, wealthy alumni. This isn't to say that auspicious learning institutions aren't actually of higher quality than their counterparts. Still, perception is reality.

This is nowhere truer than in the law school arena in the United States. The American Bar Association is the governing body which accredits and oversees the nation's schools. All of the top schools are ABA accredited. There are a constellation of requirements that schools must meet in order to merit accreditation. One of them has to do with the size and scope of the school's law library. With the growth of on-line research libraries, this component is arguably becoming a more dated metric.

Which is why I was encouraged to find a recent story about a Harvard Law graduate, who is also the head of a start-up company Ravel Law. The graduate-Romeen Sheth-and his alma mater have recently partnered on a $10 million project to digitize Harvard's entire law library, making it accessible to—gasp-the public.

Symbolically, this is a big deal. Unaccredited law schools often remain that way solely because they lack a bricks and mortar library. New legal practitioners pay top dollar for access to databases like Lexis-Nexis. Non-legal professionals have long struggled to find public access to all but lengthy troves of actual statutes.

Digitizing actual libraries suddenly means that institutions like Harvard can no longer keep a golden lock on the doors of their research libraries. It isn't clear what kind of price tag companies like Ravel intend to attach to the digital information, but it does mean that one need not be a Harvard student to have access to its annals of knowledge.

Will members of the public clamor for this digital library? Maybe not. Arcane case law isn't for everyone. But in theory, access to it should be. I, for one, would like this to cause a shift in a very old tide of thought.

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