The Free Law Project — which I mentioned here just recently when it added 1.5 million opinions to CourtListener — had more big news today. It has created the first-ever API (application programming interface) for U.S. court opinions. Essentially what that means is that other computers can talk to Free Law’s computers and use its data and search engine for their own purposes.

To most of us, this won’t matter a whit. But it opens a huge door for legal startups and developers to create new products, tools and services that use the Free Law cases. That could mean new types of legal-research services, new alert services and new ways of presenting and filtering case data.

The site currently has 350 federal and state jurisdictions that will be accessible using the API. In announcing the API, the Free Law Project offered these examples of what can be done using the API:

  • Include a list of relevant opinions on your blog or website.
  • Get a list of the new opinions of the day and make a Twitter or Facebook page stream from it.
  • Keep track of opinions that Free Law has blocked from search engines at the request of an involved party.
  • Track modifications made to the collection.
  • Interrogate or track the citations within an opinion or the citations to an opinion you’re interested in.
  • Keep track of changes to the database of jurisdictions or simply get a list of them.
  • Show the most relevant opinions for a given topic, such as abortion.
  • Build a citation cross-walk that allows you to find parallel citations.

“The new API is the first of its kind that we’re aware of and we’re really excited to be offering it,” Free Law cofounder Michael Lissner said in an email to me. “It provides access to our 2.4M documents in a programmatic way, giving people insane access to data that’s never been easily available like this.”

Developers can find more information about the API at this link.

In Other News …

Also since my last post about the Free Law Project, it announced the launch of what it calls CiteGeist, a feature designed to provide significantly better results in determining the relevancy of a case to a search query. Now, when you enter a query, CiteGeist will analyze which opinions are the most cited and use that information to provide the best search results.

[T]he basic idea is to give a high CiteGeist score to opinions that are cited many times by other important opinions, and to give a lower CiteGeist to opinions that have not been cited or that have only been cited by unimportant opinions. Once we’ve established the CiteGeist score, we combine it with a query’s keyword-based relevancy. Together, we get a combined score which is a measure of how intrinsically important a case is (its CiteGeist) as well as how closely it matches your specific query.

The feature was developed for the Free Law Project by a volunteer contributor, Bo Jin (Krist), a software engineering student at Tianjin University who spent last summer at UC Berkeley.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.