The 2014 Le Hackie Winners
On December 3, 2014, DC Legal Hackers hosted our first ever Le Hackie Awards. Part holiday party, part awards show, the Le Hackie Awards celebrated the awesome folks and amazing achievements of the DC legal hacking community in 2014. In addition to recognizing our peers, it was great to bring together so many of the folks that have been active in DC Legal Hackers.
The great atmosphere of the Le Hackie Awards would not have been possible without the delicious local tacos from District Taco, the excellent music by DJ JAZDUX (check her out on SoundCloud immediately), and the beautiful space provided by The Loft at 600 F St. It also would not have been possible without the generous contributions from our sponsors: The Internet Society, Google, The Loft at 600 F St, Open Gov Foundation, R Street Institute, Clio, HP Idol OnDemand, GitHub, Sunlight Foundation, FastCase, and SignBlox. Thank you all so much.
There have been some great write-ups about the event by Technical.ly DC, Legal Hackers, and on Robert Richards’ Legal Infomatics Blog. If you’re interested in the DC tech scene or legal hacking movement at large, you should be following these publications.
Below is a little bit more detail about all the Le Hackie winners in the hopes that it informs and inspires you to join us on working on projects betwixt law and technology in 2015.
Company of the Year: Fastcase
Fastcase is a local DC legal research company that exemplifies the legal hacking spirit. They utilize new technologies to make legal sources more accessible through boolean search tools and APIs. Although Fastcase has a paid tier, they also generously provide free services to some members of the legal community, and support the open law movement through their outreach and large scale scanning operations. For example, Fastcase supported our local community by hosting not one, but two DC Legal Hackers hackathons, and by opening up an API for us to use during our legal citation hackathon. Fastcase believes technology can bring more legal information to more people in smarter ways, and for that reason, they are the Le Hackie Company of 2014.
Organization of the Year: Free Law Founders
The Free Law Founders are an organization comprising of government officials, academics, and organizations committed to making law more accessible throughout the United States. The Free Law Founders comprise of members from: Boston, Massachusetts, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chicago, Illinois, Montgomery County, Maryland, New York City, New York, Oklahoma State Legislature, San Francisco, California, Washington, DC; MIT Media Lab, Human Dynamics Group; Congressional Data Coalition, The OpenGov Foundation, Participatory Politics Foundation, and Sunlight Foundation. The Free Law Founders’ nationwide partnership across governments and NGOs to make legislation and code more accessible and participatory is an exciting first for local legislative information, and for that reason they are the Le Hackie Organization of 2014.
Legal Hacker of the Year: Dave Zvenyach
Dave Zvenyach first emerged on to the legal hacking scene in DC last year (before DC Legal Hackers existed), when local developer Tom Macwright (a legal hacker in his own right) found he could not include DC laws in his bicycle app due to copyright and format issues. Dave, the General Counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia, worked with Tom and the team to fix both issues, taught himself how to code, and has been legal hacking ever since. Dave is also the recipient of many Legal Hacks of the Year (see below) and you can see more of his work and writing at http://esq.io. Dave is an inspiration to lawyers and technologists that want to become more involved with either field, and works to educate both groups as he learns. Dave is the Le Hackie Legal Hacker of 2014.
Top 10 Legal Hacks of the Year
Capitol Bells, founded by Ted Henderson
Before Capitol Bells, knowing when votes were taking place within the House in real-time as a member of the public was impossible, preventing swift reporting and real time awareness of lawmaking by the public. As a staffer for former Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), Ted Henderson had been privy to the alert system of ringing bells and flashing lights that go off throughout the House office buildings to indicate when and what type of votes take place. By listening for the radio frequency of these real life bells, Ted created an application on iPhone and Android that enables anyone to be notified when a vote is taking place at the same time as lawmakers, wherever they are.
Coding for Lawyers, written by Dave Zvenyach
“Coding for Lawyers” is a beginner’s guide to programming, designed for lawyers by a lawyer–Dave Zvenyach, who is our Legal Hacker of 2014. The site’s FAQ explains the inspiration for this book: “One thing that I discovered, when learning to code, is that there are surprisingly few freely available books on the basics of coding, books that assume you know nothing about coding, books that assume you went to law school because you didn’t like numbers. And, we need more lawyers who code.” The book is available on GitHub and contributions are welcome.
@CongressEdits, developed by Ed Summers
CongressEdits (or @congressedits) is an automated Twitter account created in 2014 that tweets changes to Wikipedia articles that originate from IP addresses within the ranges assigned to the United States Congress. Through its Twitter account, CongressEdits alerts folks when Congress is making substantive changes to legislative information on Wikipedia, such as edits to congress people’s wikipedia articles or to the State of the Union address. The code is open source and available on GitHub. The project was inspired by the UK’s Parliament WikiEdits, which has also inspired bots in Australia, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Israel, Chile, Italy and Greece.
Contact Congress, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Sunlight Foundation, and 150 civic hackers
Contact Congress makes it possible to send electronic messages to members of Congress by reverse engineering their contact forms. Contact Congress was a follow up project to the Participatory Politics Foundation’s Formageddon work and the culmination of a lot of hard work by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Sunlight Foundation, and over 150 civic hackers. Prior to the Contact Congress work it was not possible to contact members of congress online including by email; the only way to send electronic messages to members of Congress was to visit each legislator’s contact form, or to use a proprietary third-party vendor on an advocacy organization’s website. This reverse engineered dataset allows for simpler and better tools for dialog with representatives.
The Free Law Project is a non-profit that houses the CourtListener and Juriscraper projects, which scrape court records online throughout the U.S. with the ultimate goal of making the entirety of United States case law online, for the public, for free. This year, they added over 7,000 oral arguments to their database making them available to be searched, saved, and made into podcasts to reach more people and make them more accessible. We have long been fans of the Free Law Project.
Legal Citation Hackathon, organized by DC Legal Hackers with contributions from Alan deLevie, Ben Dixon, Eric Mill, Joshua Auriemma, and Dave Zvenyach
On September 13th, DC Legal Hackers hosted a Legal Citation Hackathon, or what some might call a wonderful legal hackpportunity. Citation.js (a citation extractor) recieved a rosetta stone for some missing state reporters, thanks to the regular expression work done by Joshua Auriemma. And thanks to Fastcase’s Public API (!!), Ben Dixon wrote a ruby gem, which evolved into Permafrast, a human friendly guide to using the API to look up case text–for free, mind you (!!)–by citation. Read more about the event in the Legal Informatics Blog recap.
Oversight.io, developed by Eric Mill
Every year, federal Inspectors General conduct oversight reports on how our federal agencies are performing, citing when there is waste or corruption. Prior to Oversight.io these reports were only available on different pages on each agency’s website in PDF format, making a lot of useful oversight information non-searchable and hard to analyze across agencies. Oversight.io (a budding site) is powered by a powerful collection of searchable Inspection General report data built by Eric Mill and his inspired team of civic hackers as part of the /unitedstates project.
Patent Board Ferret, developed by Trent Ostler
Patent Board Ferret is the ultimate data resource for patent trial and appeals information. It also includes relevant data, trends, and graphical analysis. Patent Board Ferret was created by Trent Ostler, a patent attorney who wanted to better understand his cases. By scraping the information provided by Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB), Patent Board Ferret provides quick and simple decision lookup, sortable columns, hierarchy views and tools, advanced search, analysis, decisions and analysis toggle, and a detailed decision page.
SCOTUS Mapping Project, developed by Colin Starger
The Supreme Court Mapping Project is tool created by Baltimore School of Law Assistant Professor Colin Starger that visually maps Supreme Court doctrine by connecting two cases to each other by an n-degrees of connection algorithm (think the Kevin Bacon game, but with Supreme Court decisions). With the tool you can map connected cases, conservative and liberal trends, and the genealogy of doctrine. Check out the Visual Guide to United States v. Windsor (same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act).
@SCOTUS_servo, developed by Dave Zvenyach
When news broke this summer that the Supreme Court had been routinely editing their opinions, Dave Zvenyach thought what any legal hacker might think: “I can automate alerts for these diffs!” @SCOTUS_servo is used by journalists, including New York Times Supreme Court Reporter Adam Liptak.
From the bottom of our hearts, DC Legal Hackers would like to congratulate the Le Hackie winners of 2014. If you are a winner and have not yet recieved your 3D printed Le Hackie, rest assured we’re working on getting it to you.
We can’t wait to see what 2015 brings. If the above projects inspire you, be sure to sign up for the DC Legal Hackers meetup group for more great demos, talks, hackathons and more in 2015!