Friday, October 30, 2009

Berring on Free Legal Information Sites: Contretemps

At Legal Currents, a blog by Thomson Reuters (West), Bob Berring is featured in a very thought-provoking and articulate video about the efforts by government agencies and volunteers (read GPO and, and the Legal Information Institute) to make legal information freely available. He speaks of how admirable these efforts are, but thinks that ultimately they always fail because the government efforts are always the first to fall to the budget ax and volunteers are likely to lose interest after time, without monetary incentive. While praising the currently available efforts, and directing his advanced legal research classes to them, he sees them as ultimately doomed, which I find very depressing, personally.

Not too surprisingly, Carl Malamud, who is working hard on the effort laid on some comments, followed up by Brian Baker. At first, West appeared to have removed the rather challenging comments, which stated that Berring should have revealed his long relationship with West (and also, less becomingly, called Berring a paid spokesperson). Another, spoof-named (I am pretty sure Vic Trola is not anybody's real name) commenter was more vicious. Bob Berring certainly has a long relationship with West, as a West author, and producing videos with them over the years. Eventually, the comments were reinstated. But Bob, no shrinking violet, also posted his own reply:

I am troubled by the comments impugning my ethics and moral bona fides. The statements are false. I am not a spokesperson for West, nor was I compensated for my remarks. They were made as part of video tribute being put together for the 2009 AALL meeting. The beauty of being an old, tenured professor is that one can say just what one means. And I did. You might contend that I am off base, but I say what I believe to be true. The issues are worth discussing. Ad hominen attacks don’t add much to that discussion.
As always, Berring's original comments are thought-provoking and interesting, even if my idealistic self wishes I could believe that the projects to provide free legal information had better prospects than he foresees. Visit the site and see what Bob has to say about the future of pro bono legal information projects. There is more there, of course, than gloom & doom! The photo of Prof. Berring is from his faculty page at Berkeley.


Betsy McKenzie said...

Readers of OOTJ may wish to know that Rich Leiter is hosting Carl Malamud on his online Talk Radio show this week. Don't miss it! You can hear Carl Malamud talk about his new project, Public on Rich Leiter's BlogTalkRadio, Law Librarian at

November 6, 2009, 3 PM, Central Standard Time

Betsy McKenzie said...

And of course, now you have to think about the new radio button on Google Scholar that will make searching the web for legal materials much simpler for everybody. I wonder what the next move in the great chess game between West, Lexis and the free legal info providers will be?