By Published On: December 12, 20163.4 min read

Every citizen is presumed to know the law … and it needs no argument to show that justice requires that all should have free access.

Nash v. Lathrop, 142 Mass. 29

It is a common refrain that government moves slow, that government is conservative; especially when it comes to technology. Of course, why change something that isn’t broken? But even if this was true in the past, it is apparent now that government is accepting technology into the fold.

Whether it’s chatbots that help municipal IT departments automate tedious, repetitive tasks, or water monitoring systems that assist policy makers and kayakers alike, governments at all levels have seen the benefits of leveraging software internally and externally.

These benefits fall across three categories.

  1. Governments succeed when leveraging tools that automate repetitive, low-value tasks so they can focus on high-value, strategic thinking.
  2. Technology can reduce the time between when information is created and when it is available for consumption.
  3. Technology provides access to information in intelligent ways that allow governments and citizens to extract meaning and innovate.

At Open Law Library, we realized many of these benefits didn’t exist for governments when it came to making and publishing the law. But now we’re happy to report that with the Open Law Platform—a suite of software that helps governments draft, codify, and publish their laws—things are changing.

What got us started was the third category of benefits: the promise that technology could revolutionize the way governments and citizens accessed the law. We dreamt of software that could simplify complex legal problems, empower public interest law firms to reach more people with higher quality services, and create a system with open and freely accessible laws.

As we dug deeper to figure out how to realize this dream, we discovered the existing state of drafting, codifying, and publishing laws made our dream difficult, nigh impossible to achieve. Laws were published very slowly and not in computer-friendly formats. Attempts to fix that were blocked by copyright or the simple fact that attempting to convert laws after they had been published was a monumental task.

So we dug deeper again. And we discovered many of the things we wanted to do required us to make things better at the very source of lawmaking. Like all writing, drafting a law requires attention to both substance and form. Any errors in this first step compound as the law winds its way through the lawmaking apparatus. Thus, we created Open Law Draft—the first part of the Open Law Platform—a smart assistant that identifies common style, formatting, and language errors.

That took us to the next step. Once drafted and passed, the law is integrated with all the other laws into the “code”, a usable, topical organization of all the laws. Codifying is time consuming, which means laws are often in effect for long periods before they end up in the code. Moreover, codifying is labor intensive, making it costly. Whoever performs the codification inevitably keeps a tight grip on the code with onerous copyrights and expensive pay-to-access plans.

But as we know from leveraging technology in other government processes, there is a better way. Open Law Codify speeds up the codification process by an order of magnitude, reducing the time between law-creation and law-consumption. And by automating the process, Open Law Codify removes the high costs and need to enforce onerous copyrights and expensive fees to access the code.

This allows the third piece of the platform—Open Law Publish—to publish the code on ADA-compliant websites and in computer-friendly formats that allow governments and citizens to more easily extract meaning and create innovative tools.

The Open Law Platform integrates technology into every step of lawmaking. By doing so, we fulfill our original goal of creating better access to the law and simultaneously bring many of the benefits of technology to the world of lawmaking.

Join us at this blog as we explore the integration of technology into government, discuss best practices for technology-powered lawmaking, and celebrate progress. We’re excited to see where technology takes us. We know you are too.

About Open Law Library

Open Law Library modernizes the lawmaking process; empowering governments to focus on high-value tasks, auto-updates the legal code as laws become effective, and improves how governments connect with citizens.

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