Spindle Law is a U.S. project to facilitate legal research by getting a community of lawyers to lay down the bones of areas of law in a hierarchical online treatise. Let me unpack that notion for you. To help me understand what Spindle is doing, I spoke to David Gold, the CEO and one of the founders of Spindle. At one level the notion is simple and straightforward: legal professionals join Spindle and, much as with Wex, the Legal Information Institute’s encyclopedia, members contribute to the building of a database. However, unlike Wex, which aims to meet the needs of a broad and largely lay audience, Spindle aims at working professionals with a high degree of expertise. As a member’s contributions get affirmed and approved by others, so that member’s freedom to edit grows.
Spindle is still in the alpha stage of development.
Spindle’s aim is to help lawyers locate themselves fairly precisely within a body of law, pointing to the cases and the parts of statutes that deal with the issues being researched. At the moment there are two fairly fleshed-out areas, securities and evidence, with others being worked on and still others promised. The job of contributing members is to distill principles from cases and organize them in a useful hierarchy, so that researchers can drill down to the needed level of specificity, find putatively relevant cases, and then go from there on their own. You can get some idea from the graphic below, showing a patch of the hierarchy concerning evidence.
At the final level a proposition is displayed and cases are cited that support that proposition. Spindle doesn’t provide you with the text of any decisions, but rather directs you in a popup to free and pay sources.
This is a very bare bones description of a highly sophisticated setup. At every turn there are icons and other guides to explain and amplify what you’re seeing. Everything works. And a lot of thought has gone into the arrangements for verifying the accuracy and worth of the propositions contributed.
As a former academic, I know how easy it can be to disparage attempts to approach certainty in the law, even ones that only hold your hand up to a point. This attempt has merit. It doesn’t speak with a single, edifying voice, the way that a treatise by a single author might. But a great deal of care has gone into its construction; and it does, I think, offer a good and valuable structure for tapping the wisdom of a fairly exclusive crowd, which is no bad thing. I think it will be a boon to busy practitioners and students, if only those who are seeking confirmation that their research or understanding is on the right track.
David Gold was kind enough to offer to talk to any of our readers who have an interest in contributing or even just in understanding what Spindle Law is attempting. But sign up — it’s free — and explore on your own first.