How to download Google Scholar’s case database for free (up to 2013)

Jonathan Mayer is an under-appreciated figure in legal tech.  I am not referring to the John Mayer that runs CALI (the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction).  Or the singer/songwriter John Mayer.  This Jonathan Mayer is a computer science and law fellow at Stanford.

In 2012 and 2013, Mayer collected legal sources from across the nation and made them available for download on his blog.  His stated goal was to advance empirical legal scholarship.  The result is the largest collection of US case law available for download–to my knowledge.  Anyone can obtain HTML versions of state and federal case law from 1950 to 2013 for free.  My understanding is that his collection mirrors Google Scholar’s database up to 2013.  The HTML part is important because the format is malleable and searchable.  The foundation of every case database from Westlaw to Ravel is a dataset of cases in HTML.

Mayer’s blog has served as the foundation for at least one prominent legal database startup.  John dispersed the case loads across four blog posts:

Anyone could have gathered the same cases.  And many case databases have.  The data is publicly available.  But it takes a lot of effort.  Federal courts and certain state courts publish their cases.  Here’s the RSS feed for Utah.  Collecting those cases and putting them in one place, without changing for the data, is an extraordinary act.

The “Free the Law” initiative at Harvard will eventually make Mayer’s database obsolete.  The initiative will make an even bigger, updated dataset of cases available for download in a few years.  But until then, Mayer’s database is the easiest way to obtain a massive amount of case law for free.


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