Introducing Prcttnr: Bringing legal commentary & practice guides to the masses.

by Jason Wilson on October 14, 2013

If you haven’t noticed, this blog has been pretty quiet lately. 1 That’s primarily because I’ve been busy working with a few IP experts, programmers, legal editors and, of course, “the money” in an attempt to bring to fruition an idea that, quite frankly, couldn’t have come about until recently. We are calling it, at least for now, Prcttnr (for Practitioner, obviously).

Prcttnr came about because several of us wanted to find a way to quickly free legal taxonomies and corresponding substantive explanations from the confines of multi-volume treatises (e.g., Nimmer on Copyright, Chisum on Patents) to create more modern, plain-English explanations of the law, stripping away “historical chrome” as one of our lawyer-engineers put it. (“The public has neither the patience nor the time for the why,” he added.) We also wanted to be able to correct those taxonomies when necessary, e.g., standards by federal district for proving substantial similarity in copyright infringement. But most importantly, we wanted a process that could allow us to deliver these explanations as close to the cost of $0 as possible. In other words, we want to pick up the mantle of the free-law movement and proclaim that not only should the law be free, but understanding how it works should be as close to free as possible.

As a 20-year veteran of the legal publishing business, I understand the difficulties in writing new analytical content from scratch. Adding to that frustration is my view that there is a vast amount of information dying—from neglect—in old, established treatise sets that have simply been shoved into digital boxes in the hopes new life will be breathed into them. We need to harvest the organs and put them in a new patient before the entire system dies. The Big 3 aren’t going to do it, so we must.

One of the issues we’re very interested in testing is the notion that legal editors plus software engineers can create a writing process that yields valid, original content free of copyright restrictions. The process is pretty straight-forward:

  1. Books are scanned and OCR’d.
  2. Text is extracted and run through our proprietary “search and destroy” system, which is designed to eliminate what we like to refer to as “hostiles,” or extraneous text that gets in the way of quickly understanding a concept. Treatises represent this information differently, but our editorial work that went into helping develop the algorithm accounts for different writing styles. The full taxonomies, however, are preserved.
  3. The resulting sets are then run through what one of our engineers refer to as a “plain-English sieve.” I don’t think it needs much more explanation than that.
  4. Editors then begin reconstructing the text into three different product categories: Briefings, Rundowns, and Sketches. Briefings will be our most robust explanations of the law, and will be for the heaviest users of Prcttnr, mainly lawyers, and when appropriate, will be divided by jurisdiction. Rundowns are similar to law school outlines, but we’ll also provide primary law and case citations to back up the commentary. Sketches are more basic, like wikipedia, with less of a taxonomic breakdown, but good explanations of the concepts, or as we like to describe it, “enough information to get you where you need to go but also let you know when you might need to step it up or get some help.”
  5. Each Briefing, Rundown, and Sketch is then run through another proprietary system, similar to plagiarism programs like Turnitin or iThenticate, to compare the resulting product against the universe of treatises we’ve scanned into the system. If any flags are raised, we go back and revise. It’s an iterative process until no flags appear.

Another great feature of Prcttnr is our Firm Guidance Program. Over the last several months, we’ve been interviewing firms across the U.S. to be attached to particular Briefings, Rundowns, and Sketches. We vet each firm for every product and only attach one firm at each level in the event a consumer wants further guidance or support. When we launch, we will explain the vetting process so users of the site know that we stand by every firm we’ve selected in every jurisdiction, meaning we’ve met them and believe they are the best firm for these particular issues. The key here is that we don’t charge the firms any money for this. We want every user to understand that we chose firms or individuals within firms based on merits and are recommending them. Reducing conflicts of interest and ensuring transparency is key to the success of this aspect of Prcttnr.

Now some reading this post will feel that Prcttnr is violating others’ copyrights. From our perspective, however, simply because we feed treatises into a system that help us build a new kind of product doesn’t make the creative process for creating that product any different than if we (lawyer-editors) had read the treatises and accompanying cases to create it. The system merely takes a lot of the sweat out of the work, which is what gets us closer to that $0 cost.

For those of you who know me, transparency in business practices is important. So I have no doubt that many of you will be wondering if this post itself doesn’t open Prcttnr up to some potential liability. Honestly, I don’t know, none of us do. Will this be a basis for subjecting us to copyright claims, even when proof of infringement is not otherwise objectively verifiable? Other than this post, how is any publisher to know which titles, if any, went into making a Prcttnr product? These are questions only our judiciary will be able to answer. In the meantime, full steam ahead.

In the end, though, it’s about education. After all, knowledge is power, knowledge is safety, knowledge is happiness.

For those of you curious about Prcttnr, we have set a launch date of Q3 of 2014. If you want more information, drop me a line.

[Image (CC) by betsyphotoman]

Notes:

  1. Everything that follows from this sentence is a complete fabrication. Total @#!*% . Prcttnr, as I’ve described it here, doesn’t exist. However, much of the sentiment behind it does.

{ 3 comments }

Ed Walters October 16, 2013 at 9:12 am

Footnote 1 notwithstanding, why don't you do this, Jason? Would be a valuable and fun effort!

jasnwilsn October 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Valuable yes, fun, maybe. But like all things, the answer is because money.

@bobambrogi October 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

I think Ed's offering to pay.

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