This week, we're making a case for WikiProject Law. Started in April 2005, the project has grown to include 70 pieces of Featured material and 265 Good Articles. We interviewed Ironholds and Int21h.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Law? Are you currently studying or practicing law? Do you focus on a specific area of the legal field?
Ironholds: I was already writing legal articles, so it seemed to make sense. I'm neither currently studying or practicing law, although I was a law student (and am now a law graduate), but it was definitely that studying that got me interested. What this question seems to be asking, though, is "why do you work in this area?" The actual answer is pretty selfish - I hate studying for exams. I really hate studying for exams. If you were to design a system for utterly obliterating my motivation to do something, it would consist of sticking a pile of books in front of me and saying 'this will be useful in six months'. What I found, though was that I really love writing articles, so I decided to put sugar in the revision poison by writing about whatever I was studying on Wikipedia. The Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 is the result of my tort law exams, Royal prerogative in the United Kingdom my constitutional law exams, and my dissertation was partly based on Edward Coke (which led to an awkward conversation with my supervisor about how I'd somehow plagiarised from Wikipedia and expected to get away with it. We cleared that up.) Mostly I focus on legal history, because it's my area of specialty and actually why I started studying law in the first place - the people and the institutions that built the system we rely on.
Int21h: Because law is more important than most other topics. Law will get your head chopped of and your house taken, without further recourse, which can't really be said about many other topics. I am neither studying or practicing law, although one is not able to genuinely say they do not "practice" law in their everyday lives. I am currently focused on state law, because it is so much more relevant to the average person than national or international law, yet by its very nature has less editors working on it.
Have you contributed to any of WikiProject Law's Featured or Good Articles? What are the toughest challenges face by editors who work on improving legal articles to GA or FA status?
Ironholds: A disturbing percentage of them (I used to play a game called 'hit F5 on the law portal, and see how many times you have to do it before one of your articles isn't listed'). There are a few major challenges. One, which I think is internal to how legal articles and legal writers work, is the sources we rely on. There's a tendency for a lot of Wikipedians in this field to rely on primary sources, treating the article as if it were a case writeup, with full case citations and references aimed at the judgment. I've noticed that this approach interacts with the GA and FA processes in much the same way a moth interacts with a blowtorch. It's absolutely understandable, of course, because if you're a student or practitioner you're taught that There Is No Higher Authority Than Case Or Statute Citations, but it doesn't work here on Wikipedia.
Do you participate in any of WikiProject Law's subprojects? Are some subprojects more active than others? What can be done to revitalize these specialized legal communities on Wikipedia?
Int21h: WP Law has subprojects?
Are the legal traditions and precedents of some countries and localities better represented on Wikipedia than others? How well is international law covered by Wikipedia? What can be done to improve neglected legal subjects?
Ironholds: Absolutely, particularly the traditions of the United States and the Commonwealth; many of our generalised law articles substantially underrepresent the civil law tradition, which is understandable given the bias of our project base towards ESL people - which tends to mean 'United States or Commonwealth'.
Int21h: Foreign (non-US) jurisdictions are notoriously difficult to reliably document. US and UK legal fields are so much better represented because the US and UK legal systems are just so much better at documenting practical law in a free and open manner (US federal works, not to mention law, are not eligible for copyright and are significantly digitized), versus the civil law style that lacks any freely accessible superior court decisions (that provide so much insight into, for example, what "freedom of speech" means in that country versus what it means to an American) and relies so heavily on "book smarts" to learn the law (which will just tell you that there is "freedom of speech" in that country, which is often an outright lie). Language and lack of digitization is also a huge obstacle. There was a Spanish legal decision recently that banned a Basque political rally, and the court decision was a scanned PDF, found on a random news site, which I had to manually OCR and translate, and these several weeks later I still have still not finished, and in the end the decision has minimal use beyond elucidation of the Spanish legal system for me personally. The EU Court of Justice is the only court besides the UK courts that are probably "binding" enough or of enough persuasive value to deserve their own articles. And the reality is that we will need the native language Wikipedias to "step up to the plate" on this. If it can be said America is a nation of lawyers, it can equally be said that all other countries are nations of people who do not know their own legal systems.
Does WikiProject Law collaborate with any other WikiProjects? Has the project taken advantage of Wikipedia's sister projects, like WikiSource or the Commons?
Int21h: Not really AFAIK. Wikisource and Commons, maybe, but that is largely going to depend on whether or not a country's authorities (e.g., the US GPO) are publishing digital versions of their law.
Is it difficult to find images to illustrate legal articles? What topics are most in need of diagrams and photography?
Ironholds: Actually relatively easy, in the field I work in.
Int21h: Images are the least of my concerns. Actual articles are so much more important.
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?
Ironholds: People from other legal traditions would be good. As said above, we're mostly common law people; more people with an understanding of the civil and Islamic law traditions would be great to have.
Int21h: Spanish law, Russian law, and an as-yet-unknown major Arabic country's law, (and maybe Chinese law) as they are replicated across much of the world. Sub-national law, such as state law in the US, also is more important to a typical reader than national and international law. We don't even have really useful templates for state laws akin to the US legislation infobox.
Until next week, check out our previous reports in the archive.
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