My dream tool for legal research

Imagine that you find a case which is perfect for your legal argument, but it is unfortunately from the wrong jurisdiction. Wouldn’t it be excellent if you could just go to Westlaw or whatever legal database and hit a button “find cases with similar results / arguments [in X jurisdiction]”? Obviously sometimes, perhaps even frequently, there won’t be any cases that were decided similarly for similar reasons, but if there were, wouldn’t it be nice to find out right away?

Today, you can look up cases with similar subject matter using the headnotes / keycites at the beginning of the case in e.g. Westlaw, but that says little/nothing about the result or legal arguments used. Obviously in most cases you want to find cases that both support and oppose your argument, but hey.

In other news, I really wish there were a “Google Law” type legal database, completely open and freely available to the public and with normal web search engine features + syntax, i.e. something that any regular web user could immediately use. I think I raised this idea with my friends once and they said it wouldn’t be good for our job security if just anyone could look up the law for themselves… then what would they need lawyers for? Upon further consideration and after chatting with uncleamos, I don’t think that’s true though… although people are increasingly able to do medical research online for themselves, that doesn’t mean they are less likely to seek medical treatment from a doctor. Simply having information isn’t good enough, you also need the expertise to use it, whether on the operating table or in the courtroom. It’s just empowering to have some idea of what your hired professional is doing for you instead of being totally clueless.

Songbird’s main inadequacy: lack of party shuffle

Songbird mascot

I have come to really like Songbird, the open source media player built on Mozilla technology. Its integrated web browser has lots of interesting potential applications, and makes installing extensions drop dead easy (unlike Thunderbird, boo). Songbird clued me in to the excellent music search engine SkreemR, which integrates very nicely into Songbird. Given the current extremely bloated state of iTunes, and how iTunes hogs all of my RAM if I leave Coverflow on, Songbird is less taxing on my system resources and manages to feel lightweight, even if it may not really be that lightweight in absolute terms. It’s cross-platform, it’s free software, it’s easily extensible… what’s not to like?

It doesn’t have Party Shuffle, that’s what, and there is no extension that implements this seemingly simple feature. Why not? I’ve come to really love Party Shuffle in iTunes… for those few bizarre people who have never used iTunes, Party Shuffle is a playlist auto-filled with random songs from your library, and after each song is played it is forgotten after a certain number of further songs are played (default is 5) to make room for new songs on the playlist. You can drag songs from your library to add to this random playlist, so you can easily mix randomness and non-randomness, e.g. you want to hear a couple songs right now but you want to return to shuffle play after that.

It may seem like a small feature, and it’s not one that I use all the time, but I do use it very frequently and it’s one of a very few things that Songbird does not do which iTunes does that makes me switch back to iTunes periodically no matter how much I enjoy Songbird. If this isn’t going to be implemented in the core Songbird product, someone needs to write an extension which provides that functionality right now! The Now Playing List extension seems like it could easily act as a Party Shuffle extension if it would just let you turn on some sort of progressive random auto-fill function or something… but it doesn’t have that feature. Alas.

P.S. The other main feature that keeps me switching back to iTunes is, sadly, the iTunes library. It’s really handy to be able to just double-click on a song on e.g. my external hard drive and have a copy of the song immediately placed into my iTunes library folder, rather than moving it to my laptop’s hard drive myself and having to figure out where to put it, etc. To get new music into my collection, I find myself going into iTunes and adding the music there, and then just re-importing the iTunes library into Songbird. I feel kind of stupid doing this, but there it is.

UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, there is now a Songbird PartyShuffle extension. Ask, and ye shall receive! It’s not quite as pretty as iTunes’s implementation yet, but it’s quite functional. I’m lovin’ it! One problem is that it’s basically a playlist that refreshes itself with new songs when you reach the end of the playlist, and this function breaks if you have “repeat” turned on because it’ll go back to the beginning of the playlist without triggering the refresh. I’m sure these and other bugs will get worked out eventually, though, and in the meantime it works.