LegalEye will aid access to federal court system

Science journalists are used to being scooped when it comes to reporting on the latest lawsuits involving Monsanto, Pfizer, or the FDA. That’s because automated research services that lawyers use to flag interesting cases are cost prohibitive to all but the largest media outlets.

To change that, Charles Seife, a journalist, author and professor at New York University, is building LegalEye, an automated research service that will help journalists find new lawsuits that are relevant to their beats and notify them of developments in interesting cases.

Seife’s work is supported by an $18,000 Peggy Girshman Idea Grant from the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). Once developed, the tool will be offered free to NASW members and at a low cost to other journalists. He expects to launch the tool to a limited number of users by the end of 2019 with a full launch by April 2020.

“This service will make the federal court system much more transparent to journalists,” Seife said. “No longer will we be dependent on a tipoff from a litigant or on one of the bigger publications with access to Bloomberg or LexisNexis breaking the news of a new filing. We’ll be able to do it ourselves for very little cost.”

While several lower cost products have launched in recent years, these offer case-following services, but not notifications of new cases, which is the most challenging part of covering the federal court system.

“I teach programming to journalists, and am fluent in Python, so I can lead the development of this tool," Seife said. "The support from NASW makes it possible to assemble a small programming team, build the program from scratch, test it, and make it available to our entire membership."

Peggy Girshman Idea Grants support projects and programs that help science writers in their professional lives and/or advance the field of science writing. The grants range from $1,000 to $25,000 with selection of successful proposals by NASW’s Grants Committee. Seife’s proposal is one of three funded in 2019—stay tuned for details on the other two.

April 10, 2019

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