Friday, February 20, 2015

Code Across 2015 -- San Francisco -- And Hiring

I'm looking forward to join more than a hundred other programmers and civic activists at the Code Across 2015 event in SF, part of Code Across 2015, an event collaboratively organized by Code for America as part of International Open Data Day.

The scope of Open Data Day can be seen from this very long list of other Open Data Day hackathons and events (Google Document, not sure where it came from).

And if this event is your kind of thing and you want to make it your day job, get in touch with me. At Xcential, we're always looking for civic-minded programmers who are interested in working on browser-based applications for writing, amending and publishing law. We work with the state of California, Hong Kong, the U.S. Congress and others to bring law into the digital age.

Happy Hacking!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

UK Sets High Bar for Digital Democracy: Steal this Report, Please

Last week, the Digital Democracy Commission of the UK House of Commons released its report. Just having such a Commission says something (John Boehner, are you taking notes?) According to their Speaker of the House, this is meant as the "start of a roadmap for improving and opening up the workings of the House of Commons." With simple, but compelling goals. Like:
  • By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does
  • By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital
And more. The report, their goals and even their presentation, richly hyperlinked and with embedded videos, is a terrific model to follow. Or even better just to steal wholesale. And they make it easy. Substitute the "U.S. House" or "Congress" for most of their goals and we have the results of a U.S. Digital Democracy Commission, all nicely packaged. Other countries could do the same.

I envision a cross-Atlantic Commission or workshop on digital democracy (John Boehner, are you still with me?). See, here's the thing. Ideas are catching. If the UK succeeds at Digital Democracy, it makes it easier for us. And the standards that are being developed can make the spread of these ideas even faster (e.g. the AKN legislative data standard, a 'lingua franca' of structured legislation). We can also share technology. The U.S. government has come a long way in the last few years with open source goals and initiatives (e.g. 18F at the GSAdata.gov and our own work with the U.S. House). The UK has done groundbreaking work at legislation.gov.uk that we could learn a lot from.

Here, I pause for disclosure of personal interest: the global policy pushed forward by these UK goals are very good news for my company, Xcential. As is the political movement that is growing in the UK to reinforce these open government policies. Because building technology for digital democracy is what we do. And I want to be a part of helping the UK meet its goals. I have long admired the groundbreaking work done by legislation.gov.uk, and see many overlaps with the work we are doing at the U.S. House and in other jurisdictions. Grant and I got a chance to work with hundreds of years-worth of UK laws, through the innovative "Good Law" hackathon  (we created an XQuery search tool for UK Public General Acts -- http://goodlaw.xcential.com/). And there is a great deal more the to be done with these laws, from web-based drafting to standards-based publishing online and on paper.

There are only 5 years before 2020, so we've got to get cracking. Talking about good public policy is fun. Implementing it is priceless.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New Name, Same Domain

This blog expresses my personal thoughts on law, legal technology and occasionally other musings. I'm changing the title today from "Tabulaw" to "Linked Legislation". I'm keeping the domain name (blog.tabulaw.com), because the comments on this blog are tied to that domain and I don't want to lose the many valuable thoughts that commenters have added to these posts. At the same time, I would like the blog's title to reflect its broad focus and to evolve along with my thinking on these subjects. That evolution is, of course, influenced by my experience building technology for law.

Tabulaw was my first start-up, focused on delivering legal drafting tools to lawyers-- many of the kinds of tools that have since been built into WestLaw Plus, Lexis Advance and others. We were on to something with Tabulaw, but we did not have access to those companies' massive legal document databases. For that, and other reasons common to start-ups in the legal field and start-ups in general, Tabulaw failed.

I am now working with Xcential, a company started by Grant Vergottini and Brad Chang that, I believe will change the way that legislatures write and publish the law. We're already doing this with some great partners in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the House Modernization Project. We are in the first days of a new industry. I hope to be embarrassed, when the industry is more fully developed, by some of the naive thoughts I express on this blog. I also hope to be able to quote passages, from my posts and your comments, that make it sound like we knew all along what we were doing.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tax Simplification Hearings - 2014

Annette Nellen at 21st Century Tax has written a post on Congressional hearings this summer on tax reform. The Senate Finance Committee, led by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Hatch (R-UT), will consider topics including:


  • Education incentives
  • Identity theft and privacy
  • "Modernizing" corporate taxation
  • Tax simplification
As I mentioned in a comment on Annette's blog, I would like to see Silicon Valley weigh in, particularly on tax simplification, with ideas to simplify the code and technology to simplify tax filing. I have discussed this before, including the great potential to use (big) data from hundreds of millions of actual filings to simplify tax law and the practice of filing.