Top DC City Council lawyer David Zvenyach shares the direct benefits of decoding your municipal laws & legislation on the Internet like Washington, D.C. did at http://DCdecoded.org.
"I'm David Zvenyach, General Counsel for the District of Columbia. I'm the lawyer for the legislature of the District of Columbia.
"The vast majority of the data that I'm working with are legal data--things like court opinions, administrative orders, regulations, and for me, the law--the DC code and the bills and acts that become the DC code.
"We're still pretty close to the level of books. It's ugly--most legislation in the District, and this is true unfortunately across the country, is a pretty outmoded venture. It's a lot of paper, it's heavily word-processor focused, there's a lot of repetition, and a lot of cutting and pasting, and that is the norm, and was the norm.
"At the time, paper is great--the problem is when you're trying to do something either historically, or you're trying to actually use data that you know exists in a subsequent document. So, for example, one of the things I spend a lot of my time doing is researching. I want to see what was considered at the council before, and what was passed. If I'm trying to do some of that work, if it's paper based I've got to actually go back to that record. If it's PDF, if it's searchable, I can try to pull that up. Most PDFs are not searchable.
"There are lots of ways that we could be doing this better. You could link to the law, you could search for the laws, and it was all available for free, and it was fast. And I could use it on my phone.
"So this is the big one. How can we do this? This sounds so hard! It's not that hard. What it takes is a commitment, it takes a willingness to try a few new things, but it's not going to cause you to spend days and nights working on this. It's not going to take over your life. In fact, it's the opposite--it's going to free you up to do the rest of your work more effectively. What we discovered is that by spending a little bit of time and energy up front to figure it out, once we published it, it was Easy Street for us.
"I think city attorneys have a unique advantage, which is that, for essentially low cost, with very little negative consequence--nobody disputes that the law should be made public and widely available--that city attorneys can start really making a difference, quickly, and both actually be and appear to be innovators."