Submissions:2014/Wikipedia for Lawyers: Researching, Citing, and Contributing To Wikipedia

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Title of the submission
Themes (Proposal Themes - Community, Tech, Outreach, GLAM, Education)
Type of submission (Presentation Types - Panel, Workshop, Presentation, etc)
Author of the submission
Amanda Levendowski
E-mail address
US state or country of origin
New York
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
Student Associate with the NYU Law Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy; Wikimedia Campus Ambassador
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

BACKGROUND When I started researching revenge porn last fall, there was no Wikipedia article about the topic. So I created one, which included a very precise definition. Since the article was created, it was featured as Did You Know article, racked up more than 100,000 pageviews, and was cited by the New York Criminal Court for a definition of revenge porn. My experience as a law student, Wikipedia editor, and legal researcher has informed my approach on how and why Wikipedia can be such a powerful tool for students and lawyers, clerks and academics.

Judge Richard A. Posner, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has described Wikipedia as "a terrific resource." He isn't alone in his thinking: Nearly 1,000 cases have cited to Wikipedia, including cases in every federal circuit court. It's regularly referred to in motions, briefs, and law review articles. And despite continued skepticism about Wikipedia's reliability, Wikipedia frequently serves as the starting point for legal research.

PROPOSAL I am not suggesting that Wikipedia supplant traditional legal research resources, like case law, statutes, or law review articles. But if the legal community is going to rely on Wikipedia for pop culture references, definitions of new technologies or even evidentiary issues, they must be informed about how to use Wikipedia. This presentation focuses on two key issues for legal researchers who rely on Wikipedia: (1) best practices, and (2) contribution values.

First, legal researchers need to understand how Wikipedia works to use its articles effectively. Education begins with explaining the features of Wikipedia articles beyond their text, including the ability to review the article's history, view who has edited the article (and when), audit debates about the article's content, and assess how the Wikipedia community "rates" the article. Unlike general web articles, Wikipedia citations should include more than a link: The editor's handle, the date and time of that particular version of the article, should be included for clarity.

When lawyers are equipped with best practices about evaluating and citing Wikipedia articles, citations to the encyclopedia will be more reliable and contextually appropriate.

Second, contributions from legal researchers with expertise make Wikipedia better. Wikipedia is relied upon as a resource, which means that law students and practitioners should be encouraged to improve articles within their expertise.

This year, I helped NYU Law organize the first ever Innovation Law and Policy Editathon. Our Editathon brought together a combination of students, professors, lawyers, activists, and veteran Wikipedians to improve articles relating to copyright, trademark, free speech, patent, and privacy law. The Editathon accomplished two goals: It showed those in the legal field what happens "behind the screens" at Wikipedia, and it empowered individuals with legal expertise to make Wikipedia better.

When lawyers' interests informed their edits, their enthusiasm drove their experience. And it appears to have been a positive experience: 100% of the attendees, including several women, said that they intended to edit in the future.

The Takeaway These two topics inter-operate in a fascinating way: An understanding of how Wikipedia works encourages those with legal expertise to contribute which, in turn, results in more reliable, thorough or precise articles about legal topics.

Length of presentation/talk (see Presentation Types for lengths of different presentation types)
30 Minutes (15 minutes of discussion, 15 minutes of Q&A)
Will you attend WikiConference USA if your submission is not accepted?
Likely yes
Slides or further information (optional)
I will prepare a PowerPoint presentation if selected. Similar presentations about "Wikipedia for lawyers" have been given at New York Law School, Brooklyn Law School, and NYU School of Law.
Special request as to time of presentations

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  1. Fhocutt (talk) 02:14, 4 April 2014 (EDT)
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