New Open Source Tool Clarifies City Legal Code

The AmLegal Decoder makes the law more accessible, and is now available to 2,000 municipalities around the nation.

by / May 7, 2014

America Decoded announced on May 7 the deployment of a new open-source tool that makes legal code more accessible. The software, called AmLegal Decoder, has been deployed in San Francisco as an initial demonstration of how legal code can be made more user-friendly. The software automatically updates as new laws are created so users can access, share and comment on legal data in the city.

Deployed through a partnership between the American Legal Publishing Corporation and The OpenGov Foundation, the AmLegal Decoder is now available to 2,000 municipalities interested in making their laws more transparent and accessible. The two organizations will use the decoder in Chicago and Philadelphia next, but all 2,000 American Legal clients are allowed free access to the tool to create their own legal code websites.

On, users can access in-line term definitions, cross-references, direct links to sections of code, and downloadable code in text and XML format.

“Throughout the San Francisco Code, very specific legal definitions are provided for terminology both specialized and mundane,” the website reads. “If you don’t know which words have special definitions, and what those definitions are, then you can’t understand what a law really means. San Francisco Decoded solves this problem neatly, by identifying every definition in the San Francisco Code and providing a pop-up definition every time that a defined word appears.”

The website also offers bulk download of the code for those who want the code in another format, and developers have access to an API if they want to develop applications that use the city’s legal code.

“Easy access to laws and legislative information are cornerstones for thriving communities and democracies,” San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell said in a press release. “In San Francisco, we live in the global center of technology and innovation, and I believe it’s crucial that legislators and cities find ways for technology to drive and promote further civic engagement – which this partnership helps to accomplish. We’ve already taken steps here in San Francisco with ReimagineSF, and introducing new laws from direct citizen feedback on to update outdated city laws and improve current policies as well.”

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