Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New York County Prisons Close Print Law Libraries

In the 1990's there was a SCOTUS case dealing specifically with the right of prisoners to have access to a law library.

In Lewis v. Casey, 516 U.S. 804, Respondents were 22 inmates of various prisons operated by Arizona Department of Corrections. In January 1990, they filed a class action "on behalf of all adult prisoners who are or will be incarcerated by the State of Arizona Department of Corrections," alleging that petitioners were "depriving [respondents] of their rights of access to the courts and counsel protected by the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments." Following a 3 month bench trial, the District Court ruled in favor of respondents, finding that "[p]risoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts that is adequate, effective and meaningful," 834 F. Supp. 1553, 1566 (Ariz. 1992), and that "[ADOC's] system fails to comply with constitutional standards," 834 F. Supp., at 1569. The court identified a variety of shortcomings of the ADOC system, in matters ranging from the training of library staff, to the updating of legal materials, to the availability of photocopying services. In addition to these general findings, the court found that two groups of inmates were particularly affected by the system's inadequacies: "[l]ockdown prisoners" (inmates segregated from the general prison population for disciplinary or security reasons), who "are routinely denied physical access to the law library" and "experience severe interference with their access to the courts;" and illiterate or non English speaking inmates, who do not receive adequate legal assistance."

SCOTUS, however, decided "that while prisoners have the right to pursue a legal claim, they don’t have an abstract, freestanding right to a law library."

Even after the ruling, "New York required its county jails to maintain a supply of legal reference materials, such as various chapters of New York State Consolidated Laws and case law digests."

But with the recent recession and budget cuts, "New York has decided that the law library is an unaffordable luxury. New York’s prison commission is proposing to relax the regulation and allow county-run prisons to shutter their libraries. The prisons would still be required to provide access to law materials — such as electronic or photocopying services — but they wouldn’t have to keep actual books on hand inside the facility." New York also wants to dispense with prison typewriters.

Although I take some issue with the decision in Lewis v. Casey, I can't find much wrong with New York's proposed regulation under the law. Because the prison will still be required to provide electronic access to materials, the prison is, in effect, bringing the county law libraries into the 21st Century. As long as the prisoners still have access to the laws governing their sentence in some format (and proper training to use the electronic databases), then the prisoners can still work on their cases. No harm, no foul.

It's not like an academic law library where many of the materials need to be saved for historical purposes. Also, the county prison law libraries are not required to collect monographs that are only available in print, so the prisoners are not losing out on resources that they would otherwise have access to.

WSJ -- New York Is Shelving Its Prison Law Libraries

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Charleston School Of Law Sold To InfiLaw?

InsideHigherEd ran the following post on yesterday's blog:

"Alumni and students of the Charleston School of Law are angry over rumors that the for-profit law school will be sold to the InfiLaw System, which operates three other for-profit law schools, The Post and Courier reported. The Charleston School of Law has not confirmed that a sale is imminent, but did announce last week that it had signed a "management services agreement" with InfiLaw that the law school said would improve the quality of programs at Charleston. But Kathleen Chewning, president of the Charleston School of Law Alumni Association, said that her members and students were concerned because they believe their law school is perceived as having more quality than those owned by InfiLaw. InfiLaw declined to comment, and its webpage says only that an "important announcement" is coming soon."

According to The Post and Courier, "InfiLaw currently owns three other law schools: Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law and Phoenix School of Law."

When asked about the sale of the Charleston School of Law to the InfiLaw System, Charleston Mayor Riley said "he didn't think students and graduates needed to be alarmed because the school, which always has been a for-profit operation, still will be the Charleston School of Law."

I suppose Mayor Riley has a point. What's the big deal about one for-profit institution purchasing another? It would be much more jarring if Charleston School of Law was a non-profit institution bought by a for-profit company. On some levels, this even makes sense. Now the Charleston School of Law's students will have access to all of the resources within the InfiLaw System.

I still do not understand the for-profit higher education system. There are competing interests -- the focus cannot totally be on the students when the shareholders are involved. Also, using federal monies to finance the education of students at a for-profit institution seems outlandish.

And I'm not the only one who thinks this way. "Attorneys general from more than a dozen states, including Massachusetts, are pushing Congress to restrict federal funding to for-profit colleges, which face growing complaints that they often leave students with piles of debt but not enough training to find high-paying jobs. '[The] bill will ensure that scarce federal education dollars are used to educate students rather than to finance marketing campaigns and recruitment operations at schools more focused on making a profit than assisting students,' said Attorney General Martha Coakley of Massachusetts."

Monday, July 29, 2013

'Creative' DUI Attorney Business Cards

Business cards are an essential part of networking for any attorney. And some attorneys are finding ways to make their business cards more memorable.

Take the following examples from two DUI attorneys:

This solo practitioner does DUI cases. On the side, he works as a server in a local watering hole. Instead of passing out traditional business cards, he passes out two-sided drink coasters.
 Bottle opener metal business card for a DUI attorney.

I understand the need to make an impression, but these DUI attorney business cards feel a bit like a conflict of interest. The attorneys are promoting alcohol consumption while offering their DUI legal services. It's especially troublesome for the solo practitioner who doubles as a bartender handing out business card drink coasters. This attorney could be directly responsible for over-serving a patron and then trying to benefit from it.

It would be interesting to see how much business has improved since they initiated the use of these business cards.

ABA Journal -- 9 creative lawyer business cards

Friday, July 26, 2013

Join Scribes Today!

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers. I've blogged about their helpful resources here and here.

As a member of Scribes, I get weekly tips sent directly to my email. I have been reminded of important writing concepts through these tips, and I have learned new things, too. The tips cover topics from writing, grammar, and research. If you become a member of Scribes, you will also receive these tips.

One of my favorite tips, and one that I lecture about in Scholarly Writing, is that pronouns should agree in number and gender. I provided the tip below so that you can get a taste of what you will receive if you join.

DATE:  June 25, 2013

Grammar Tip No. 2:   Pronouns. A pronoun is a word that refers to a noun and can stand in its place. A pronoun lets you refer to the same person, place, thing, or idea without using the same noun every time.

WITHOUT PRONOUNS: Sam wondered if Sam should research the cases for Sam's brief.

WITH PRONOUNS: Sam wondered if he should research the cases for his brief.

Every pronoun must have an antecedent and must agree with that antecedent in number and gender.

Agreement in Number
If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural. If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must be singular.

EXAMPLE: The judge wears his robes many times each week. (Since the wordjudge is singular, the pronoun that refers to the word is also singular.) If the sentence read: "The judge wears their robes many times each week," the reader would be looking back for the other judges.
EXAMPLE: The married couple believe that their cat was slightly peculiar. (Because a married couple is two people, the pronoun referring to the couple must be plural.)

Many writers want to avoid using his or her so they may start the sentence in the singular, get to the place the pronoun will appear and insert their without returning to conform the beginning of the sentence. As an example: "No one knew which judgewould be assigned. Their judicial demeanor would be important to the outcome."   This grammatical error slows down the reader and reflects badly on the writer.

Agreement in Gender
A pronoun must match its antecedent in gender. If the antecedent is feminine, the pronouns sheher, and hers should be used, and if it is masculine, the pronouns he,him, and his should be used. Plural pronouns (theythemtheir, and theirs) refer to plural nouns of either gender.

EXAMPLE: The attorney's father was embarrassed by his son.
The judge's mother thinks her son is cute.
The attorney's aunts took pictures of their nephew when he was sworn in.
The judge's law clerks enjoy watching their judge in court.

The words everybodyanybodyanyoneeachneithernobodysomeone, a person, etc. are singular and take singular pronouns.
Everybody ought to do his or her best. (NOT: their best)
Neither of the women brought her toothbrush to court. (NOT: their toothbrushes)

Antecedents with Conjunctions
When singular antecedents are joined by and, use a plural pronoun to refer to them.
EXAMPLE: Partners Harry and Alice are uncertain about their new associate.
When antecedents are joined by or and nor, use the pronoun required by the last antecedent.
EXAMPLES: The law clerks or the judge checked the cases cited in her opinion.
The bailiff or the law clerks did their duty and made sure the water pitchers were full.

Pronouns Should Always Have Clear Antecedents
Because a pronoun refers back to a noun and substitutes for that noun, the reader has to know which noun. 

Here are some quizzes and further materials on this subject:

To receive these wonderful tips, as well as The Scrivener and The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, become a member of Scribes today!!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What Does A (Law) Librarian Do?

Librarians sometimes find themselves in a crisis of identity. As a profession, we have been criticized for failing to promote what we do effectively. And it's important to promote what we do so that others see the value in our work.

Even as an early undergraduate student, I had no idea that librarians are required to hold a master's degree. For what? To check books in and out. Which was my public perception of librarians. Then I had a librarian instruct one of my political science classes on how to use library resources to research, and let's just say, I had an epiphany. I also have this occur each term as I instruct law students to perform legal research. I constantly get comments like, "how did you get so good at research?" Or "you make research look so easy." It feels good to get these comments because it means that I am adding value to their education, and the students may see librarians in a new light for the very first time in their graduate program.

So, what exactly does a law librarian do? It varies because a law librarian could work for a law firm where he or she is expected to perform legal research for attorneys. Or a law librarian could work for a law school where, instead of performing research for attorneys, he or she might perform research for faculty and teach law students how to do their own research. Even within a law school, there are different types of librarians. A law school will generally have a systems librarian -- meaning that the librarian takes care of the digital end of the library (online catalog, patron records, etc...).

The law school will also have reference librarians who instruct research sessions and perform reference desk duties, but the job varies from there. The librarian might also do collection development to help choose the materials that the library should own/lease/borrow or many other things. For a wide-variety of job descriptions, see the American Association of Law Libraries' (AALL) website at For most of the positions, a law degree is also required (in addition to the master's).

Just to give you an idea of a typical month for me, here is a recap of one of my monthly reports:
- 52 hours of reference
- 12 hours of office reference (emails to me, students visiting my office)
- 27 hours of liaison research (faculty research, legal publication work)
- 25 hours of outreach services (writing book reviews, giving tours, attending open houses)
- 27 hours of teaching/prep
- 11 hours of collection development
- 3 hours of professional development (webinars, reading)

The beauty of being a law librarian is that the research changes constantly, which adds new challenges, and it never gets boring (contrary to public perception). And just so you know how cool librarians are, check out 30 Things Librarians Love.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Practice Law With A Full-Time Job

I ran across this blog post on FindLaw the other day that discusses tips for practicing law part-time while working a full-time day job.

It caught my eye because it's exactly what I do. By day, I am a law librarian. It's my passion and the reason I went to law school and library school. But, I am a licensed attorney, too. I find that that practicing law helps me keep my skills up and aids in my ability to help law students, attorneys, and pro se patrons with legal research and the various resources that I find helpful for particular causes of action.

The Findlaw blog's tips for part-time law practice with a day job are as follows:
1. Schedule Flexibility
2. Competency
3. Openness With Clients
4. Picking the Right Clients
5. Motivation

As for my own experience, I try not to let my jobs interfere with each other at all. This is out of respect for my employer. This is one of the reasons that I mainly do estate planning because I do not have to attend court during the normal hours of 9-5 (just as the author noted). If I do take on a case where I have to attend court, I use one of my personal leave days and set a schedule with the court that works with my library schedule. Courts are willing to work with attorneys for scheduling purposes to an extent.

Competency is a major one, which is why I try to choose practice areas where I have had some formal training. Like I mentioned before, I stick mainly to estate planning for its flexibility, but also because I was in an estate planning clinic in law school where I had actual clients. I also do family law because I worked at a state agency while in law school that oversees family courts in Michigan, so I am very familiar with the area. This doesn't mean I won't step out of my comfort zone, as I have represented clients in DUI matters. But I had to do a lot of research in the area. And I couldn't be afraid to use the court as a resource, as well as some of my other attorney friends.

All of my clients are well aware of my day job as a law librarian, and each client has been very flexible. This goes hand-in-hand with picking the right clients. I perform nearly all of my legal work pro bono, so my clients are more willing to work with my schedule.

My main motivation for practicing law is to keep my skills up, so I can teach law students effectively. As I stated earlier, practicing helps with librarianship, too. I'm not in it to get rich, but it does feel nice to use my degree and license that I sacrificed heavily for (and still pay for).

There you have it. Here are a couple of examples of people with full-time day jobs successfully practicing law part-time. It can be done.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

And In Other Legal Ed. Reform - Schools Consider June LSAT & IBR Swap

If you took the LSAT in June 2013, you may be able to use your score for admission into law school this fall. "Eager to beef up admissions, at least 25 law schools have announced they will consider scores from the June LSAT for fall admissions."

Generally, the June LSAT is taken by prospective law students hoping to get a jump on admissions for the following year. The February test is usually the last test used for fall admissions.

"Among the schools considering June scores are the University of Alabama School of Law, ranked No. 21 by U.S. News & World Report, and the University of North Carolina School of Law, ranked No. 31."

And if your June LSAT is strong enough to get you into the fall admission process, there may also be a new way to finance your legal education.

American University tax law professor Benjamin Leff is suggesting another way to finance a law school education—through an 'income-based rate swap.'

"The idea: Students would still borrow to finance their education from a bank or the federal government. But the law school would then contract with students to make loan payments, and the students would agree to pay the school a percentage of their income over time. The IBR Swap is a student’s exchange of a fixed obligation to lenders for an income-based obligation to the school."

Commenters suggest that Leff’s plan would give law schools an incentive to find good jobs for their students. So the schools will be on the hook for the amount that the student doesn't pay back before he or she dies? Something tells me that this won't take off. But nice try putting your thinking cap on!

ABA Journal -- Law schools hope to beef up admissions by considering June LSAT takers

ABA Journal -- Prof offers alternative to traditional law school loans: Structure a swap transaction

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing With A Co-Author

I am about to undertake a writing project with not just one co-author but several, so I was especially interested in Bryan A. Garner's recent article '7 steps for producing top-notch text with a co-author' in the ABA Journal.

Here are Garner's 7 steps:
1. Canvass the existing literature.
2. Write out your main propositions.
3. Arrange your propositions into categories, and put those categories into a sensible order.
4. Ideally, co-authors should write the same parts of the manuscript simultaneously.
5. Have one team member meld the two versions into one.
6. Spend plenty of time revising the draft, amplifying here and diminishing there.
7. Reconsider everything.

For my team's paper, we will have a bit of a historical section on how technology has transformed collection development, so we will definitely have to canvass existing literature. Lucky for us, there has been quite a bit written on this topic.

Our paper, however, is more of a narrative of our experience, so the propositions portion will morph into a look at how we arrived at this point in our collection management. We will arrange our experiences in a logical outline.

My team will likely break up our paper into sections and have each author write a separate portion of the paper, which will be easier to do once we have a solid outline. This also means that we will not write the same portions of the paper simultaneously. There are downsides to this, as we will not be able to choose from the better version.

I really like the idea of having one team member edit the versions of the paper. This allows the paper to flow as one. Sometimes editing is a matter of style, and this will ensure that the paper does not have conflicting styles.

One thing I tell my Scholarly Writing students, and something I will have to keep in mind myself, is that we cannot be afraid to dump entire portions of the paper if we find that they do not fit. This may be even more challenging with multiple authors because the team will not want to offend.

If you are writing a persuasive piece the advice about writing out and arranging propositions and reconsidering everything is of utmost importance. You want to make sure that what you are persuading makes sense and can stand up to scrutiny. For a narrative piece, these parts are much less important, as we are merely telling of our experience and not trying to persuade that we are right or wrong.

I am excited to co-author a piece, and any author that might be in a similar situation should definitely take Garner's 7 steps seriously. After all, the man does know what he is talking about. He has successfully co-authored several books with one of the (seemingly) grumpiest Supreme Court Justices of all time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Law Professor & Labor Economist Write 'The Economic Value of a Law Degree'

A recently released paper titled “The Economic Value of a Law Degree,” found that a law degree on average had $1 million in value.

This may surprise some of you who have kept up to date on the barrage against law schools within the last few years.

The paper looks at what a law school graduate can expect to earn from a law degree. The authors, Michael Simkovic, a law professor, and Frank McIntyre, a labor economist, find that the mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is approximately $53,300 a year, and that the average pretax value of a law degree over a lifetime was $1 million. In other words, the average law school graduate can expect to earn about one million dollars more than if they had not gone to law school.

Some commenters noted that this might be more of an outlier because a few attorneys make a lot of money, where most of us, in relation, do not. But the authors also found that median additional lifetime earnings for those with a law degree were $610,000. That means half of law school graduates made more and half less than this amount over their lifetime. So even at the 25th percentile, lifetime additional earnings were $350,000.

The bright side of all of this money talk is that earnings for 75 percent of law school graduates easily exceeded the amount of tuition paid, even with tuition at about $50,000 a year. The authors also found that the median law degree holder earned 60 percent more than the median college graduate. So you can still go to law school, make a decent living, and pay back all of that tuition -- great news! With empirical evidence.

Another interesting point from the paper is the cyclical nature of the legal market. This study steps outside the current climate to look at data over a period of decades. Since only 2 percent of a law school graduate’s lifetime earnings come in the first year after graduation, the longer term is arguably a better measure; looking at current employment rates is only one part of that picture. This also goes to the notion that lawyers are generally happier the longer that they practice.

The real question is whether the current low of the legal market will persist. Some argue that technology has changed the legal market for good.

As for the argument that technology has changed everything in the legal market, here's a quote in a study from the Harvard Law Review in 1901, decrying modern technology by stating, “[t]he stenographer and the typewriter have monopolized what was his work … and he sits outside of the business tide.”

This quote from over 100 years ago shows that claiming change is afoot – bringing obsolescence and wholesale disruption in the law market – is a century-old phenomenon. The question is whether this time is different. And we see the same thing in librarianship. There are articles over 100 years old announcing the end of libraries and the print book. Librarians are asking ourselves the same question, will this time be different?

However, both professions will thrive if the members of the profession can continue to adapt to change -- and stop going at a snail's pace.

NYTimes -- Debating, Yet Again, the Worth of Law School

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bar Study In Paradise

Aww, what a quaint NYTimes article about studying for the bar exam in an exotic locale.

"For generations of law school graduates, summer has often been an illusory concept, one replaced by long days spent in airless study halls or makeshift classrooms practicing mind-numbing rote memorization in preparation for the high-stakes bar exam in late July, a time when most of their friends are enjoying backyard barbecues or lazy afternoons at the beach.

But a lost summer no longer has to mean a nonsummer, as many bar students are starting to discover. Many Type A lawyer hopefuls are finding ways to make the best of a stressful situation by holing up at beach houses, having bar review courses live-streamed to vacation spots like Paris or Thailand, or even, in one extreme example, absorbing lessons by headphones from a table at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas."

This 'trend' of going anywhere in the world to study has been made possible by the Internet. "In the last five years, prep courses have migrated online, said Lew Olowski, the New York director of Themis Bar Review. So students can study at their own pace from far-flung locales, escaping the grind physically as well as mentally."

I suppose I am envious of these students who knew well enough to use this time to reach the far corners of the world for what is likely to be the last time for a long while. New associates (if the graduates are lucky enough to land an associate gig) don't get a lot of time off. My bar study looked more like this: work three jobs to keep a roof over my head, 'self study' because I couldn't afford a bar review course, and take five master's courses toward my master's degree in library and information science. I say 'self study' because I was too busy working said job and taking those five master's courses to get much studying done. Luckily this was when Michigan had an 80% passage rate, and my law school prepared me sufficiently to pass without much studying -- something that would be all but impossible today.

To all of you out there in the library doing the traditional grind, good luck within the next couple of weeks. To all of you studying on the beach, the same good luck to you, but you might have a bit more of a shock once that whole 'real world' thing starts back up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Studies Show That Judges Prefer Plain English

There's been a movement toward plain English for years, but some attorneys have not been persuaded to drop legalese -- probably out of tradition. But "the best and most persuasive arguments are those presented in plain English, with well-organized headings and sections, and presented in as few words as possible."

For those attorneys who still think that legalese somehow sets them apart from the rest of society, there are empirical studies that show that judges prefer plain English. The first study dates back to 1986. It was done by Professor Robert W. Benson and Dr. Joan B. Kessler, Esq. The study’s findings are nicely summarized in the final paragraph:

"It appears that lawyers run substantial risks when writing documents in traditional legalese, even when the intended audience for those documents consists entirely of judges and their aides. Lawyers who write in legalese are likely to have their work judged as unpersuasive and substantively weak. Perhaps even more worrisome for these lawyers personally is the finding that their own professional credentials may be judged less credible.”

From an updated study done in 2010 by practicing attorney Sean Flammer, it was found that 64% of judges preferred plain English.

"Both studies surveyed sitting judges. Both say the same thing: English beats Legalese."

So we have studies that confirm that the plain English movement that started over 30 years ago beats legalese. Of the 34% of judges who preferred legalese in the 2010 Flammer study, I wonder how many of those judges are old timers who hold onto tradition for the sake of tradition? If we were to survey the judges just three years later, I bet that the percentage toward plain English would be even higher. The forefathers of the plain English movement should be proud. They have promoted plain English and persuaded the legal field to adopt a new way of writing for the betterment of the entire profession. For the legalese tradition that has been in place for hundreds of years to be replaced by plain English in a matter of a generation is pretty impressive.

Findlaw -- Studies Show Judges Hate Legalese; So Do We

Legal Writing Editor -- You Think Anybody Likes Legalese?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Rejection In Scholarly Publishing

Let's say that you performed a preemption check, wrote a wonderful scholarly article, and went through the various strategies to get it published. And let's say you've received numerous rejections. You're asking yourself, what's the deal. Did you write a bad article? Maybe. But it's more likely due to many factors that are outside of your control.

In 2008, there was a comprehensive study published regarding the article selection process for law reviews and journals. This process looked at factors in selection, including:

  • The article fills gaps in the literature
  • The article provides enough background explanation so that one not familiar with the particular field can understand the relevant issues
  • The topic has been discussed in the news in the past year
  • Articles on similar topics have not been published in the journal recently
  • The topic is considered to be controversial
  • The draft version of the article has been frequently downloaded from SSRN
  • The article is less than 20,000 words

Okay, so those are fairly objective criteria. But the study goes on to mention many author-specific factors that are used in the selection process, including:
  • The author is highly influential in her respective field
  • The author has published frequently in highly ranked law reviews
  • The author is employed at a highly ranked law school
  • The author has a large number of previous publications
  • The author has practice experience related to the manuscript submitted
  • The author has teaching experience related to the manuscript submitted
  • The author is only submitting the article to a limited number of journals
  • The author has a current offer of publication from a highly ranked law review
  • The author has a legal graduate degree (LLM/JSD)
  • The author is a female or racial minority

This can be daunting for a new legal academic or law student who probably cannot meet many of the author-specific criteria used for article selection. "Rejections are a dirty secret among academics. Publication successes are cause for celebration, or at least a proud listing on C.V.s and departmental lists. Failures — rejected papers — are usually hidden and sometimes a source of shame. The result is that many scholars, especially junior ones, have unrealistic expectations."

However, with so many legal publications out there, if you try hard enough, you will succeed at getting published. "Persistence in seeking publication in a journal has two main steps. The first — the hardest for many — is initially submitting a paper. The second step occurs after a rejection: persistence is a matter of considering the comments from the editor and referees, making changes if desired, finding another journal and sending off the paper. It’s quite straightforward, requiring work to be sure, but seldom an intellectual challenge."

"Persistence is not about hitting your head against a brick wall when there is no chance of breaking through. It is about developing a capacity to judge your own work, making a considered judgment about what to do next, and then actually doing it. Most of all it is about being willing to fail, learning from the experience, and trying again."

InsideHigherEd -- Learning to love rejection

Monday, July 15, 2013

Join The Army To Pay Off Law School Debt

It's good to keep your options open, right? And joining the Army may just be a good option for some of the recent law graduates who haven't been able to find a job. Especially when 85% of law school graduates graduate with $100,000 in student loan debt. 

Take one, Thomas McGregor, for example. McGregor graduated in 2008 from the University of St. Thomas law school in Minnesota with $108,000 in student loans.

McGregor passed the Minnesota state bar and was sworn in as an attorney in late October 2008. He was convinced he'd get a good job right away, circulating his resume and taking an unpaid internship at a legal aid clinic. But McGregor did not land a good job, and later that year, he went back to work for his family's roofing distribution business, where he had worked every summer for 13 years. He was licensed to practice law, but he was driving a forklift and managing roofing material orders for $15 an hour, no benefits.

After several months of job hunting, and with the threat of a deeper recession looming, McGregor decided to enlist in the Army. As McGregor put it, "I paid off $108,000 of law school loan debt. All I had to do was put my life on the line."

McGregor was able to trim his private loan interest rates to 6% with the help of the Soldier Relief Act, which caps interest rates while soldiers serve. And the Army College Loan Repayment Program paid down $65,000 of his loans. The rest he paid off just using his Army salary. He was free of debt by 2012. And he enjoyed the Army so much that he decided to stay.

It's a pretty impressive feat to be able to pay off over $100,000 in debt in just four years. I find it interesting that this story is backwards from the stories you generally hears about people joining the service. Usually, it is the rural poor, for example, that join the service to escape poverty and work toward a college degree with the GI Bill. It's not generally a well-educated lawyer who decides that the Army is his only option. But, again, I suppose it's good to have options.

CNN Money -- I risked my life to pay off $108,000 in student loans

Friday, July 12, 2013

Law School Merit Scholarship "Bait & Switch"

The problem: Students are promised merit scholarships to 'bait' them to attend a particular law school. The students are told that they will continue to receive their merit scholarships if they maintain a B or better. Since law school grading is on a curve, it is not mathematically feasible for all of the students who came in with merit scholarships to maintain a B or better. Many students end up losing the merit scholarships ('switch') that persuaded them to attend that particular law school in the first place. 

After a New York Times article brought this information to light, the ABA decided to look into scholarship retention rates. Yay! proactive legal education reform.
University of St. Thomas law professor Jerry Organ analyzed website statistics for 140 ABA-accredited schools that offered conditional scholarships for entering students in 2011. He published his findings in this paper.
"The average retention rate for scholarships across these 140 schools was 69 percent, Organ found. Twenty-six law schools had retention rates of 90 percent or better, while eight law schools had retention rates of less than 40 percent.
Among all the accredited law schools with merit-based scholarships, these 25 schools had the worst retention rates for entering students in 2011:
Akron (21%)
St. Mary’s (21%)
Howard (24%)
St. Thomas in Florida (24%)
Texas Wesleyan (28%)
George Mason (32%)
Rutgers-Camden (32%)
Barry (39%)
Florida A&M (40%)
Santa Clara (40%)
Chicago-Kent (42%)
Pacific-McGeorge (42%)
Catholic (43%)
Charlotte (43%)
Arkansas Fayetteville (44%)
Western State University (45%)
UNLV (46%)
Brooklyn (47%)
Chapman (48%)
Hofstra (49%)
Idaho (49%)
Seattle (49%)
Golden Gate (50%)
John Marshall (50%)
Texas Southern (50%)
These schools, on the other hand, had 100 percent retention rates: UCLA, University of Minnesota, Emory, University of Arizona, University of Colorado, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Oregon, Stetson, Vermont, Liberty and South Dakota.
These schools had retention rates at or above 90 percent and below 100 percent: University of Texas, George Washington, Washington and Lee, Georgia, William & Mary, University of Maryland, Ohio State, Baylor, Cardozo, Syracuse, CUNY, William Mitchell, Appalachian and Elon."
This is another chance for students to do their homework about which law school they will attend. If you are offered admission with a hefty merit scholarship at Akron (21%) and also offered admission to Vermont (100%) with a lesser merit scholarship, you might decide to attend Vermont because the chances of retaining your merit scholarship are greater.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Secrets Of Happiness In The Legal Field

Recent findings from a long-term survey of attorneys' careers finds that "[m]oney and prestige aren’t key to career satisfaction. Instead, work satisfaction is more closely related to the law grads’ perceptions of the social value of their work and the quality of their relations with co-workers and superiors, according to the study author, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers."

From the abstract of the paper, the authors note that "on the whole, women practitioners are somewhat more satisfied than men – since it appears that, in general, women place a higher priority than men finding employment in settings where the work (as they view it) has comparatively high social value and where they are likely to have especially good relations with coworkers."

It also appears that the longer attorneys practice, the more satisfied they are with their careers. "With just a few exceptions, the longer lawyers had been out of law school, the more satisfied they were overall with their careers. At the extremes, 83 percent of those who graduated 45 years before, but only 46 percent of five-year grads, reported themselves quite positive overall. The finding is consistent with research finding that older workers in general, and older lawyers in particular, are more satisfied than younger workers and lawyers."

So the secrets of a happy legal career are 1) find social value in your work, 2) get along with your coworkers and superiors, 3) be a woman, and 4) practice for a long period of time.

In all seriousness, these are good things for new attorneys to consider. Try to find work that has social value (even if you make less money). It may be rough in the early years, but the longer you keep at it, the happier you'll be. And be pleasant at work and get along with the people that you have to spend a large majority of your life with.

ABAJournal -- Want career satisfaction? Don't chase money and prestige, lawyer survey suggests

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Law Faculty Argues It's Shortsighted To Decrease Faculty

Yesterday, there was an article in the NYTimes written by a tenured law prof about the need for academic freedom and how cutting faculty in the face of budget woes is not the answer.

In part, "[t]here are better ways to shrink a law school budget. The size of the tenure-track faculty can shrink by retirement and attrition, not involuntary termination. Post-tenure review (by faculty, not administrators) can ensure that faculty members remain productive. Libraries can be moved online. Clinics can be closed, and adjunct faculty can be better utilized to team-teach practical courses alongside research faculty."

I decided to respond to this article and stand up for libraries and clinics because these components, along with the faculty, make up the core of a legal education.

Here is my response:
"Law librarian here. Of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form. That figure includes access via proprietary, commercial services like Westlaw and LexisNexis. If law libraries go all online, the legal academe would lose out on many of the very works that tenured faculty produce (then, you could ask, what's the need for faculty?).

And close clinics? In favor of Socratic lectures? The hands-on legal experience that comes from a clinical setting is invaluable to new attorneys now that firms are no longer willing to mentor.

There are no easy decisions, here, but to serve up the heart of a good legal education is not the answer."

I am aware that drastic changes must be made. I am not opposed to some law school libraries going all online if we have a consortium agreement in place where there are still a few libraries archiving and sharing the print resources that would otherwise be lost. But how do we decide which schools should support the cost of maintaining a print library, and how do we compel those libraries to share?

I also think that we are beyond the need for many of the perqs associated with a professorship, and those types of things should be looked at closely before other extreme budget-cutting measures take place. There may have once been a need to offer additional perqs to attract and retain good talent, but those days are over.

Ultimately, I keep asking myself, should we reform legal education to more of a vocational school without the need for big, beautiful libraries, tenured professors, etc...? Or is this only the answer for the law schools outside of the top 25, and we create a two-tiered system of legal education? Or do we just keep on keeping on?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Law Schools' Reaction To Drop In Enrollment

It looks like market forces are starting to drive a serious drop in enrollment for law schools. From the Law School Admission Counsel's (LSAC) website:

"As of 06/28/13, there are 380,429 Fall 2013 applications submitted by 57,772 applicants. Applicants are down 12.9% and applications are down 18.3% from 2012. Last year at this time, we had 98% of the preliminary final applicant count."

So what does this mean for law schools? There have been numerous instances of law schools cutting staff/faculty or compensation within the last few weeks.

Seton Hall Law School has cut faculty compensation by 10% and has given notice to all untenured faculty of possible termination with the 2014-2015 academic year.  The school says expenses will determine whether that is necessary.

Vermont School of Law is eliminating 21.4% of its full-time tenure track faculty positions.  He bases these figures on four tenure/tenure track faculty have gone from full to part-time.  Two more left the school with their positions eliminated.  The full-time faculty has been further reduced when four members went from full to part-time.

Florida Coastal School of Law has laid off about a dozen employees based on a drop in enrollment.  The school noted that a limited number of faculty members were leaving voluntarily and will not be replaced.

McGeorge School of Law is reducing its class size and its staff.  The staff reduction started off as a voluntary severance plan.  The school nonetheless was forced to lay off several staff members.

I feel conflicted about these things. I have friends who have been hit hard by the tough legal market after law school because of the imbalance of supply and demand. But I've also read articles that it's not a glut of attorneys that is the problem, rather it's the gap in areas that are served -- namely rural areas. There are areas of legal education that need reform, but the recent actions of laws schools are reactive instead of proactive. Now the law schools will have to do more with less, which doesn't bode well for a proactive approach to legal education reform.

Law Librarian Blog -- Law School Downsizing In The News

Monday, July 8, 2013

Recent Fair Use Decisions In Favor of Libraries and Higher Ed.

The Google Books scanning project continues in litigation after the Second Circuit ruled "that the class certification of authors in the Google Book scanning case was improper." It appears that the Second Circuit believes that the Google Books project should be decided on fair use grounds. "[W]e believe that the resolution of Google’s fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues, including those regarding the commonality of plaintiffs’ injuries, the typicality of their claims, and the predominance of common questions of law or fact."

The Second Circuit was likely swayed by the recent decisions in the HathiTrust, Georgia State, and UCLA cases. Each of these cases found for fair use in the library and higher education settings. The HathiTrust opinion "along with the Georgia State electronic reserves opinion and the UCLA streaming video opinion seem to show a favorable legal pattern that colleges and universities making technological uses of copyrighted works for educational purposes are not violating the law."

To understand the transformative/fair use issue, it is important to understand what HathiTrust does. HathiTrust is "[a] consortium of universities [that] operate the HathiTrust Digital Library (HDL), including the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University. Google partnered with these universities in 2005 to scan millions of books in these universities’ libraries and to make “snippets” of those books available online via Google’s search engine.  After Google scanned each book, it provided a digital image and a text version of the book to the library that owned the original.  In turn, the libraries contributed the files to the HDL, which uses them for three purposes:
  • full-text searches
  • preservation
  • access for people with certified print disabilities
According to the Authors Guild, this process created two unlawful copies of the original and, therefore, violated copyright.  The Authors Guild sued the HathiTrust in 2011.

While the judge did not rule that all scanning for every purpose by universities should be considered fair use, he instead focused on the transformative nature of the libraries' use [-- basically that the electronic search capability was transformative enough (especially for those with disabilities) to be considered fair use]. Overall the opinion offers an analysis of and an insight into fair use that should be helpful to higher education when evaluating potential digitization projects in fulfillment of its teaching and research mission."

These three cases, collectively, serve to ease the minds of educators that the information that we provide to our students will likely be considered fair use under United States Copyright Law.

However, even though Google Books significantly transforms written works to be fully searchable (and arguably more useful) in a database, Google Books differs from the three cases above because Google Books is a commercial database and is not used exclusively for education. When the lower court reconsiders Google Books, this will likely be a heavy factor in the fair use defense claimed by Google.

Educause -- The HathiTrust Case and Appeal: Fair Use and Technology

Friday, July 5, 2013

United States Snail Mail Monitoring Program

This seems odd, especially due to the financial woes of the United States Postal Service, but the "U.S. Postal Service photocopies the envelopes of all mail sent in this country, the New York Times reports."

What isn't known is how long the government saves the images of the 160 billion or so pieces of mail sent annually, or exactly how they are stored and used. But scanning 160 billion images and the time and additional manpower needed to store and retrieve those documents has to be prohibitively expensive -- not to mention an invasion of privacy.

"The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program had been secret, but was revealed by the FBI last month in discussing an investigation of ricin-tainted letters reportedly sent to President Barack Obama and New York City's mayor, among others."

“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” Mark D. Rasch told the newspaper. He previously served as director of the federal Justice Department’s computer crime unit.

“Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ " Rasch said. "Essentially, you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

The USPS is a government entity, so I'm not sure what I expected in terms of privacy. It does seem, however, that no communication is completely free from government intrusion these days.

ABA Journal -- Post office photocopies envelopes of all mail sent in the US, says NYTimes

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Online Tracking & Attorney/Client Privilege

It's been confirmed that we are being tracked. The metadata from our cell phone conversations and our Internet searches is being watched by the NSA for terrorist activity. We are surely still trying to figure out the legal implications of this, and in the legal world, the attorney/client privilege comes to mind.

From the abstract of  a 2011 Virgin Journal of Law & Technology article:
Attorney-client privilege, work-product protection, and the attorney’s ethical requirement to protect confidentiality of client information are at risk  from commercial surveillance of online activity. Behavioral advertising, data aggregation and sale, and government access to commercially assembled profiles have been denounced as threats to privacy and confidentiality interests, but the harm to attorney and client confidentiality is of particular concern. As the legal research and broader information industries shift from print materials to services on the internet, attorneys cannot simply avoid the online environment to protect confidentiality. This article examines the risk from tracking of online legal research and draws two conclusions: 1) Lawyers must take reasonable precautions to protect confidentiality of internet-based research; and 2) Reasonable precautions are elusive due to the constant evolution of tracking technologies and practices, so attorneys should work collectively to update best practices and to evaluate and influence online industry activities so that the time-honored confidential nature of legal representation can be preserved.

This article appeared in 2011 and discusses data tracking for commercial purposes. But attorneys need to be ever more cautious with the confirmed data collection by the government, especially because metadata is currently the least protected form of communication information. Can the government draw conclusions about your legal research in terms of a client's guilt or innocence? It remains to be seen.

In my opinion, one thing is certain: attorneys need to advocate for the greater protection of metadata to effectively protect their clients and the attorney/client privilege. Instead of the law following technology, we need to be on the forefront and preempt any state intrusion into our metadata for improper purposes.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Should Professors Assign Their Own Textbooks?

When I was a student, I remember feeling that something wasn't quite right about my professors assigning an expensive textbook that they had written. At the time, I didn't know where the money went or how the price was calculated, but I suspected that the professors were making additional money over and above the salaried compensation that my high tuition was helping to pay for.

The practice of professors assigning their own textbook started during my first year of undergrad and continued throughout my graduate degrees. It became so commonplace that whatever reservations I had about the practice seemed to be outweighed by the fact that it was widely accepted.

But I recently ran across a post on InsideHigherEd about the ethics of professors adopting their own textbooks for their classes.

"Does having a financial interest in the book mean it cannot be adopted? No. But it does mean that, for one’s own institution, when a professor assigns (or a committee selects) a book in which there is a financial interest, royalties should be foregone to avoid both the appearance, and the actual, conflict of interest.  This can be achieved by, ideally, offering the book at a reduced price (easy to calculate, as royalties are a percentage); by having the publisher deduct royalties for that portion of sales at payment time; or, if self-published as print-on-demand, by offering the book at cost."

This seems like a good middle ground. Many professors write their own textbooks because they are frustrated with what is available, so there should not be an outright ban on the ability to adopt their own textbook. But it makes sense for professors to forego royalties gained at their own institution to avoid a conflict of interest.

If the textbook is truly a great book, then it is likely that other schools with adopt it, and the professors can still make full royalties from other schools. This means that the incentive to create great work is still there.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Law Reviews Born Digital Pt. 3: Archiving Best Practices On a Shoestring Budget

I would like to start out by saying that Benjamin J. Keele is the man! He is a Research and Instructional Services Librarian at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney's School of Law, and he takes an active interest in legal periodicals as the liaison to IU's three law journals. He is also an accomplished scholar, and I have learned so much from his scholarship.

I sent Ben an email to get his advice about what my law journals should consider when contemplating a move to go all digital. His response covered all of my concerns -- budget constraints, hardware/software implications, law review turnover, and sending to third parties (LOC, Wexis, Hein). 

Ben gave me permission to post his email response to this blog to further the discussion of an online-only law journal.

The good news about law journals is that their content is pretty basic: it is almost all text. The formatting and pagination are also fairly easy to maintain. The biggest risk for law journal preservation, in my view, is institutional neglect. These suggestions are off the top of my head, but these are the first things I’d suggest if journals at my school were investigating this.

1.       Assign someone (not a temp or visiting person) to be responsible for maintaining the journal materials. The biggest risk is that the library will just forget about acquiring new journal content or lose track of materials in the collection. Since the journals are unique to your school, I’d think of them as a special collection.

2.       Print two copies of each issue (spring for archival paper). Keep one in your special collections and send the other to the Law Library of Congress to fulfill the journal’s mandatory deposit obligations.

3.       Ask the journals to give the library the source files (probably Microsoft Word or maybe WordPerfect). Save those files and make a plain text version and a PDF/A (PDF Archival—this format embeds the fonts and is an ISO standard for long-term preservation of the text as well as the formatting of a text document). PDF/A is an international standard, and plain text is so simple it will probably always be readable. This protects against the risk that proprietary word processors like Word and WordPerfect eventually change so much that they won’t read a file made 20 years ago.

4.       Post the PDF/A files to whatever web site the law school is providing. Try to make the URLs as simple as possible. The goal is to not have to change the URLs when the law school redesigns its web site (or, second best, make it easy to add redirects to the new URLs).

5.       Save all the files (PDF/A, word processor, and plain text) to two different kinds of media (say, one copy on an external hard drive and one copy on CD). Spot check the files on the media once a year to make sure some files can be read properly, and plan to copy everything over to new media every three years. Give a third copy to journal staff if they want, but don’t count on them alone to keep it safe. Clearly label the content and dates on the media and keep it in an area with controlled access.

6.       Document your policies and procedures and share them with the new editors each year and any administrative support staff. If the person responsible for the journal collection leaves the school, pass on the documentation to the successor.

7.       As an extra service, the library could also keep copies of the online sources that are cited in the articles. Just keeping PDFs of those documents would be better than nothing.

This, I think, should be fairly inexpensive. You’d need Adobe Acrobat for the PDF/A conversion (every school I’ve worked at has at least a few computers with that program) and external hard drives and CDs aren’t very expensive—I’d guess no more than a few hundred dollars total. From a technical standpoint, PDF/A and plain text are as good of bets for long-term viability as I can think of, and checking and replacing the storage media every few years should protect against hardware failure. The archival printing is a final backup in case all the digital material fails. Keeping the library responsible for the collection increases the chances that no one will forget about the materials and they won’t be deleted or thrown out when someone does spring cleaning in a journal office or refreshes the web site.

I’m sure your journals  would want to do this, too, but be sure Hein, Westlaw, Lexis, and whatever other aggregators continue to receive new content to add to their databases.

I can't thank you enough, Ben! These off-the-top-of-your-head suggestions are spot on, and you are a true master in this field. I will continue to contemplate and expand on Ben's suggestions to fit within my own institutional structure, but this has given me an amazing start.