Monday, September 30, 2013

Travel The World Through Reading A Book From Every Country

The BBC recently reported on a woman who made it her goal to read a book from every country around the world because, as she put it, "[her] reading was confined to stories by English-speaking authors."

"At the start of 2012, [she] set the challenge of trying to read a book from every country (well, all 195 UN-recognised states plus former UN member Taiwan) in a year to find out what [she] was missing." To come up with the list, she created a blog called A Year of Reading the World and asked for title suggestions that she could read in English.

Although it was sometimes difficult to come up with titles from other countries that were in English, she said that the effort was worth it. "As I made my way through the planet’s literary landscapes, extraordinary things started to happen. Far from simply armchair travelling, I found I was inhabiting the mental space of the storytellers. In the company of Bhutanese writer Kunzang Choden, I wasn’t simply visiting exotic temples, but seeing them as a local Buddhist would. Transported by the imagination of Galsan Tschinag, I wandered through the preoccupations of a shepherd boy in Mongolia’s Altai Mountains. With Nu Nu Yi as my guide, I experienced a religious festival in Myanmar from a transgender medium’s perspective. In the hands of gifted writers, I discovered, bookpacking offered something a physical traveller could hope to experience only rarely: it took me inside the thoughts of individuals living far away and showed me the world through their eyes."

This is a wonderful idea. If you are a world traveler at heart, you should check out the list at A Year of Reading the World to follow Ann Morgan on her journey.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Google's Constitute -- A Website That Digitizes The World's Constitutions

Google's Official Blog recently announced the creation of Constitute -- a site that digitizes and makes searchable the world's constitutions.

"Constitutions are as unique as the people they govern, and have been around in one form or another for millennia. But did you know that every year approximately five new constitutions are written, and 20-30 are amended or revised? Or that Africa has the youngest set of constitutions, with 19 out of the 39 constitutions written globally since 2000 from the region?"

"In the past, it’s been difficult to access and compare existing constitutional documents and language—which is critical to drafters—because the texts are locked up in libraries or on the hard drives of constitutional experts."

"With this in mind, Google Ideas supported the Comparative Constitutions Project to build Constitute, a new site that digitizes and makes searchable the world’s constitutions. Constitute enables people to browse and search constitutions via curated and tagged topics, as well as by country and year. The Comparative Constitutions Project cataloged and tagged nearly 350 themes, so people can easily find and compare specific constitutional material. This ranges from the fairly general, such as 'Citizenship' and 'Foreign Policy,' to the very specific, such as “Suffrage and turnouts” and 'Judicial Autonomy and Power.'"

This is a great innovation in constitutional law research -- and it's FREE. Thank you Google!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Judges Seem To Side With Google Over Google Books Copyright Issue

The NYTimes reports on the ongoing saga of the Google Books Project. "Google, based in Mountain View, California, has scanned more than 20 million books since its 2004 agreement with libraries worldwide to digitize books."

At issue is the content that has been scanned and put online without the copyright holders' permission. "The Authors Guild and groups representing photographers and graphic artists say the project amounts to massive copyright infringement."

However, "[a] federal judge on Monday appeared to favor Google Inc's legal defense of its digital books project, which could imperil efforts by authors seeking to block it. Google argues the practice constitutes fair use, an exception under U.S. copyright law, because it only provides portions of the works online."

Judge Chin noted that the "question of fair use relies in part on whether the project 'is a benefit to society.' Chin then rattled off several examples of how Google's project has helped people find information, including his own law clerks."

This presupposed the question: "Aren't these transformative uses, and don't they benefit society?" The Authors Guild argued that "the act of copying the books in and of itself violates the law, and copyright holders should at least be compensated. Chin countered by noting examples of people buying books after finding information about them through Google, suggesting the project can boost sales."

Although the case has not been litigated, yet, and Chin did not rule on the issue of fair use, "Chin's criticism of the plaintiffs' arguments echoed that of a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which appeared to be skeptical of the lawsuit in July."

After the recent HathiTrust decision where it was determined that HathiTrust's searchability created a transformative use of the material and fell under fair use, it seems that Google Books is closer to becoming a reality.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Supreme Court Opinions Subject To Link Rot

The NYTimes reported on a fairly new phenomena in Supreme Court jurisprudence -- the case of link rot.

"Supreme Court opinions have come down with a bad case of link rot. According to a new study, 49 percent of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions no longer work. The problem is that "[t]hose citations allow lawyers and scholars to find, understand and assess the court’s evidence and reasoning."

Wow! Nearly half of the hyperlinks no longer work, and the problem is bound to get worse as the links age. "Links in Supreme Court opinions are less likely to work as they get older. But even some recent links are broken. A decision from February, for instance, included a citation to statistics from the Ohio court system; the link leads to a dead end."

Again, this is a fairly new problem. "For most of the Supreme Court’s history, its citations have been to static, permanent sources, typically books. But "[s]ince 1996 justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times, the study found. Those citations are very often ephemeral."

"The Supreme Court has taken modest steps to address the matter. Its opinions note the date each site was last visited, and its clerk keeps a hard copy of those materials. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, could serve as a model. It maintains an electronic archive of what it calls “webcites” in the PDF format."

"Professor Zittrain who teaches law and computer science at Harvard and his colleagues are at work on a more ambitious solution,, a platform built and run by a consortium of law libraries. It allows writers and editors to capture and fix transient information on the Web with a new, permanent link. The project is initially focused on legal scholarship. And there is no reason, Professor Zittrain said, why it could not also work for the Supreme Court."

This is an interesting problem with the transient nature of websites -- especially as more and more authors rely on Internet sources. I currently work as the library liasion to both a law review and a law journal, and this is an issue for them, as well. They need to verify the sources that an author of a scholarly article cites, and in many instances, by the time the students access the cited websites, the links to the websites are already broken. I have recommended permanent archival websites akin to, but they have not made the jump. They are currently relying on PDFs like the Ninth Circuit mentioned above.

It is hard to stay on top of these things after the fact. Constantly updating links to websites amounts to another full-time job. As the Supreme Court is finding out, it is much easier to create a permanent link or a PDF archive while an opinion is being written and the information is still readily available.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bryan A. Garner's Classic Word Challenge For A Larger Vocabulary

Bryan A. Garner recently posted a classic word challenge over at the ABA Journal.

So what's the big deal? Why should lawyers continue to build their vocabulary to include such words as those being tested in the challenge? According to Garner, "if [he] were to hazard a fairly educated guess, [he'd] say that American lawyers’ vocabularies range roughly from 45,000 to 135,000 words. Further, [he'd] guess that those who know 100,000 to 135,000 words have, on average, at least double the income of those who know only 45,000 to 70,000 words. [He] would also guess that there are many more lawyers at the lower end of the scale than at the higher end."

Garner goes on to further point out "E.D. Hirsch’s influential new essay, 'A Wealth of Words,' in which Hirsch makes several important arguments, including these three:

• 'Vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history and the arts.'

• 'Correlations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research.'

• 'Between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.'”

This is interesting and I, personally, would like to know more about the correlation and causation of vocabulary and high income. It seems to me that, in most circumstances, income also correlates with the socioeconomic status that one is raised. If your parents are educated and make a high income, the chances are higher that you will also become educated and make a high income. It also means that your educated parents probably used a larger vocabulary that rubbed off on you. Therefore, a large vocabulary might be correlative but not causative of a high income.

But I am not one to dissuade the knowledge and use of a large vocabulary.

Here are Garner's tips for working on your vocabulary:

"If you want to work on your vocabulary, discipline yourself to note (perhaps on a slip of paper you carry in your wallet) each word you encounter but aren’t sure you understand. You’ll be looking them up later. Of course, you can also check your mobile device on the spot, but I think you’re less likely to retain the word long-term. Once you’ve collected a few words—I sometimes get up to 20 or 30 on a list—devote a little time to opening a dictionary and recording the word and its definitions, preferably in a document or notebook reserved for this purpose. You might note also the pronunciation, the etymology (the word’s origin and derivation), and the source where you encountered it. Then review your notebook periodically, trying to use the various words in sentences of your own devising."

You may want to be careful with your new found knowledge, however, because as one commenter noted, "[t]hat’s just what more lawyers need to do, come across to juries and the public as stuffy academics more concerned about looking smart and using big words rather than speaking and writing so the average person can understand the message."

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Official Draft Report From The ABA Task Force On The Future Of Legal Education Is Here

The NYTimes noted that the draft report from the ABA's Task Force On The Future Of Legal Educuation is here.

"Faced with rising student debt and declining applications to law schools, a task force of the American Bar Association is calling for sweeping changes in legal education, including training people without law degrees to provide limited legal services and opening the bar to those who have not completed four years of college and three years of  law school."

This call for change went from a working paper that was released on August 1, 2013, to an official draft report released today. It "recommends the elimination of the rules that law students must have 45,000 minutes in a classroom to graduate and that they cannot get credit for field placements that are paid." There is also new information on "standards on credit  for  work  before law school matriculation, distance education, student-faculty ratios, the proportion of courses taught by full-time faculty, tenure, physical facilities and more."

So what does this mean? "The report is still a draft, to be distributed for comment, then considered at the bar association’s 2014 meeting. If adopted there, it will be influential but not binding on either law schools or state bar associations."

"The overall idea, said James. B. Kobak Jr., a New York lawyer on the task force, was to free law schools to be more innovative and get away from the one-size-fits-all model."

There has been much discussion recently about cutting law school from a three year program to a two year program based on these new innovative ideas. My first instinct was to think about how valuable my own 3L classes were. There were many classes that I took during 3L that made me a better practitioner. I received more hands-on clinical training and took electives like Pretrial Skills and Trial Skills for practical experience. But I soon realized that these are skills that can also be learned on the job. Would it be better for a student to practice litigation in a controlled classroom setting or practice litigation in front of a real-live courtroom on the job? I suspect that it is the latter (so long as there is some actual instruction going on).

It's not that law schools should do away with valuable elective courses, but it is nice that law schools might have more room to innovate and tailor their programs. However, it remains to be seen if this 'controversial' report will be adopted as influential or merely 'die in committee.'

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Finding Time To Write At A Teaching-Focused Institution

I've often wondered about this issue -- how do faculty at teaching-focused institutions find the time to write? While many teaching-focused institutions do not place an emphasis on scholarship, some faculty still feel the pull to write. While I am not faculty (some law librarian positions are tenured faculty, others are not), I also feel the pull to add to the discussion of my profession. It can be a struggle to find time amid a busy teaching (including library sessions or reference) schedule, but one professor recently expounded on how he does it.

"Although it’s true that I may have more regular, day-to-day responsibilities that limit the time I can spend on research than those in more research-intensive positions, I’ve found ways to keep up a meaningful research and publishing program. Given my teaching schedule and other responsibilities, it’s rare for me to have huge chunks of uninterrupted time that can be used for research and writing. My free time during a normal day is usually composed of numerous, sometimes sporadic chunks of 15 to 30 minutes, 45 if I’m lucky. Rather than viewing this time as downtime, I try to make the most of it, using it as efficiently as possible. When all is said and done, that time can easily add up to a couple of hours of solid work, depending on the day."

This is a good point. Sometimes when I only have 15 minutes of downtime, I might take a mental break and read an article for professional development purposes. But I could easily use this time to write a few words.

The professor went on to say, "I also try to set small, achievable goals for each day. My current goal is to write 500 words a day, no matter what. If I do that five days a week, that’s 2,500 words a week."

It can be a huge adjustments to work in short spurts of time, but the words do add up -- sometimes to a full working article. As the professor noted, not all of his writing is useful, and he might scrap entire portions, but I am sure he still feels a sense of accomplishment when he meets his daily goal.

"It is possible, then, to do real, meaningful scholarship in a teaching-intensive environment and, more importantly, to sustain and enjoy it."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Barbara Fister's 10 Reasons To Love Librarianship

Here's Barbara Fister discussing ten reasons she finds librarianship rewarding in the Library Journal.

1. It’s never boring. There is always something new coming along, something to learn, something to try out, some new idea to consider. It’s hard to get in a rut when no two days are alike. Anyone who claims our profession is doomed to extinction hasn’t used a library in a very long time.

2. It’s a social profession. We help each other out. It’s terrific to live in an era when we can have so many ongoing conversations to tap into whenever we need to recharge our batteries, ask a question, or try out an idea. Locally, we bounce ideas off one another, and I can hop on a venerable email list or FriendFeed or Twitter and get instantly educated, entertained, and inspired, often all at the same time. I have a lot of friends who are librarians, and they are some of the smartest, most generous people on Earth.

3. The work we do is important, but we don’t get hammered by our user community the minute something goes wrong the way IT departments do. Our users trust us to figure it out and generally give us the time to troubleshoot without complaint. Considering how deeply frustrating it is to me when a book I’ve run into the stacks to retrieve isn’t where it’s supposed to be or a link doesn’t resolve the way it should, I’m grateful our patrons are as patient with our failings as they are.

4. We get to help students find their way in the world of ideas. There’s something magical about that moment when you can see it click, when a student realizes knowledge is something she participates in creating, that she has a voice that matters. It’s a renewable pleasure. New students arrive every year!

5. Our profession is built on values that matter—and not just for libraries and librarians. We play a role in preserving culture for future generations. We defend people’s right to explore and express unpopular opinions. We protect privacy in the service of intellectual freedom. We have even been called “radical militant librarians” by the FBI. These aren’t issues that belong only to us exclusively, but it’s great to be involved in them.

6. People usually are grateful for our help. Sure, we wonder how to get our foot in the door with that professor who always makes impossible assignments, and we cringe when we overhear a senior bragging that he’s never checked out a book. But when you walk a stressed-out student through an assignment or help a junior put together the missing pieces in a research paper or locate some hard-to-find source for a faculty member, they act like you gave them a gift. How many professions are there where people think, when you’re simply doing your job, that it’s a special favor just for them?

7. Our libraries serve as the common ground for our campuses. There’s something really neat about working for a cultural institution that so many people feel belongs to them, personally, and working in that common ground means we can see the big picture on campus in ways others often can’t. We can’t hold irrational prejudices against the STEM departments or the humanities or the preprofessional programs, because we know and serve them all. We do, however, need to work on thinking more globally, or overcoming Information Calvinism, as the Library Loon has put it. If we turn off access to information on graduation, we are defeating our own efforts at information literacy as a foundation for lifelong learning. If interlibrary loan didn’t exist, we would think it was an amazing idea. We need to build that kind of everyday mutual aid into a more open and equitable information infrastructure. (See what I mean? Never boring.)

8. We have a budget. It’s not much of a budget, and it may be under pressure and shrinking, but it’s bigger than most campus budgets and is a framework within which we make our priorities and beliefs concrete. There’s a lot of power in our hands, and we tend to forget how many riches we actually have compared to libraries in other parts of the world—or how much we could change the world if we used those budgets strategically.

9. I get to buy books with other people’s money and—just as delightful—I get to weed the collection. Since I have tenure I can say out loud that I love books. (A word of advice to new professionals: never say that in a job interview for an academic library position. You will mark yourself as a clueless throwback.) I love books enough to want to make the good ones findable and to retire the ones that have passed the point of finding readers. I try to spend one hour a week in the stacks, and it’s strangely affirming and peaceful, my weekly moment of zen.

10. I love that I don’t need to be a specialist with a narrow research agenda. Being a librarian means I have the freedom to be interested in anything and everything. You have to embrace randomness when you aren’t sure whether the next reference question will be about primary sources on feminist political organizations in Latin America or for data on the public financing of sports facilities. If I were another kind of scholar, I’d have spent years training to be an expert, going through a hazing so intense and time-consuming that I might be too cautious to step outside my zone of expertise in future. We librarians are kicked out of the nest half-fledged and know that we have to keep on learning, that a lot of our further education will be DIY, and that the world is full of interesting things to explore. The MLS comes with a license to be widely curious and unafraid of things we don’t already know.

These are all great ideals of the library profession. I especially like #5: "We play a role in preserving culture for future generations. We defend people’s right to explore and express unpopular opinions. We protect privacy in the service of intellectual freedom."

And #7 makes a great point: "If we turn off access to information on graduation, we are defeating our own efforts at information literacy as a foundation for lifelong learning." I had a library professor in my master's program who seemed to have never thought of this concept. I mentioned the notion of alumni not having access to the very databases and resources that we teach and the disservice of it all. Wouldn't it be better if we focus on resources that the public has access to? It seems like an obvious problem because many of the databases are price prohibitive for an individual. It's for this reason that I have made it a point to teach free and low-cost legal research on the web.

Thank you, Barbara, for showing some love to the library profession!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Bookless Library Opens In Texas

NPR recently reported that an all-digital public library opened in Bexar County, Texas. The BiblioTech library facility offers about 10,000 free e-books. "The library has a physical presence with 600 e-readers and 48 computer stations, in addition to laptops and tablets. People can also come for things like kids' story time and computer classes, according to the library's website."

The question is whether the bookless library will take off this time. "[T]he idea of a bookless library has been tried before — perhaps a bit too early. That was in 2002, when Arizona's Santa Rosa Branch Library went digital-only. Years later, however, residents — fatigued by the electronics — requested that actual books be added to the collection, and today, enjoy a full-access library with computers."

It'll be interesting if this starts a trend around the country. I am sure many public libraries will be watching statistics at BiblioTech to see how things have changed since 2002. Now may be a better time for public libraries to embrace this trend, but I think they will still see some backlash from the community of people who traditionally use the library -- they tend to like their books.

In a recent effort to go digital, the Fairfax County (Va.) library system's decision to destroy a reported 250,000 books drew the ire of residents — and an editorial from The Washington Post. It will be easier for new libraries to start out all digital than for libraries with a substantial book collection to revert to all digital.

This will not affect academic law libraries in the immediate future. While we are currently going through a shed West era, we still have quite a while before all of the material is available digitally. 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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Underused

The New York Times reports that Public Service Loan Forgiveness is being underutilized. More public service employees need to know that this option is at their disposal. It's what keeps my student loan payments manageable with a 10-year end in sight.

"The federal government is trying to encourage more participation in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was created in 2007. The program and other debt assistance options have been underused because of complex rules and sometimes conflicting benefits." But it's not that hard -- it's easy to consolidate most federal loans under one direct loan consolidation -- and these loans qualify for PSLF.

"There are some restrictions. Only federal direct loans — those originated by the federal government — are eligible for the public service forgiveness program. But older loans that were made by private lenders and guaranteed by the federal government — like those made under the Federal Family Educational Loan program, which ended in 2010 — may be refinanced into a new direct loan, to become eligible."

Once you have qualifying student loans and are employed at a non-profit, "[y]ou must make your loan payments on time every month for 10 years — 120 payments — to qualify. The payments don’t have to be consecutive, however. You could, for example, work at a public service job for five years, leave for two years and return for another five years." Be careful with this part -- after you consolidate your loans with a direct loan consolidation, the loans are often sold to many different companies (mine are at their third servicer since 2011). If you have signed up for automatic debit, there could be problems with the transfer and having a payment post on time. It is for this reason that I have decided to forego automatic debit and just pay with an on time, online transaction each month.

The beauty of PSLF is that the amount forgiven after 10 years is not taxed like the amount forgiven after 20 years. "The amount forgiven after 10 years of public service isn’t treated as taxable income. Debt forgiven for borrowers using income-based repayment program alone, however, is considered taxable under current law."

One thing that I would recommend is to get your non-profit employer to sign the PSLF Employment Certification Form. This allows the Department of Education to track your employment early, so if you change jobs within the 10-year repayment period, it is easy for the Dept. of Ed. to see that you've worked for a non-profit the entire time.

Now let's just hope that Congress doesn't change this before my loans are forgiven in 2021.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Librarians Should Always Promote Reading

There was an article on Gawker recently about a New York library director who asked a little boy who loves books to quit reading so much because he's making the other kids look bad.

"The Glen Falls Post-Star reports that Marie Gandron, Director of the Hudson Falls Public Library accused 9-year-old Tyler Weaver of 'hogging' the summer reading club's annual 'Dig into Reading' competition, because he's taken the top prize five years in a row."

"The contest requires each participating child to read at least 10 books over the course of six weeks in order to get invited to an end-of-summer party. By comparison, Tyler won the latest event by reading 63 books in just over a month."

Gandron, the Director, thinks that "[o]ther kids quit because they can’t keep up."

"She believes Tyler should 'step aside' and has even proposed a raffle-style selection of next year's winner in order to ensure the fifth grader doesn't win."

I understand that Gandron, the Director, is concerned about getting other children to participate, but this is not the way. She should have quietly changed the competition to a raffle style and announced it at the beginning of next summer's competition. There is no reason to condemn a child for reading too much and intimidating other children. If the contest requires each participating child to read at least 10 books over the course of six weeks, then all of the children who complete the challenge should be entered into a raffle to win a prize. That's all. Nothing else needs to be said.

This will ensure that the other children will still enter the challenge and also have a chance to win the prize, and everyone is happy. Sometimes these things seem so obvious. Librarians should always promote reading. Thanks to the recession, library use overall is up, but we should not treat valuable patrons negatively. This Director could have had such a negative impact on the little boy that he could tune down his reading, and that would be a shame. Although something tells me that Tyler will always be an avid reader -- kudos kid!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

FREE CALI Access For Most Law Students

When academic law librarians do library instruction for law students, we all mention the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). It is a wonderful product that tests comprehension and has been around for nearly 40 years. And it is FREE for most law students to use!

CALI produces online interactive tutorials written by law professors. It gives students a hypothetical and a flowchart that walks through various choices. The students are tested with multiple choice questions, and if they get the answer wrong, they are told why they got it wrong.

CALI currently has 207 member law schools, and law schools that belong to CALI pay $7,500 a year for membership. In exchange, students get unlimited FREE access to the center's library.

Previously, professors wrote CALI material on a volunteer basis or received grants. CALI now pays $1,250 per lesson, and its library has about 950 lessons in more than 35 law school subjects. So nearly every topic is covered.

CALI is not resting on its laurels, as it continues to innovate. Five years from now, says John Mayer (the executive director of CALI), law students won't need to buy textbooks. CALI is currently promoting free, open access textbooks written by law professors for use in law school classes. If these CALI textbooks are done well, it sure would make the cost of legal education go down for the students because legal textbooks can cost upwards of $700 per term.

ABA Journal -- Can John Mayer make law textbooks a thing of the past? ‘It’s fun pushing the envelope,’ he says

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

All Hail The (Very) Short Sentence!

The Draft blog for NYTimes had a great article on the effectiveness of the short sentence. In Scholarly Writing, I try to reiterate that shorter sentences help with clarity. The longer the sentence, the more likely the reader is to get lost in the words and lose the overall idea. As a guideline, about 20 - 25 words per sentence is ideal and even shorter sentences may be more effective.

As the article on the blog notes, you should "[e]xpress your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence. Writers can use it to give even preposterous statements the ring of truth. The bigot can use it to foment hate. The propagandist can slap it on a bumper sticker. But for the writer with good intent, the short sentence proves a reliable method for delivering the practical truth. With punch."

Additionally, "[u]sing short sentences to their full effect is a centuries-old strategy, found in opinion writing, fiction and nonfiction, poetry and plays. It works in a formal speech or in a handwritten letter. Shakespeare had a messenger deliver the news to Macbeth in six words: 'The Queen, my lord, is dead,' a message that could fit easily inside a 140-character tweet."

As you can see, those five words, "The Queen, my lord, is dead," is all that needs to be said. It's effective and maintains the seriousness of the message.

"A long sequence of short sentences slows the reader down, each period acting as a stop sign. That slow pace can bring clarity, create suspense or magnify emotion, but can soon become tedious. It turns out that the short sentence gains power from its proximity to longer sentences [so don't be afraid to use longer sentences]. A familiar and effective place for the [very] short sentence is at the end of a long paragraph."

To really add oomph to an idea, you should consider trying to convey your thought in a five word sentence at the end of a paragraph. It will leave the reader with a lasting impression.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Frank Discussion About Narrow Scholarship

Library Babel Fish (Barbara Fister) on InsideHigherEd wrote a thoughtful piece about librarian agendas. It's interesting and something that all librarians should consider.

There were viewpoints discussed in the piece that got me thinking about a discussion that I once had with my mentor librarian. He was in the midst of in-depth faculty research, and the particular faculty preferred to churn out scholarship generally citing sources that already agreed with his own narrow viewpoint. My mentor and I would discuss this in terms of academic incest -- the same few scholars with the same viewpoints using each other's scholarship for support. We were concerned with the type of knowledge that was being added to the discussion. We both thought that it was important for scholars to look to other viewpoints to make their case stronger and offer other interpretations so that readers could make up their own minds about the issue.

As Library Babel Fish pointed out, "[l]ibrarians often believe they and the libraries they work for adopt, like Wikipedia, a 'neutral point of view.' Librarians provide access to all kinds of information on all sides of issues. That even-handedness is sometimes extrapolated into suspending all judgment in the pursuit of neutrality, witholding judgment equally when assisting a student who is writing a paper on some aspect of the Holocaust and one who is determined to prove the Holocaust a hoax and wants help finding 'facts' to make that case."

She went on to add, "I’ve heard some librarians say we can’t express any reservations about patrons' goals, that we must assist them without voicing any opinion of our own, including any suggestion that cherry-picking material that fits a belief is dishonest. I disagree. We are somewhat in the position of journalists, trying to represent diverse perspectives – but we’d be wrong to suggest all viewpoints are equally valid in order to avoid charges of bias."

This is exactly what concerned my mentor. The cherry-picking of material that supports a particular (maybe wrong) belief without looking to other, more diverse perspectives. To that end, my mentor would subtly offer other scholarship to the faculty that offered opposing viewpoints.

It might have been wise for my mentor to have a frank discussion with his faculty member about the value of well-rounded scholarship. The conversation could have gone something like this: "We value certain ways of seeking and using evidence. It’s important to evaluate your sources and approach a research question with an open mind. It’s not right to seek out only information that supports your viewpoint. It’s wrong to appropriate other people’s ideas and represent them as your own - and so forth."

However, as Barbara Fister notes, "[t]hese are not somehow universal foundational truths. They are beliefs that are rooted historically in a particular way of knowing. We may value them deeply, but they are not the natural order of things, free of context and controversy. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as we think through what it means, why we promote what we promote, and what really matters to us."

This means that librarians should not be afraid to voice their concern about narrow scholarship. It may be that scholars have never considered things in this way. It would a chance to have a meaningful discussion and help advance broad knowledge for all. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Practical Grammar Instruction For The Non-Grammarian

I ran across a great article in The Chronicle of Higher Education where the author discusses the practical side of grammar.

Rachel Toor, the author, starts out discussing the confusing nature of sentence structure instruction -- things that we all learn in grade school but most of us forget. "Once someone starts talking about verb moods, dangling whosits, and misplaced whatsits, I squirm. When I try to struggle through their prose explanations, my brain hurts. I've learned enough to be able to explain basic things to my students about common writing mistakes, but I can't get technical. I refer to words ending with "ing" as "ing words." (I know that they can be gerunds or participles, and that there's a difference.) When I tell students that adverbs are not their friends, I explain I mean words with "-ly" on their tail. (I know different kinds of adverbs and adverbial phrases are essential, and they don't all end in "-ly." Whatever.)"

It wasn't until I started teaching Scholarly Writing that I gave myself  a crash-course in the things I had forgotten. I instruct on misplaced modifiers, nominalizations, present participles, etc..., and these are not hard-to-understand concepts. However, as soon as the students heard these terms, their eyes seemed to glaze over, and they miss the point of the grammar instruction -- "[w]e need to scrub dirty, flaccid bits from our sentences if we want to be read."

So, Rachel Toor has come up with a more practical way of weeding these things out of her manuscripts.
"Nominalization, in case you weren't aware, turns verbs into fuzzy nouns. 'Investigate' morphs into 'investigation'; 'applicable' dresses up as 'applicability.' In order to weed them out I've learned a trick. I scan my manuscripts for words that end in -tion, -ism, -ty, -ment, -ness, -ance, and -ence. Then I grab a more muscular verb and slip in a concrete noun (when it makes the sentence better)."

She also looks for unnecessary words in a similar practical manner. "When Strunk and White urge me to 'omit needless words,' I appreciate the reminder and use the tools in my little bag of tricks to identify and delete those words, when appropriate. How many unnecessary uses of 'this,' 'that,' and 'there' can I lose? I won't say removing them forces you into less passive constructions—because I would be taken to task for not knowing what a passive construction is. But they often drag down prose. So in my merry way, I go on search-and-destroy missions for the forms of 'to be.' Write with strong nouns and verbs, say Strunk and White. I say, CNTL+F the incarnations of 'to be' and kick the suckers to the curb (when it makes the sentence better)."

This is a great way to go about making a manuscript stronger and more readable. Forget the proper nomenclature of sentence structure. Know what kinds of words to remove or reformulate and read specifically for that purpose when editing.

I'd also like to point out that Ms. Toor is also a fan of Strunk & White's Elements of Style and George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language."

Friday, September 6, 2013

80% Of New Jobs Are Part-Time

The ABA Journal recently covered a story that was first seen in the Detroit Free Press about the ubiquity of part-time work in the United States.

The Detroit Free Press story focused on Derrick George, an attorney and business owner from Birmingham, Michigan. George recently hired Scott Neal, a new attorney who is currently working three part-time jobs.

"To make ends meet, newly minted attorney Scott Neal is working three part-time jobs. He’s practicing law in a Birmingham firm, keeping tabs on the North Oakland Family YMCA as a building supervisor and trimming trees. The 26-year-old can even show off the scar he got while sawing a branch."

The United States is becoming a nation of part-time workers as more employers want to avoid paying health care costs for full-time workers. "Nearly 1 million new jobs were created this year, but 80 percent of the positions were part-time. Involuntary part-time workers who are looking for full-time work or working multiple jobs make up more than 19 percent of the workforce, up from 17 percent in 2007."

"Derrick George, the lawyer who hired Neal, says that six out of ten of his employees are part-time, allowing him to avoid paying for health care and pensions. 'Today’s business environment is different,' George told the Free Press. 'This is the new normal.'"

As one ABA Journal commenter noted, "[e]mployers have been trying to find ways to avoid paying for employee benefits for as long as there have been businesses. This is just a new trick (and not that new), not a 'new normal;' the Wal Mart business model in a law firm mode."

Trying to cover basic living expenses on part-time work is not for the faint of heart. I generally held three part-time jobs throughout my late teens and all through my 20's to keep a roof over my head. I did not have health insurance for the entire period, and it was glum. I kept at it and was lucky to find a full-time academic law librarian position. And I have to say, it feels like my entire life changed. Obamacare will help take care of the health insurance part, but the part-time employment is still an issue -- one that I am not sure was fully considered with the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

LawMeets: A Moot Deals Competition

Law students need as much hands-on experience in a controlled setting as possible before setting out on their own. To that end, there are moot court and mock trial competitions that help develop appellate and litigation skills for law students interested in those fields. But until recently, there has been nothing geared toward transactional law.

In steps Karl Okamoto. Okamoto designed a competition called LawMeets specifically geared toward transactional law.

In the competition, "students get fact patterns for a deal and play the roles of buyer, seller and client. Over a period of months, they have conferences; draft, exchange and mark up documents; and then negotiate the deal. Prominent transactional lawyers judge their documents and negotiations, as well as offer feedback. Then the students get to watch the pros haggle over the same terms."

The competition has rapidly grown in popularity. "In 2010, teams from 10 law schools competed at Drexel in Philadelphia. By 2011, the number had grown to 30 teams and Okamato launched a new venture, with 10 teams competing in an intellectual property version of LawMeets. Come 2012, growing popularity spawned five regional competitions and a total of 54 teams, with the winners going to Philadelphia for a national championship. And this year there were six regional competitions and 74 teams, with finalists going to Drexel."

This is exactly the type of innovation that we need in legal education reform. The hands-on experience and feedback from professionals is invaluable for law students to understand the real-world challenges of the types of law that they will practice.

ABA Journal -- You know about moot court–but Karl Okamoto wants students to practice moot deals

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Growing Support To Cut Third Year Of Law School

It's a legal education reform idea that's been around for years: cut law school from three years to two.

Last week the idea picked up steam when President Obama announced that he thinks cutting the third year of law school is a good idea.

"He questioned the utility of a third year of classes and suggested that students use their final two semesters to gain work experience. 'In the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom,' Mr. Obama said. 'The third year, they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm even if they weren’t getting paid that much, but that step alone would reduce the costs for the student.'"

Obama made these remarks during his tour on college affordability. He has proposed tying financial aid to the performance metrics of the school. Obama wants to rein "in rising tuition costs by creating a system to rate colleges and eventually tie federal student aid to the institutions' performance. The president called for rating colleges before the 2015 school year on measures such as affordability and graduation rates—'metrics like how much debt does the average student leave with, how easy is it to pay off, how many students graduate on time, how well do those graduates do in the workforce.'"

There is a definite need to rein in the costs of tuition for law schools. Many law schools currently require their students to fulfill an internship requirement during the students' third year, but the students generally have to pay the law school tuition for the internship credits. So not only are the students working for free, they have to pay their law school a hefty sum to do so. In that regard, it makes sense to cut the curriculum to two years and leave the third year for practical work experience.

But this also means that the work experience needs to be meaningful enough to warrant missing out on classes. In my own experience, I took many great classes during my third year. Classes that I find essential to the practice of law.  For example, when I took a pretrial skills class during 3L, the professor taught the process of client interviewing, filing a complaint, discovery, writing motions, and client communication in a methodical, effective way. I then used those skills to work for a solo practitioner and work in a legal clinic. While I was getting 'real world' experience, the process was not laid out in a sensible manner. I would walk into the office and be told to write a motion. If I hadn't taken the pretrial skills class, I would not have understood where the motion fit into the overall process. On the flipside, I could have gained that experience elsewhere if a law firm or practitioner had the mind to teach me the overall process, which requires more time and potential lost billable hours.

In a Letter to the Editor response, one attorney wrote, "[h]ere is my experience, based on 30 years as a lawyer working with scores of students. Compared with second-year students, third-year students stand out. They know more. They analyze legal issues better. They conduct themselves more professionally. My counterproposal is this: Make law school four years."

It's a contentious issue, no doubt. As the ABA continues to contemplate innovation and change in legal education, this might be an area that they are willing to finally consider.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Law Review Commons -- Open Access To Many U.S. Law Reviews

There's a great new open access venture happening at Law Review Commons.

Many United States law reviews that use bepress Digital Commons as their repository are now accessible -- for FREE -- through Law Review Commons.

From the site:
The Law Review Commons brings together a growing collection of law reviews and legal journals in an easily browsable and searchable format. It contains both current issues and archival content spanning over 100 years.

All Law Review Commons publications are made freely available online through their institutions’ bepress Digital Commons repositories. The Commons includes many of the leading U.S. law reviews—such as the California Law Review and the Duke Law Journal.

It's a wonderful step in the right direction for open access in legal scholarship!