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Showing posts from May, 2013

Roving Reference

The new trend in libraries these days is to tear out the reference desk and make way for information stations suitable for roving reference. "Roving Reference is reference conducted outside of the reference desk. The idea here is to remove barriers between staff and patrons, and to lend assistance where patrons need it rather than having them come to a desk."

The Stanford University undergraduate library sponsors information stations throughout campus as outreach. "This Fountains of Information service is a pilot roaming reference service that began during the spring quarter. The roaming reference librarian will be outside of Green Library, Monday through Friday (weather permitting), in the vicinity of the red fountain, equipped with a laptop or iPad to answer questions."

When asked about the success of roving reference on the ALA Think Tank Facebook page, various librarians responded with:

"Roving is very important - not only does it improve customer service,…

Let's Get Patrons Into The Library

Libraries are always trying to find innovative ways to reach a wider patron base. We want people to come and use our resources and find value in our mission, but that isn't always easy -- especially at a law library.

Our main patron base of law students, faculty, and staff are very busy people. With so many responsibilities and demands on their time, many of our patrons don't have time to venture outside of the material required to get an A in a class or go outside of their area of expertise. So how do we attract our current patrons to use our vast resources, as well as attract more patrons?

A few law libraries have started to look for innovative ways to attract users by circulating unusual items that are generally not in a law library collection. For example, in 2011 Yale started "circulating a [therapy] dog as part of its collection during periods of high stress, such as the weeks leading up to exams or bar finals."

"In addition to his stress-reducing abilitie…

Michigan Supreme Court Scandals

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway was sentenced yesterday for a bank-fraud scheme. She used her legal and real estate expertise to conceal assets while she was pleading with a bank for a sale on her underwater home in Grosse Pointe Park.

Hathaway's attorney, Steve Fishman, argued that she has suffered enough after losing her job as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, her law license, and her real estate license. Fishman remarked to the judge, "Hathaway’s name and reputation have a permanent stain. Is that enough? I say it’s enough."

But the judge in the case did not think it was enough and sentenced her to 366 days in prison where she will likely serve 9-10 months with credit for good behavior.

Although the bank-fraud scheme was not connected with her position as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, it doesn't bode well for the reputation of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Hathaway's scandal couldn't have come at a worse time for the Court as former…

Not-so-happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright

This year marks 50 years since the landmark Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, was decided. Gideon v. Wainwright set the standard "that anyone too poor to hire a lawyer must be provided one free in any criminal case involving a felony charge."

This set a wide-reaching mandate for both federal and states courts, but states cannot keep up. "While the constitutional commitment is generally met in federal courts, it is a different story in state courts, which handle about 95 percent of America’s criminal cases. This matters because, by well-informed estimates, at least 80 percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for lawyers and have to depend on court-appointed counsel."

After Gideon was decided, Florida established a public defender office that was a shining model for the rest of the country, but demand has outpaced financing as "caseloads for Miami defenders have grown to 500 felonies a year, though the American Bar Association guidelines

Law School Grades -- Only B- Or Better?

A professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is promoting grade inflation in his forthcoming article.

Professor Joshua Silverstein says that "U.S. law schools should set their required grade point average for good academic standing at the B- level, giving C grades only for unsatisfactory performance."

He notes that "many law schools ranked in the top tier by U.S. News have essentially eliminated the use of C grades, while fourth-tier schools award large numbers of Cs, often under policies that encourage or require it."

Finally, someone is actually verbalizing what has become common place in the legal academe. With the higher-ranked schools eliminating the C grade and the lower-ranked schools still awarding C's (or lower), the students at the lower-ranked school's suffer disproportionately.

The graduates of the higher-ranked schools will generally have an easier time finding employment anyway, now couple that with a higher gpa, and the students a…

MOOCs, Legal Education, & What It Means For Law Librarians

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are all the rage these days. Companies like edX, Udacity, and Coursera are offering free (for now) classes online that are taught by one professor (generally from a prestigious university) and have huge enrollment numbers. Many MOOC students take the classes for knowledge and the free certificate that comes with completion. And some universities are even starting to accept MOOC credits toward degree completion.

It definitely seems that MOOCs are here to stay, and there could be major ramifications to come. Take law school instruction, for example. At the height of the law school boom, you might have one professor lecturing in front of 100 students in a first year class. What if that one professor could be broadcast to all of the first year law school classes across the United States?

This would obviously presuppose a huge shift in ABA requirements, but, hypothetically, it could be done. "In legal education, we have the ABA limitations that a…

Courts Use Urban Dictionary To Define Slang

Courts are using Urban Dictionary in court opinions to define slang terms.

The definition of a single word can turn a case, and courts are often stumped with slang. "Slang has always been a challenge for the courts in cases that involve vulgar or insulting language. Conventional dictionaries lag the spoken word by design. That has lawyers and judges turning to a more fluid source of definitions: Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced collection of slang words on the Internet."
As noted, traditional dictionaries are often behind when it comes to slang terms. "It can take years for slang terms to be included in traditional dictionaries, whose editors want to be certain that the words have staying power. By contrast, some new words rush into Urban Dictionary in less than a day. As a result, the site has cropped up in dozens of court cases in recent years."
In fact, "[i]n the last year alone, [Urban Dictionary] was used by courts to define iron (“handgun”); catfishing (…

February 2013 Michigan Bar Exam Results

From the State Bar of Michigan's blog: February 2013 Michigan Bar Examination Passage Statistics

From the Board of Law Examiners, here's a PDF of the statistics, summarized below:

Passage Rate

All Takers: 58% (last year's February passage rate was 59%)

First-time Takers: 65%

Retakers: 48%

By Law School

Thomas M. Cooley

All Takers: 55%

First-time Takers: 61%

Retakers: 42%

Michigan State University

All Takers: 60%

First-time Takers: 71%

Retakers: 55%

University of Detroit Mercy

All Takers: 49%

First-time Takers: 59%

Retakers: 45%

University of Michigan

All Takers: 82%

First-time Takers: 87%

Retakers: 71%

Wayne State University

All Takers: 63%

First-time Takers: 90%

Retakers: 50%

University of Toledo

All Takers: 69%

First-time Takers: 67%

Retakers: 75%

Other Law Schools

All Takers: 68%

First-time Takers: 76%

Retakers: 58%

For information on how Michigan compared to other states for 2012 passage rates, see another recent post from SBM's blog:

The March edition of Bar Examiner, a pub…

Publishers Sue Librarian Bloggers

The news has been aflutter recently with reports of librarians being sued over their blog posts.

First, it was Edwin Mellen press suing a university librarian who was critical of the publisher in a blog post. Edwin Mellen sued Dale Askey, a librarian at McMaster University, seeking more than $3-million in damages for a post where "Askey referred to the publisher as 'dubious' and said its books were of 'second-class scholarship.'"
The lawsuit prompted a public outcry where "critics have called the lawsuit an attack on academic freedom." After intense public pressure, Edwin Mellen decided to drop the suit.
Now there is a lawsuit brewing against Jeffrey Beall, a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver. Beall is "known online for his popular blog Scholarly Open Access, where he maintains a running list of open-access journals and publishers he deems questionable or predatory. The list now features more than 250 publishers that he…

Scholarly Article Publishing Strategies

You have written a scholarly article, now what?

Now it's time to get published, and you need a publishing strategy.

First, you should upload your article as a working paper to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). This is free and is keyed into Google search results. Many preemption checks require would-be authors to search SSRN for working papers on their topic, so uploading to SSRN lets others know that your article exists and will (hopefully) be published soon. Additionally, SSRN tallies article downloads, so if your article is downloaded many times on SSRN, you could use that information in your cover letter to a law review or journal as a reason why the journal should publish your article.

Next, you should start an ExpressO account and Scholastica account. ExpressO & Scholastica are electronic database that most law reviews and journals use to receive article submissions. They are propriety databases (i.e., for cost), but, if you are a student, you can sign up and r…

To Buy Or Not To Buy, That Is The Question.

Today I struggle with the question of whether to continue purchasing an expensive periodical or rely on the electronic version that is available on WestlawNext.

This issue comes up frequently enough -- should we continue to buy the more stable print format, or should we rely on the access that we have through our other online subscriptions (like Lexis & Westlaw)? I find that a lot of the print periodicals have duplicative coverage on one or both of the major databases.

The particular print periodical in question had a price increase of 19% from 2012 to 2013. It went from nearly $2100 per year to $2400 per year. It's a great resource, in theory, but it is not widely used in print.

The problem with relying on the online databases for access is that material comes and goes so frequently. The resource could be available one day, and then with no prior notice, there may be a dispute with the licensing agreement, and the resource is pulled from the database. Or, more recently, many …

Scholarly Article: Preemption Check

So you've chosen a topic for a scholarly article, now what?

Now it's time for the preemption check to determine if anyone has already written on your topic. A thorough preemption check allows you to proceed with confidence that you are analyzing a novel issue and ups your chances for publication.

You should perform a preemption check after you have chosen a potential topic but before you begin your actual research -- keep in mind that the preemption check, itself, is often a good start to research.

The main piece of advice for conducting a preemption check is to search many different databases because the various databases often cover different content. This ensures that you are doing a thorough check.

Databases to search for your topic/issue:
1. A full-text law reviews and journals database on Westlaw & Lexis
2. The Hein Online Law Journal Library
3. Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP)
4. LegalTrac
5. Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals for international or foreign legal topic…

Pew Internet & American Life Project: Libraries

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is an amazing resource that tracks trends in Internet use and its affect on society.

From the mission: "The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit 'fact tank' that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives."

An offshoot of Pew Internet & American Life is an arm focused solely on libraries. Pew researches how society uses libraries, including how the Internet has impacted library use.

In January 2013, Pew released a report that found &qu…

Librarian Research Recognition

I ran across a peculiar situation recently where a man called the reference desk at my institution and asked for a few pages of scanned microfiche. I graciously replied and sent him the pages. About six months later, I received an email from him informing me that he had thanked me in his book for my assistance.

At first, I was delighted that he would think to thank me in his book, but as I thought about it more, I couldn't help but feel that I hadn't done much for this man. I was just fulfilling a research request like any other librarian who would have answered the reference desk phone. It wasn't as if I had done major, in depth research on his topic. I just sent him a few pages of scanned microfiche.

The pages of scanned microfiche that I sent him were hugely important to the development of his story, so I believe that he had placed unnecessary importance on my contribution. It wasn't the research that I did that was worthy of a "thank you" in print, it wa…

Study Shows Student Debt Hurts Economy

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report this week outlining the effects of private student loan debt on the economy.

Congress realizes that student loans are more of a strain on society than ever, and Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to analyze student loans and make recommendations to policymakers. "The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established a student loan ombudsman within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to focus on student loans. Pursuant to the Act, the ombudsman shall conduct analysis on input from borrowers, prepare an annual report, and make appropriate recommendations to policymakers, including the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Education."

The report solicited feedback in a number of areas, including

How student loan burdens might impact the broader economy; How distressed borrowers manage their student loan obl…

SALT's Law Faculty Salaries 2012-13

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) has released the results of its 2012-3013 Salary Survey, reporting the median faculty salaries and summer stipends at 68 of the 200 American law schools -- most law schools did not respond.For those schools that did respond to the survey, the salaries range from the 120,000's to the 180,000's for full-tenured professors. Most also get a summer stipend. Not too shabby! Although, it would be interesting to also see teaching loads and/or publications listed along with salary to get the full picture of what this salary covers. The teaching loads are likely internal information, so the law schools would have to comply with another request -- one that feels a bit like an investigation.Tax Prof Blog - Law Faculty Salaries, 2012-13

Tamanaha Attacks 'Liberal' Law Faculty

Law faculty were once the less-paid counterparts in the legal world. They found a higher calling to teach and  made the trade off for quality of life over the higher salary and longer hours of private practice.

Well, at least that used to be the case. With the faltering of the legal economy, most law professors, today, make more than many lawyers entering private practice. Brian Tamanaha, a Washington University at St. Louis law professor and author of the book Failing Law Schools, is calling out law faculty for their contribution to the law school crisis.
In a forthcoming essay, Tamanaha notes that “[t]uition increases meant yearly salary raises, research budgets to buy books and laptops, additional time off from teaching to write (or to do whatever we like), traveling to conferences domestically and abroad, rooms in fine hotels, and dining out with old friends. A sweet ride it has been.” All at a time when the average tuition of law schools has exploded. "In 2001, average tuiti…

An Internet World

There's a lot going on in Internet land.

It is well established that the United States is mediocre in its broadband service. "[M]ost Americans are still stuck in the Internet slow lane, far from the frontier of our possibilities. And the main roadblock remains much the same as it has been for years: a lack of competition." But Google has a new project called Google fiber that they hope will start to bridge the gap and drive a competitive market. "Shortly after Google’s fiber started operating in Kansas City, Time Warner increased speeds across the city, offering its first 100 Mbps service in the country. After Google said last month it would build a 1 Gbps network in Austin, AT&T said it would build one too."

It's great that the United States will have access to higher-speed Internet access to keep pace with places like South Korea, Japan, and Switzerland. The Internet has had such a huge impact on society since its inception (happy 20th anniversary of …

Michigan Legislation For Indigent Defense

In the ongoing saga to fix the indigent defense system, the Michigan State Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up bills today that would change the current system in Michigan.

Currently, individual judges give flat-rate contracts for indigent defense, which creates issues with the quality of representation (or lack thereof). "Instead of having full-time public defender offices, many counties now control costs with low-bid, flat-fee contracts in which appointed attorneys accept cases for a predetermined fee. That causes a conflict of interest between their duty to competently defend their clients and a financial self-interest to invest less time on cases to maximize profits, according to a 2008 report commissioned by the Legislature."

Under the new legislation, "lawyers’ workloads would be better controlled, and financial incentives or disincentives leading attorneys to short-change defendants 'shall be avoided.'" Additionally, the legislation "wo…

Why Do I Need a Book When Everything is Online?

Librarians often hear questions like, "why does this library continue to buy so many books when everything is available online?"

"'When people say everything's online,' says Jerry Dupont of the Law Library Microform Consortium, 'they're woefully uninformed.' Dupont, founder of the LLMC, a nonprofit law library cooperative, estimates that 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."
Even though there is still a lot of information that is only available in print, many people continue to rely solely on electronic information. Generally, researchers tend to prefer the most convenient resource (aka online). Take with this library-budget constraints, "and the pressures are creating concerns that the public will lose access to essential legal documents" that may only …

Creative Legal Writing

It's common knowledge that most legal writing is banal. The briefs and motions need to advocate the facts and analyze those facts in light of precedent. In this setting, creative can come across as less serious, so many  legal scholars, attorneys, and judges are reluctant to let a lot of color creep in -- this is true for law review articles and legal opinions alike.

It is so unusual to see creative writing in the law that when creative articles or opinions are published, it makes the news (or it was a slow news day).  In the last year, I've seen a few news articles announcing the publication of law review articles that interweave pop culture.  These articles may appeal to a wider audience or at least make for a fun read.

One recent law review article used zombies to discuss estate tax issues.  Another used lyrics from Jay-Z's song "99 Problems" to analyze a Fourth Amendment search.

Generally, it is more widely acceptable in the legal field to be creative in scho…

The Shed West Era

In keeping with the electronic versus print theme, a challenge that we currently face in the law library setting is whether to maintain the vast, expensive West print material in what has been dubbed the 'Shed West Era.'

Most legal researchers today prefer electronic resources. We see this with both legal scholars and the current crop of students who can't remember a time in life without a computers. I've seen a rapid shift in the resources that legal scholars use to write law review articles.  It's gone from primarily print - to a mix of print and electronic - to primarily electronic in just a few short years (at least for my institution's law review).

In many respects, the electronic resources are superior to the print version.  A prime example is the West digests. The electronic version available on Westlaw is fairly easy to use and is up-to-date with the most current information. The books take more specialized knowledge to navigate, and the researcher is t…

Libraries, The Great Recession & Ebooks

Today is a wonderful day for public libraries nationwide.  The Big Six in publishing -- HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Hachette, and MacMillan -- have decided to let public libraries in on the ebook game. "[U]ntil very recently they’ve been mostly unwilling to sell e-books to libraries to lend, fearful that doing so would hurt their business, which is under considerable pressure."

It's a smart move on the part of the publishers because "e-book readership is rising much faster than readership of print books; digital books could soon be the most popular book format. Readership of [the New York Public Libraries'] e-books soared 168 percent from 2011 to 2012; print circulation, while much larger, remained constant."

While all of the publishers have decided to make their ebooks available to public libraries, the access will differ. "Five of the Big Six are making their entire e-book inventory available to [public libraries] to c…