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Showing posts from July, 2014

Interacting With Visual Legal Research Platforms

How users interact with, contextualize, and evaluate information while doing research is the teaching focus for most law librarians. Our students need to know how to find the information in an efficient way and also need to understand and use that information in context.

Many of the research platforms currently focus on text-based results. Users can run a natural language or boolean search and evaluate the results based on relevance, date, most cited, etc.... With text-based results, it can be difficult for the instructor to make students understand why they are getting certain results and how the results and filters can change their research interaction.

But there is a new type of legal research platform brewing - the visual legal research platform. The ABA Journal reported on a variety of visual legal research platforms. Ravel seems very promising. "Ravel does not look like traditional legal research platforms. The difference is its visual presentation of search results. Rather…

Will Student Debt Affect Character & Fitness?

There is a new article in the Journal of College and University Law by Kaela Raedel Munster called A Double-Edged Sword: Student Loan Debt Provides Access To A Law Degree But May Ultimately Deny A Bar License that makes the case that student debt might affect Character & Fitness.

From the article:
 “Misconception or not, lawyers are perceived as wealthy, well-to-do, educated professionals with the means to make their student loan payments. This perception, however, may not be consistent with reality.

Consider the following hypothetical:
Lauren, a twenty-six-year old woman and recent law school graduate, pursued a legal education after achieving academic success in her undergraduate studies. In deciding whether to attend law school, Lauren relied on statistical reports that described recent graduates' employment and salary data, financial assistance, and ability to pursue a meaningful career upon graduation. Lauren decided to enroll at an American Bar Association (“ABA”) accredi…

WEXIS Briefs Are Fair Use

Law Librarians posted a wonderful summary of the litigation surrounding the copyright infringement claim of the brief offerings on WEXIS.

There was an attempt to "copyright legal briefs with the intention to gain royalties or prevent others from using them."

As noted, "[t]he particular case that litigates the issue is White v. West Publishing Company and Reed Elsevier (USDC Southern District NY).  District Judge Rakoff ruled that the use by West and Lexis is fair use. Both companies transform the documents to a different purpose and use according to the Judge’s analysis under the four fair use factors:

The Court finds that West and Lexis’s use of the briefs was transformative for two reasons. First, while White created the briefs solely for the purpose of providing legal services to his clients and securing specific legal outcomes in the Beer litigation, the defendants used the brief toward the end of creating an interactive legal research tool. See Blanch v. Koons, 467…

The Physical Toll Of Research

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It's safe to say that research exercises the mind. When you research, you are in a constant state of learning, assessing, evaluating, and contextualizing information
But I had never really considered the physical toll that research can take on the body, so I was amused earlier this summer when I read a Chronicle of Higher Education post about that very thing. "When we think of academe as 'the life of the mind,' we’re obscuring one basic fact: Conducting research can take a real physical toll on a scholar’s body. No, scholarship isn’t a dangerous factory job. But hours spent hunched over in library carrels, staring at computer screens, and pecking away at keyboards can cause any number of problems—eye strain, headaches, back and neck pain, repetitive strain injuries, and the like."
Along with the normal ailments associated with office work, "there’s a piece of equipment that’s as unhealthy as it is inescapable: the microfilm machine. Even in our world of di…

Medical-Legal Partnerships For Holistic Treatment

Poverty can take a toll on health in ways that medical professionals, alone, cannot solve. The NYTimes reported on situations when poverty makes you sick, and a lawyer might be the cure.

"Being poor can make you sick. Where you work, the air you breathe, the state of your housing, what you eat, your levels of stress and your vulnerability to crime, injury and discrimination all affect your health. These social determinants of health lie outside the reach of doctors and nurses."

Because these social determinants of health lie outside of the reach of doctors and nurses, medical-legal partnerships have emerged. "Clinics that have medical-legal partnerships approach health differently than others. When doctors have no options for helping patients with the social determinants of health, they tend not to ask about them. With a medical-legal partnership, they do. At Cincinnati Children’s, [for example] each patient’s family is asked: Do you have housing problems? Problems gett…

Amazon Offers Unlimited EBook Subscription

The NYTimes reported that Amazon "introduced a digital subscription service that allows subscribers unlimited access to a library of e-books and audiobooks for $10 a month."

"The service, Kindle Unlimited, offers a Netflix-style, all-you-can-read approach to more than 600,000 e-books. So far, however, none of the five biggest publishers appear to be making their books available through the service. HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, for example, are not participating, representatives from the three companies confirmed. Penguin Random House and Macmillan declined to comment, but a search on Amazon suggests that they are not making their books available."

This all sounds wonderful, right? And then here it comes - the call to close libraries. "More titles, easier access and quite possibly a saving of public funds. Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?"

To …

I Got 99 Problems But My JD Ain't One

Thomson Reuters Legal Solution's blog recently posted tips on how to survive in this legal market.

According to the blog, "[t]he question isn’t so much whether [conditions for new grads] will improve as much as it is when they will improve. Lawyers will always be needed, but currently, the supply of new lawyers has completely overtaken the demand.  But law school enrollment is at its lowest levels in 40 years, so the market is currently in the process of correcting itself. Nevertheless, since it may take a long time for the legal job market to recover – but your bills aren’t going to wait – you may need to figure out how to keep your head above water in the meantime."

The blog goes on to offer tips for the tough legal market:
Don’t let your legal education collect dustBe tenaciousNetwork All great advice. And the notion of not letting your legal education collect dust is very important. To that end, Findlaw's blog posted 99 Things to Do With Your JD, Besides Practice …

Michigan Board Of Law Examiners Decides To Scale Essays

On July 9, 2014, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners (MBLE) announced that it has decided to scale essays again. This response is likely due to the backlash over the changed scoring method that took place in February 2012, which lowered the first-time passage rate by nearly 30%.

From the MBLE's website:
Beginning with the upcoming administration of the bar exam on July 29th, an improved scoring system for the essay portion of the exam will be implemented that more accurately measures competence by:

ensuring that essay test scores across administrations reflect the same skill level; and, continuing to reflect differences in the difficulty between the multiple choice and essay portions of the exam. 
The new method establishes a common scale that to the extent possible accounts for differences in difficulty  across [bar exam] administrations, while making sure the applicant scores accurately reflect their competence on both the multi-state and Michigan portions of the exam.
It's gr…

The Decline In Enrollment & The Impact On Law Librarians

Much has been written about the decline in enrollment, and law schools are seeing their smallest incoming classes since the 1970s. We also have a reputable investor service, Moody's, telling us that this downturn is not cyclical but rather a fundamental change in legal education.

We have seen faculty and staff cuts at some schools, and I suspect that will continue. And I can't help but wonder what this means for law librarians. The conferences that I have attended over the last five years usually have at least some programming dealing with alternative careers and the need for law librarians to promote their worth. Something doesn't sit right about all of this - especially in the new legal economy.

According to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2013-2014, a law library and law librarians are essential functions of a law school.

CHAPTER 6 of the Standards covers Library and Information Resources.

Standard 601. GENERAL PROVISIONS 
(a) A law s…

Essential Legal Research Skills In A Law Firm Setting

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Conference wraps up today. I couldn't make the Conference this year, but the content looked great.

The Legal Solutions Blog posted about one program, in particular, that brought together academic law librarians and law firm librarians for a better understanding of what law students need to know to succeed in a law firm setting.

The "session brought together academic law librarians and law firm librarians in order to find common ground and improve the training that students received both prior to graduation and after they entered the legal workforce."

As noted, "[l]egal research is often combined with legal writing into a legal skills course. Those law students who have taken an advanced legal research class are easily identified by firm librarians when they are hired.  In general, new associates spend almost half of their time conducting legal research; it should be a newly hired attorney’s most important skill.

Michigan Innovative Users Group - 7/25

If there are any Michigan librarians out there who are from Innovative libraries and are interested in learning more about the Innovative system, please make sure to attend the Michigan Innovative Users Group conference at Lansing Community College on Friday, July 25.
The day starts at 8:30am. There will be information about an Innovative update, and the speakers will address the following Innovative issues: the future of library technologyde-selectioncatalog dataMeLCat and RDAElectronic Resources ManagementSierra and creating lists and statistics To register for the event, go to the registration page at eventbrite.

Library Catalogs & Discovery Layers

Librarians are adept at searching for material in traditional catalogs because we understand how the catalog searches metadata. The catalog searches for the classic fields like title and author. But there is a push to make library catalogs more like Google.

We are dealing with the "Google generation" after all, and if our patrons can't find the information that they are looking for in library catalogs by searching a few keywords, then the fear is that they won't use the library catalogs (thus library resources) and will always resort to Google and the very convenient (and maybe less reputable) resources.

The trend now is to use software that allows for discovery layers in catalogs. "Discovery layers are a relatively new software component for libraries that provide a search interface for users to find information held in the library’s catalog and beyond. Typically, a discovery layer is based on an enterprise search platform that can interact with a metadata inde…

The Art Of The Abstract

Yesterday I discussed using SSRN to upload and disseminate scholarship. As I mentioned, the abstract and keywords are of utmost importance for discoverability. SSRN only allows search engines to index the abstracts and keywords - not the full-text of the PDF article. So it is imperative that the abstract is well written and keyword heavy to allow for maximum discoverability.

Beyond SSRN, abstracts are important to catch a potential reader's attention and motivate the reader to continue reading your article.

Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law and author of Academic Legal Writing, devotes a section of his book to writing abstracts. From the draft section of the book:

"The abstract is an advertisement for your article. True, you don’t want money from your “customers” (the audience) — you want their time and attention. But their attention is scarce, and lots of authors are competing for it. You want readers to “buy” your article in one of two ways:
by reading the art…

SSRN In Lieu Of Institutional Repository

Institutional repositories (IR) are great for institution's lucky enough to have one.

Bepress Digital Commons is a wonderful example of an IR management system that "showcases the breadth of scholarship produced at an institution - everything from faculty papers, student scholarship, and annual reports to open-access journals, conference proceedings, and monographs. Scholarly material and special collections in Digital Commons repositories are highly discoverable in Google, Google Scholar, and other search engines."

Digital Commons "does the work for you" so to speak.  But in the current law school climate, not all institutions have the funds for a hosted IR. One way to overcome the expense of a hosted IR is to use the free Social Science Research Network to upload the same types of material that would traditionally be found in an IR - faculty papers, student scholarship, etc....

SSRN is keyed into Google search results, which means that the scholarship is discov…

Librarians Need To Bridge The "Knowledge In Action" Gap

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a study for Project Information Literacy - a national study about how today’s college students find and use information.

From the study, "[n]early all of the employers said they expected candidates, whatever their field, to be able to search online, a given for a generation born into the Internet world. But they also expected job candidates to be patient and persistent researchers and to be able to retrieve information in a variety of formats, identify patterns within an array of sources, and dive deeply into source material. Most important, though, employers said they need workers who can collaborate with colleagues to solve problems and who can engage in thoughtful analysis and integrate contextual organizational details rarely found online."

While these are important skills, "[m]any employers said their fresh-from-college hires frequently lack deeper and more traditional skills in research and analysis. Instead, the new w…

Net Neutrality & Libraries

If you keep up with the news, you've probably heard of the impending "death of net neutrality."
What is net neutrality, you ask? "Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication." (Yes, even librarians use Wikipedia). 
As the Washington Post recently reported, "the Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to consider allowing Internet service providers to charge Web sites like Netflix for higher-quality delivery of their content to consumers. In the lead-up to the vote, tech companies, venture capitalists and even celebrities all expressed opposition to the proposal, arguing that it would effectively end the open Internet."
Why should libraries care about the end of net n…

Online Degrees Should Be Cheaper

Since my time at Wayne State University as an online Master's of Library & Information Science student, it struck me as odd that I had to pay full tuition without taking full advantage of the institution's facilities. 
One of the common critiques of online education, in general, is that the students already feel a bit disconnected from the university population. Many students in my online program commented on the feeling that we were teaching ourselves, etc....
So Georgia Tech's recent decision to slash its online degree by 80% of the in-class price makes some sense. InsideHigherEd ran a story outlining Georgia Tech's decision
As IHE points out, "[w]hile today it is hardly noteworthy that a prestigious university like Georgia Tech is offering a graduate degree online, the university’s decision to price it more than 80 percent less than the on-campus option is truly groundbreaking. At $6,600, the online program is one-sixth the cost of the on-campus one, a fa…

Transitioning MOOCs For Vocational Training

Because MOOCs are still relatively new, the courses are still transitioning for viability. Udacity and Coursera are for-profit companies, so they need to find ways to make money. The latest twist is the "NanoDegree," which offers vocational training via MOOCs for specific skills training. 
The NYTimes reported that Udacity and AT&T have partnered to create a "NanoDegree." "For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like. The 'NanoDegree' offers a narrow set of skills that can be clearly applied to a job, providing learners with a bite-size chunk of knowledge and an immediate motivation to acquire it. AT&T will accept the 'NanoDegree' as a credential for entry-level jobs (and is hoping to persuade other companies to accept it, too) and has reserved 100 i…

The Bar Exam Month Is Upon Us

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In a layman's world, July is a time for summer fun. But in a recent law graduates world, July marks the unholy descent into the bar exam. Most people studying for the bar exam have been in the thick of it for at least a month, but July is when it starts to get real.
For July 2014, the bar exam will generally take place July 29-30, give or take. In preparation for these impending dates, the ABA Journal posed the question, "what was the strangest thing you saw at the bar exam?" The comments may give bar-exam takers an idea of what they are in for and what to watch out for.
For those of you studying, keep on a truckin'. It will be here before you know it. Try to stay calm in the interim, and if all else fails, remind yourself that even if you do not pass, it is not the end of the world (even if it feels like it). 
There's been a popular BuzzFeed outlining 14 famous people who failed the bar  - including the likes of Michelle Obama, FDR, Hillary Clinton, and Benjamin…