Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Law Librarian As Academic Writer

The tenure-track law library faculty requirements at my school include my everyday library duties as a faculty services librarian, as well as teaching, service, and scholarship. As I grapple with these requirements and try to find a way to make it all fit, I find myself pondering the scholarship aspect a lot. Yesterday, I came across a new post on InsideHigherEd discussing academic writing.

Ulf Kirchdorfer makes some valuable observations. He notes that many of his academic colleagues are unable to write. "When I say unable, I mean those who seem to never manage to sit down and write anything that they can share with colleagues, friends, family or even the least-read publication. One of the reasons can be lack of time, or at least that is one often given. Another could be that one is working at a college that emphasizes teaching and so writing is not a priority, or, if one is very cynical, that one has tenure and so does not have to write, which often seems to go hand in hand with being unable to write or find the time to write. After all, Netflix and Amazon Prime on the Roku await just inside the door after a day of teaching and grading essays and attending a meeting or two. Everyone needs a break and to relax, right, and who would associate writing with relaxation?"

And all of these things legitimately come into play. It's so easy to put writing way down on the totem pole for many reasons. Although Kirchdorfer sort of chastises the pull of the glowing screen, he is right when he says that everyone needs a break to relax. After a long day of supporting the law faculty, it's hard pull together the brainpower to spend time writing anything worthwhile.

One of the solutions that Kirchdorfer offers is the creation of a dedicated writing committee. "I do not pretend to have the answers to get colleagues to start writing, but if I were an administrator, which I do not want to be, I would create a committee where faculty would meet to discuss writings they worked on outside of the meeting...."

This is a valid suggestion and one that one of my own colleagues just brought to the table. I love the idea of setting aside time to flesh out ideas and support and encourage each other's scholarship.

Kirchdorf also offers some tough love advice for making sure you can truly carve out time to write. For one, he warns that you should only enter relationships that are supportive of writing.

More than anything, this post is a great reminder that I need to really jumpstart my own academic writing career, and Kirchdorf's words of advice are truly something to consider.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

RIPS Law Librarian Blog: Law Library Administered Legal Research Programs

Check out my new post on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog discussing law-library administered legal research programs.

Typography Matters

A recent story on NPR about the importance of type font for a resume reminded me about the importance of typography for lawyers.

The NPR story notes that "[b]efore you even get your foot in the door of your next job, your resume can say a lot about you — starting with typeface.Using Times New Roman is the typeface equivalent of wearing sweatpants to an interview." The recommended font picks are Helvetica or Garamond.

Not only is typography and type font important for hiring purposes, it is also important for legal writing. Mathew Butterick's Typography for Lawyers is the quintessential guidebook for desktop publishing. Butterick also maintains a wonderful companion website that offers great tips on all things typography.

The website offers information on why typography matters, what is good typography, and discusses things like type composition, text formatting, font samples, page layout, and sample documents.

Some things to note:
  • White space is your friend: The eye can tolerate only so much stuff on a page. In terms of increasing reading comprehension (and you want the judge to be able to easily understand what you're saying, right?), more white space is better. Butterick recommends line spacing of about 1.5, which puts a pleasant amount of space between lines while keeping enough information on the page. White space can also be used to divide documents into sections.
  • Be super consistent: If you underline cases cases and not italicize, make sure that you do that Every. Single. Time. You don't want to look careless with haphazard formatting. 
This is a perfect example to show that taking time to really focus on the details will pay off in the end. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bibliotech To Spawn A Library Revolution?

There's a new book out called Bibliotech by John Palfrey where Palfrey argues that libraries still fulfill a necessary function - just maybe not the function that you are nostalgic for.

"Palfrey, the former head of the Harvard Law Library and the founding chairman of the Digital Public Library of America, wants a library revolution, one that remakes the institution’s technology, goals and training. Libraries are in peril, he writes, facing budget cuts and a growing perception that technology has rendered them less necessary. All that’s at stake, Palfrey argues, is America’s experiment in self-government. 'If we do not have libraries, if we lose the notion of free access to most information, the world of the haves and the have-nots will grow further and further apart. Our economy will suffer, and our democracy will be put at unnecessary risk.'"

That is a great foundational argument for why libraries are still necessary. We need libraries to fill digital divides and promote true democratic ideals. But "Palfrey’s main concern seems to be not that people will be cut off from information but that the main conduits for that information will be private companies rather than public libraries. 'The risk of a small number of technically savvy, for-profit companies determining the bulk of what we read and how we read it is enormous,' he warns. And those companies will always have incentives to offer services that are 'biased, limited, and costly.'"

And this is also a great point. Do we want Google and Amazon to be the only gate-keepers of our information sources? The convenience and cutting-edge technology that these companies offer has revolutionized many industries, but putting so much power in so few hands is always a cause for concern.

So how do libraries overcome this? "'Libraries must act as ambitiously networked institutions,' [Palfrey] reiterates, and must 'connect their network effectively with partner institutions: archives, historical societies, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations.'" Basically, libraries need to work together to make their collections accessible.

And, as a lawyer, Palfrey lends legal insights into the issues facing libraries. When discussing the move to electronic sources, including books, Palfrey notes that "[l]ibraries can purchase books and then lend them out as often as they like. But when libraries are renters rather than owners of digital materials — as is the case with e-books — their ability to lend is limited by licensing agreements. Because of longstanding copyright laws, 'the digital age could perversely become an era with less accessibility, not more, than the analog age.'" And libraries need to do everything they can to make sure that this doesn't happen.

Of course this revolution will cost money, and Palfrey argues that we need a massive infusion of cash from private philanthropic sources - like those of Joshua Bates or Andrew Carnegie.

This book is worth the read for anyone interested in the issues facing libraries and the high-level thinking that could spawn a library revolution.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The LOC's Constitution Annotated

The Library of Congress, through its website, has a great resource for constitutional law scholars: The Constitution Annotated.

From the website:
"The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. This regularly updated resource is especially useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic. The Featured Topics and Cases page highlights recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that demonstrate pivotal interpretations of the Constitution's provisions."

The annotations are categorized by article or amendment. The first part of the PDF is the text from the Constitution followed by the analysis from SCOTUS cases on point.

Along with the Constitution Annotated, also has the U.S. Founding Documents to view.

There's also an app for that! U.S. Constitution: Analysis and Interpretation by Library of Congress is available to download for the iPhone or iPad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Casetext From The Stanford Center For Legal Informatics

While at SWALL, I learned of a great new FREE legal-research tool called Casetext. Pablo Arredondo was on hand from Casetext and The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics to tell us about some of the exciting new things happening in this open-access legal research platform.

From Casetext's "About Us" section:
"Casetext is a public legal research tool and online community that’s quickly becoming the best place to discover and share legal knowledge. Search millions of cases and statutes, for free, annotated with insights contributed by the legal community. Linking commentary to a legal database gives authors a platform to demonstrate thought leadership to the roughly 250,000 people researching on Casetext each month. Together we’re changing legal research."

Like Ravel, Casetext is a next-gen legal-research platform. It allows for sophisticated searching with both natural language and boolean searching. You can sort and filter your results based on area of law, for example.

As noted, "[y]our search queries will cover more than 6 million federal and state cases, statutes, and regulations, and our library of legal documents is growing fast." The current database includes:
  • U.S. Supreme Court cases
  • federal circuit court cases from 1925 to present
  • federal district court cases, published and unpublished, from 1925 to present
  • state appellate court cases from 1925 to February 2015
  • the United States Code
  • the Code of Federal Regulations
  • State statutes will be available soon!
Another great feature is that Casetext crowdsources legal analysis and allows attorneys to upload their briefs to continue to enhance the database and the open-access movement. Not only is Casetext great for legal research, it is a great place to connect with other attorneys. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bloomberg Law Updates: PLI Content & 50-State Chart Builders

Yesterday, I sat in on a Bloomberg Law update, and there are a couple of things to note: 

Bloomberg Law has limited PLI treatises. This is great news because you may remember this:
"From November 1st, 2012 onwards, no PLI content will be available on Westlaw. After a twenty-five year partnership with Westlaw, PLI content will no longer be accessible via the Thomson Reuters Westlaw site. PLI was unable to reach an agreement for ongoing distribution by Westlaw of PLI content, including both PLI Course Handbooks and PLI Treatises."  

PLI materials have become notoriously hard to find, and it's great that Bloomberg Law has at least some of the PLI content.

One of the other features that is particularly helpful from Bloomberg Law is the 50-State Charts feature. Under the Practice Centers tab, there are 50-State Charts for Health, Labor & Employment, Tax, and Banking & Finance. If you choose one of these practice areas and then click on the Practice Tools link, you will see a Chart Builder function (except Health, it's under Selected State Law Materials instead of Practice Tools). 

The Chart Builders allow you to find laws from the individual states pertaining to a particular issue, and you can then compare the state laws on point. You can do a 50-state survey, or you can choose to just compare a few states. 

For example, under Practice Centers, Labor & Employment, Practice Tools, BNA State Law Chart Builders, you can choose to compare laws from the states on the areas of Benefits, Compensation, EEO, Hiring, Leave, Payroll, and many more. Within those individual areas, you can narrow it even further. For example, under Hiring, you can choose Child Labor and then choose the states that you would like to compare, as well as the topics of the laws that you would like to view (ex. Hours of Work and Retaliation Prohibition). Bloomberg Law then generates a great chart of the laws from the states. 

The Bloomberg Law rep mentioned that Bloomberg Law plans to roll out this function for all of the practice areas, so look for more to come! 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Federal Depository Library Program Academy

All libraries participating in the Federal Depository Library Program should be aware of the FDLP Academy.

Last fall, the FDLP launched the FDLP Academy with the goal to:
  • Inform and educate the Federal depository library community about Federal Government information resources;
  • Assist Federal depository libraries in better serving their communities; and 
  • Advance Government information literacy.
FDLP Academy, a service of GPO, enhances Federal Government information knowledge through:
  • Events and conferences coordinated by GPO;
  • Webinars and webcasts on a wide variety of Government information topics, presented by GPO, other Federal agencies, or from the FDLP community; and
  • A collaborative training repository tool that brings together training materials and resources from FDLP libraries across the nation.
These resources are invaluable to any library participating in the FDLP. The GPO materials can be hard to navigate, and the FDLP Academy offers training to guide in the navigation. The FDLP Academy also offers a way to stay up-to-date on the additions to FDLP materials. 


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Justia Consumer Recalls Website

Justia, the trusty regulation tracker, has just released a recalls website.

Recall Warnings contains over 50,000 consumer recalls collected from different US Government Agencies. Auto Recalls contains recall information and RSS feeds for every car make, model and year.

Product recalls are notoriously hard to find, and Justia has created this website as part of its Public Interest and Pro Bono series.

The product recalls at Justia are organized into sensible categories to find the correct product.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Study Finds Public-Service Lawyers Happiest

The ABA Journal reported on a recent study about lawyer well-being that shows "that lawyers in 'prestige' jobs, who had the highest grades and incomes, aren’t as happy as lawyers working in public-service jobs for substantially lower pay. Judges, however, were happiest of all. 'Prestige' jobs included lawyers working in firms of more than 100 lawyers and those working in areas such as corporate, tax, patent, securities, estate-planning and plaintiff’s tort law. Public-service lawyers included legal-aid lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and in-house lawyers for nonprofits."

And to reaffirm that money doesn't buy happiness, "[t]he survey of lawyers in four states found that satisfaction of psychological needs—including the need for autonomy and to feel competent and connected to others—is far more important to happiness than external rewards such as money."

Law school should take note: "The study by Florida State University law professor Lawrence Krieger and University of Missouri psychology professor Kennon Sheldon noted that law schools emphasize grades, honors and potential for high earnings, though those factors 'have nil to modest bearing on lawyer well-being.'"

Other survey findings include:

• To the surprise of the authors, reported well-being did not vary significantly with the number of hours worked in a week. A subsample of lawyers who had to report billable hours, however, experienced a small decrease in life satisfaction as billable hours increased. Taking more vacation, however, did show a modest correlation with well being.

• Married lawyers were happier than others, as were lawyers with children.

• There was “an almost meaningless correlation” between lawyer well-being and graduating from a higher-tier law school.

• Those who exercised regularly reported greater well-being than others. Practicing yoga and tai chi, however, was not related to well-being.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Lexis For Microsoft Office Enhancements

Lexis will release enhancements to Lexis for Microsoft Office, an application that provides direct access to Lexis research and citation tools and Web search tools from directly within Microsoft Word and Outlook.

As LawSites mentions, one of the new features will be integration with Lexis Search Advantage. Lexis Search Advantage "enhances search capabilities across a firm’s internal document management collection, incorporating Shepard’s Signal Indicators and embedded links to citations in a firm’s internal documents. From within Word and Outlook, users can perform a single search across internal firm content, external content in Lexis Advance, and the open Web, or narrow the search to any of those types of content."

Another great feature of version 4.9 of Lexis for Microsoft Office is the "ability to directly download into CaseMap, the Lexis case analysis litigation software. Users can choose to have documents delivered in a format compatible with CaseMap, so that they can be incorporated into case planning and assessment."

Other new features added in the past year include:
  • Link to Cites. This enables users to easily add permanent hyperlinks between citations in a document and the full text documents on Lexis Advance. If you share the document with someone else, they can click on the link and open the pinpoint citation directly in a browser. The person does not need to have Lexis for Microsoft Office, but would need a Lexis Advance subscription.
  • Validate All Quotes. This finds all the quotations within your document and checks their accuracy against the original documents on Lexis Advance. See your document and the original side-by-side, with errors in your document highlighted in red. With a click, you can replace the misquoted text with the correct source text.
  • Email Suggestions for Review. Users can email suggested corrections of quotes and citations from a document to colleagues via Outlook. Details of the suggestions are included within each email.
  • Prepare Table of Authorities. With a single click, create a table of authorities or update it after you’ve made further edits. There are a number of options for formatting the TOA’s styles, fonts and headings.
With the new enhancements, Lexis for Microsoft Office continues to be a great tool for both academics and practitioners. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Accredited Online JD Programs Coming Soon?

Unaccredited-online JD programs have existed for years, but the ABA recently took an unprecedented approach to accreditation when it decided to approve William Mitchell College of Law's hybrid online program.

As CNBC reports, "[i]n January, 85 students from 31 states and two countries began taking classes in the first-of-its-kind hybrid program, according to the William Mitchell College of Law." This approach is unique in that "'[e]very class is half online and half in person,' said law professor Greg Duhl, the hybrid J.D. program's director."

This creates much more flexibility than what was previously allowed under the ABA Rules for Accreditation. Before only 12 credits could be taken via online or distance education. But with this new accreditation, it appears that as long as 50% of any given class is in-person, then it will comport with ABA Rules.

"Like many online MBA programs, tuition for the William Mitchell College of Law's hybrid version costs the same as the traditional program. In this case, the price tag is still a whopping $27,770 a year. Still, there is one striking benefit for many who choose the hybrid option: Students don't have to quit their jobs or uproot their families. That is where the savings come from."

It will be interesting to see if law schools will continue to push the boundaries of online legal education until the ABA eventually accredits an all-online JD program.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Leveraging Library Data

Libraries keep a lot of data. As David Weinberger, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, notes, libraries should leverage this data to create search applications that include context to evaluate sources.

But privacy concerns and the lack of interoperability of the data makes leveraging the data across libraries a challenge.

By leveraging the data, "[l]ibrary search engines [can] be tuned to what ... is relevant to the community. Researchers could explore usage patterns over time and across disciplines, schools, geographies, and economies. Libraries could be guided in their acquisitions by what they’ve learned from the behavior of communities around the corner and around the globe."

As Weinberger notes, "[t]here are many types of relevant data: Check-ins. Usage broken down by class of patron (faculty? grad student? undergrad?). Renewals. Number of copies in the collection. Whether an item has been put on reserve for a course. Inclusion in a librarian-created guide. Ratings by users on the library’s website. Early call-backs from loans. Citations. Being listed on a syllabus. Being added to a user-created list."

To this end, Weinberger promotes the use of a stackscore to bring all of the data together. "Any library that would like to make its usage data public is encouraged to create a 'stackscore' for each item in its collection. A stackscore is a number from 1 to 100 that represents how relevant an item is to the library’s patrons as measured by how they’ve used it." Each library would be responsible for creating a methodology for computing a stackscore, and "[i]n the interest of transparency, libraries should publish their formulae, but they are not beholden to any other library’s idea of relevance."

And the Harvard Innovation Lab is a great example of leveraging library data to browse Harvard Library's 13 million items. HIL uses a system called StackLife, which "always shows items in a context of other items [displayed] as spines on a shelf. [HIL] use stackscore to 'heat map' each work: the deeper the blue, the higher the stackscore. And [they] generally sort the shelves in stackscore order." When a user is browsing "an unfamiliar area, being guided by a metric of community relevance often turns out to be extraordinarily helpful."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Beware The Knowledge Bubble

NPR recently reported on a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General that shows that "[s]earching for answers online gives people an inflated sense of their own knowledge. It makes people think they know more than they actually do."

The researcher, "Fisher, began with a simple survey: he asked questions such as 'How does a zipper work?' or 'Why are there leap years?' He allowed just half of his subjects to use the Internet to answer the questions. People who had been allowed to search online tended to rate their knowledge higher than people who answered without any outside sources."

"To reveal factors that might explain why the Internet group rated their knowledge higher, [Fisher] designed follow-up experiments using different groups of people. First, he asked people to rate their knowledge before the test; there was no difference between subjects' ratings. But afterwards, the Internet-enabled subjects again rated their knowledge better than the others."

Fisher continued to design a slew of follow-up experiments to test the phenomena. But "[t]he results kept coming back the same: searching online led to knowledge inflation."

As for why this happens, Fisher notes that "[t]he more we rely on the Internet, the harder it will be to draw a line between where our knowledge ends and the web begins. And unlike poring through books or debating peers, asking the Internet is unique because it's so effortless. 'We are not forced to face our own ignorance and ask for help; we can just look up the answer immediately,' Fisher writes in an email. 'We think these features make it more likely for people to consider knowledge stored online as their own.'"

This study is highly interesting in the way that our psyches somehow acquires Internet knowledge without previously knowing the answer to a given search. And it's definitely something I will keep in mind before I become an insufferable know-it-all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Legal Industry Sees Improvement

The NYTimes recently posted an article from a law professor at UC-Berkeley noting that the legal industry is seeing improvement, which is good news for law schools and recent graduates.

One of the factors that will help law students is that "[t]he smaller classes will begin graduating this year and continue to shrink through 2018. Fewer lawyers are likely to mean better first-job numbers, assuming the employment market does not keep declining."

And according to the article, "several new studies ... point to signs of vigorous life in the legal job market, at least toward the higher end. The top global law firms ranked in the annual AmLaw 100 survey experienced a 4.3 percent increase in revenue in 2013 and a 5.4 percent increase in profit.
At the top law schools, things are returning to the years before the financial crisis. Last year, 93.2 percent of the 645 students of the Georgetown Law class of 2013 were employed. Sixty percent of the 2013 graduates were in the private sector with a median starting salary of $160,000."

Additionally "[a] new study provides a compelling reason to be optimistic about a career in law. Two professors, Frank McIntyre and Michael Simkovic, recently released a study of lawyer salaries from 1984 to 2013 with the goal of seeing whether students who graduated in a down economy suffered long-term negative effects. In another paper, the two authors found that such acceleration in compensation results in a premium of $1 million for lawyers over their lifetime compared with those who did not go to law school. Another study released last fall by the American Bar Foundation supports the authors’ findings. The foundation’s After the JD project surveyed lawyers who passed the bar in 2000 to assess their career trajectory 10 years after graduation. The foundation found that as of 2012, lawyers had high levels of job satisfaction and employment as well as high salaries. Even graduates with low grades from low-ranked law schools had median incomes in the $85,000 to $95,000 range. This follows the fact that law firm salaries have risen by more than inflation since 1995, according to the National Association for Law Placement."

As the article notes, "there will [continue] to be disruptions [in the legal field], but [it] is likely to be a case of lawyers shifting from law firms to corporate departments and compliance becoming its own industry. Solo practice, meanwhile, will become more difficult because of automation. Again, these changes are likely to hit students at lower-tier schools harder than those graduating from the top schools."

So good and bad news, but's better than constant bad news all of the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Audio Files On PACER

Yesterday, I had an interesting research request from a faculty who needed access to audio recordings of hearings from PACER (or Bloomberg Law, for that matter). 

When I went searching for the audio files, I could find them in the docket and download the PDF file, but I could not figure out how the audio was attached to the PDF file to actually listen to the audio. 

A simple Google search for "listen to audio from PACER" turned up a handy guide from the United States Bankruptcy Court - District of New Jersey that explains exactly how to listen to the audio files attached to the PDF files in the dockets. 

Essentially, you open the file in Adobe and click on the paperclip icon on the left-hand side of the document. Once you click on the paperclip, you can see the audio-file attachment. Once you click on the audio-file attachment, your media player should open, and you should hear the audio file. Voila!