Monday, May 15, 2017

Rombauer Method of Legal Research

Instead of getting bogged down trying to instruct on the nuts-and-bolts of each database, it is more important to emphasize a research process that works in any database.

To that end, I've always taught a version of the Rombauer Method of legal research.
  • Preliminary Analysis – developing search strings and searching secondary sources for an overview of the topic
  • Codified Law – searching constitutions, codes, court rules, and regulations
  • Binding Precedent – searching case law that the court must follow from a particular jurisdiction
  • Persuasive Precedent – searching case law that the court may follow from other jurisdictions
The beauty of this research process is that it can be geared toward any database. As long as the user can maneuver the database to find relevant secondary sources, he or she will be able to fulfill the first step of the research process and so on.

If students use this research process to keep their research strategic and organized, they should feel comfortable using any database. And it is important for students to feel comfortable while researching because they will generally only research in a way that is comfortable to them.

This was observed by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg among undergraduate students at the University of Washington. The students showed little variation in their research strategies and defaulted to resources like Google and Wikipedia for introductory research, with little regard for efficiency or effectiveness. As Head and Eisenberg observed, the students may be aware of the range of resources needed to carry out their research effectively, but they fall back on strategies as similar and repetitive as possible.

Instead of focusing on the various platforms, we should make the students comfortable with a process that works in any database — a process that will become familiar and repetitive to the students and one that they might actually use.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Law School Rankings & Law Libraries

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that business schools are taking a stand against academic rankings. Business-school deans and research faculty at more than 20 universities are taking a stand against the academic rankings published by media outlets such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Nikkei Inc.’s Financial Times and the Economist Group. Rather than “acquiesce to methods of comparison we know to be fundamentally misleading,” the administrators are urging their peers at other schools to stop participating in a process they say rates programs on an overly narrow set of criteria.

Those in the business of rankings say that the rankings help students make an informed decision about what is likely among the most expensive purchases these students will make in their lives. 

The administrators opposed to the rankings methodologies are of the opinion that if the goal is to help inform [students] about how to make the best decision about business schools, let’s give them the raw information, and not take numbers—which may or may not be relevant to the student—and bungle them together into a ranked list. 

The debate over business school rankings is interesting to law schools because many of the same arguments for and against rankings in the former professional school can be made for the latter professional school. Currently, law schools are ranked by less-than-transparent methodologies, particularly by U.S. News.

After reading the full-length article, On Academic Rankings, Unacceptable Methods, and the Social Obligations of Business Schools, my astute colleague, Professor Eric Chiappinelli, noted that it was interesting to see [the authors'] emphasis on relative scores rather than absolute rank. E.g., in USN, Cornell would be touted as “81” and Texas as “75” rather than “13” and “14” as they are now. In USN-world, that shift would only highlight how bunched all the schools are, especially below the top 50 or so.

With schools being so bunched, should they really be ranked? Or should they be considered for their other qualities, such as proximity to a particular legal market or the substantial offerings from the law library, for example. Changing the rankings would be beneficial for a variety of reasons. Currently, with the intense focus on rankings, many administrative and budget decisions come down to those that will raise rankings, and law libraries are often left out.

It's a shame because law libraries provide an important function. Law libraries support the curricular needs of the law school, which helps with bar passage rates and employment. Law libraries also heavily support faculty scholarship, which helps to raise the peer-review ranking when faculty publish in top-ranked journals, etc.... These are just a couple of examples of the many supportive roles of the law library.

Yet, when administrators consider programs that directly affect rankings, law libraries are often left out of the equation. Rankings need to change. The perception of a law library's affect on rankings also needs to change.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PlumX for Altmetrics on Scholarly Impact

Previously, I discussed the problem with impact factor in law and the seemingly insurmountable task of creating a meaningful impact factor.

But as any good law librarian would do, we always try to "make it happen." To that end, I recently ran across PlumX as a platform to aggregate various metric sources.


As noted on Texas Tech University's LibGuide on point, besides traditional citation counts, there are many ways of tracking research impacts. They try to capture the presence in new scholarly venues, presence and impact in social media and other forms of online engagement, such as views, downloads, bookmarks etc. Collectively, we refer to these as altmetrics, as opposed to traditional citation measurement using Web of Science, Scopus and other citation enhanced databases.

PlumX is a subscription-based platform for tracking research impact. PlumX gathers and brings together appropriate metrics for all types of scholarly research output. They categorize metrics into 5 separate types: Usage, Captures, Mentions, Social Media, and Citations.
Examples of each type are:
Metrics_Icons_Usage Usage – clicks, downloads, views, library holdings, video plays
Metrics_Icons_Captures  Captures – bookmarks, code forks, favorites, readers, watchers
 Mentions – blog posts, comments, reviews, Wikipedia links
Metrics_Icons_SocialMedia Social media – +1s, likes, shares, tweets
Metrics_Icons_Citations Citations – citation indexes, patent citations, clinical citations

Many libraries, including a few law libraries, are now integrating PlumX directly into institutional repositories to capture these altmetrics.

As Karen Shephard from Pitt Law Library recently commented in an AALL discussion on faculty services:
With the University's support, we have been creating PLUMX profiles for our faculty members. They are connected with our University's digital repository, D-Scholarship, and bring together an amazing amount of publication usage data, from downloads (via SCOPUS publications, EPrints, SSRN and more) - including related citations - to social media mentions (FB, blogs, etc.), captures (i.e. Mendeley) and more.

While the traditional sources still hold the most weight, our Law School is using the altmetircs available through PLUMX to supplement information concerning faculty impact. It's "really cool" being able to see when someone across the globe is talking about a faculty member's recent work!

If all law libraries start measuring impact with a service such as PlumX, we may just have the metrics that we need to compare meaningful scholarly impact.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Law Librarians Who (Know) Code

At a recent talk, it was recommended that law librarians learn enough about coding to understand how coding intersects with the organization and retrieval of information. To ensure that our systems function properly, we should all, at minimum, know what a programming language is, how to talk about it, and what coding can and cannot do.

We must understand what coding is, how it relates to libraries, what can reasonably be asked of code, and the threshold concepts that are required to work alongside those who actually write the code.

Law librarians understand how the end user interacts with the various retrieval systems. We understand the intersectionality of cases, statutes, and regulations, etc.... As well as best practices for accessibility and the practical search skills of our prospective or practicing lawyers. For a retrieval system to work well, it must be coded with all of these considerations in mind. A programmer, working alone, may not have this wholistic view.

Now that we are fully in the digital era, with many law libraries going effectively print free, we need to understand this skill more than ever. It's a law librarian's expertise, coupled with a programmer's understanding of code, that will allow us to create systems that transform information retrieval.

To that end, law librarians might consider attending a coding camp to learn this necessary skill.


Switchup recently released a list of the top 31 coding schools along with rankings and reviews. A friend of mine who attended a coding camp and is now a successful programmer recommended Bloc for a self-paced experience.

Another option is to find a Coursera coding course (or other available MOOC).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Excuse Me, Can I Have a Turn?" Female SCOTUS Justices Heavily Interrupted

The Harvard Business Review recently released the results of an enlightening new study about the speech patterns during SCOTUS oral arguments.

According to the article, a new empirical study shows that the male justices interrupt the female justices approximately three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral arguments. 

HBR examined the transcripts of 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments, finding that women do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices. Many male justices are now interrupting female justices at double-digit rates per term, but the reverse is almost never true. In the last 12 years, during which women made up, on average, 24% of the bench, 32% of interruptions were of the female justices, but only 4% were by the female justices.

And there is a consistently gendered pattern: In 1990, with one woman on the bench (former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), 35.7% of interruptions were directed at her; in 2002, 45.3% were directed at the two female justices (O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg); in 2015, 65.9% of all interruptions on the court were directed at the three female justices on the bench (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan). With more women on the court, the situation only seems to be getting worse.

Not only do the fellow male justices interrupt the female justices, so too do the male advocates on the other side of the bench. Despite strict rules mandating that advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking, interruptions by male advocates account for approximately 10% of all interruptions that occur in court. In contrast, interruptions by female advocates account for approximately 0%. 

While the female justices are being interrupted at far higher rates, at least they are learning to stop using polite prefatory words. Early in their tenure, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. 

HBR ultimately found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four of the female justices have reduced their tendency to use this polite phrasing. Justice Sotomayor adjusted within just a few months. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg gradually became less and less polite over decades on the court, eventually using the polite phrases approximately one-third as much as they did initially. Justice Kagan is still learning: She uses polite language more than twice as often as the average man, although half as often as she did in 2010.

Not surprisingly, HBR did not see a similar trend with the men, because male justices rarely use these polite speech patterns, even when they first enter the court. It is the women who adapt their speech patterns to match those of the men.
If it's this bad for arguably some of the most powerful women in the world, imagine what it's like for other women in the legal profession. We need to do better. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Problem with Impact Factor in Law

While working as a Faculty Services & Scholarly Communications Librarian, I presume I am not alone in being asked to create an impact factor for which to judge the scholarly work of faculty.

In fact, Gary Lucas at Texas A&M was recently asked a similar question:
Texas A&M University assesses its colleges and departments based partly on scholarly impact and using quantitative metrics. The law school’s dean has assigned me the task of identifying scholarly impact metrics for use in assessing the performance of our law faculty collectively and individually. This essay discusses the major issues that arise in measuring the impact of legal scholarship. It also explains important scholarly impact metrics, including the Leiter score and Google Scholar h-index, and the major sources of information regarding scholarly impact, including Google Scholar, Westlaw, Hein Online, SSRN, and bepress.

Ultimately, Lucas proposes ranking scholarship by Google Scholar citation count to provide a much-needed supplement to existing rankings schemes, including ranking schools based on U.S. News peer reputation score.

Lucas has made a noble effort toward impact in law. But creating an impact factor from scratch and getting other law schools on board to use it is a magnum-opus type work that other brave souls have attempted before to no avail.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that Google Scholar will be adopted to widespread use. The metadata created by Google Scholar is neither reliable nor reproducible, and it distorts the metric indicators at the individual and journal levels, as noted by other authors. Additionally, when broaching the topic of using impact in promotion and tenure decisions, law faculty will inevitably analyze the impact factors to death.

Because of the inherent difficulty and extensive resources that it would take to create an impact factor from scratch that faculty feel is a reliable indicator of their work, we're left without a metric that all schools will adopt and use consistently to make individual impact viable in law.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Law Libraries Supporting ABA Standards

While the very specific requirements of a law library collection have loosened under the ABA Standards, it should not signal that law libraries are any less important. The loosening of the Standards allows us to tailor our resources to truly support the law school and create practice-ready grads. Law libraries still heavily support the ABA Standards and should be seen as a valuable resource as law schools try to meet the new standards. The following standards are (or should be) directly affected by law library support:

1. Experiential LearningThe ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. To qualify as experiential under Standard 303(a)(3), “a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must (i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302,” one of which is legal research. The course must also “(ii) developing the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught; (iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and (iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.” In addition, experiential courses must be a simulation, a law clinic, or a field placement. Law librarians have focused on creating skills courses for years. We know how to create the simulation courses that fall under this standard. And many of us have even developed for-credit skills courses that help students meet their experiential learning requirement.

2. Formative & Summative Assessment: Legal research is specifically mentioned as a core competency in a law school's learning outcomes. In addition, law libraries have been doing formative and summative assessment for years. Law librarians teach a valuable skill. And we assess comprehension during the instruction (formative), as well as at the culmination of instruction (summative). If you want to see these assessment methods in practice, look no further than your law library where your law librarians have gained meaningful insight to share with the rest of the faculty.

3. The Upper Level Writing Requirement: To satisfy the ABA upper class writing requirement, a law student's writing should come with significant faculty oversight. Law librarians can support this requirement, in part, through implementing and supporting a strong scholarly writing program.

Law schools would be remiss not to use their law libraries to support these standards. Law schools are one unit that should use all of the available resources to create practice-ready graduates. In practice, attorneys spend over 35% of their time doing legal research. And legal research is the foundation of creating connections and building legal analytical skills.

For a more in-depth discussion of law libraries supporting the various standards, see Alyson Drake's wonderful articles on point.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Law Libraries Under Cardiac Arrest

The most recent edition of The Law Library Journal was released this week, and there's an interesting article by Ursula Gorham & Paul Jaeger called The Law School Library or the Library at the Law School? How Lessons from Other Types of Libraries Can Inform the Evolution of the Academic Law Library in the Digital Age.

The authors note that [f]or much of their history, law school libraries were routinely characterized as the heart of their law schools. “The law library has always been a core part of the law school with the primary mission to serve the legal research needs of law school faculty and students.”

Within the last 60 years, however, we've seen a huge transition from a focus on our print collections to, more recently, a focus on our services. The importance of the academic law library has long been reflected by its prominent mention within the ABA’s Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The 1960s marked the beginning of the golden age for academic law libraries, with the ABA standards at that time dictating collections’ minimum number of volumes and titles of required publications. Over the next three decades, extensive collection development was the norm for law libraries, with “the number of titles and number of volumes . . . almost the sole criteria for judging the quality of a library.” Recently, however, there's been much less import given to collecting data on our print collections, which signals a dramatic shift in the criteria for judging the quality of the library.

With this transition, we've seen the long-standing claim of "law libraries as the heart of the law
school" challenged in significant ways. Even as modern law libraries have moved beyond the print collection to a greater focus on creative, effective legal research regardless of format, we are still married to the print in most people's minds.

This, coupled with the perceived benefits of the library being further obscured by libraries not counting as factors in law school rankings makes for a recipe of irrelevance.

The articles goes on to mention ways that law libraries can continue to show relevance. [I]t is argued that while librarians are experts in legal research, they have not done enough to claim it as their territory—it is often incorporated into legal writing classes and/or taught by database vendors. By failing to do so, they have made it easier for others to argue for their increasing irrelevance. As experts, law librarians are in the best position to teach effective legal research.

Legal research is too important of a foundational skill to be given short shrift in a legal writing course because using a legal database and using it well are two different thingsA wonderful way to create a legal research curriculum outside of the legal writing courses is through a law library administered legal research program.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arthur Miller Articulates the Importance of Legal Research

When we are in the midst of being bombarded with the various microagressions that are commonplace as a law librarian in the law school hierarchy, we might lose sight of why we do this.

Especially considering this:
The ABA has been “over” law libraries for years now. After completing the last accreditation inspection team visit I went on, I swore I would never do another one. Back in the day, the librarian member of those teams mattered because the ABA’s Standards on law libraries had some teeth. Now, after years of watering down those Standards, law schools often tilt toward US News rankings as the end all/be all and as we know, library matters have an infinitesimal impact on USN’s calculations. I think the fact that no one (outside of our own professional association) is mentioning libraries as a part of the future of legal education is (sadly) not accidental. - Steve D. Hinckley

But we know, innately, that legal research is the foundation. It's complex and creative and helps build connections to form legal minds and make effective legal arguments.

Here's the great Arthur Miller to remind us of why it's important:

Part I: 


Part II: 


Amen, Sir!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Database of Law Related Movies

We all love a good law movie, right? Well, we're all in luck because lawyer and law librarian Ted Tjaden created a database of Law-Related Movies.

The 172 law-related movies on this site have been arbitrarily limited to those that contain one or more of the following features: interesting courtroom scenes, portrayal of lawyers, themes of justice or liberty, or discussion of substantive legal issues. 

The pages have been divided into the following topics:
These movies are great for entertainment purposes or may be useful for instruction, particularly the "movies organized by substantive law subject."

Law libraries might also use these titles to host movie nights. Or, like some of my wonderful colleagues at Texas Tech, to create a movie series at a local theater that hosts a panel discussion after the show.

Thanks to Ted for creating this wonderful list!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Combating Link Rot in SCOTUS Decisions

We know that link rot is a large problem in modern Supreme Court decisions.

According to a ... study, 49 percent of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions no longer work. The problem is that those citations allow lawyers and scholars to find, understand and assess the court’s evidence and reasoning. For most of the Supreme Court’s history, its citations have been to static, permanent sources, typically books. Since 1996 justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times, the study found. Those citations are very often ephemeral.

As noted in 2013 by the NYTimes, 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.

SCOTUS needs to do better and find a reliable electronic archival tool that will capture screenshots of the web resources and host them for easy access in perpetuity. We have Perma.cc, but the very busy Justices haven't taken the time to archive their own cited internet sources.

In steps the UC Berkeley School of Law Library and web application developer Philip Ardery to address this problem by hosting U.S. Supreme Court Web Citations. This service captures snapshots of any web resource cited by the United States Supreme Court immediately after their opinions are issued. The goal of the service is to leverage current web and archiving technologies to minimize the link rot that complicates research as websites change or become unavailable over time.

You can subscribe to receive updates. Contact Michael Lindsey, UC Berkeley Law Library's Directory of Library Web Development for additional information

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Law Libraries Respond to Changes in ABA Reporting

In the seven years that I've been a law librarian, ABA reporting for law libraries has made a fairly dramatic shift from measuring inputs to measuring outputs.

Chapter 6 of the Standards, along with most of the Standards, now places an emphasis on outcomes instead of inputs. For libraries, that means an analysis of how well the patrons of a library are being served rather than how much we spend for various activities, and much of the information now required comes from the sabbatical site visits rather than from annual information on expenditures or staff.

One of my colleagues recently pointed out that during an ABA site visit, law libraries must highlight how our patrons are being served. As the physical collections shrink, we need to focus more on customer service.  

This same colleague opined that, on the horizon, law school administrator's will look at this [measuring outputs only] as another opportunity to slash library budgets particularly in regard to print. Outside of state-specific needs, this will effectively kill print collections. The library of the future will be vested in digital collections accessible anywhere for the convenience of our patrons, a smaller footprint on the campus due to decreased need for stacks ,and the need to create more modular space as needed to accommodate different sized study groups, for example. We will also need to offer the latest technologies to draw users into our space. High speed internet, movable digital white boards, etc.  The need for expert librarians that know how to navigate and manage the digital collections is where library administrators will need to vest their political capital within the law school. Even this will come under pressure as IBM's Watson grows more proficient. It is a rapidly changing environment.

For a fairly prescient discussion of law libraries in the digital age, see this article on The Virtual Academic Law Library. Of particular interest is the SWOT analysis near the end.  

With this perfect storm brewing, it is time to start analyzing our law libraries' own strengths and weaknesses in our brave new world.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Call for Full Citizenship of All Law Faculty

The clustering of women in legal writing, in clinics, in academic support, and in librarian positions means that a disproportionate number of women law teachers in the United States hold jobs with significantly lower pay, with more limited voting rights at faculty meetings, and with less support for many things that tenure-line faculty take for granted (sabbaticals, support for scholarship, travel, etc.).

Starting today (International Women’s Day) and continuing until April 4th (Equal Pay Day), the Legal Writing Institute is collecting signatures on a statement advocating for all law professors to enjoy equal status – or “full citizenship” – on their faculties, regardless of the subject matter they teach.

LWI Policy Statement on Full Citizenship for Law Faculty (Adopted March 2015):

The LWI Board has adopted a policy statement on principles of equality for law faculty that will guide its future planning and decisions. This statement explicitly signals our commitment to the policy of full citizenship for all law professors, and it is designed to communicate that commitment to our members as well as others in the legal academy and the legal profession. The policy statement also has been adopted by the ALWD Board of Directors and the SALT Board of Directors: 

The Legal Writing Institute is committed to a policy of full citizenship for all law faculty. No justification exists for subordinating one group of law faculty to another based on the nature of the course, the subject matter, or the teaching method. All full-time law faculty should have the opportunity to achieve full citizenship at their institutions, including academic freedom, security of position, and governance rights. Those rights are necessary to ensure that law students and the legal profession benefit from the myriad perspectives and expertise that all faculty bring to the mission of legal education.

If it strikes you as odd, unfair, and perhaps even illegal that a historically-discriminated-against class of Americans are treated this way simply based on the subject matter they teach, please click here and sign on.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Concerted Effort to Collect Law Library Statistics

We've caught wind that the ABA Standards Review Committee will be proposing to the ABA Council that Section III of the annual questionnaire (dealing with libraries) be eliminated, along with many other parts of the questionnaire not seeking data required by the Standards. This proposal will be considered by the Council at its July meeting for implementation in the 2017 questionnaire. Issues involving the questionnaires are not subject to hearings as are changes to the Standards--they just go directly from the Committee to the Council. The information regarding faculty members (director or teaching) in the library will continue to be collected in other parts of the questionnaire, and there will be a line for total library expenditures with other law school expenditures.

This does not bode well for the compilations of law library statistics that we rely on to work with law school administrators.

As mentioned in the announcement, the annual compilation of library statistics has been continued largely because of librarian interest in the information--they are not included in the Standard 509 reports and a law school would not be subject to interim monitoring for any of the data reported. So, if we want to continue the effort of compiling more detailed library information, it will have to be done by us. 

While AALL will certainly be helpful in this endeavor, more libraries may want to look into the ALLStAR Benchmarking Survey.

ALLStAR, or Academic Law Libraries: Statistics, Analytics and Reports, is a new project supported by the Yale Law Library and the NELLCO Law Library Consortium that will enable academic law libraries to systematically gather and analyze a large set of relevant and previously unobtainable data points. Using Counting Opinions' LibPAS as the interface, participating libraries will be able to analyze their own operations, as well as undertake extensive benchmarking against any other participating library or libraries they choose.

Why Benchmark?
  • To identify, understand, and quantify our strengths and weaknesses
  • To understand the drivers of demand on library resources and how they are changing
  • To enable you to align internal resource allocation
  • To enable you to: 
    • Justify resources needed 
    • Motivate staff to consider change
    • Plan strategically for the future
While this information will no longer be part of the ABA annual questionnaire, it still behooves law libraries to maintain statistics for benchmarking purposes. ALLStAR may just be the concerted effort that we need to fill this impending gap in our information. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When a 3L Says, "I didn't know we had a law library."

After starting a new position, it's always a good idea to evaluate the programming at your new institution and possibly bring experiences and programming initiatives along from your previous institution.

At my last institution, I was a reference librarian, and I also taught a full-length course on scholarly writing. When I arrived at my new institution, I noticed a hole in the curriculum when it came to instructing the students on best practices for scholarly writing. 

Because many of our students take part in seminar courses or the journal write-on competitions each year, it seemed natural to start a scholarly writing initiative at my new institution. 

Starting Fall 2016, two new scholarly writing programs were introduced by the law library. The first was a Scribes Student Legal Writing Society group. As the Executive Director of Scribes, I was tasked with starting local chapters of this group at the various law schools. The first year would be a pilot year with two law schools taking part. As part of the Texas Tech Law Chapter, the legal writing faculty, specialists, and law library faculty came together to provide monthly programming to the students that coincided with the timeline for writing a journal note, seminar paper, or independent-research paper. 

We created a toolkit of programming materials, and the events have generally been well attended. We've had quite a few students tell us that their seminar-paper grades were much higher after attending the sessions and incorporating the various best practices. 

The other scholarly writing program introduced this year was to incorporate the law library in seminar course instruction. Each semester, I identify the faculty members who are teaching seminar courses, and I email an overview of the instruction materials to remind them of the program. 

The seminar course instruction consists of
  • Developing a thesis
  • The parts of the paper
  • Researching the particular subject
  • Attribution and plagiarism (The Bluebook)
Additionally, for each course, we create a research guide that provides this information and points to helpful sources for the individual course topic. 

After a successful seminar session this morning, a 3L said, "I didn't even know we had a law library. It's too bad I didn't know about it sooner." Part of the point of these sessions is to perform outreach and show the value of the law library. We are also making great strides in the quality of our programming to 1Ls and our voluntary Excellence in Legal Research program to reach the students earlier. 

With new associates spending upwards of 30% of their time doing legal research, it's imperative that we show the students early and often that the law library has a true value to their legal education.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Happy Fair Use Week!



Happy Fair Use Week 2017!

Fair Use Week is an annual celebration of the important doctrines of fair use and fair dealing. The week is designed to highlight and promote opportunities presented by fair use and fair dealing, to celebrate successful stories, and to explain these doctrines.

For law libraries, AALL has created a wonderful resource called Guidelines on the Use of Copyrighted Works by Law Libraries. This guide discusses, among other things:

The area of copyright law is constantly in flux as we learn more about what fair use means through case precedent, particularly for libraries and archives. 

We've seen the ongoing Google Books litigation, with post on the progression of the case here (District Court), here (Court of Appeals), and here (SCOTUS). 

The Georgia State case that involves library course reserves. 

And HathiTrust litigation, which ultimately decided that providing a full text search database and providing access to works for people with print disabilities is considered fair use. 

During this Fair Use Week, take time to explain and promote fair use and fair dealing as essential limitations and exceptions to copyright - particularly for librarians and educators. These limitations and exceptions allow for the advancement of knowledge and ideas and help promote creativity and learning. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Designing a Law Library Learning Space

Barbara Fister over at InsideHigherEd recently discussed practices for designing learning spaces in libraries. Her post was informed by a new report published by Project Information Literacy called Planning and Designing Academic Library Learning Spaces.

The report involved interviewing 49 librarians, architects, and consultants involved in 22 library construction projects that were completed between 2011 and 2016. The research probes how these three parties negotiate their values and incorporate them into designs, what kinds of learning are these new and renovated spaces meant to support, and what best practices (and worst practices) might inform libraries embarking on a renovation. 

Fister noted a surprising finding that [s]tudents weren’t part of the discussion, or at least not in any depth, in a majority of these projects. Apart from gate counts and a focus group or survey here and there, studying student needs or asking their opinion wasn’t part of the planning process (though some libraries gave students a chance to try out furniture before it was purchased). Librarians were more likely to get ideas from other librarians through touring other libraries or going to conferences than from their own user community.

Ultimately, the major recommendations from the report are as follows:
  • We must do better to study students use of space before and after renovations. 
  • Librarians must be part of campus-wide conversations long before a renovation is approved, not simply told after decisions are made. 
  • Flexible spaces should be designed with the unique needs of the local community in mind, including both students and faculty- needs of today and those we can anticipate for the next few decades.
Like many of the libraries involved in the study, it seems that most law library planning decisions are based on some qualitative data - like gate counts and check-out stats. But these decisions are also often based on library trends across the country without truly taking into account the individual needs of the local community.

For example, if you are a law library at a regional law school that prides itself on practical education and has a low publishing requirement for tenure, should you spend large sums of money on specialized monographs that few will actually use?

Of course, we all want a wonderful archive of material, but should this particular law library at this particular law school be concerned with collecting vast amounts of esoteric print content?

Or should this law library be more concerned with creating spaces that facilitate and support practical education, like clinic space, while also creating stronger institutional lending partnerships with libraries that can act as a major archive?

On the flipside, if you are a law library that can and should act as a major archive, do you have a responsibility to share your resources (think HathiTrust)?

It's difficult to fully assess these things while working with limited information. Many law libraries do not have the ability to support meaningful research that provides the information necessary to make truly informed decisions at the local level. Certainly talking with students and faculty before renovations and ensuring that librarians are involved in the planning process are important components. So is understanding your local community in the broader scheme of library trends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Law Schools "Obsessed With Smartness"

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article this week on colleges being "obsessed with smartness." The "pecking order" of higher education — and the ratings that we use to establish the quality of our colleges and universities — has come to depend almost entirely on acquiring smart students.... Colleges receive their place in the latest magazine rankings, in large part, based on their selectivity in admissions, and upon factors like retention and degree-completion rates. Guarding those rates leads us to select the best possible students — because, of course, they are the ones most easily retained and most likely to graduate.


The real purpose of a college education, by contrast, should be to develop smart students. Their development depends not on the quality of the entering class but on the quality of our teaching and the ability of our institutions to cultivate intellectual and affective skills. If our campuses were driven primarily by a desire to develop student talents, the quality of the incoming class would matter far less than it does now. Our concern would shift away from acquisition and toward development.

Like undergraduate institutions, law schools are doing the same thing. But law schools are squeezed at both ends. US News ranks law schools, in part, by incoming student credentials AND on bar passage rates after graduation. Thus law schools place a huge importance on incoming credentials - particularly a prospective student's LSAT score - to help determine the likelihood of bar passage. There is some correlation between LSAT and bar passage (not perfect but some).

As I've written before on this issue:
We already have issues with diversity in the legal field, and this sort of gatekeeping will continue to exacerbate the problem. This isn't because minorities or poor nonminority students are inherently stupid. It's because the current state of legal education and higher education, in general, advances students who have been supported [financially and other] and encouraged throughout their education with better schools and test prep, etc.... Instead of gatekeeping before law school, we should consider innovative ways of teaching during law school that will ensure success in the legal field on a broader scale. Of course there are other issues with the cost of legal education and making sure that students who take on the huge debt load for a JD degree can successfully take a bar exam, but that isn't done with LSAT score alone.

We have predictive analytics for nearly everything now - think Moneyball or Nate Silver - why haven't we adopted a more well-rounded approach to law school admissions? A well-rounded approach that also includes a human element. For any law school relying on LSAT as a sole (or nearly sole) predictor of success, it is adding to the economically biased admissions culture and making a professional degree all but unattainable for a large number of people.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Using Scrivener for Scholarship

A wonderful colleague who pumps out an admirable amount of scholarship recently turned me onto Scrivener.

Scrivener is great for its ability to organize research and act as a word-processing tool. It was originally created for writing novels or screenplays, but more and more law professors are adopting it.

The beauty of a tenure-track law librarian position is that it attempts to give law librarians full citizenship in a law school, which as any law librarian knows, is an uphill battle. My law school wasn't ready for it either, so they created a new tenure-track line for "law library faculty." This designation comes with the great responsibility to teach, research, and provide service akin to a "normal" tenure-track law faculty member. It also comes with the responsibility to provide all of the support that a law librarian gives.

All of this to say that anything that helps me write more and write faster is a friend of mine. Scrivener has been invaluable for that.

Scrivener allows you to personalize it for your own writing style. As I was also forewarned - WATCH THE INTERACTIVE TUTORIAL! There is a plethora of components that are customizable.

With that said, here's my method:

  • I start a blank project (this is helpful for folks not writing in the template areas):

  • Within the project, I add a document that is my outline and another that is my draft:
  • I then create folders for my research 
    • Main folders titled with my main headings and
    • Subfolders for each subpart

  • I then dump PDFs of all of my research into the designated folder

  • As I'm working, I split the screen between my draft and the relevant research

Rather than sifting through printouts of research trying to find relevant passages, all of my research is readily available. I can easily enter footnotes, and when my article is finished, it can be exported to Word for final formatting before submission. 

As mentioned, this is only one writer's way of using this customizable tool. 

If you still aren't sold on Scrivener, they will give you a 30-day free trial. As in 30 actual days of use - not just 30 calendar days. Try it. Watch the Tutorial. See how you can make it work for you. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Young Librarian in the Field: Digital Archivist

To go along with a recent blog post on practical considerations for a career is law librarianship, I thought I would highlight a type of librarian that is needed now more than ever.

Newsworks profiled a young librarian working as a digital archivist to highlight the librarian of the future. As mentioned in the article, several years ago, Forbes Magazine listed the advanced degrees with the worst job prospects—and a master's in library sciences was No. 1 on the list. Despite that gloomy prediction and some staid image problems, young librarians say their work is relevant in the 21st Century and is as needed now as it has ever been.


Jarrett Drake learned librarianship at the University of Michigan School of Information. He's Princeton University's first-ever digital archivist, which is a librarian who preserves things created on computing devices. His job is to figure out how to safeguard ones and zeros, and to do that, he gets help from a $10,000 machine called "FRED," a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device. It looks like a big server with a dozen ports on the front. Beside the machine, Drake keeps a stack of cables, FireWires and USB cords to upload documents from just about any kind of computer. The F.B.I. and D.E.A. use the same kind of machine to detect computer crimes. Drake says his library work follows a similar forensic approach. He wants to collect without contaminating. Drake protects documents from bit rot and FRED stamps every file with a digital fingerprint.

Some of the science of the work is giving future library patrons access in some of the same ways that the original users interacted with and experienced the digital information.

This type of library work is increasingly important as technologies become outmoded at a faster pace. If we don't have digital archivists like Drake working to archive and protect digital content from bit rot, there is a real threat of losing out on vast amounts of important data.

To attract people to the profession, we'll need to overcome antiquated librarian stereotypes. "Shushing in the digital age will just get spit on your computer screen."

A librarian's work is arguably more important than ever. As noted, Google's search engine can't replace [us]; it just [thankfully] frees up information professionals to help with more complicated information needs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Practical Considerations for Law Librarianship as Career

Is a career in law librarianship right for you? The Findlaw blog asked this question to highlight law librarianship as an alternative to a traditional legal career.

The post asks Like books? Like the law? Worried about the crushing debt of a J.D. or the soul-sucking hours of a young associate? Maybe it's time to consider being a law librarian. 

For law firm librarians, these are precise questions to consider. For academic law librarians, however, salvation from the crushing debt of a J.D. is generally out of the question (save for independent wealth or  an increasingly rare full scholarship). The majority of academic law librarian positions require both a J.D. and a Master's of Library Science (or similar variation).

Law firm librarian positions, on the other hand, generally require just the M.L.S. And with the cost-savings associated with avoiding the J.D. degree, the starting salary of $62,000 noted in the Findlaw post offers a decent cost-benefit analysis.

As noted in a recent AALL Spectrum article, that may not be the case for academic law librarians. To be a law librarian in the twenty first century (with the increasingly required JD), expect to have $100,000 to $180,000 in student loans, but do not expect your salary to keep pace with your debt ratio. According to an October 2015 New York Times article, the average law school graduate’s loan debt is $140,000. The American Bar Association puts the average school loan debt from those graduating from state law schools at a more modest $84,000. Master’s degrees in librarianship or information science are not necessarily a bargain either. Tuition alone for the information schools at Drexel, University of Texas, University of Washington, University of Illinois, and University of North Carolina ranges between $32,000 and $55,000 to complete the degree. 

Currently, newer law librarians can expect to make between $50,000 and $80,000 until they become senior managers, according to AALL’s Law Librarianship by the Numbers 2014 report

Aside from the monetary concerns, however, you'd be hard pressed to find a career with higher satisfaction. As noted in the Spectrum article, for the law librarians we spoke with, day-to-day job satisfaction was incredibly high. Getting paid to help others, confront intellectual challenges, and solve problems is rewarding.

Because the work of law librarians is so varied, it is intellectually stimulating and never gets boring.   Law librarians perform tasks such as researching, analyzing, and evaluating the quality, accuracy, and validity of sources; teaching and training; writing; managing; and procuring and classifying library materials.

For example, in roughly 3 hours this morning, I helped multiple professors with course management system issues; researched, retrieved, and organized a variety of cases on religious discrimination; received clarification on public performance rights for a documentary; prepared a monthly newsletter for the law library; prepped research instruction; and worked with my research assistants on faculty research. My work will be as varied tomorrow morning.

For anyone with an intellectually curious mind, you truly can't beat this profession.

But the other practical considerations can seem overwhelming at times. The strict hours and the need to relocate for work make balancing family a challenge. And ever-shrinking budgets with the call to do more with less money is a real concern.

Anna Russell & Ingrid Mattson, the authors of the AALL Spectrum article, would like to keep this conversation going. To that end, they request that you take a short, five-minute work/life balance survey at bit.ly/JF17survey.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is .Gov Reputable?

During information-literacy instruction, librarians generally count on the .gov domain suffix to lead to reputable information. 

For example, this site on evaluating internet information plainly states:
.gov
Government. If you come across a site with this domain, then you're viewing a federal government site. All branches of the United States federal government use this domain. Information such as Census statistics, Congressional hearings, and Supreme Court rulings would be included in sites with this domain. The information is considered to be from a credible source.

And another site also states: 
You can trust sites with “.gov” addresses. You can also trust sites with “.edu” addresses if they’re produced by the educational institution. Personal pages of individuals at an educational institution may not be trustworthy, even though they have “.edu” addresses. The presence of “.org” in an address doesn’t guarantee that a site is reputable; there have been instances where phony “.org” sites were set up to mislead consumers. Also, some legitimate “.org” sites belong to organizations that promote a specific agenda; their content may be biased.

I'd wager that nearly any source on evaluating internet information has a similar statement. 

During the last few weeks, however, I've started to ask myself if this is still true. Do we find ourselves in a time when even .gov information should be evaluated for bias or in furtherance of a particular agenda? 

Or maybe this was always the case.

Either way, the popular rhetoric points to being hyper-vigilant about the information that we rely on and share with the world. No longer should we rely on certain domains to provide reputable information. We should all use our evaluation skills to vet any and all information.

Challenge accepted. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Law Librarians Filling Gaps in Law School Curricula

Many law librarians try to find creative ways to incorporate research into the law school curriculum. Some try to integrate fully into the 1L program to ensure that all law students get a proper legal-research foundation. Others may hit roadblocks taking that route and instead start law library administered legal research programs.

Whichever method you use to instill the importance of efficient and effective legal research, and aside from the importance of researching across the law school curriculum, there are a couple of gaps to note in student ability that have run consistent throughout my time as a teaching law librarian.

One is the understanding of the interplay between statutes and regulations. I regularly ask my students to explain it, and I've only had a few who could do it. If students don't understand that statutes enable administrative agencies to enforce the law and that administrative agencies create regulations that further the goals of enforcement, then how will students understand how to successfully research and analyze a complex issue on point?

During a recent session on federal statutory research, I asked a room full of 3Ls (who are about to graduate in May) to articulate this distinction. Only one could do it. Everyone else looked stunned.

Another consistent gap that I see is the lack of understanding of the civil trial process. I usually get more students who can name the parts of the civil trial process than the difference between statutes and regulations, but it's still rather abysmal. To that end, I created a full-length civil trial research course for spring 2017.

During our first session, in a room mostly made up of 3Ls, I did a pre-assessment on the parts of the civil trial process after introductions. The results of the pre-assessment were pretty awful. After we discussed the parts of the process, generally, the post-assessment results were much better.

For the next 14 weeks, we will talk about "best practices" for the particular part of the civil trial process, and I will show them how to find sample forms relevant to that part of the process. They will then complete an in-class exercise to put that knowledge into action. Their final project will be to create a packet of relevant forms based on the parts of the civil trial process dealing with a particular fact pattern.

When I consider what I think a law student should know upon graduation, these are just a couple of examples. Teaching law librarians would do well to fill these practical gaps in knowledge.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Find FREE Books with Google Chrome Library Extension

There's a cool new tool in the Library Extension for Google Chrome. Like many people (and even as a librarian), I often find myself clicking "purchase" on Amazon before checking with my local library for a book that I am interested in.

As mentioned on Lifehacker, Amazon may be convenient, but nothing beats free. After you install the Library Extension for Chrome, any searches that you do on Amazon will yield results from your local library, too. 

From Library Extension's website: Easily see what titles are available at your local library as you browse for books! As you browse books and e-books, the Library Extension can check your library's online catalog and display the availability of that item on the same page. If the book is available at your library, you'll know instantly – and have a quick, convenient link to reserve the title! 

The extension allows you to pick your favorite local libraries and add them to a list. Then, when you shop for books on Amazon (or other), the extension adds a box that will let you know if those books are available at your library.

It's a wonderfully ingenious extension, and it will be available for Firefox soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

AI & The Duty of Technology Competence


The use of artificial intelligence has many potential pitfalls regarding attorney professional responsibility rules. One such pitfall has to do with the duty of technology competence.

As Robert Ambrogi points out over on Law Sites, there are now 26 states that have adopted the duty of technology competence for lawyers - first noted in Comment 8 to ABA Model Rule 1.1. 

The ABA version states: 
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject. (Emphasis added.)

While the states may differ in the exact language of their rules, these rules will likely have an ongoing effect on a lawyer's duty to learn various aspects of ever-changing technology. 

Down the road, there may be a time when attorneys must know and understand how artificial intelligence works to be able to rely on technology to perform the more sophisticated functions of law practice. 

As lawyers begin to use ROSS, say, to perform legal research or even draft simple memos, it is not unreasonable to presume that a lawyer would need to understand how ROSS decided on a particular issue to have true algorithmic accountability. Because something like ROSS cannot be subject to the same professional responsibility rules as a living, breathing lawyer, it is up to the lawyer to maintain a duty of technological competence to understand and vet the work of the software. 

This is tricky because we are currently at a point where most algorithms are proprietary and there is little transparency about the results that are generated. It is unlikely that this competing issue with be resolved anytime soon. 

Until such time when the AI developers release the very decision trees for how an algorithm came to a particular result, law librarians will be helpful in teaching lawyers to understand the current state of AI technology. During our legal research instruction, we should offer pointers to lawyers on the results generated and how to spot possible issues, such as bias.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ravel Law for Judicial Analytics

In December, the ABA Journal reported on a new judicial analytics tool by Ravel Law.

As mentioned, currently, the field of judicial analytics mainly focuses on individual judges and what their histories and tendencies are, so that lawyers will be able to make more informed decisions regarding litigation strategy. 

Ravel Law knew that the individual-judge strategy was cumbersome and limited. With that, Ravel Law launched Court Analytics, a comprehensive analytical tool that covers more than 400 federal and state courts. Court Analytics allows users to search through a jurisdiction, filtering out over 90 types of motions and topics. The tool analyzes case outcomes, language patterns and citation history, among other things, to give practitioners insight as to how courts and judges throughout a jurisdiction have ruled on certain types of motions or cases in the past. The tool also highlights the most-cited precedents and cases within a jurisdiction

Ravel Law intends for the analytics tool to be used to determine the best forum or whether the case should be filed in state or federal court. “You can look at the stats to see what are the best courts to file in. Are they plaintiff-friendly? Do they have experience in a certain area?” Lewis says.

There are also other creative uses of the analytics. For instance, users can hone in on specific fact patterns and case law to determine their likelihood of success within a given jurisdiction. If a lawyer wants to see every mesothelioma case within a certain court system where there was a successful motion for summary judgment, Court Analytics can identify common patterns amongst those cases, including the language the judges used in their decisions and what standard they applied, among other things.

As I prepare to teach a civil trial research course for the first time this spring, I absolutely plan to show my students the features of Court Analytics. I spend a class period discussing forum selection and venue, and Court Analytics will be a perfect companion to that lecture with hands-on application showing use of a very practical tool.

This is just the beginning when it comes to the possibilities of legal data mining. It's a perfect example of technology being used to make lawyers more efficient by taking a historically cumbersome process and making it as easy as a few clicks of a mouse.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Rollout of Staff-less Libraries

In Dublin, Ireland, twenty-three library branches will offer a new Open Library service in 2017, meaning libraries will stay open and operate without staff during the evenings and weekends.

This initiative has made the library staff uneasy. And the librarians have come out against the initiative stating “We truly believe that this move is the beginning of the end for our Public Library Service.”

This has become a bit of a hot-button political issue as the Dublin City Councillors voted against the initiative to show support for librarians and library staff. However, the Minister of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney said, “There will be no closure of library branches as a result of the Open Library service. Similarly, there will be no reduction in staffing levels or staffed hours as a result of the service, either in the short or long term." He added that “funding is allocated to libraries on the basis of applications received from local authorities interested in rolling out the service in their respective areas. My Department received 27 applications under the My Open Library initiative following a call for proposals from interested local authorities in June 2016.”

It's a difficult situation because of the potential future ramifications of such an initiative. In the short-term, it's wonderful that the libraries will be open to the public during the evenings and on weekends for greater access to materials. In the long-term, however, if the initiative is deemed successful by the powers that be, what's to say that the Minister of Housing won't cut staff as a future cost-savings measure?

Library staff are such an important part of what makes a public library the heart of any community. To cut the very people who are the glue of the institution would be a grievous error. If this initiative is truly about creating greater access to information, then bravo! We should, however, keep a watchful eye on this trend.

To learn more about staff-less libraries, see a forthcoming book to be released in March 2017.

From the book's description:
Staff-Less Libraries: Innovative Staff Design considers the challenges of this approach, its pros and cons, identifies international experiences, and discusses best practices. It presents a step-by-step approach to implementing a staffless library and/or services, and seeks to inspire professionals to share experiences and optimize their library. Staff-less public libraries, enabled by technological developments, represent a significant and innovative aspect of the development of public libraries. The concept radically enlarges the availability of user access to public libraries. Some Danish public library branches have, for example, increased their weekly opening hours from 20 to 80 hours per week. In Denmark, the concept has been quite successful, increasing the number of staff-less libraries from 81 public library units in 2011 to 260 in 2014.