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:
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.