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Showing posts from 2018

Error of the Day & Maintaining Integrity of Algorithmic Results

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If you're into algorithms, you should absolutely subscribe to the MIT Technology Review newsletter called The Algorithm.

Earlier this week, the folks at The Algorithm asked "what is AI, exactly?" The answer is reproduced below.

The question may seem basic, but the answer is kind of complicated.

In the broadest sense, AI refers to machines that can learn, reason, and act for themselves. They can make their own decisions when faced with new situations, in the same way that humans and animals can.

As it currently stands, the vast majority of the AI advancements and applications you hear about refer to a category of algorithms known as machine learning. These algorithms use statistics to find patterns in massive amounts of data. They then use those patterns to make predictions on things like what shows you might like on Netflix, what you’re saying when you speak to Alexa, or whether you have cancer based on your MRI.

Machine learning, and its subset deep learning (basically mac…

AALL State of Profession Survey

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As a member of the AALL State of the Profession Survey Advisory Group, I am excited that the survey has been released!

The Advisory Group is comprised of librarians from all types of law libraries with the purpose of designing a survey to assess the current state of the profession.

The State of the Profession Survey will document the current landscape of law libraries, specific to each library type, and will provide benchmarking in the following areas: Technology, collections and library resources, constituent services, institutional outcomes, research competencies, training, staffing, and leadership.

The purpose of the State of the Profession Survey is to provide members and their organizations with the information and insights they need to effectively assess, advocate, and strategically prepare for the future.

We started working on the survey in 2017 with this purpose in mind. In the survey, you will find questions pertaining to the various enumerated areas.

While the survey is a litt…

Algorithms, Fake News, & The Google Generation

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At the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries (ORALL) Annual Meeting, as I presented on the duty of technology competence in the algorithmic society, an astute law librarian asked (paraphrasing), "how does fake news play into this?" That question gave rise to a flurry of brain activity, as I considered how Google, for example, ranks relevancy, the rise of fake news, and the ability of users to spot fake news sources -- particularly for legal research. 
As I was presenting to a group of lawyers at a CLE this week, I polled them asking about the electronic resource that they primarily use for legal research. The overwhelming response was Google.
Google uses a trademarked, proprietary – mostly secret – algorithm called PageRank, which assigns each webpage a relevancy score based on factors, such as: The frequency and location of keywords within the webpage. If the keyword only appears once within the body of the page, it will receive a low score for that keyword.How long the…

Practitioners Rank Legal Research as Only Top-20 Specific Legal Skill for the "Whole Attorney"

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In a recent survey conducted by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), a wide array of legal employers ranked the legal skills and professional competencies and characteristics that they believe new lawyers most need to succeed. (There is a detailed accounting of the study’s results and an explanation of the study’s role within IAALS’s broader project in the summer 2018 edition of The Bar Examiner, pp. 17-26.) The results revealed that legal employers value foundational characteristics and competencies much more than they do foundational legal skills. 

The 20 Foundations Identified as Most Necessary in the Short Term for New Lawyers 
• Keep information confidential
• Arrive on time for meetings, appointments, and hearings
• Honor commitments
• Integrity and trustworthiness
• Treat others with courtesy and respect
• Listen attentively and respectfully
• Promptly respond to inquiries and requests
• Diligence
• Have a strong work ethic and put forth best e…

The Librarians' "Crusade" for Academic Freedom

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After recent events at the University of California - Davis, there's been an uproar surrounding college librarians and academic freedom. The uproar was created after a librarian in the UC system used a title for her presentation that an administrator colleague thought might be offensive: "Copy cataloging gets some respect from administrators."

Inspired in part by [the librarian's] cautionary tale, the [UC-Davis] union sought to include a provision in the new contract clarifying that librarians have academic freedom. Union representatives proposed in late April a guarantee of academic freedom to all librarians so that they could fulfill responsibilities for teaching, scholarship, and research. 

The union says negotiators for the system rejected the proposal . . . . Claire Doan, a spokeswoman, said UC policies on academic freedom "do not extend to nonfaculty academic personnel, including librarians . . . .UC negotiators said in July that academic freedom was…

AI in Teaching; AI in Law

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The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article discussing how artificial intelligence is changing teaching (sub. req'd). The discussion centered around many of the same themes that we see when discussing artificial intelligence in law.

The CHE article asks the common questions: When you’ve got artificial intelligence handling work that is normally done by a human, how does that change the role of the professor? And what is the right balance of technology and teaching? Replace "professor" and "teacher" for "lawyer" and "lawyering," and you get the idea.

Like the augmenting argument for law, the argument for teaching goes: They automate some of teaching’s routine tasks, so that professors can do what no machine can — challenge and inspire students to gain a deeper understanding of what they’re learning. 

And just like the argument that law will become increasingly reliant on AI raising privacy and ethical concerns, so goes the …

Transitioning From Peer to Manager

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After transitioning to interim law library director in March 2018, I attended AALL's Leadership Academy as a Leadership Fellow, was accepted to the New Directors' pre-AALL Annual Meeting Workshop, and was selected as a university representative and Leadership Fellow in the Texas Academic Leadership Academy.
2018 has officially been the year of leadership training. 
During each of these wonderful leadership-training events, the speakers all touched on transitioning from peer to manager -- mostly noting that it was often a difficult transition. They were certainly right about that.
Continuing research into the tough transition from peer to manager led me to a 2013 Forbes article titled 8 Tips to Transition from Co-Worker to Manager. This article is particularly helpful for the practical tips it provides. 
As noted, making the move from co-worker to department manager can be a tricky transition because, as the new manager, you are responsible for the productivity and results of …

Ravel View for Lexis Advance Visually Showcases Case Data for Faster Searching

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Context: Daniel Lewis was just in his second year at Stanford Law School when he had an idea for a different way to do legal research. His idea was to display search results visually, along a cluster map that shows the relationships among cases and their relative importance to each other. Shortly after he graduated in 2012, he and classmate Nicholas Reed had launched the legal research platform derived from his idea, Ravel Law. Last June, five years after its founding, Ravel was acquired by legal research giant LexisNexis.

Ravel View for Lexis Advance is here!

In the latest iteration of Lexis's push to sift through massive amounts of data and provide meaningful results, Ravel View provides additional metrics and a visual, data-driven view for legal research results.

The programmers' constant tweaking of Lexis Advance to aid users is wonderful, but Ravel View showcases a truly innovative step in legal research visualization that meets users where they are likely to look.

The tra…

Using the Servant-Leadership Style in Law Libraries

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The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When you are lacking in faith,
Others will be unfaithful to you.

The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words.
When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’ -- Lao-Tzu

Over the past 10 years working in law libraries, I've gone from Student Circulation Assistant to Student Reference Assistant to a general Reference Librarian to a more specialized Faculty Services & Scholarly Communications Librarian to Associate Director to Interim Director. For the first 8 years or so, I spent my time honing the front-line skills necessary for exemplary library work. As I've entered middle and now upper management, there's an entirely new set of skills necessary to effectively perform these roles.

Needless to say, I've …

A Legal Framework for the "Information Apocalypse"

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In 2009, a CNN article noted that the law is "at least five years behind technology as it is developing."

In late 2016, Aviv Ovadya was one of the first people to see that there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse.”

Ovadya saw early what many — including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs — wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.

Ovadya — now the chief technologist for the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility and a Knight News innovation fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journ…

Creatively Harvesting Bluebook Data

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As late as 2016, I was ready to join Justice Posner and give up on The Bluebook. After research into the use of algorithms in the era of big data, however, my thinking has changed.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article articulating the concerns with following a particular citation style. The problem with the rules-heavy approach to teaching [citation] isn’t just the rigidity with which students are taught those rules or follow them. It’s that too often students are taught rules without any context or justification. That’s just "the way things are." Students are left following rules just because a [law review editor] told them to, none the wiser about their function or history. It’s a recipe for seeing writing as foreign or external — something a student is supposed to do but not necessarily understand. Just follow the rules, kid, and there won’t be any trouble.

Instead of taking this approach to citation, the author leads a discussion not about citation st…

Aligning the Law Library Strategic Plan with "Program of Legal Education"

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In addition to ABA Standard Chapter 6 concerns, as the ABA continues to focus on a law school's "program of legal education," it is wise for law libraries to take note and align their strategic plans directly with the "program of legal education."

Accordingly, Standard 601 states:
Standard 601. GENERAL PROVISIONS
(a) A law school shall maintain a law library that:
(1) provides support through expertise, resources, and services adequate to enable the law
school to carry out its program of legal education, accomplish its mission, and support
scholarship and research;
(2) develops and maintains a direct, informed, and responsive relationship with the faculty,
students, and administration of the law school;
(3) working with the dean and faculty, engages in a regular planning and assessment process, including written assessment of the effectiveness of the library in achieving its mission
and realizing its established goals; and
(4) remains informed on and implements…

Proposed Change to ABA Standard 601: Written Assessment of Law Library Effectiveness

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The recent proposed change to ABA Standard 601(a)(3), calls for the removal of a written assessment of the effectiveness of the library in achieving its mission and realizing its established goals. 

Standard 601. Library and Information Resources, General Provisions

Explanation of Changes:

The current version of Standard 601(3)(a) was developed during the Comprehensive Review as a method of involving a law library in the process of strategic planning required of a law school. It was envisioned that the planning and assessment taking place for a law school (under what was then Standard 203) would incorporate the work done by the library under this new Standard. To ensure that incorporation, it was decided that a written assessment should be completed by the library. However, when the requirement for strategic planning for a law school was removed during a later phase of the Comprehensive Review, no change was made to the new Standard 601. As a result, the library community has been left…

Empirical Study Shows Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Layers

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Discussions surrounding algorithmic bias are fairly common. We've even seen discussion of algorithmic bias in library discovery tools. Most of this discussion, though, has been theoretical. In what is purportedly the first empirical study to analyze algorithmic bias in library discovery systems, Matthew Reidsma put ProQuest's Topic Explorer to the test to review potential biases affecting results.

More and more academic libraries have invested in discovery layers, the centralized “Google-like” search tool that returns results from different services and providers by searching a centralized index. The move to discovery has been driven by the ascendence of Google as well as libraries' increasing focus on user experience. Unlike the vendor-specific search tools or federated searches of the previous decade, discovery presents a simplified picture of the library research process. It has the familiar single search box, and the results are not broken out by provider or format but…

The Information Business; The People Business

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Law libraries are in the information business. To act as superior guides to this information, we must also be in the people business. We must be concerned with the people who seek our information. And we must be concerned with the people who guide those seekers to the information (i.e., our staff).

Contrary to popular belief, it's not easy to be a staff person in the rigid hierarchy of an academic law library. Particularly at a time when law libraries are facing increased budget pressures that require staff to do much more with much less. This is especially challenging with longtime staff who have seen their jobs change dramatically since they were hired. Many of these folks were not formally trained in librarianship, and they may be resistant to the flexibility needed in today's law library.

Given these challenges, how do we motivate our staff to be the very best guides to our information?

To that end, there was an enlightening program at the AALL Annual Conference in 2013 t…

Law Librarian Status as Gender Equity Issue

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There's been much written about gender bias in legal writing and how legal writing instructors inhabit what is referred to as the "pink ghetto" of the legal academy (see, e.g., here, herehere, and here). The pink ghetto of the legal academy refers to the lower status, lower paid positions that women often occupy. What's interesting is that law librarians are often left out of this discussion (though, not always).

Historically, law librarianship has been a field dominated by women.In the 1999-2000 academic year, for example, 52 percent of law school library directors were women (up from 44 percent in 1994-95). ' In 1999, 67 percent of all academic law librarians were women. If directors were subtracted from that figure, the female percentage of nondirector librarians would be substantially higher than 67 percent. 

Historical statistics on law library directors are instructive in another way. In 1950, 55 percent of the directors were women, but at that time only …

The Importance of Using Reasonable Care When Relying on Algorithms in Law: A Case Study

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Given the issues with the "Google Generation" and seeming ease of using algorithms in law, there are increasing challenges in using reasonable care to comply with the newer Duty of Technology CompetenceAs noted in a previous post:The Duty of Technology Competence requires lawyers to keep abreast of “changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” To date, 28 states have adopted the duty.
Using reasonable care to understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technologies is increasingly difficult as society moves beyond the abundance of information that defined the Information Age to increasingly rely on algorithms that sort big data in the Algorithmic Society.
However, reasonable care is essential when using algorithms in law. Take the COMPAS risk-assessment tool, for example. Developed by a private company called Equivant (formerly Northpointe), COMPAS—or the Correctional Offender Management Profilin…