The superhero approach to legal research

We haven’t asked our students to buy a textbook in advanced legal research for a long time.  The existing books are just too darn expensive.  But a new book crossed my desk today that looks particularly useful for teaching legal research; it is:  The Law of Superheroes (catalog record copied below).

This book starts with three pages explaining “Legal Sources and Citations” that explain legal citation about as well as anything I’ve seen.  It also points the reader, presumably the lay reader, to sources of free law:  Google Scholar for legal opinions; Cornell’s LII for the United States Code.  Peter Martin is cited on page xiii, so this tells me the authors know their research!

Throughout the book are wonderful footnotes explaining, in the clearest language possible, different aspects of legal research.  For example, footnote #4 on p. 113:

. . . Restatements of law are scholarly works that attempt to set forth the majority position on particular areas of law or recommended changes to the majority position.  They mostly cover subjects that are still primarily common law rather than those based on legislation. The Restatements are not law themselves, but courts often find them persuasive, and many sections of various Restatements have been adopted as law by state courts.

The section on immigration (is Superman a citizen?) offers a great explanation of private laws:

Private Acts of Congress

There’s another way that someone can become a citizen without going through the immigration process: a “private act” of Congress, i.e., a law targeting a specific person and declaring him or her to be a citizen.[fn 9]  Although unusual today, private acts have a long history in the United States.[fn10]  . . . As a matter of fact, in at least one story, Superman is granted citizenship by every country in the world, presumably by their respective versions of a private act of Congress. . . .

9. . . . These bills are not very common, nor are they usually passed, but it happens.

10.  In fact, for decades after the founding of the country, private acts by state legislatures were the only way for a legitimate 9i.e., non-annullable) marriage to be dissolved.  Similarly, prior to the passage of general incorporation statutes, which create the procedures by which corporations may be chartered with state-level secretaries of state, creating a corporate entity required an act of the state legislature.

The sections on international and interplanetary law are really fun, and explain the very basics of “law” itself:

The important thing to remember about international law . . . is that international law is a matter of custom and practice as much as it is anything else.  This is true of domestic law as well, and is really the reason the common law exists: a “law” is, essentially, a custom or tradition that is enforced by a government.  In the case of common law that tradition is built up by the decisions of the courts. . . .

I may have more to add later, as I’m taking this book home with me for the Thanksgiving break.

Here’s its catalog record:

The law of superheroes / James E. Daily and Ryan M. Davidson.

At the Library:
Crown (Law) > Basement > PN56 .L33 D35 2012

Bookmark: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/catalog/9734665

 

Writing a winning brief, in three easy steps

The best way to become a good writer is to read a lot of good writing.  And to me there’s no better legal writing than that of Judge Ruggero Aldisert.

Judge Aldisert just published the third edition of his important and popular book on Opinion Writing (details from the catalog record copied below).  This third edition (listen up, law students) includes a new chapter on law clerk duties, an expanded treatment of trial court opinions, and new chapters on administrative law judges and arbitration procedures and opinions.

But, one might ask, how will a book on opinion writing help me write a winning brief?  The answer is found in what the good judge calls his “chambers mantra” — “writing a good opinion is the best training on how to write a good brief.”

And about those three steps.  Opinion Writing, 3rd edition includes three checklists (these checklists, alone, are worth the price of the book) on opinion writing that can be used in brief writing:

1. Writing it.

2. Testing it.

3. Shortening it.

The book asks:  Why use checklists for writing, testing and shortening an opinion?  The answer:  “Checklists ensure that you touch all the bases on your way to file a ‘home run’ opinion.”  These checklists are gold, pure gold.

Here’s the book’s description from our library catalog:

Opinion writing / Ruggero J. Aldisert.

Author/Creator:
        Aldisert, Ruggero J.

Language:
        English

Imprint:
        3rd ed.
        Durham, N.C. : Carolina Academic Press, c2012.

Bibliography:
        Includes bibliographical references and index.

Contents:
        Writing judicial opinions
        To write or not to write
        Reaching and justifying the decision : a distinction with a difference
        Judicial declaration of public policy
        The outline of your opinion
        Jurisdiction and standards of review
        Orientation paragraph
        Summary of issues
        Statement of facts
        Writing the reasons for the decision.

ISBN:
        9781611631234
        1611631238

Subjects:
        Legal composition.
        Judicial opinions > United States.

At the Library:
        Crown (Law) > Stacks 1
                KF250 .A35 2012
                KF250 .A35 2012
                KF250 .A35 2012

Bookmark: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/catalog/9699810

Yes, we have three copies.  Every law library should have at least that many, and law librarians should encourage their students, especially their students in law school clinics, to read and heed the judge’s insightful tips.

Full disclosure:  I met Judge Aldisert in 2008 when my daughter was serving as one of his law clerks.

Becoming the “compleat lawyer” the Aldisert way

From time to time I will get a call or e-mail from a proud parent whose son or daughter has been admitted to Stanford Law School.  The parent wants my advice on a book for their accomplished child to read upon the beginning of their new-found career.  A wonderful book has just come along which fits the bill perfectly:  Judge Ruggero Aldisert’s A Judge’s Advice: 50 Years on the Bench.

This slender volume packs a lot of punch.  In less than 250 pages the judge offers answers to questions that have occupied his thoughts for decades:  : “What is the bedrock of our common law system? What are trial and appellate judges really looking for? What is the logical configuration that is absolutely necessary in any legal argument? What practical challenges do judges face when deciding a case? What is the difference between the philosophy of law and a philosophy of law? What is the difference between a judge making a decision and a judge justifying it, and why does that difference matter to me?  Precedent in the law: When do you kiss it and when do you kill it?”

The judge organizes his thoughts among the following five themes:

  • Our Common Law Tradition: Still Alive and Kicking
  • Logic and Law
  • Avoiding Assembly Line Justice?
  • The “Write Stuff”
  • How Judges Decide Cases

And within these themes are found the following chapters:

The house of the law — The role of the courts in contemporary society — Precedent : what it is and what it isn’t, when do we kiss it and when do we kill it? — Elements of legal thinking — Logic for law students : how to think like a lawyer — Formal and informal fallacies — State courts and federalism — Life in the raw in appellate courts — “The seniors” suggest a solution — Brief writing — Opinion writers and law review writers: a community and continuity of approach — Reading and evaluating an appellate opinion — Philosophy, jurisprudence and jurisprudential temperament of federal judges — Making the decision — Justifying the decision.

While I know that all law students would benefit greatly from reading this book, when I first saw it our international students immediately came to mind as no other single volume that I am aware of so neatly and clearly explains the American legal system.  This book explains stare decisis better than anything else available.

Judge Aldisert writes about his particular passion — the law — with an enthusiasm that is almost exhausting.  Through this book the law student can get a glimpse of just how enormously satisfying the next 60 or 70 years of his or her life can be.

As the judge states in his Introduction:  “. . . These pages flesh out the instruments and implements of lawyers with a far-ranging ‘view from above’ with one objective in mind: to enrich the skills of these men and women so that each may bear — to borrow from Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler — the noble title of ‘compleat lawyer.’

This book really should be required reading for all law students, lawyers and others too.  Judge Aldisert is one of my heroes, along with others who inspire me such as Roger Ebert, Vin Scully, Tony Bennett and Keiko Fukuda (Google her)  — people who, while they may have stopped buying green bananas, they have not stopped working and never will.  These are people who make no distinction between work and play and who will be carried off the job feet-first.  They know the secret.   People who I want to be like when I grow up.

Full disclosure:  I was first charmed by Judge Aldisert when I met him during my daughter’s clerkship for him.

Legal Research Methods in a Modern World: A Coursebook

Together with my Stanford Law School colleague George D. Wilson and our friend and Danish legal scholar Henrik Spang-Hanssen, we have just published the third edition of our legal research book, a revision of Legal Research Methods in the U.S. and Europe, 2nd Edition.  But with the inclusion of short but good (in my opinion) chapters on legal research in China and Russia and some other materials, we have changed the title to Legal Research Methods in a Modern World: A Coursebook.

The book, now weighing in at 453 pages (and bargain priced at $ 55.00), is rich with illustrations and peppered with legal research tips.  My contribution is mainly Chapter 5, about legal research methods in the United States, and it is based upon and follows the advanced legal research class that I co-teach here at Stanford.  New to this edition, in addition to other updates, is the inclusion of research exercises that we have found most useful from the class.  I did not include the answers — because I hope to continue to use these exercises — but I would be very happy to share the answers and my thoughts on approaches with other instructors of legal research.

The legal world is certainly getting smaller, and it is our shared belief that this would be handy book for any attorney to have as he or she deals with lawyers from other countries and their legal cultures.

The book should be available from Amazon.com; but if not, or if you want to order copies in mass quantities, the U.S. distributor is International Specialized Book Services.  For other countries, the distributor is Marston Book Services.

We also have a corresponding website here.

Book Review: Revue Bibliographique – Le Blog Droit Administratif

The Droit Adminsitratif blog publishes every two month a very handy compilation of new French language titles called “Revue bibliographique.”  The revue includes cover images, summaries, and table of contents.  Book includes various legal topics, not just administrative law. Highly recommended for collection management and acquisition librarians.  The blog also has an interesting “droit et cinema” category.

Le Blog Droit Administratif

http://www.blogdroitadministratif.net/index.php/

Revue Bibliographique Nov/Dec 2010

http://www.blogdroitadministratif.net/index.php/2011/01/01/262-revue-bibliographique-novembre-decembre-2010

A Brief History of Opinion Writing (the book)

There’s a new book that all law clerks and law clerk wannabees might want to read.  It is:  Opinion Writing, 2d edition by Judge  Ruggero J. Aldisert.

Ordering information can be found here.

West Publishing Co. commissioned Judge Aldisert (Chief Judge Emeritus, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3d Circuit) to write the book.  It was never sold but utilized by West as a public relations gesture. Despite never being made commercially available, there are 144 libraries in WorldCat that hold copies.  West sent the book to  all federal judges and to state appellate judges, and as new judges came on later each new judge received a copy.  This practice continued for over 15 years, but after West was bought by Thomson, the new owners decided a few years back to stop the practice.  Rights were transferred back to the judge and the second edition is being published by AuthorHouse.

Full disclosure:  My daughter clerked for Judge Aldisert and assisted with the production of the book.  So I know it’s really good!

From the publishers description:

This book is a guide to opinion writing. It is written for every judge at every level and for all law clerks. Every trial and appellate judge, including the author of this book, can profit by learning how to improve his or her work product. This book provides a tool to do just that. Separated into four parts – Theoretical Concepts Underlying an Opinion, The Anatomy of an Opinion, Writing Style and Opinion Writing Checklists – the second edition of Opinion Writing distills the author’s nearly 50 years of experience on the bench into a handbook on the judge’s craft.

And the price is right too:

Hard Cover: $29.95
Paperback: $19.95

Four scholars look at Google

Today’s Financial Times includes a review essay by James Harkin, “Net prophets – Incorporated just 10 years ago, Google predicts and shapes our view of the world.”  The essay is a review of these three books:

Planet Google: How One Company is Transforming Our Lives
By Randall Stross
Atlantic Books

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View of Europe
By Jean-Noel Jeanneney
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
University of Chicago Press

Search Engine Society
By Alexander Halavais
Polity Press

And the author of the piece is James Harkin and his book Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea That’s Changing How We Live and Who We Are will be published in February by Little, Brown in the UK and by Knopf in Canada.

In the piece, Harkin writes,

Google is now 10 years old, and in that decade it has become one of the world’s most recognisable brands. There’s no doubt that Google is everywhere in our lives. But how exactly has Google changed us, and what lessons can we really draw from its success? Three recent books — one by a professor of business, one by a cultural historian and one by a technology academic — all attempt to answer that question in different ways.

and concludes:


Jeanneney is right to insist that any culture needs to organise its information to reflect its priorities, and that it’s not enough to leave this to an automatic device. The classification system of the traditional library, he reminds us, is evident in books’ arrangement on the shelves, which encourages readers to browse those books in certain ways. It is possible that our facility with search technology will encourage new, looser ways of categorising books which encourage us to take our own path through libraries. It will not, however, be enough to leave readers to rely on pointers from their anonymous online peers. For institutions, the trick will be to adapting to changed cultural sensibilities — our determination to forge our own path through information and make our own associations between things — without surrendering ourselves entirely to Google’s algorithm.

In September last year, Google announced that it had digitised and indexed about a million of the world’s books — not bad, but well short of its target. A couple of years before that, according to Stross, Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt was asked how long it might take for Google to organise all the world’s information. “Current estimate,” he replied, “300 years.” Only a company with Google’s Promethean ambitions could think with such extravagant time-horizons. With 300 years’ notice to organise our response, we can’t say that we haven�t been warned.

Government Data Mining

Government Data Mining

MCGRAW-HILL HANDBOOK OF HOMELAND SECURITY, 2008

FRED H. CATE, Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington

NEWTON MINOW

Government data mining is widespread and expanding. A 2004 report by the General Accounting Office found 42 federal departments – including every cabinet-level agency that responded to the GAO’s survey – engaged in, or were planning to engage in, 122 data mining efforts involving personal information. Thirty-six of those involve accessing data from the private sector; 46 involve sharing data among federal agencies.

These programs present vexing legal and policy issues about the government’s access to, and use of, personal information, especially when that information is obtained from the private sector or another government agency or when it concerns individuals who have done nothing to warrant suspicion. Surprisingly, many of these issues have not yet been addressed by statutes or judicial decisions, or the applicable law is uncertain or unclear.

This paper examines the technological and geopolitical factors that have raised – and complicated – this question, and helped to render existing law inadequate. It describes that law and the legal and other issues posed by data mining, but not resolved by existing law. The paper includes a summary of the recommendations of the DOD Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee – the most recent word on the subject – which are currently under consideration by Congress and the Secretary of Defense.

 

Source: LSN Information Privacy Law Vol. 1 No. 12,  08/26/2008

New book by Harvard Law Library’s director – Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, by Harvard’s John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.  It just arrived yesterday and it is fascinating and wonderfully readable, right from page 1.  I highly, highly recommend it (even though I’m only through the second chapter!). 

The second chapter, “Dossiers,” offers much food for thought.  And here’s a little taste:

The amount of information that goes into the digital files kept about a baby born today is extraordinary.  To see just how extraordinary, let’s look at the digital dossier of a hypothetical baby:  We’ll call him Andy.

Andy’s digital life begins well before he is born — before he even has a name.  The first entry in his digital file is a sonogram that his proud parents-to-be affix to the refrigerator, anticipating the happy event of his birth.  That same image is recreated in the hospital database, the first formal record of Andy’s life.  . . . In this case, with good reason, the obstetrician’s team will copy Andy’s image into a file for the pediatrician who will care for him after he’s born.  Start counting: That’s one digital file, copied in at least four places.

. . .

Even the digital information that we perceive to be out of reach from third parties may in fact be more accessible than we realize, now or in the future.  We can only hope that the Social Security Administration’s computer system, which processes and stores the application for Andy’s new Social Security number, is a digital Fort Knox.  But the biggest search engines — like Google and Baidu, China’s largest search engine — are constantly improving the ability of their Web crawlers to unearth more and more data from the dark recesses of the Internet.  These crawlers copy information, without asking permission, and dump it into a massive, structured global index.  At the same time, social networks and other services hosting personally identifiable information are eager to get the traffic from these search engines, so they are exposing more and more about people to the likes of Google and Baidu.  This combination of factors — the incentive for search engines to index all the world’s information and the incentive of online service providers to draw people to information on their sites — means that information about Andy that was once in a silo is now in a more open, public space. . . .

. . .

The problem with the rapid growth of digital dossiers is that the decisions about what to do about personal information are made by those who hold the information.  The person who contributes the information to a digital dossier may have a modicum of control up front, but he or she rarely exercises it.  The person to whom the information relates — sometimes the person who contributed it, sometimes not — often has no control whatsoever about what happens to the data.  The existence of these dossiers may not itself be problematic.  But these many, daily, individual acts result in a rich, deep dataset associated with an individual that can be aggregated and searched.  The process, start to finish, is only lightly regulated.

 

On the book jacket our Professor Lawrence Lessig writes “Digital technologies are changing our kids in ways we don’t yet understand.  This beautifully written book will set the framework for a field that will change that.  It is required reading for parents, educators, and anyone who cares about the future.”

I agree that it is beautifully written and that it should be required reading. 

Here’s the catalog record:

Author: Palfrey, John.
Title: Born digital : understanding the first generation of digital natives / John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.
Imprint: New York : Basic Books, c2008.
Physical Description: vii, 375 p. ; 25 cm.
Notes: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents: Identities — Dossiers — Privacy — Safety — Pirates  — Creators — Quality — Overload — Aggressors — Innovators — Learners — Activists — Synthesis.
          Subject (LC): Information society–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Information technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technological innovations–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Internet and children.
          Subject (LC): Internet and teenagers.
          Subject (LC): Internet–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Digital media–Social aspects.
          Added author: Gasser, Urs.
                  ISBN: 9780465005154

LAW CALL NUMBER                                              
   1)HM851 .P34 2008