Free Law Project Improves with API

Our good friend Pablo Arredondo shares this great free law development:

Those pursuing better legal technology will find new wind in their sails with the release of the first-ever application programming interface (“API”) for U.S. judicial opinions. The API is the latest in a string of great contributions from the Berkeley-centered Free Law Project (FLP), and will give developers and researchers unprecedented dexterity in accessing and analyzing FLP’s substantial (and growing) collection of judicial opinions.
Mike Lissner, co-founder of FLP and the driving force behind the new API, describes some potential uses for the API here: http://freelawproject.org/?p=342

The actual API can be accessed here: https://www.courtlistener.com/api/rest-info/
As with everything FLP does, this project is open-source and feedback from the community of users is encouraged and greatly appreciated.

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.

Distinguishing Judges: An Empirical Ranking of Judicial Quality in the United States Courts of Appeal

I just happened across this new article in the Spring 2011 issue of the Missouri Law Review, “Distinguishing Judges: An Empirical Ranking of Judicial Quality in the United States Courts of Appeal,” by Robert Anderson IV.

The abstract reads:

“This article presents an empirical performance ranking of 383 federal appellate judges who served on the United States Courts of Appeals between 1960 and 2008.  Like existing judge evaluation studies, this Article uses citations from judicial opinions to assess judicial quality.  Unlike existing citation studies, which treat positive and negative citations alike, this Article ranks judges according to the mix of positive and negative citations to the opinions, rather than the number of citations to those opinions.  By distinguishing between positive and negative citations, this approach avoids ranking judges higher for citations even when the judges are being cited negatively.  The results are strikingly different from those found in the existing citation count-based studies of judicial performance.  When the mix of positive and negative citations is taken into account, many of the most highly cited judges from the citation-count studies are only average and some of the average judges in the citation-count studies emerge as the most positively cited.  The results suggest there is an objective performance measure that can measure judicial performance and provide incentives for fidelity to the rule of law.”

 

PACER Training Pilot Project Begins in July

PACER Training Pilot Project Begins in July
June 17, 2011

A pilot project aimed at having public libraries enhance the public’s knowledge and use of the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service begins July 1, 2011.

Two libraries – the Library of Congress in the District of Columbia and the Law Library for San Bernadino, California – will kick off the pilot, but up to 50 additional public libraries may join them in future months.

PACER allows users to obtain case information from federal courts without having to visit the courthouse. The service allows an Internet user to request information about a particular case or party, and makes the data immediately available for printing or downloading at a cost of 8 cents per page.

In the pilot project, libraries will conduct at least one training class for the general public every three months, and offer training or refresher opportunities for library staff at least one a year. Those staff members, in turn, may assist library patrons in the use of PACER. For participating libraries, the first $50 of PACER use fees each quarter will be waived.

The pilot is a joint undertaking of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the Government Printing Office, and the American Association of Law Libraries.

Free and really good information from Justia – daily opinion summaries; weekly practice area summaries

Our friends at Justia sent an e-mail to law-lib about their new free case summary service.  Since all the world doesn’t read law-lib, I’ve pasted below Tim Stanley’s exciting  announcement.  I’ve signed up for the FREE (my favorite word) service, and it’s a terrific tool for keeping up with decisional developments both by specific court and also by subject matter.  I’m going to encourage all of my students to sign up too, especially those who want a judicial clerkship, as this is a nifty tool for students to learn about very recent decisions from the judges with whom they are interested in seeking interviews and positions.

Here’s Tim’s e-mail:

 

Hi All,

Justia would like to introduce our new Free Daily Opinion Summaries service.

We will be writing daily summaries for the Federal Appellate Courts
and selected state supreme courts (eventually we will add them all).
You can subscribe to the summary emails at:

     http://Daily.Justia.com

We will also be sending out weekly practice area summaries emails that
will include all of the summaries for all courts we wrote that week in
the legal practice area.

Here are some examples from last week:

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:    http://j.st/ost

Environmental Law Weekly Summaries:    http://j.st/osv

If you have any suggestions for layouts, additional courts or practice
areas, please let us know. The current courts and practice areas we
cover are:

DAILY COURT SUMMARIES

U.S. Federal Courts: U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal, D.C., 1st,
2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th Circuit Courts of
Appeals

U.S. State Top Courts: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri,
Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

And a few other courts like the Delaware Court of Chancery. We will be
adding more state courts in the near future. The full continuously
updated list is at http://Daily.Justia.com

WEEKLY PRACTICE AREA SUMMARIES

The weekly practice area opinion summaries, include all of the
summaries for all courts we wrote that week in the legal practice
area, are provided for the following:

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Aerospace/Defense, Agriculture Law, Animal /
Dog Law, Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Arbitration & Mediation,
Aviation, Banking, Bankruptcy, Business Law, Civil Rights, Class
Action, Commercial Law, Communications Law, Constitutional Law,
Construction Law, Consumer Law, Contracts, Copyright, Corporate
Compliance, Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Education Law, Election
Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Entertainment & Sports Law, Environmental
Law, ERISA, Family Law, Gaming Law, Government & Administrative Law,
Government Contracts, Health Law, Immigration Law, Injury Law,
Insurance Law, Intellectual Property, International Law, International
Trade, Internet Law, Juvenile Law, Labor & Employment Law, Landlord -
Tenant, Legal Ethics, Medical Malpractice, Mergers & Acquisitions,
Military Law, Native American Law, Non-Profit Corporations, Patents,
Products Liability, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, Public
Benefits, Real Estate & Property Law, Securities Law, Tax Law,
Trademark, Transportation Law, Trusts & Estates, Utilities Law, White
Collar Crime, Zoning, Planning & Land Use,

If you have other practice areas you would like us to break out, let
us know. We are not against adding some more as long as there are
enough opinions in the area and it does not nearly overlap one of the
above.

You can see the current list of courts and practice areas (in a
readable table format) at http://Daily.Justia.com

Again it is totally free :)

Peace,

Tim

————————————————————
Timothy Stanley                       . . .

The Cost of Judicial Citation: An Empirical Investigation of Citation Practices in the Federal Appellate Courts

From the just-received Volume 2010, Issue 1, Spring University of Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy, at page 51:

The Cost of Judicial Citation: An Empirical Investigation of Citation Practices in the Federal Appellate Courts

by Casey R. Fronk

Abstract:

Since the early 1960s, computerized legal research technology has enabled judges and their law clerks to access legal information quickly and comprehensively. Particularly for appellate judges, who rely on wide-ranging legal research when writing opinions, this technological change has had special resonance. This Article attempts to quantify the effects of computer- assisted legal research on the federal judiciary by empirically analyzing citation patterns over the past fifty years. The results of this analysis suggest that the digitization of legal research has had statistically significant effects on the amount and style of citation in judicial opinions. Although the average number of cases cited in opinions has doubled between 1957 and 2007, the number of cases cited only in string citations has decreased by nearly the same percentage. This Article argues that such results can be explained by a basic economic theory of judicial citation in which judges respond to the decreasing cost of opinion production by discarding string citation for more effective communicative techniques.

Conclusion:

This Article proposes that a simple microeconomic approach can describe judicial citation practices over the last fifty years.  It provides empirical evidence that judges use citations in part as a communication device, and that the cost of legal research is intimately connected with the effectiveness of this communication (and therefore with judicial citation patterns).  The empirical results in this Article not only demonstrate the effectiveness of the microeconomic approach in describing  judicial opinion style, but also provide a foundation for future research into the effects of judicial ideology on citation practices.

Keeping up with the federal courts with CourtListener

The CourtListener.com

From the website:

The goal of the site is to create a free and competitive real time alert tool for the U.S. judicial system.

At present, the site has daily information regarding all precedential opinions issued by the 13 federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. Each day, we also have the non-precedential opinions from all of the Circuit courts except the D.C. Circuit. This means that by 5:10pm PST, the database will be updated with the opinions of the day, with custom alerts going out shortly thereafter.

This [open source] site was created by Michael Lissner as part of a masters thesis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information.