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.

Bottomheavy: Legal Footnotes

As someone who has mined footnotes for years, all I can say is:  Please, sir, I’d like some more.

“Bottomheavy: Legal Footnotes”

JOAN A. MAGAT, Duke University – School of Law

For decades, legal footnotes have been the deserving target of both ample criticism and self-mockery. Apart from their complaints as to footnotes’ mere existence, most critics draw a bead on the ballooning of footnote content. Some journal editors, aspiring to respond to this sound theme, hopefully inform their authors of a preference for “light footnoting.” But where does an author begin to trim, and what editor has the audacity to slash what the author (or her research assistant) has so laboriously compiled below the line? Changing our footnote habits is about benefits and costs. To gain the former, we must ante up. If criticism began the round of bidding, this article modestly raises the stakes, suggesting a rule of reason that might govern the author’s, the editor’s, and the reader’s expectations for footnotes. A gamble, perhaps, but one that might be worth taking.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Rhetoric Vol. 2 No. 90,  12/18/2009

Google, Legal Citations, and Electronic Fickleness: Legal Scholarship in the Digital Environment

“Google, Legal Citations, and Electronic Fickleness: Legal Scholarship in the Digital Environment”

DANA NEACSU, Columbia University – Diamond Law Library

While law review articles are preserved in fee-based databases such as Westlaw and Lexis and thus are reliably accessible for the future, the footnotes, the source of authority and the body of most law review articles which themselves represent the main part of legal scholarship, usually refer to documents which far too often become inaccessible within a few months after their publication. Both government documents and documents privately published on the Internet have an unreliable life-span. This contradictory approach to digitization raises a large array of questions. Among them, is the following: How does this double digitization (that is, digitizing articles which refer to already-digitized, but unreliably retrieved, prior sources) affect the retrieval of legal information? Whose job is it to preserve legal information? As this is a more complex answer here I will only attempt to show that digitization has created a different environment of legal information (which includes legal scholarship) and this new environment proves to be more elusive that we would like to think about it.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Information & Technology Vol. 1 No. 16,  06/03/2009

Nuts and Bolts of Scholarship – Get it all in a Binder!

As I was skimming through the latest blog postings on Google Reader, I ran across this entry on “Revisiting the Nuts and Bolts of Scholarship” on Empirical Legal Studies.

The post calls attention to the article THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF SCHOLARSHIP or The “NEW” Rules for Legal Scholars, by Cheryl Hanna (Vermont Law School).  For anyone new to legal academia, this is a handy article offering very useful advice for the new scholar embarking on a writing career.

But, what really, really caught my eye was the advice that Hanna offers, not once, but twice in the article.  She explains:

“One of the most frustrating parts of writing a law review article is doing the footnotes. I suggest that for every article you get a binder. Have your research assistant photocopy everything that you cite. You can then send this binder to the law review editors, saving yourself the problem of remembering where you read something and them the task of pulling sources.”

And, later in the work:

“send the editors your binder of citations. They will instantly love you and work harder on your behalf.”

All I have to say: The Librarians will LOVE you, too!

If all authors supplied a binder to the journals with all of their works cited, what a wonderful world this would be.  Imagine how much more time journal editors would have to really work on the articles and find new content to publish if they weren’t so bogged down in cite-pulls.

And, the fiction of citing to the official version of a code or to the hard copy of a journal would be exposed.  Students regularly come to the reference desk looking for a paper copy of a source that is on-line — the source that the author probably used on-line, too.  If the binder were supplied with all accepted articles, this would be simple and transparent.

Now if only the law journals were to require that all authors submit such a binder…..we can dream.

The Next Generation of Legal Citations Survey, and Authentication and Link Rot Issues

Link rot is a pet peeve of mine.  A posting I made on June 11, 2008, “Law School Laptop Bans,” already has a broken link to a news story and the posting isn’t even a year old yet.  And I can’t count the number of times I have found a terrific-sounding right-on-point resource in a law review footnote, only to find its URL leads to the dreaded “404 Not Found.”  But it’s more than a pet peeve issue, as this survey makes clear:

“The Next Generation of Legal Citations: A Survey of Internet Citations in the Opinions of the Washington Supreme Court and Washington Appellate Courts, 1999-2005″

Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Vol. 9, No. 2, Fall 2007

TINA CHING, Seattle University School of Law

As more legal research is conducted online, it is reasonable to conclude that there will be a corresponding increase in citations to the Internet by judges in their opinions. With the widespread public use of the Internet to access information along with the constant changes and impermanence of websites, citing to the Internet should be an issue of increasing concern to the legal community across the country. This paper surveys the types of Internet sources the Washington state Supreme Court and Appellate Court justices are citing. It discusses the interrelated issues of link rot and the impermanence of web pages, citation format, authentication and preservation of online electronic legal information.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Information & Technology Vol. 1 No. 11,  04/29/2009

Justice Ginsburg’s Footnotes

“Justice Ginsburg’s Footnotes”

New England Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2009
Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 09-12

JAY WEXLER, Boston University – School of Law

In this short article written for the New England School of Law’s March Symposium on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I report on what happened when I embarked on a project of trying to read every single footnote Justice Ginsburg has ever written as a justice on the Supreme Court. As the article relates, this project was impossible to complete because Justice Ginsburg, it turns out, has written a lot, lot, lot of footnotes. Instead, I ended up reading all of Justice Ginsburg’s footnotes from three of her terms. In the article, I develop a nine-part taxonomy of Supreme Court footnotes and categorize Justice Ginsburg’s notes according to this taxonomy. The study reveals that, among other things, Justice Ginsburg does not use her footnotes, as some humor writers do, to make jokes. Also, she does not follow in the footsteps of the late, great David Foster Wallace and use footnotes to mirror the fractured nature of reality in her work. Instead, Justice Ginsburg uses footnotes to, for example, provide background information regarding cases under review, point out important aspects of case history, and respond to the arguments of other justices.

Source: LSN Law & Rhetoric Vol. 2 No. 22,  03/20/2009