Are we teaching what they will use?

Here at Stanford we haven’t shown our students Shepard’s in print in at least a decade.  And we have long since stopped using the digests in print as well.  So it was good to see these decisions validated in an article from the latest issue of Mississippi College Law Review, “Are We Teaching What They Will Use? Surveying Alumni to Assess Whether Skills Teaching Aligns with Alumni Practice,” by Sheila F. Miller.

The article wasn’t surprising to me, except the evident reluctance by law school alumni to use low-cost tools made available to them, namely Casemaker and Fastcase.

As can be seen from the frequency of usage chart, Lexis and Westlaw continue to be the most popular choices for online research. This finding is not significantly different depending on the size of firm, or year of graduation. This data is similar to a 2007 survey of Chicago lawyers in which 87% of attorneys surveyed who had practiced for zero to five years did “most” of their research in Lexis or Westlaw.   Casemaker provides free research for members of both the Ohio and Indiana Bar Associations. 43 Yet, only 16.9% of respondents used Casemaker often, very often, or always, and only 13.5% used it at least sometimes. This was a surprising number given the number of the respondents in small offices. In the follow-up interviews there was some criticism of Casemaker. For example, attorneys stated Casemaker is “too slow” and Casemaker is “not as easy as Westlaw, and I have an unlimited subscription for Ohio law.”

From Footnote #43:

Fastcase provides basically the same service for some other states, and we asked in the survey about Fastcase as well. The numbers were so low on Fastcase use that I did not include them in the tables of results.

Free Law Project from CourtListener

We here at Stanford are big fans of CourtListener.  We use it to, among other things, identify recent cases that cite our faculty; those alerts come to us faster than those from some other services.

Stanford Law School alumnus, Legal Research Plus guest blogger and legal informatics visionary Pablo Arredondo has some news to share about CourtListener’s Free Law Project:

Brian W. Carver and Michael Lissner, creators of the CourtListener platform
and associated technology, are pleased to announce that after four years
developing free and open legal technologies, they are launching a
non-profit umbrella organization for their work: Free Law Project. Free Law
Project will serve to bring legal materials and research to the public for
free, formalizing the work that they have been doing, and providing a
long-term home for similar projects.

“Since the birth of this country, legal materials have been in the hands of
the few, denying legal justice to the many,” said Michael Lissner,
co-founder of the new non-profit. “It is appalling that the public does not
have free online access to the entirety of United States case law,” said
Brian Carver, UC Berkeley professor and Free Law Project co-founder. “We
are working to change this situation. We also provide a platform for
developing technologies that can make legal research easier for both
professionals and the general public.”

The official goals for the non-profit are:

*   To provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal
materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific
purposes;
*   To develop, implement, and provide public access to technologies useful
for legal research;
*   To create an open ecosystem for legal research and materials; and
*   To support academic research on related technologies, corpora, and
legal systems.

The CourtListener platform was started in 2009 as part of a masters project
at UC Berkeley, and has matured over the years to be a powerful legal
research platform. It has nearly a million legal opinions dating from 1754,
and has more each day as it gets them directly from court websites.
CourtListener currently serves thousands of people with free legal opinions
each week, and has had a doubling of traffic just since July 2013.
CourtListener sends out hundreds of alerts to its users each week,
informing them of new legal cases in which they have expressed an interest.
All of CourtListener’s code is open source and all of its content is
available for free bulk download. Numerous startups and researchers have
used both the code and the bulk data as a basis for their work.

More information is available in [the Free Law Project about page][1],
where you can find a list of current activities and non-profit documents.
The co-founders expect to pursue grant funding from foundations, but also
hope that those who support the goals of improving public access to the law
will [donate directly][2] so that the non-profit can put more developers to
work on these efforts.

In the future, freelawproject.org will be the official place to find
updates about Free Law Project and its related technologies.

“This is a huge day for the open legal movement, and we hope you’ll help
share the news by telling your friends and colleagues,” said Lissner.

**Brian W. Carver** is Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley School of
Information where he does research on and teaches about intellectual
property law and cyberlaw. He is also passionate about the public’s access
to the law. In 2009 and 2010 he advised an I School Masters student,
Michael Lissner, on the creation of CourtListener.com, an alert service
covering the U.S. federal appellate courts. After Michael’s graduation he
and Brian continued working on the site and have grown the database of
opinions to include over 900,000 documents.

**Michael Lissner** is the co-founder and lead developer of CourtListener,
a project that works to make the law more accessible to all. He graduated
from UC Berkeley’s School of Information. Michael is passionate about
bringing greater access to our primary legal materials, about how
technology can replace old legal models, and about open source,
community-driven approaches to legal research.

For more information, contact info@freelawproject.org

[1]: http://freelawproject.org/about/
[2]: https://courtlistener.com/donate/?referrer=flp-blog

Ineffective Assistance of Library: The Failings and the Future of Prison Law Libraries

By Jonathan Abel, in Volume 101, Issue #5 of The Georgetown Law Journal (June 2013).  Here’s the abstract:

The prison law library has long been a potent symbol of the inmate’s right to access the courts. But it has never been a practical tool for providing that access. This contradiction lies at the core of the law library doctrine. It takes little imagination to see the problem with requiring untrained inmates, many of them illiterate or non-English speakers, to navigate the world of postconviction relief and civil rights litigation with nothing more than the help of a few library books. Yet law libraries are ubiquitous in American prisons. Now, in light of a technological revolution in legal research methods, prison libraries face an existential crisis that requires prison officials, courts, scholars, and inmates to reconsider the very purpose of the prison law library. This Article takes up that challenge by providing a novel historical account of the prison law library’s development.

This Article uses original historical research to show how prison law libraries arose, not as a means of accessing the courts, but rather as a means of controlling inmates’ behavior. By placing the origin of the prison law library in the first decades of the twentieth century–half a century earlier than typical accounts–this Article shows how the law library evolved to take on a new purpose in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Supreme Court and other courts first began to fashion a law library doctrine. The central argument of this Article is simple: The courts’ attempts to graft an access-to-courts rationale onto a law library system that had developed for other purposes led to a law library doctrine riddled with contradictions and doomed to failure. This historical account helps explain a prison law library system that never really made sense in terms of providing access to the courts. As prisons look to update their law libraries in light of sweeping technological changes, it is all the more important to understand the history of the law library system so that authorities can plan for its future.

 

 

A plea to scholars

Dear scholars,

Please pay attention to where you place your scholarship.   Are you aware of the cost of some journal subscriptions?  One example, of many, is the Journal of Law & Society.  The Stanford Law Library used to get this print subscription with discounted rate and paid $161 for the current 2013 print subscription. We just received word from Hein (who handles the subscription for us) that the publisher will begin to charge us the full price with an additional payment of $851.00.

What made me think of this was the receipt yesterday of a new publication from my hero Carl Malamud.  Carl has become quite the pamphleteer and his most recent is On Crime and Access to Knowledge.    I urge you all to read it.

In the pamphlet, Carl tells the story of the late Aaron Swartz and discusses JSTOR, PACER, and broader information access issues such as Carl’s heroic efforts to make public safety documents, such as building codes, available to the public.

But on the issue of what Aaron did with JSTOR, Carl makes this important point:

. . . One must remember that JSTOR is a messenger, an intermediary, and if there is fault here, that fault is ultimately the fault of the scholars who wrote those articles and allowed them to be locked up.  It was a corruption of scholarship when the academy handed over copyright to knowledge so that it could be rationed in order to extract rents.

Please think twice before you place a piece of your scholarship with a particular journal.  Find out what it costs to subscribe to the journal; find out what databases include its text (your librarian can help with this); ask the journal if you can retain ownership and publication rights.  And ask yourself:  Do you really want your scholarship tightly locked up behind expensive pay walls?

 

Bloomberg Law is moving up

according to the Heard on the Street column in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Data Don’t Add Up for Thomson Reuters.”  From the story:

 a survey of legal-information customers by Claudio Aspesi of Sanford C. Bernstein in January found that 61% of respondents had a subscription to Bloomberg Law, up from 36% the year before. And some respondents said Bloomberg Law was getting closer to offering a breadth of data needed to completely replace a subscription to Westlaw or rival Reed Elsevier’s Lexis-Nexis.

Operation Asymptote – Spread the word – Download distributed PACER documents

Operation Asymptote

Overview

Operation Asymptote is an initiative designed to download as much of PACER as possible by spreading the burden across many individuals, none of whom need to spend anything by staying under PACER’s $15.00 per quarter free access allowance.

What do I need to do this?

  1. You must have five minutes.
  2. You must have a valid credit or debit card, even though it will not be charged.
  3. You must have a computer with internet access that can run Firefox.
  4. You must have a PACER account.
  5. You must have the free RECAP browser extension.
  6. You must download no more than $15.00 worth of PACER materials per calendar quarter.

. . .

LexisNexis and Westlaw charges – who’s paying?

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Law Firms Face Fresh Backlash Over Fees, caught my eye with this paragraph:

Johnson & Johnson has its own strategy for curbing charges for legal-research services. The health-care-products company maintains its own subscriptions to legal databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. It asks law firms to use its accounts when doing work for the company. A J&J spokesman says the practice is one of several used to reduce costs for outside legal work.

Is this a common practice?  Comments welcome.

Selling Others’ Briefs, Illustrated

To better illustrate some of the points made by Paul in his posting Selling others’ Briefs, Bryan L. Jarrett (our former student and now an associate at Jones Day) has given us permission to post two of the charts he created for his paper “Vending Appellate Briefs.”  (To recap, Bryan’s paper surveyed the practices of sixteen state jurisdictions and DC — the ten largest ABA jurisdictions (by membership size) and seven jurisdictions that did not supply copies of appellate briefs to commercial vendors.  The data was gathered in 2010.)

The first table (“Table I: The Ten Largest Jurisdictions”) displays five questions (for the jurisdictions of NY, CA, TX, FL, IL, DC, MA, OH, PA and NJ): do these jurisdictions provide appellate briefs online; do they have an arrangement with a vendor (Westlaw, Lexis) for the distribution of briefs; do these jurisdictions send appellate briefs directly to vendors; is the exchange of briefs quid pro quo; and have any attorneys objected.

The second table (“Table II: Jurisdictions that Do Not Supply Their Briefs to Vendors”) focuses on seven jurisdictions (NV, NH, NM, OK, VT, UT, and WY) and addresses the same questions as in Table I.

Selling others’ briefs

Following up on George’s post “A pair of lawyers . . . sue West and LexisNexis for reproducing their court filings,” I took a second look at a directed research paper a student did for me a couple of years ago on the subject of vending appellate briefs.  The student surveyed 17 jurisdictions — 10 that provide briefs to vendors and 7 that do not.

One of the interesting take-aways from the student’s paper is the wide variety in means by which vendors have obtained briefs.  Some states have made various arrangements with vendors; others refuse to do so.  For a very few states there is a distinct quid pro quo. Past practices will change, though, as the vendors are increasingly just pulling from posted copies; unless a court rules against such a practice it will only accelerate.

California and Pennsylvania, of the surveyed jurisdictions, both have quid pro quo arrangements.  For example, in California, the state Supreme Court used to send copies of the briefs to certain public law libraries but stopped the practice when it made a deal with Court Records Service (later acquired by West Publishing) whereby the court receives microfiche copies in return for providing the briefs.

Massachusetts has what seems like an odd arrangement whereby briefs are scanned once at the Clerk’s Office, then sent to Westlaw, where they are scanned again and later returned.

To write the paper the student called librarians, court clerks, reporters of decisions, and the vendors.  None of the surveyed court staff members reported any attorney dissatisfaction with the practice of providing briefs to the vendors.  And in one state, the Reporter of Decisions speculated that attorneys actually liked “the free advertising.”  And many clerks were surprised that this has become an issue at all since the documents are public records.

Yes, they are public records but that doesn’t mean they are in the public domain.  Yet who wins if a court rules that Westlaw and LexisNexis are infringing authors’ copyright?  My student thinks that the attorney authors are really the only winners (if they receive royalties) and most of them have already received substantial compensation for writing these briefs and all other players (the courts, the public) are losers.   I hope that in the spirit of pro bono most attorneys will continue to make their appellate briefs available to all the world and not press ownership claims (with perhaps some sort of opt-out provision for the rare instances when, for privacy or other sensitive concerns, certain briefs should not be published).   It would also be a better world if LexisNexis and Westlaw could also take responsible pro bono actions here, as suggested by Ed Connor and not profit from the work product of those in the private sector.

Here’s the cite to my student’s paper:  Bryan Jarrett, Vending Appellate Briefs: The practice, its future, and implications if found illegal.   Submitted October 30, 2010.

Abstract:

This paper analyzes the collection and sale of appellate briefs.  It presents the findings of a survey of seventeen jurisdictions.  The paper discusses how Westlaw and LexisNexis access the briefs, whether they have structured mutually beneficial agreements with the courts that provide the briefs, whether attorneys commonly object to the sale of their briefs, the likely future of the industry, and the potential policy implications of a successful legal challenge to the industry’s practices.

Authentication of Primary Legal Materials and Pricing Options

Always worth reading is Intersect Alert, the one published by the SLA San Francisco Bay Region Chapter (and not to be confused with Chuck Bartowski’s Intersect).

This item about a new California Office of Legislative Counsel white paper is from the most recent issue:

Authentication of Primary Legal Materials and Pricing Options
“The recent passage of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) has brought to the forefront the issue of costs of authenticating primary legal materials in electronic format. This white paper briefly reviews five methods of electronic authentication. These methods are based on trustworthiness, file types, effort to implement, and volume of electronic documents to be authenticated. Six sample solutions are described and their relative costs are compared. The white paper also frames the legal landscape and background of authentication for primary legal materials in electronic format, and provides context and points to applicable resources. The aim of this collective effort is to promote the understanding of costs related to authentication and invite further discussion on the issue.”

http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/records/legislativerecords/docs_pdfs/CA_Authentication_WhitePaper_Dec2011.pdf