WeCite Project’s win-win opportunities

Analyzing how a given opinion has been impacted by subsequent decisions is an essential part of legal research.   Consequently, the work of the Free Law movement cannot stop with making opinions freely available: a free and robust citator is also needed.

A gargantuan effort will be required to build (and continually update) such a citator. The newly launched WeCite Project, co-sponsored by the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics and the free legal research platform Casetext, aims to bring the win-win power of crowdsourcing to the task. Along with the traditional crowdsourcing strategy of enabling a community of like-minded people to easily contribute,  the WeCite Project is also giving law schools the unique opportunity to do their fair share in another win-win way:  students learn about citators and citation analysis; the database grows.  Already a number of advanced legal research classes have already participated and our class this spring will join the crowd.

The Columbia Society for Law, Science and Technology is hosting a WeCite Event at Columbia Law School on March 26, 2014 (see details and RSVP here: https://casetext.com/wecite/event).  Any and all who are passionate about legal research and/or equal access to the law are invited to attend.  Those who cannot make it to New York can also participate remotely.

Importantly, any and all citator entries created under the WeCite Project (“wecites”) are public domain under a Creative Commons SA license.  Casetext will also be creating an API to allow anyone to bulk download wecites.

The beauty of crowdsourcing is that small contributions from individuals can aggregate into something magnificent.  For those who are interesting in pitching in, instructions can be found here: https://casetext.com/wecite

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.

2011 Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys

2011 Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys

Patrick Meyer

Thomas Jefferson School of Law
September 26, 2011
Abstract:    
This article summarizes results from the author’s 2010 law firm legal research survey, which determined what research functions, and in what formats, law firms require new hires to be proficient. This survey updates the author’s 2009 article that is available at this site and which was based on this author’s earlier law firm legal research survey.

These new survey results confirm that law firms need schools to integrate the teaching of online and print-based research resources and to emphasize cost-effective research. The following federal and state specific print-based resources should be taught in an integrated manner: legislative codes, secondary source materials, reporters, administrative codes and digests.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Society: The Legal Profession eJournal Vol. 6 No. 74, 11/16/2011

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.

New SCOCAL Resource – 9th Circuit Questions of Certification to the California Supreme Court

Thanks to the good folks at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, the SCOCAL site now has a terrific new resource.

The 9th Circuit Questions of Certification to the California Supreme Court page contains a detailed list, with links, of all the questions certified to the California Supreme Court by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The practice began in 1998 and the list includes current cases.

Under California Rules of Court, Rule 8.548 (Decision on request of a court of another jurisdiction):

On request of the United States Supreme Court, a United States Court of Appeals, or the court of last resort of any state, territory, or commonwealth, the Supreme Court may decide a question of California law if:
(1)The decision could determine the outcome of a matter pending in the requesting court; and
(2)There is no controlling precedent.

Some time ago, the attorneys at  Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP starting tracking these types of questions as presented to the California Supreme Court by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

As we’ve mentioned before (here and here), our ALR students write annotations on California Supreme Court cases that appear on the SCOCAL site.  Our students regularly contact the attorneys in the cases to acquire briefs for posting on SCOCAL alongside their annotations.  This past quarter, one of our students reached out to the the attorneys at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP.  Lucky for us, the attorneys there knew about our site and asked if we would be interested in posting and hosting their terrific resource listing the questions presented to the California Supreme Court.    We, of course, said yes.  Our students have now annotated sixteen of the cases on the list, and we hope to add more this year.

Please take a look and spread the word.

Special thanks, as always, to the amazing crew at Justia for everything they do to support the SCOCAL project as it evolves and grows.

How to Use Legislative History to Teach Grammar

Anyone teaching the importance of legislative history in legal research need only point to a single punctuation mark: the mighty comma.  As a disclaimer, I strive to put my years of Latin classes to good use, but do not profess to be punctuationally-perfect.  (Interestingly, the Romans did not use modern punctuation, but I digress…)   One thing I do know, however, is that other people’s grammatical shortcomings sure can wreak a lot of havoc… making them a great teaching tool.

This past week, I was researching a state statute that, among many other things, imposed conditions on persons who had committed a “felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  At first blush, one would read this to mean that the conditions apply to persons involved in domestic violence felonies and misdemeanors.  Get this:  That provision actually governs anyone who commits either a “felony” or a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  In other words, we should really be reading a comma into the statute between “felony” and “misdemeanor” where the legislators neglected to put one!

Uncovering the latent comma was not easy.  News articles referred to the imposition of the conditions on felons, but without citing the supporting statutory clause.  Secondary sources referred to conditions emanating from the “domestic violence clause” of the statute, failing to illuminate that the clause also covers all felonies.  Case law cited the statute as creating certain conditions, but decided matters on other grounds.

The best recourse was to trace the historical progression of the clause, which I was able to do through older versions of the statute and the legislators’ own analysis.  Earlier iterations made no reference to domestic violence whatsoever, as the clause originally pertained to persons who had committed any felony.  Years later, the legislature added “or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” but failed to demarcate this clause with a comma that would have resolved ambiguity.  If the legislators had simply written “any felony, or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” I would have spent fifteen minutes on a project that instead took five hours!  (Note:  I do not require legislators to bold, italicize, or underscore the comma; any font or stylization will do!)

Do you have any grammar-related teachable moments you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear them and pass them along to our classes.  To that end, I particularly enjoyed Prof. Susan J. Hankin’s “Statutory Interpretation in the Age of Grammatical Permissiveness:  An Object Lesson for Teaching Why Grammar Matters,” which references recent literature on the subject and also offers some great case law examples to use in class.

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers
The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver.
http://educatingtomorrowslawyers.du.edu/

The site includes examples of innovative courses and and a respurces page with strategic plans, teaching strategies, and surveys.

From the description and press release:

“Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers” provides a platform to encourage law schools in the U.S. to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession.

Rebecca Love Kourlis is the Executive Director of IAALS and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.

“Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers leverages the Carnegie Model of learning,” Kourlis says. “Our project provides support for shared learning, innovation, ongoing measurement and collective implementation. We are very excited to launch this project to encourage new ways to train law students and to measure innovation in the years to come.”

William M. Sullivan is the Director of “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” He also is the lead author of the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report, Educating Lawyers.

“Our goal is to encourage law schools that are already committed to innovation to share what they know in a structured, collaborative place so that other law professors may discuss and develop new teaching techniques,” Sullivan says.

IAALS will manage this initiative, the first of its kind in the country. The initiative is partnering with a growing number of law schools (including Stanford Law School) in a consortium committed to innovative teaching The initiative is fully funded by IAALS, the consortium, and the University of Denver.

Martin J. Katz, Dean of the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver serves with Kourlis and Sullivan on the initiative’s Executive Committee.

“We want to help law schools integrate three sets of values or what the Carnegie Foundation calls ‘apprenticeships,’” Katz says. “They are knowledge, practice, and professionalism. We believe this initiative can change how law professors and deans, students, and ultimately the legal profession respond to our changing world.”

Easy Does It: Examining First-Year Law Student Impressions of the Online Resources They Use Most Often

“Easy Does It: Examining First-Year Law Student Impressions of the Online
Resources They Use Most Often” 

LISA D. KINZER, University of Texas at Austin – School of Law

You’ve got what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

It’s a mantra heard in households across the country when kids sit down at the
kitchen table and realize they do not have what they wanted for dinner. A few
weeks ago, I had a “you’ve got what you get” moment as I was looking over data I
had collected from first-year J.D. students at the University of Texas School of
Law.

The data, as it turned out, were not what I wanted. I had asked
students to name the online resource they use most often, and then to answer a
series of brief questions about that resource. I had intended to (1) measure
student use of WestlawNext, and (2) get a sense of what students think of
WestlawNext. But in retrospect I realized I had not accomplished my second goal,
because I had failed to collect any information about WestlawNext from students
who do not use it. It is not particularly useful to hear about a resource from
its fans, without also hearing from individuals who are perhaps not as enamored
with that resource. So I could not use the data to write anything very
interesting about WestlawNext.

However, some of the data patterns that
emerged were so striking that I wanted to share them. I found that, regardless
of whether a student is using Lexis, Westlaw, or WestlawNext, students are
overwhelmingly convinced that their resource is the easiest and the fastest to
use. I also found that students are not nearly as convinced that their resource
returns relevant material or everything they need. In addition, it seems that
students simply do not care near as much about vendor rewards programs as
vendors might have us believe. And finally, to the extent that their legal
research professors have any preference as to what resource students should use,
students are either unaware of that preference or simply unaffected by
it.

In this paper, I review the data that create these patterns, and then
try to sort out what these patterns mean, practically speaking. I will begin
with an overview of my methodology, then review the results of the survey, and
then turn to the implications and possibilities for further research.

 

Source: LSN Legal Education eJournal Vol. 8 No. 41, 07/20/2011

How to Win a CALI Award: Some Personal Advice from Two Law Students Who Have Done It

Stephen E. Schilling and Rebecca M. Greendyke won a multiple CALI awards, which are awarded at a number of law schools to the student with the highest grade in a class.

But they did something else, they wrote an article (published in the University of Dayton Law Review, Winter 2011) on how to win the award.  In their article, “How to Win a CALI Award: Some Personal Advice from Two Law Students Who Have Done It,” they provide helpful tips for academic success in law school.

I suggest reading the article for yourself, but I want to mention a few of the best bits of advice.

For starters, a student should “know thyself, know thy professor  and know thy class.”

“Knowing yourself means knowing how you learn best and doing things to make yourself the best law student you can be.  Knowing your professor means learning how your professors teach, how they test, and what their expectations are.  Knowing your class means knowing your material.  This entails practicing  and working problems, using outside sources, and being prepared with tips and tricks to make your exam answers stand out.”

I really liked the suggestion to “be your own professor” — in other words, try to teach yourself the material.  The article also provides tips on how to ‘target’ the right courses for success, from reputation, exam mode to class size.

But, I was most pleased by the suggestion to “use outside sources.”  The authors were highlighting the importance of picking the right study aids, but there is much more to looking beyond your assigned readings.  We’ve seen in our ALR class that some of our strongest students are those who look beyond the traditional (or expected) resources.   And, browsing through our course reserves collection (which is often stocked with those ‘suggested’ other readings by professors) can be incredibly valuable and time-saving.

Good tips worth thinking about.

 

New Web Resource: SCOCAL: The Supreme Court of California, Annotated

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Supreme Court of California website, SCOCAL (http://scocal.stanford.edu).

SCOCAL is a joint project between the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford Law School, and  Justia, Inc.

The site provides free access to the full text California Supreme Court opinions from 1934 to the present, along with detailed annotations of selected cases written and edited by students in our Advanced Legal Research class here at Stanford.  For selected cases related California Supreme Court briefs, other documents and news items are also available, all free of charge. Users may subscribe to separate RSS feeds of new opinions, annotations, Court news and follow the site on Twitter.

Special thanks to FastCase for providing a large number of the California Supreme Court opinions available on the site.