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.
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
Here’s a new article by a law librarian about statutory definitions:
Price, Jeanne Frazier. “Wagging, not barking: statutory definitions,” 60 Cleveland State Law Review 999-1055 (2013).
And here’s its abstract:
Legislative text is distinguished by the frequency with which it specifies the meaning of the words it employs. More than 25,000 terms are defined in the United States Code alone. In few other contexts is there a perceived need to so carefully and repeatedly clarify meaning. This Article examines the roles played by definitions in a reader’s understanding and application of a legislative text; it demonstrates that the effects of defining are not as straightforward as we might assume. The discussion is framed by the distinction between legislation as a communication vehicle and as an instrument of governance. In some cases, definition serves predominantly a communicative purpose; it clarifies the speaker’s intent. But at other times the legislative definition empowers; it serves a performative function, investing groups of individuals or instances with rights or obligations. The Article suggests that a better understanding of the effect of definition on a reader’s interaction with a text, coupled with an appreciation of the different roles served by definition, will enable legislators to draft more useful definitions and enable interpreters to better apply those definitions.
Casetext is a free, searchable legal database that you dear reader can annotate! The beta version just opened to the public, and the site is building a community of annotators so that lawyers reading a case see related legal documents, articles, and commentary alongside the text.
Casetext is committed to making the opinions and annotations freely available. Instead of charging for access, the site will support itself by offering additional tools that enhance search and save time.
The database currently contains the bulk of federal cases (all Supreme Court, circuit courts from 1 F.2d, and district courts from 1980); as well as Delaware cases in the Atlantic Reporter from 30 A.
Co-founders Jacob Heller and Joanna Huey met when he was president of the Stanford Law Review and she was president of the Harvard Law Review. After clerking together and working at firms, they decided to build Casetext because it’s what they wished they had for their own research. They’d love to hear your feedback (and, of course, to read your annotations).
Using the health care legislation passed in 2010 as a model to show how legislative procedure shapes legislative history, this article posits that legislative procedure has changed, making the traditional model of the legislative process used by law librarians and other researchers insufficient to capture the history of modern legislation. To prove this point, it follows the process through which the health care legislation was created and describes the information resources generated. The article concludes by listing resources that will give law librarians and other researchers a grounding in modern legislative procedure and help them navigate the difficulties presented by modern lawmaking.