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.
Ravel, a search visualization, analytics, and annotation platform of United States Supreme Court and Circuit Court cases, now offers free and unlimited access directly through the website (in beta mode). The database, according to its founders, is generally as comprehensive and up-to-date as Google Scholar (meaning complete Supreme Court collection & Circuit Court coverage back to ~1950). They expect to add California, New York, and Delaware case law during the summer.
According to a story from the Daily Journal (“Entrepreneurs use design to launch legal startup,” December 31, 2012) founders Dan Lewis and Nik Reed
. . . set out to create a website that would visually map out case histories so legal professionals could more easily extract important information, such as how many times a case had been cited and what cases incorporated similar key words and phrases.
Co-founders Dan Lewis and Nik Reed are Stanford Law School alumni and their company is discussed in a recent article from the Stanford Lawyer, “The Cutting Edge:
A Positive Disruption: The Transformation of Law Through Technology.”
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.
Aldisert, Ruggero J.
Durham, N.C. : Carolina Academic Press, c2012.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
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
Summary of issues
Statement of facts
Writing the reasons for the decision.
Judicial opinions > United States.
At the Library:
Crown (Law) > Stacks 1
KF250 .A35 2012
KF250 .A35 2012
KF250 .A35 2012
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.
SUSAN NEVELOW MART, Colorado Law, University of Colorado Boulder School of Law
Humans and machines are both involved in the creation of legal research resources. For legal information retrieval systems, the human-curated finding aid is being overtaken by the computer algorithm. But human-curated finding aids still exist. One of them is the West Key Number system. The Key Number system’s headnote classification of case law, started back in the nineteenth century, was and is the creation of humans. The retrospective headnote classification of the cases in Lexis’s case databases, started in 1999, was created primarily although not exclusively with computer algorithms. So how do these two very different systems deal with a similar headnote from the same case, when they link the headnote to the digesting and citator functions in their respective databases? This paper continues an investigation into this question, looking at the relevance of results from digest and citator search run on matching headnotes in ninety important federal and state cases, to see how each performs. For digests, where the results are curated – where a human has made a judgment about the meaning of a case and placed it in a classification system – humans still have an advantage. For citators, where algorithm is battling algorithm to find relevant results, it is a matter of the better algorithm winning. But no one algorithm is doing a very good job of finding all the relevant results; the overlap between the two citator systems is not that large. The lesson for researchers: know how your legal research system was created, what involvement, if any, humans had in the curation of the system, and what a researcher can and cannot expect from the system you are using.
Source: LSN Legal Information & Technology eJournal Vol. 4 No. 29, 07/24/2012
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
September 26, 2011
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
by Ambika Sagar
Social media, crowdsourced data and other sources of information continue to generate volume and increase complexity.
Leveraging search history, information search providers can start analyzing how lawyers actually search to build artificial intelligence tools for constructing queries based on cases on which a lawyer is currently working.
Deriving context involves analyzing the pleadings to understand the legal issue.
Proactive search is an ideal opportunity to highlight the value of paid content. By providing relevant free content and abstracts of paid content, the legal information industry can target upgrading of customers.
Better value propositions such as pay-per-result and assistance in discovery of relevant results can improve conversion rates.
Ideally, a single-sign-in, cloud-based solution that provides access to various tools and ensures maximum integration of research and case data with litigation tools will benefit lawyers the most and also help to attract users and keep them loyal to one platform.
Be sure to check out the article itself and its many useful illustrations.
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.
Together with my Stanford Law School colleague George D. Wilson and our friend and Danish legal scholar Henrik Spang-Hanssen, we have just published the third edition of our legal research book, a revision of Legal Research Methods in the U.S. and Europe, 2nd Edition. But with the inclusion of short but good (in my opinion) chapters on legal research in China and Russia and some other materials, we have changed the title to Legal Research Methods in a Modern World: A Coursebook.
The book, now weighing in at 453 pages (and bargain priced at $ 55.00), is rich with illustrations and peppered with legal research tips. My contribution is mainly Chapter 5, about legal research methods in the United States, and it is based upon and follows the advanced legal research class that I co-teach here at Stanford. New to this edition, in addition to other updates, is the inclusion of research exercises that we have found most useful from the class. I did not include the answers — because I hope to continue to use these exercises — but I would be very happy to share the answers and my thoughts on approaches with other instructors of legal research.
The legal world is certainly getting smaller, and it is our shared belief that this would be handy book for any attorney to have as he or she deals with lawyers from other countries and their legal cultures.
The book should be available from Amazon.com; but if not, or if you want to order copies in mass quantities, the U.S. distributor is International Specialized Book Services. For other countries, the distributor is Marston Book Services.
We also have a corresponding website here.
Harvard Law Library director John Palfrey is quoted in this story from today’s Boston Globe:
Boston Globe, Monday, May 24, 2010
Home / News / Education
The thin, tattered book, an 1899 dissertation on Homer, written in French, is tucked into one of the more than 40 shelves devoted to the epic poet in the stacks of Widener Library. Collecting obscure works like this one has helped Harvard amass the world’s largest university library…”Libraries have to think of themselves as innovation centers, and not just repeat what we have done in the past, “said Harvard Law professor John Palfrey, who is a leading a project to shape the future of the school’s libraries.
. . .
Palfrey has added engineers, statisticians, and graphic designers to the law school library staff. His team is working on a Web application that browses a virtual bookshelf with works stacked against one another to re-create the experience of wandering through musty stacks and serendipitously stumbling upon titles.
The library is also planning to build a virtual reference desk, where students who rarely seek the help of librarians can solicit research advice without having to set foot in a library. Librarians would assist students through e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and Skype.
. . .
And Harvard Law School is in discussions with other law schools about having each school collect in specialized areas.
. . .