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.

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

The law, annotated

Introducing Casetext

casetext
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).

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.

 

 

Meet Ravel and its approach to legal data visualization

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.”

 

 

 

 

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

The Future of Legal Search

Here’s a White Paper from Cognizant 20-20 Insights (September 2011) that should be of interest to many readers of this blog:

The Future of Legal Search:

Meeting Lawyer Requirements by Delivering More Contextually-Sensitive and Relevant Results

by Ambika Sagar

Some highlights:

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.

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.