Building the National Inventory of Legal Materials (resume building too).

Erika Wayne and I spoke at the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting in Denver, Colorado on Saturday, July 10, 2010.  We spoke at the “Legislative Advocacy Training 2010:  Raising the Bar in Your State” session.  Below is the text of my remarks.

I’m going to let Erika do most of the talking, as she has done most of the work.  And she has done a lot of work on this.

But I would like to say a word about the importance of the National Inventory of Legal Materials (NILM) and also to encourage other library directors to encourage their staffs to use their 20% time, or 10% time, or even 1% time to contribute to the inventory.

Rick Klau, who works at Google and who was a guest speaker in our class, used some of his 20% time to help the team developing the Google Scholar Legal Opinions project;  so very great things can come with the help of  small, individual efforts.

The National Inventory of Legal Materials is part of the Law.gov movement, which I’m very proud to say had its kickoff even on January 12, 2010 at Stanford Law School.

Law.gov is a very ambitious project.  And, as Jonathan Zittrain said at our January event, it might fail.  But as Professor Zittrain went on to say, even if it does fail, much good will come from the effort.

And one of those good things is the National Inventory of Legal Materials, which truly has great stand-alone value.

Anyone who questions the need for Law.gov need only to work on the National Inventory — it is a most eye-opening experience, and should make you advocate for Law.gov.

One small example:  NOCALL, the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (which has done model work on the California Inventory) has a listserv.  Last spring an S.O.S. went out over the NOCALL listserv:  A firm needed bound volumes of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decisions.  The decisions are online, but with no way to cite them.  The firm needed the print volumes only to get cites for a brief.  Messengers were sent scrambling, while all the content sat online and unused.

We did our own little national inventory with the 42 students in our Advanced Legal Research class this past spring.  We had each student look at statutes/codes, cases, and regulations/administrative decisions for an assigned state.  One student found that her state posted its version of its public utilities decisions online with volume numbers, but no page numbers.  Close, but still no cigar for citation purposes.

But what shocked our students the most was the wide use of copyright assertion and the wider use of disclaimers.  So many states said, basically, “we’re posting these legal documents online but you can’t rely upon them.”  Our students, ever the cautious lawyers-in-training, won’t even use eCFR due to its warning that it is not an official source of the CFR.

I’d like to now suggest another reason to work on the National Inventory and that is to get this nice tag for your resume:

     Contributor, National Inventory of Legal Materials.

It’s just one little line.

It’s just six words:  Contributor. National. Inventory. [O]f. Legal. Materials.

Six words plus a comma that would tell an employer much about the candidate.  Six words (plus a comma) that, for me anyway, would really make a resume stand out from the pile.

The one line, those few words, would tell me that the candidate is aware; that he or she is involved; that he or she is a big-picture person.  It would tell me that the candidate is a producer — helping to produce positive change.  And it would tell me that the candidate is a “plate-spinner.”  We’re all busy, but a contributor is finding time to toss up one more plate — the National Inventory — and give it a spin as needed.   It’s needed.  The Inventory will never be “done” — it needs to be an organic document, kept evergreen by the contributors to reflect the latest developments.

As I mentioned before, Law.gov might ultimately fail.  But it might also succeed — there are some amazingly forceful and visionary people behind it.  But for Law.gov to succeed, we need to get everyone on the same page, and that page is the National Inventory of Legal Materials.

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About Paul Lomio

Paul is library director and lecturer at law at Stanford Law School. He has a J.D. from Gonzaga Law School, an LL.M. from the University of Washington, and a M.L.I.S. from the Catholic University of America. He is the author (with Henrik Spang-Hanssen) of Legal Research Methods in the U.S. and Europe. He also likes to ride his bicycle.

One thought on “Building the National Inventory of Legal Materials (resume building too).

  1. Hi Paul, great post. Add me to the list of people who are supportive of law.gov’s efforts!

    Wanted to correct one piece of info, though – I’m not an engineer at Google (I’m a Product Manager), and while the work I did on Google Scholar was indeed part of my 20% time, that by no means is representative of the work done by several others to bring that content online. Anurag Acharya is the lead engineer behind Scholar, and he and his team were the people most directly responsible for incorporating the legal content into Scholar.

    This doesn’t take away from your overall point, but I’d feel terrible getting credit for something that was the work of several people at Google.

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