Defining definitions

 

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.

 

Open Access Law Journals – “One Journal at a Time”

Judy Janes and Marissa Andrea just published a good article on open access law journals.  Their article, “One Journal at a Time,” includes a few paragraphs providing “a brief history of open access.”  In addition, they comment upon how “the success of RSS feeds, SSRN alerts and SMARTCILP/CLJC email updates has further accelerated the transition to Open Access journals.”

In their “Learn More” section of the article they link to a video presentation where Dick “Danner discusses Open Access and the Durham Statement and also his paper entitled “The Durham Statement on Open Access One Year Later: Preservation and Access to Legal Scholarship” available at SSRN.”

Other resources linked in the Janes and Andrea article include:

Directory of Open Access Journals

Science Commons Open Access Law Project

and

New York Law School list of law reviews with online content

This movement will benefit us all, as Janes and Andrea state it:

. . . As more journals become available on the Internet through an initiative called Open Access, published legal scholarship — once only available in print form from law libraries, or online through proprietary databases ­— will reach a wider audience. This is a movement not only benefiting practicing attorneys, but historians, scholars and members of the public with legal research interests, who will be able to access legal scholarship by simply googling a topic.

“Why do we need law libraries when ‘everything is available online?'”

Volume 1, number 1 of UC Irvine Law Review just landed upon my desk.  It’s a symposium issue “Training for the Practice of Law at the Highest Levels: Reflections from UC Irvine” and it includes an article by library director Beatrice A. Tice, “The Academic Law Library in the 21st Century: Still the Heart of the Law School.”

I. The Information-Knowledge-Action Paradigm
II. Heart of the Law School, 1783 to 2000
III. The Academic Law Library in the 21st Century
IV. Still — and Always — the Heart

I always enjoy inaugural issues, and this one is a keeper.

Legal Research Methods in a Modern World: A Coursebook

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.

LOST LAWS: WHAT WE CAN’T FIND IN THE U.S. CODE

LOST LAWS: WHAT WE CAN’T FIND IN THE U.S. CODE

by Will Tress

Golden Gate University Law Review, Vol. 40, Issue #2, Winter 2010, p. 129

Conclusion (p. 164)

Three features that detract from the U.S. Code as the comprehensive and authoritative source for federal statutes are rooted in the Code’s historical development.  The prima facie titles of the Code lack sufficient notice that the authoritative language of the statutes codified there resides in the Statutes at Large.  Better signposting for those titles is suggested.  Amendments to the positive law titles that are not drafted in the proper “direct amendment” format are relegated to footnotes, where they can be overlooked by the uninformed reader.  Annual corrective bills would ameliorate this problem.  General laws that are considered temporary, such as those included in appropriations acts, are left out of the Code entirely.  Pointers to these uncodified laws might be incorporated into an unofficial electronic version of the U.S. Code as part of the search results by sidebar references.  Such an electronic Code could easily provide the signposts to the session laws for prima facie titles and even insert draft versions of amendments into positive law titles pending official correction legislation.  The Congressional Offices of Code Revision and Legislative Counsel should collaborate with the Government Printing Office to use new information technology to fix old problems with the U.S. Code.

This article is going to be required reading for our class next year.  Its discussion of “the prima facie code” and the positive law titles, a topic that always throws the class for a bit of a loop, is the best I’ve seen on the subject, with excellent examples (and potential homework questions) in the footnotes.

Introducing and Integrating Free Internet Legal Research into the Classroom

“Introducing and Integrating Free Internet Legal Research into the Classroom”

University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-05

JOOTAEK LEE, University of Miami – School of Law

The Global financial crisis has been discouraging legal researchers and practitioners from accessing high-cost databases.Many legal professionals and researchers are under financial pressures mainly because of the increased kinds and cost of subscription databases such as Westlaw and Lexis; thus, many legal professionals and researchers started considering free or less expensive internet resources for their research and classes. On the other hand, the number of these free or less expensive internet resources is increasing every year, and their coverage for legal sources is also expanded. Furthermore, just as the creation of a list of hypertext links to internet resources is not an easy task anymore because of the gigantic number of resources available, so simply providing created list to the law students will likewise irresponsibly confuse and intimidate them.

First, this article attempted to define internet legal research and to show the difficulty of distinguishing internet legal research from other online searches. Next, pros and cons of free or less expensive internet resources were discussed. Lastly, this article attempted to introduce and apply usability to various internet resources, criticizing Lexis and Westlaw by the principle of usability web-design.In conclusion, the necessity and prospective plan to establish evaluation standards for free internet resources including coverage, currency, accuracy, authority, appropriateness, and perspective will be explored

Source:  LSN: University of Miami School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper
Series Vol. 4 No. 2,  04/21/2010

John Palfrey on libraries in the age of “Digital-Plus”

John Palfrey is a most gifted writer.  I admired his book (with Urs Gasser) Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives as much for its artful use of language and clear writing style as its fascinating content.   Read it and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

John just posted an equally well-written article to the Legal Scholarship Network, an article that should be of great interest to all librarians.  It is:  “Cornerstones of Law Libraries for an Era of Digital-Plus.”  Here’s the brief abstract:

Law librarians would be well served by sharing a vision for the future of legal information, one that is informed by the methods of multiple disciplines and that will promote democratic ideals.  This shared vision could guide us as we continue to lay the cornerstones for law libraries in a “digital-plus” era.

The Decline and Fall of the Dominant Paradigm: Trustworthiness of Case Reports in the Digital Age

The latest issue of the New York Law School Law Review just crossed my desk, with many interesting articles,  including this one by William R. Mills, associate librarian and professor of Legal Research:

New York Law School Law Review

Volume 53 2008/09

William R. Mills

The Decline and Fall of the Dominant Paradigm: Trustworthiness of Case Reports in the Digital Age

Professor Mills’s conclusion:

The foundation of trust that underpins our system of case law reporting has now been undermined. Cases posted to many mainstream Internet legal research sources, other than Lexis or Westlaw, appear with no strong guarantee of accuracy or authenticity. Scrupulous legal researchers who wish to independently verify the accuracy of the case reports they cite from Internet sources are met with the burden of comparing the electronic reports against print versions, which are the only ones that courts deem to be official. On a large scale, this burden can prove insurmountable. Furthermore, readers of modern legal literature, when encountering citations from the National Reporter System, have good reason to harbor doubt that the authors who wrote those citations actually consulted the editions that they cited. Moreover, if the authors did not actually consult the National Reporter System, or its established electronic counterparts Lexis or Westlaw, then there is no assurance that the sources they did consult were reliably accurate.

In the digital age, the foundation of trust in our case law reporting system, and in legal citation generally, must be rebuilt. Such a rebuilding effort cannot succeed by utilizing the technology of printed books. Today’s legal researchers are increasingly abandoning print sources in favor of their Internet-based counterparts. The rebuilding of trust in the case reporting system must take place in the realm of digital technology. It must focus on implementing digital safeguards within the process of dissemination of case law databases to better ensure the accuracy and security of information found in those databases.

While court systems and other government entities will obviously play major roles in this rebuilding effort, the legal profession would be naive to expect the government alone to accomplish this work. The government, after all, has never succeeded in creating an efficient case reporting system that served the needs of lawyers nationwide.  Rather, the rebuilding of the American case reporting system for the digital age must be an effort undertaken jointly by government, professional groups, and private enterprise.  The corporate proprietors of Westlaw and Lexis, as the inheritors of the West paradigm, ought not to resist this effort, but instead join in to facilitate its speedy success. Cooperation among all parties is essential, and private enterprise would be an ultimate beneficiary. The companies that market databases of case reports to lawyers have nothing to lose and much to gain from an improved system that bolsters the trustworthiness of these products.

The Next Generation of Legal Citations Survey, and Authentication and Link Rot Issues

Link rot is a pet peeve of mine.  A posting I made on June 11, 2008, “Law School Laptop Bans,” already has a broken link to a news story and the posting isn’t even a year old yet.  And I can’t count the number of times I have found a terrific-sounding right-on-point resource in a law review footnote, only to find its URL leads to the dreaded “404 Not Found.”  But it’s more than a pet peeve issue, as this survey makes clear:

“The Next Generation of Legal Citations: A Survey of Internet Citations in the Opinions of the Washington Supreme Court and Washington Appellate Courts, 1999-2005”

Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Vol. 9, No. 2, Fall 2007

TINA CHING, Seattle University School of Law

As more legal research is conducted online, it is reasonable to conclude that there will be a corresponding increase in citations to the Internet by judges in their opinions. With the widespread public use of the Internet to access information along with the constant changes and impermanence of websites, citing to the Internet should be an issue of increasing concern to the legal community across the country. This paper surveys the types of Internet sources the Washington state Supreme Court and Appellate Court justices are citing. It discusses the interrelated issues of link rot and the impermanence of web pages, citation format, authentication and preservation of online electronic legal information.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Information & Technology Vol. 1 No. 11,  04/29/2009