Kudos for SCOTUSblog updates

SCOTUSblog’s e-mail updates have been pretty helpful this October Term! We just started using them to track a few merits cases for which the filings have been fairly slow to appear on Bloomberg Law & WestlawNext. By contrast, the SCOTUSblog updates appear pretty timely in the trial runs we’ve done. The format is terrific, too, providing links both to the PDFs of the filed brief, and a link back to the docket, itself. Next up: subscription to and comparison with alerts from ABA preview briefs.

Supreme Court Oral Argument Audio Recordings

This from SCOTUS Blog:

“Starting next week, the Court will release on its own website the audiotape recordings of all of the arguments at the end of each argument week. This will be much faster release than under the prior policy, when they were not available for months — unless, as in a few high-profile cases, the Court released them on the same day of argument — a policy now discontinued.”

Starting with the October Term 2010, visitors to the Supreme Court site can download the FREE MP3 files by clicking on the “Oral Arguments” link from the home page and then clicking on the “Argument Audio”.  The argument audio will be posted on Fridays after Conference.

More details about this new policy are available in the Supreme Court’s press release.

Can Free Information Make Us A Vendor-Free Library? (updated with great comments and a great PowerPoint presentation on free resources)

I think maybe it can, and  in the very near future.

I took the latest issue of The New Yorker to the gym this morning — as long as there are cardio machines (and doctors’ waiting rooms) there will be a market for print magazines — and read Malcolm Gladwell’s book review essay “Priced to Sell.  Is free the future?” about Chris Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

Gladwell writes:

The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.”  Anderson does not consider this a passing trend.  Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”

Is this true for law libraries?  Earlier Sergio wrote about Morrison & Foerster’s wonderful “Privacy Library”of statutes, regulations,  links to government institutions, and IGO & NGO reports. This includes all 50 states and many foreign countries.  And it’s completely Free.

Gladwell writes that Anderson’s “advice is pithy, his tone uncompromising, and his subject matter perfectly timed for a moment when old-line content providers are desperate for answers.”  And desperate for ways to continue a certain size revenue stream, I might add, particularly for companies paying for corporate acquisitions, which includes most of the big name legal publishers.

The biggest legal publisher is the West Publishing Company.  West Publishing’s old-line products have been gathering dust here at the law library for years.  Digests and reporters?  The only touching they get is from feather dusters.   Causes of Action?  No cause to keep that one.   Our patrons are making due just fine without these products, and making greater and greater use Free resources (and with so many lawyers laid-off or fearing layoff, interest and awareness of Free is greater than ever).

And it’s not just West.  Take United States Law Week for Supreme Court coverage, for example.  A fine product.  But in my opinion the very best tool for following the United States Supreme Court is Tom Goldstein’s amazing and 100% Free Scotusblog.  Rachel Maddow called it a “national treasure.”  And I agree.  Law Week is always a step or two behind.

For treatises there’s a wealth of material online for Free at the Federal Judicial Center. There’s a massive quantity of law review commentary available Free at the Legal Scholarship Network. More schools will follow Duke’s and Harvard’s lead and adopt policies called for in The Durham Statement, making law review commentary even more widely and Freely available.  Useful blogs are abundant.  The electronic casebook (and certainly statutory supplements), and  free-book, movement is gathering steam (here at Stanford we see fewer classes using assigned casebooks and more classes built around online course materials).

For other secondary sources, you could try a site like the Free Library which offers millions of free full text articles and periodicals dating from mid 1980s.  Or, you could visit Encyclopedia.com and get facts and figures from over 120 published/credible sources.  How much? For Free…..

As for primary legal material, the list of Free is growing by leaps and bounds and the search abilities getting stronger and stronger.

Georgetown has put together a terrific list of Free sources:http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/guides/freelowcost.cfm

and U.C.L.A. has too:http://libguides.law.ucla.edu/onlinelegalresearch

Tim Stanley, from Justia, has produced this really good PowerPoint presentation on Free that he shows to our advanced legal research class. (note:  slow-loading file):


And, we’ve recently created our own brief guide to free and low cost legal research, posted here.

As Gladwell writes, “. . . ‘Free’ is esentially an extended elaboration that ‘information wants to be free.”  Perhaps this is most so for law, with a tremendous and continuous Free output stream from judges, legislators, regulators, law professors and practitioners.

It’s up to us law librarians to make it stick — to make it work, and show our students how to find and effectively use Free.  It is up to us to show support for liberating information that should be Free.  We need to be willing to make a few mistakes, and maybe get a little less vendor swag, but definitley accept that prec(y)dent might be changing.

To paraphrase the words of John Soule as popularized by Horace Greeley, it’s time to “Go Free, young librarian (and not West, or even mid-West).”

Digging up a discredited precedent

Intriguing item from the “national treasure” (called such by Rachel Maddow) SCOTUSblog:

Digging up a discredited precedent

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 3:07 pm | Lyle Denniston |

Sometimes, it is a mystery how a prior Supreme Court decision — not well known except to real insiders – is dug up, perhaps by a law clerk, and given new notoriety.  Such has been the fate of U.S. v. Halper, a constitutional ruling that stood for less than nine years until it was largely cast aside as “ill considered” and had “proven unworkable.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., used Halper in dissent on Monday to flay a majority for another ruling that he clearly deemed ill considered and unworkable.  Halper’s fate, he said, was “a cautionary tale,” and added: “I believe we will come to regret this decision as well.”  He was writing for the dissenters in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Co. (08-22), in which the majority sought to lay down a variable standard on when an elected judge is constitutionally obliged to disqualify from participating in a case involving a political benefactor.

The jurisprudential linkage between Halper and Caperton, however, was not obvious.  In fact, Halper is not mentioned in the briefs in Caperton.

Someone in the courthouse must have remembered it, though.  And it may well have been not a current law clerk, but a former one.  Indeed, it may well have been John G. Roberts, Jr., the onetime Rehnquist clerk and now, of course, the Chief Justice (and the main dissent’s author in Caperton).

. . .

You can read the rest of the post here.

Horse-and-Buggy Dockets in the Internet Age…

Lyle Denniston, courthouse and legal news reporter since 1948, writes about the woeful state of courthouse dockets (and documents) and the difficulties this presents for accurate courthouse reporting in his article “Horse-and-Buggy Dockets in the Internet Age, and the Travails of a Courthouse Reporter,” 9 Journal of Appellate Practice and Process 299 (2007).  The first page of the article opens:

“With rare — too rare — exceptions, however, the news-gatherer on the courthouse beat is still functionally inhibited by the backwardness of most courts in the design, operation, and maintenance of their electronic dockets. . . .

The underlying premise of this criticism is simple to state: No courthouse reporter can do his or her work without prompt–sometimes, virtually immediate — access to original documents. “

As I read this article about the challenges facing reporters on the courthouse beat, I kept substituting the term “legal researcher” into the text.  The concerns about docket/document availability are shared by so many of us in the legal research world.  But, I confess, that I hadn’t really thought about the impact on news reporters. 

Denniston correctly applauds at the fine work of the Florida Supreme Court on the Bush v. Gore documents and the more recent improvements at the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the great resources found on both the SCOTUS Blog and the SCOTUS Wiki pages.   But more needs to be done.

Perhaps, librarians should be working more closely with legal journalists to improve the access issues?  Especially in a day when media outlets and libraries are experiencing shrinking budgets, we might be wise to find new partners to help us liberate public documents.

Tools of the Trade: Some of my favorite websites/databases, part I

We all have them, our go-to, must view websites and databases that make life on the reference desk a bit easier.  In what I hope will become a weekly posting, I will highlight some of those that I have come to rely on for their timely updates and superb content.

With the teaching and study of constitutional law one of the focuses of scholarly life at SLS, keeping on top of the Supreme Court’s docket is a daily function of the reference desk.  Key to our ability to get copies of decisions as soon as they appear and track down amicus briefs filed at any stage of a case, is SCOTUSblog.  This website, spearheaded by Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe*, is one stop shopping for everything Supreme Court related.  Recently added to the site is their SCOTUSWiki, with previews, recaps, and analysis of cases before the Court.

I’ve made checking this blog a morning ritual and have come to think of it as an indispensable tool of the trade.

*(as full disclosure, please note that Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe have both been lecturers at SLS)