Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bench and Bar: Up close and personal

From Michael J. Madison at

Earlier this summer, I had the good fortune to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Federal Circuit’s newest courtroom. Two features leaped out at me immediately.

One was the proximity of the advocate’s podium to the bench. Though the courtroom as a whole is generously proportioned, “intimate” doesn’t come close to describing the relationship between lawyer and judge. I was told that the dimensioning was intentional — the bench wants to get up close and personal with the bar.

Two was the fact that there is an A/V station in the balcony, looking out over the courtroom. I was told that this is for the use of a law clerk, who will sit in on oral argument and monitor the faithfulness of each advocate’s use of the record. If citations to the record don’t match the record that the clerk has on screen, the clerk will be able to IM the bench. The judge can choose to call the lawyer on the discrepancy. In real time.

Answers to the Law Library Quiz

So, here are the answers to the OOTJ law library quiz:

They are the first letters of the early reporters for the U.S. Supreme Court.
DA Dallas (1754 - 1800)
CR Cranch (1801 - 1815)
WH Wheaton (1816 - 1827)
PE Peters (1828 - 1842)
HO Howard (1843 - 1860)
BL Black (1861 - 1862)
WA Wallace (1863 - 1874)

Google Announces Plan To Destroy All Information It Can't Index | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Google Announces Plan To Destroy All Information It Can't Index | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—Executives at Google, the rapidly growing online-search company that promises to 'organize the world's information,' announced Monday the latest step in their expansion effort: a far-reaching plan to destroy all the information it is unable to index."

New Pencil Boxes

And now for something completely different.

School will be starting again soon, in the U.S. and Canada, at least. And for me September always carries with it childhood memories of buying new school supplies -- immaculate, crisp pencils; pristine pads of wonderfully wobbly paper; see-through plastic rulers, or the wooden ones with the metal edge, neither of which seemed to get used; and pencil boxes, those delightful containers with the sliding tongue.

Not as much fun in law school perhaps. But there are some school tools that are intriguing and enjoyable to play with -- and that might meet a particular need. I want to point you to three of these today; maybe others will share others via the comments function.

First is a new one on the block called Writely. It offers a free way to create documents using a browser. Documents are stored on Writely's servers and are accessible only via a password, though you can let others view them by registering their email addresses. Indeed, they can be permitted to collaborate on the document, so this becomes a useful possiblity for groups to work together on projects. Documents created on-line are in html format, and there's a decent editor to help you use tables, images, links... the whole nine yards. In fact, it seems to me that one of the best uses of Writely for some folks might be as a wysiwyg html editor: create the document and then download it to your own machine for other uses.

You can upload documents you've created in Word or html editors or in text editors, so this can operate as a simple document sharing tool, as well as a back-up tool. Writely's worth a look.

Less polished but much more fun, in my view, is Webnote, which seems to be a proof-of-concept project of a "novice software engineer working at Google." This is a remarkable note-taking tool you use in your browser. I say remarkable because it lets you do a bunch of things that just aren't possible with your trad word processors and the like. Notes are made in resizable coloured boxes rather like Stickies; you can make as many as you like on a page, in a whole variety of colours; they overlap each other if necessary, and clicking on one brings it to the fore. But the real kicker for me is that you can move them around within the window as if they were objects on your desktop. Moreover, you can treat the colours as labels or tags and by clicking on the same-coloured button cause all of the blue notes, for example, to come to the fore. In theory you could simply stack notes upon notes in one single window, but make that supportable by using colours and the ability to filter notes according to content, seeing all the notes, for example that contain the phrase OOTJ.

Just in case this isn't enough fun, both Writely and Webnote allow you to create an RSS feed for your site.

I've made a test OOTJ site in Webnote for you to look at. But you can make your own with no fuss at all. The only downside, in my view, is that you can't password protect your site, and so anyone who has the URL can jump in a change things at will. The makes Webnote no good for sensitive stuff, but quite cool for foolling around and the occasional quick collaboration.

Finally there's PeanutButterWiki. Also a collaborative tool, as the "wiki" suggests, this one allows you to make your site private or public, and to restrict entry to a private site to those of your choice. It's free and seems pretty straightforward. Again, I've made a OOTJ test wiki (public) for you to fool around in, but creating your own is no challenge at all.

There's no telling how long these services will be around or how long they'll be free. But then the pencils that were new at the start of school eventually got ground down to stubs and chewed up, and the scribbled on pages got torn out of the binders, which also got lost along with lunch bags... so these considerations are no impediments to fun. And with services like these available there's also no impediment to anyone's blogging, collaborating, setting up RSS feeds, backing up, file sharing...

I think I hear the bell.

New Orleans, Blogs, and MSM

Kathryn Cramer has collected a number of "before and after" photos put together by various citizen journalists, using digital photography to superimpose news photos of the devastation in New Orleans on the satellite photos from Google Earth. The blogs are providing information that the mainstream media has so far failed to do. Her comment:

An Afterthought: we blog-folk are doing this by the seat of our pants and actually getting somewhere. But as Xeni Jarin asks, "media evacuates, there is no grid, damage map?" Why do you see this attempt here and not on the CNN of MSNBC site?

This isn't a disaster movie. It's real. People care about specific people in specific places. They want to understand precisely where the water is 20 ft. deep, where the water is coming in. Many, many people have very specific, individual relationships to this city. The specifics we are being given just don't cut it. If I can look this stuff up, why don't they?

There is also this observation at Making Light:

Jim Macdonald started it. He said, in AIM:

White people find things. Black people loot things.

This was literally just as Patrick was about to post:

Yahoo News photos:

Photo number one: “Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store”.

Photo number two: “A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store”.

Two guesses as to the relative melanin levels of “two residents” and “a young man”.

Remember, white people “find” things; black people “loot”. . . .

Here’s a photo with another great caption from the Associated Press:

As one person looks through their shopping bag, left, another jumps through a broken window, while leaving a convenience store on the I-10 service road south, in Metairie, La., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The store is dark and deserted. The “shopper” and his buddy have entered and left it via a huge hole smashed in the store’s front window. What’s happening in this photo is more obviously looting than any of the photos I’ve seen of New Orleans citizens toting their plastic bags of food through the flood waters. Yet AP is calling this activity “shopping”—perhaps, because the young man with the plastic bag is patently white.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Why Not Law and Psychology?

In partial response to Simon’s comments, it is probably true that psychology is a disfavored discipline in law compared to economics, and even to certain other social sciences such as sociology. On the other hand, the harder question than “why not more psychology in law classes” may be “why not more social sciences in law teaching, when there is so much in legal scholarship”? Interdisciplinary legal scholarship has been growing in prominence for years, and it’s probably long past time to recognize that it has become part of the mainstream. But why don’t we see that much of it in the classroom? In other words, why do law students and the practicing bar not see law and psychology, or socio-legal studies, or legal anthropology, as “real” law, but as abstract, “academic” matters?

Part of the problem is that the social sciences are treated instrumentally by practitioners. Psychology is not a “real” discipline with real knowledge, but something you pay an expert witness for. Lawyers are forced by the nature of their professional practice to view the social sciences skeptically, and not to take them seriously.

Economics is different, of course, for several reasons. Legal anthropologists don’t get appointed to the federal judiciary; legal economists do. That in itself gives economics a weight and influence that other social sciences do not have. Also, I suspect that psychology and sociology, at least as applied in the courts, tend to come out on the plaintiff’s side, while economics tends to favor corporate interests and the heavily insured.

Katrina-related blogs

This from an email on the lawprof listserv from Pam Metzger at Tulane Law School:

“The Tulane e-mail system is off-line as is the Loyola system. So, none of us can use our customary means of communication (e-mail) to see how our loved ones are doing. (As you can imagine, we are all anxious to hear about the whereabouts and safety of our friends, family, colleagues, and clients.)

“I have set up two blog spots for folks to check in with their current whereabouts and contact information. At the Clinical Law Blog, I've set up a posting line for clinical faculty, students, staff and clients to post exchange information. That site is here.

“I've also set up a blogspot for the Tulane and Loyola law school communities. It's here. If you could share this information with the general law prof list I'd appreciate it. It's nothing fancy, but we're hoping we can at least find out whether our loved ones are safe.”

Podcasting at AU Washington College of Law

Somebody had to be the first, and it's not too surprising that it was Billie Jo Kaufman and her colleagues at American University to do it: introducing the first large-scale effort at law school podcasting:

WCL launched this service primarily for its students in Washington, D.C. and around the world. “The primary goal of WCL’s Office of Technology,” says Dean Claudio Grossman, “is to deliver information to students and faculty in many formats.” Grossman’s Welcome podcast and others can be found at: WCL recognizes that, due to distance and time constraints, students cannot possibly attend all of the many events offered at WCL. For instance, in the past year, WCL hosted a discussion with Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Breyer, a panel on Homeland Security featuring Tom Ridge, a national security law conference and a conference on the Geneva Conventions in a Post-9-11 or Iraq World,
which featured former Legal Advisor to Secretary of State Powell Will Taft. All of these could have been downloaded to iPods from the WCL Web site and enjoyed on the bus, metro or in any other venue. To accommodate WCL students’ busy schedules, the school intends to make all audio from events available via podcast.

WCL is also sensitive to the needs of those students for whom English is not their first language. Podcast software allows the listener to slow playback of the audio, making it easier for the speaker to be understood. Also, classes will be podcast for students who are unable to attend due to illness, family emergency or other excusable absence.

See more here.

Law and Psychology

Why is it that 99% of law school courses operate blithely as though everyone in the room understands beyond debate why human beings do what they do? And why are these same courses -- or many of them, at least -- prepared to spend time head-scratching over how something called "the market" works, and how its operations obey illuminating regularities?

I won't waste time bashing econonomics. Indeed, I want to set it up as a discipline (of sorts) that incorporates somewhere near its heart -- can economics have a heart? the guts, then -- a view of what a person is that is more or less explicit. The economic person is rational and calculating:

The economic approach starts from the simple premise that, faced with limited resources and abilities, people do the best they can to further their goals and objectives. Combined with the powerful mathematical tools of optimization theory, this simple premise yields sharp predictions about how people should respond to changes in their resources and abilities. []
Okay, so law doesn't have "powerful mathematical tools." But why on earth doesn't it have any theory whatever about human behaviour? Law is, after all, an enterprise in which, to use Lon Fuller's simple notion, we attempt to subject human conduct to the governance of rules. How do people -- in this culture? any culture? -- behave when confronted not with a choice between guns and butter but with a rule saying no, a rule saying maybe, any rule at all? Does it matter who makes the rule? Does it matter how one comes to know of it? Does it matter whether it's polite, peremptory, wheedling...?

There are admittedly courses labelled Law and Psychology; but I'd guess you'll find pretty much all of them dealing with the psychology of juries or judges or witnesses or the problems of mens rea and insanity. All well and good, but not your everyday basic down-to-earth fundamental what-kind-of-being-are-we- talking-to-when-we-make-a-law stuff. No, law schools pretend that there are no psychology departments (easy enough, I guess, because they also pretend there are no education departments, anthropology departments, and with some exceptions, history departments either), so the nature of humanity, taken either singly or en masse, is unproblematic and unexamined.

The "reasonable person" you say. Not really. It is a heuristic notion and probably a good basis for framing some of our laws in an attempt to elicit the very behaviour it presumes. But reason? what reason? whose reason? what about the heart's reasons, of which the head knows nothing? Or, god forbid, those of the genitals, of which none of us is willing to profess knowledge? All too messy, too...

Psychology as a discipline is not as firm a science as, say, organic chemistry. Granted. But would anyone want to defend econcomics for more than five minutes on the firmness ground? And when it comes right down to it, we're not talking about a one-to-one mapping of reality when we construct a social science; we're really developing a worthwhile thoughtful informed conversation about issues important to human life. And it's hard to imagine a conversation more fundamental to any operational discipline than that inquiring into the nature of me, and you... and all of us. Yet on and on we go in law school with courses on law and economics, such that it's hard to find a graduate spared the knowledge of Pareto optimality and even harder to find one aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Enough to make you wonder about the sanity of...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Situational Tags

I was going to post only once a day, but I'm afraid I had an idea. Sorry about that. It likely won't happen again.

I'm putting together a bunch of digital documents, a dossier, if you like, on the Charkaoui case. (Charkaoui is one of five people, all citzens of Arab countries, who have been held in Canada under a Security Certificate without charge [see the CBC "backgrounder"] The Supreme Court of Canada recently agreed to hear his appeal as to whether the issuance of the Certificate against him meets the requirements of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.) I thought that it might be of interest to some lawyers and students, and so I plan to put it in a resources section of Slaw, and to encourage others on Slaw to compile similar packages of documents in areas that interest them. I got the inspiration, in part, from my friend and fellow Slawyer, Louise Tsang, who's a reference librarian at the Georgetown University Law Library, and who assembled a wonderful guide to the U.S. Supreme Court nomination process.

This means I have to assemble all of the many court judgments and as many of the filed documents as are available to me, along with the relevant legislation, academic articles and precedents here and elsewhere. I'll likely order them by date and by issue, perhaps cross referencing according to various criteria -- I haven't got that far yet. But this is typical lawyer work, building and maintaining an intelligible file.

It occurs to me that the pattern for my dossier and that for almost any dossier on a complex case would be pretty much alike. Wouldn't it be interesting if each piece of relevant material (in digital format at least) were tagged with metadata that allowed it to find its "proper" place in a case file schema? LegalXML1 or the like could do the job. After all, law is very much a system in which each event occurs at a "level" and each level knows its place. It wouldn't be too much to ask/require those generating documents to meta-tag them routinely. (It might even be possible to reverse engineer current data, so to speak, to come up with useful "situtational" or "relational" tags.)

All one would have to do then is search for data by the case name and run it through a parser of some sort to structure the bits into a recognizable pattern. There could be competing patterns, of course. There's no good reason to restrict organization to one particular format. It'd certainly make my work easier.

1. A small irony here: on looking up the OASIS site that deals with LegalXML I see that the current headline is: "OASIS Members to Create Framework for Global Sharing of Criminal and Terrorist Evidence / XML Specification Will Deliver Reliable Authentication and Auditing to Safeguard Privacy and Increase Effectiveness of Lawful Intercepts"

Too Much Information

Greetings, OOTJers. My name's Simon (Fodden), and I'll be your guest blogger for the week. I'll be serving up strange concoctions such as unbaked notions, parenthetical ideas (three kinds of brackets are hardly enough for me), and idées fixes that I am quite prepared to pass off as distillations of wisdom because I've been around for a very long time. Would you like a beverage with that? Me too, but that'll have to wait until you come up (or down: I'm looking at you, Minnesota, Maine, Montana, Michigan, Massachusets... ) to Toronto.

...Which is where I taught law at Osgoode Hall Law School for a little more than 30 years -- family law and property law, principally. I also did turns as Associate Dean, academic director of the community clinic, mediator between the IT folks and the faculty ("inter-geek"), bad teacher, good teacher, proponent of strange ideas, et ejusdem generis.

So here's the proposition du jour: information overload (a.k.a. "infoglut") is a crock.

At least as it's commonly understood. And for that we might turn to The Free Dictionary:

A symptom of the high-tech age, which is too much information for one human being to absorb in an expanding world of people and technology. It comes from all sources including TV, newspapers, magazines and the Internet as well as wanted and unwanted mail, e-mail and faxes. It also includes the excessively intricate and mostly indecipherable manuals that must be read to operate everything from a handheld device to a software application. It boils down to this: the volume of information that crossed our brains in one week at the end of the 20th century is more than a person received in a lifetime at the beginning of it.
It's that last summing sentence in particular that just doesn't seem right to me. In fact it seems so wrong that I've stood on it to attain the novel heights of Fodden's Law, which, today, is simply this: the amount of information seeking our attention always and everywhere [don't you just love the Derrida global modifier?] remains constant at infinity.

Look out of your window, if you're lucky enough to have one (and if you're not, consider changing your job). There's more data in a single glance than we can credit. Listen, and unless you're in a room papered in egg cartons, the sound bites are numerous enough to nourish your neocortex until the 12th of never. Repeat for touch, taste, smell. It's always been this way. The world is impossibly rich, no?

So what's the problem. Why is it that we now imagine that we're overeating what the world gives ("data," which is the plural past participle of the Latin for "give")? I mean, it is really rather silly to imagine that a Victorian in chaotic downtown London (I like steam engines), if it's the civilized forms that persuade you, was somehow spared the rush of information that we poor modern souls must endure. Seems to me it's got to be something other than the fact of the incoming that gives us grief.

What's your favourite candidate? Talk to me.

Confessions of a Librarian-Pirate

Now that we've gone semi-legitimate, being archived by the Library of Congress, I am having a crisis of conscience. Actually, it's brought on by my 15 year old daughter (what else are teenagers good for besides making you feel like a heel? Well, I guess, they are very good at telling you when you are dressed like an idiot, but that's another story). She's got a very good point.

I have been blithely decorating our blog with stolen pictures. Sorry, Jim! Don't blame him-- He didn't know he was inviting a pirate. The pictures look great, but I have not been giving any credits about where I have been taking them from. I will be going back and trying to figure this out and giving these good folks the credit they deserve.

I'm not really as bad as it might look. It was a short step to internet picture piracy. I started taking pictures to decorate my computer, just for myself. That seemed harmless enough, and I think it's probably okay. And when we started doing the blog, to tell you the truth, I thought of it as a sort of electronic newsletter of temporary interest, even though I know a blog archives itself. It was frankly hard to imagine very many people coming to read it. I watched the statistics page over the summer's end, and that seemed to be true. Up until this week. Ooops. I guess people came back from vacation, school is back in session. I guess it's more real than I thought. So I had better get right with the copyright gods.

Just one more pirate picture, though? I'll give a credit....This picture came from

Welcome, Simon Fodden

We at OOTJ are happy to welcome our first guest blogger, Simon Fodden. Simon is Professor Emeritus, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, in Toronto, and a blogger at (the excellent group blog about Canadian legal information) and Xanada, Simon's own blog about Toronto, Canada and the world. Simon will be joining us this week to share some of his thoughts on legal information and legal education from a non-US perspective. Welcome, Simon!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Slaw on| Outsourcing legal work

Simon Chester at Slaw notes a recent article in Legal Affairs on outsourcing legal support work to India.

The market for outsourced legal work is expected to reach $163 billion by next year, and India is positioned to seize the largest share. The time difference between India and the United States allows for work to be done overnight, and many people in India's enormous workforce are college-educated and English-speaking. Intellevate recently placed a want ad for a patent researcher in the Times of India, the leading English-language daily. The company received 1,700 résumés. "There are 200 million English-speaking, college-educated Indians and there are not 200 million jobs," Steinberg said. Such a disparity in supply and demand allows his company to hire credentialed, capable labor, cheaply. "We're not selling shoes," Steinberg likes to say. "We're selling cobblers." . . .

At Lexadigm, attorneys' salaries range from $6,000 to $36,000. The employees, whose résumés lead off with LLMs from top U.S. law schools and are studded with internships at the World Trade Organization in Geneva and apprenticeships at the Indian Supreme Court, would earn six-figure salaries at elite U.S. law firms. But the education visas most of these young attorneys used to study in the United States allow for only one year of work after graduation, so most have to return to India to find jobs.

The disparity in salaries makes this seem like a more heroic sacrifice than it is. The lifestyle a Lexadigm or Intellevate salary buys is in many ways more lavish than an American attorney's. (And more than an Indian attorney's—Intellevate employees make 40 percent more than new associates at corporate law firms in India; many left such jobs to come to Intellevate.) . . .

While the plight of underpaid legal researchers is unlikely to be the next cause célébre for the anti-sweatshop movement, legal outsourcing, whispered about now, is likely to become a hotly debated topic in American law soon. For now, third-party outsourcers like Intellevate and Lexadigm remain popular mostly with corporate legal departments, which use outsourcing to keep costs down. Large law firms have been slower to send work to overseas outsourcers.

But what if they were to come around? Thomas Morgan, the professional responsibility expert, says bar association ethics rules require law firms to pass on to clients cost savings from outsourcing. In theory, at least, it would take only one big firm looking for a competitive advantage to start a bidding war that could change the cost of buying legal advice in the U.S.

I wonder if LexisNexis and Westlaw charge the same rates in India that they do in North America.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cell Phone Blues

About once a year, I am contacted by a student distraught enough about cell phone use in our library to work up through the layers to reach me. We have signs posted strictly forbidding cell phone use in the library. And the library users routinely flout the rule. We used to try to restrict the use to certain areas. That worked so badly that the librarians voted for total restriction in the hopes that then users might restrict themselves to the limited areas. Hah!

If the conversations seemed to be about emergency issues, I would not feel so badly about the use of cell phones. But I rarely hear parents checking on ill children, or even clerks calling in for clarification about the research assignment. The cell phone conversations in the library are the same inane, sometimes too-private conversations that are carried on everywhere else. So the most recent cell phone conversation with a student actually ended with a pleasant surprise for me when I explained there was no way I could jam the signals, just keep complaining and we'd keep asking them to leave. The student and I joked about perhaps there was a laser pointer you could use to silence cell phones and the users would be none the wiser.

I was so curious that I looked on the Internet. A short search turns up this fascinating information. While jamming cell phones is certainly against the law, the FCC has never received a complaint, because cell phone users assume it's something else interfering with their phone. The manufacturers of jammers actually sell a lot of jammers in the U.S. Sadly, the ones discussed here could not possibly blanket a whole library. But they might cover a reading room.... HMMMM. href="">

Law School in Two Years?

While going to law school, many of us wondered about the purpose of the third year. The University of Dayton Law School is compressing the three years of law school into two for the class that started this week. It will be interesting to see if this has any ripple effects on legal education. American Public Media aired a program on Dayton's initiative last night.

Lexis Dumb Down?

Shortly after reading the posting yesterday about LexisNexis’s plan to strip Shepard’s of references to West headnotes, I learned about the new Easy Search feature that LexisNexis has introduced. According to LexisNexis, Easy Search is what researchers should use when they are “unsure of whether Terms and Connectors or Natural Language is the best search strategy.” With Easy Search, you can “let LexisNexis identify the best search engine based on the terms you’ve entered. Easy Search is optimized for 2-3 search terms and will recognize phrases in quotes as well as legal citations.”
These two discoveries got me thinking: Is LexisNexis purposely dumbing down its product? In the case of Shepard’s, LexisNexis says that only “15% of users restrict by headnote number.” Isn’t this a training issue? Wouldn’t it make more sense to instruct the other 85% of users in the benefits to be gained (i.e., greater precision, less recall) from restricting by headnote in Shepard’s instead of removing the headnotes altogether? I understand that LexisNexis is working hard to build up its own headnote system, but the fact remains that the West headnotes are the standard, quirks and all, and researchers are accustomed to using them. I agree that this move is likely to make Shepard’s less useful and drive users to KeyCite. I know I will share this news with my Advanced Legal Research students this fall and tell them that in my opinion it reduces the value of Shepard’s.
In the case of Easy Search, why should I let LexisNexis identify the best search engine for me? Is LexisNexis trying to emulate Google? Again, this strikes me as a training issue—students can be taught to use Terms and Connectors effectively. Most people agree that Terms and Connectors gives the researcher much more control over search results than Natural Language or Easy Search and yields more precise results. Why pander to the lowest common denominator?

PrawfsBlawg: Prawfs in Jeans?

Ethan Leib at PrawfsBlawg has asked a surprisingly hot question: "I'm sick of wearing sportcoats to look professorial on the days I teach. Anyone think it's totally inappropriate to wear jeans?" Some of the comments:

"Well, I guess it's relevant to consult what other profs are wearing. At my school, I haven't seen anyone wear jeans, although I too wish I could, along with a comfortable pair of sneakers. At UCLA Law, there was a prof who wore (and--last time I saw him during the summer--still wears) sandals, and there was an associate dean who always wore jeans and hightops. So I guess it depends on what your school's culture deems suitable...."

"Isn't it most professorial to wear a sportcoat and jeans? Who else would do that?"

"I hate to be unduly precise, and mean this with love, but I don't think you've earned that "ergo" yet. Syllogistically, I think you took a wrong turn somwhere and ended up at "All men are Socrates." True, lawyers (if they are wise) wear suits to court -- but not all lawyers go to court, and even many trial lawyers go to court only occasionally. Many people (if they are wise, and have the means) wear suits to court. Robert Blake did; so did Scott Peterson. Ergo, it is at least possible you are training your students to be criminal defendants.
Ethan, I wear a jacket on my first class without fail and reasonably often thereafter, but typically rock the jacketless business casuals or pseudo-quasi-hip-but-dressy outfits. And I look great."

"I think the answer to this question depends to a large extent on gender. I don't think that many femprofs would wear jeans in class on a regular basis, if at all."

"I think age/race/gender (particularly age) can play a part in the dress code question as well. A number of the older professors at my school seem to eschew suits or suit jackets, regardless of their race or gender. Perhaps with the gray hair they no longer have to worry about establishing their authority in the classroom. Being young-looking and not stereotypically professorial looking, i.e,. a white male, I have been advised to wear a suit to class regardless of any dress code standards at the school."

"If the goal is to train students to wear suits, perhaps the students should be required to wear suits, and the professor should be dressed ridiculously, to train the students to deal with juries and witnesses."

I think the gender issue weighs heavily in law librarian dress, particularly when teaching in the classroom. I once worked at a law school with a "casual Friday" policy, meaning that everyone was expected to wear a suit, or at least a coat and tie, the rest of the week. I still wore a suit for a while when I started at UB, but then decided--partly for my own comfort, partly to set the sort of tone I wanted at the Law Library--to dress more casually. But then Buffalo is a pretty blue-collar town anyway.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette: Reminders, Giving your coworkers friendly

From A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette: Reminders, Giving your coworkers friendly:

Help your coworkers do their jobs by reminding them to check their email, check their voicemail, or to check their mailbox after sending them something you deem important.

If you work with people who really DO need to be reminded of these everyday things, you should also remind them to breathe (so they don't suffocate), eat (so they don't starve), and blink (so their eyes don't get too dry).

When I was young

When I was a very new law librarian, I wanted to do research to find out what employers really want from their library directors. I thought this was a very clever idea, and would help me think about how to work on my career. It never really came to much, but now I can tell you from my own experience, what I think employers really want:

1. Deans want you to guard their back. They want to know that they don’t have to worry about the library and that you’re looking to make them look good in all ways library.

2. Faculty want you to make them look good by having the materials they need for class and research, by having research assistance (if possible), by putting things on reserve, by getting things on interlibrary loan, and by featuring their latest publication prominently. Oh, and if you are a director, they want you to be a fellow-faculty member, collegial, taking part in the life of the school (unless they don’t want you to be on equal footing at all).

3. Students want you to make life easy for them by having convenient hours, easy food and drink policies, convenient policies about everything else, and having the books, computers, databases, licenses, movies, reserve items and significant others they desire easily available, preferably on call for them from home in their jammies.

4. Your library colleagues want you to be a great colleague, and participate in AALL or regional events, be on committees, work on programs, write for newsletters (or better yet, edit them or be a webmaster or blogger!), or to write scholarly articles for journals. They want you to come to meetings and stick your hand out, give them a business card, introduce yourself. If you will do this, you’ll have friends all over the map. It’s one of the great pleasures of librarianship!

Active Liberty

From today's Wall Street Journal: - Justice Breyer Takes 'Originalists' to Task In a New Book: "When he was nominated to fill the Supreme Court's last vacancy, Stephen Breyer said he would strive to make the 'law work for people.' Eleven years later -- with a new opening on the court and controversy raging over the judiciary's role -- Justice Breyer wants to tell a broader audience how that should be done.

In a book slated for release next month, Justice Breyer -- among the more liberal members of the court -- gives a detailed insight into his philosophy of deciding cases, namely that the Constitution should be viewed in light of its overarching goal, which he sees as creating a participatory, democratic society. In the process, he offers a rejoinder to a longtime intellectual opponent, Justice Antonin Scalia, who advocates 'originalism,' or a more literal interpretation of the Constitution's meaning at the time of its writing.
[Stephen Breyer]

'Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution' explains Justice Breyer's approach and applies it to some of the most divisive topics that come before the court. These include everything from freedom of speech and privacy rights to affirmative action and last June's Ten Commandments cases, which addressed the constitutionality of religious symbols on government property."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Library Mouse

We have a library mouse. I wish we had a nicer mascot. But it's a mouse. Or maybe mice. Probably plural. We have too many events involving food in the library, and there are all the students who evade the food policy. And the staff break room. And folks who eat at their desks. And the student workers who eat at their stations. Oh my! Maybe we need a library cat. But then, who would change the library litterbox? To a Mouse on Turning up Her Nest, by Robt. Burns.

West headnote numbers removed from Shepard's

Richard Ducey, Director of the Law Library at the University of Tulsa, today reported on the lawlibdir list about a disturbing change in the functionality of Shepard's Citations. Citator geeks take note:

I believe LEXIS/Shepard's is making a change to Shepard's with little fanfare with the expectation that it will fly below the radar at most libraries and offices. I thought I would alert you to this change in case you have not yet learned about it. Before AALL, I was working on an assignment for my class that included Shepardizing a Maryland Court of Appeals case. Upon Shepardizing (on LEXIS), I was unable to restrict by the West (Atlantic Reporter) headnotes as I have done many times in the past. Our LEXIS representative who was visiting that day also could not figure out why there was absolutely no display option allowing me to limit by West headnotes under the "Focus / Restrict by" feature. The West headnote option reappeared when I checked a couple days later. So, I was wondering what was going on.

At AALL, I made a point of asking about this, only to to be told that LEXIS decided to discontinue both on LEXIS and in print any references to headnotes in West reporters. Restrictions would be available for official headnotes (if any) and LEXIS headnotes. They said they might go back and remove the West headnote references already available. I'm afraid I probably delayed some librarians from getting their LEXIS gift cards stamped (sorry if you were in my group!) because I persisted with my questions as to why such a big change was occurring. Jane (I think was her name) said their survey showed that only 15% of users restrict by headnote number. Also, it was too expensive to continue. I commiserated with Jane on the low headnote statistic, but told her I emphasized this option to my students. I warned her that some researchers might now switch to KeyCite because it would be the only citator for limiting by a West headnote.

With this change, print Shepard's will diminish even more in utility and value. Of course, KeyCite has always only allowed headnote restrictions using West headnotes. Westlaw and LEXIS have become even more self-contained. [Emphasis added.]

It's probably true that the ability to limit by West headnotes is one of the more obscure of Shepard's many obscure features, but it was a valuable tool for those who used it. Alas, no more. The reasoning is understandable; Lexis wants to dissolve the linkage into West's publications and thereby make West's headnotes less valuable. Still, I'm saddened by the thought of a tool like Shepard's being intentionally crippled.

Legal writing blog

Tip o' the hat to E-LawLibrary Weblog for pointing out, a blog by Wayne Schiess of the University of Texas School of Law. Unfortunately, there's no RSS feed, so you'll have to bookmark it to check it regularly. (How many of our readers out there are using RSS readers to follow OOTJ?)

Monday, August 22, 2005

LexisNexis unveils anti-plagiarism tool

From LexisNexis Media Relations - August 22, 2005 News Release:

DAYTON, OH, August 22, 2005 - LexisNexis U.S, a leading provider of news, business and legal information services, today announced the launch of the revolutionary new LexisNexis® CopyGuard™ solution to help detect plagiarism and copyright infringement and protect intellectual property. The LexisNexis CopyGuard product was co-developed with iParadigms, a leader in developing new technologies for intellectual property theft detection and for vetting intellectual property originality.

This innovative solution ( enables users to verify content originality quickly and easily. Within minutes users can search efficiently across billions of documents. There are more than 6.1 billion searchable documents that are continuously updated through the LexisNexis® service, including deep archives, and four to five years of archived Web pages from iParadigms, which together create a vast collection of content in one place.

A number of universities have been using commercial anti-plagiarism tools like Turnitin to combate undergrad plagiarism. Some law schools have looked at these tools, but they didn't cover law reviews and other sorts of materials that law students might plagiarize from. CopyGuard seems to be intended for companies investigating infringement of their intellectual property. I don't know whether it will be made available to law schools.

Power Corrupts - Powerpoint corrupts absolutely?

This CNN report, title, "Does Powerpoint Make Us Stupid?" is a fun read. It reports on a coffeetable book by rock star David Byrne using Powerpoint to create whimsical images. There are also entertaining quotes like the one in the title to this Blog entry, really from Vint Cerf, one of the creators of the Internet. And the guy who used Powerpoint to draw up the Gettysburg Address, with to-do list such as "new birth of freedom" and "government not perish," Peter Norvig. Norvig is the guy who makes probably the best analogy. He says Powerpoint doesn't kill meetings, people kill meetings (does this sound familiar?), but having Powerpoint at your meeting is like having a loaded assault weapon on the table. Geez.

Well, I thought about this, not just getting ready for my class, where I do (gasp, blush) use a few Powerpoint presentations through the semester. But I also thought about it in terms of whether it changes the way people think, period, to use a technology. Does it change us to use Blackboard to post the assignments and handouts? Does it change the students to use an OPAC rather than the old oak catalog drawers? (In case they use the OPAC). I suspect we are changing the way our brains work, store and retrieve information. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, but I think we ought to be aware of it, and I think law schools need to get with the program and start gearing the education they offer to adjust for it.

But we'll always read novels in print, won't we?

I would have thought so; I've argued elsewhere that book-length items like scholarly monographs, novels and so one would survive in a traditional print format for some time after reference materials have gone wholly digital. But here is "77 year old novelist Warren Adler," asserting that "print publishing has had a great 500 year run. He is publishing his 28th novel electronically and emailing it for free to anyone who asks. (Via if:book.)

Library Super Heroes!

The Association of Boston Law Libraries is one of the organizations urging its members to nominate folks for the Mass. Lawyers Weekly "Unsung Heroes" award. These are legal professionals in five categories, including librarians -- Yay! -- to be honored for their contributions to legal practice.

ABLL is largely firm librarians, though there are a lot of school and court librarians that belong, too -- they have the occasional terrific luncheon and speaker, and wine at the annual business meeting -- can't miss that! It was one of the truly great orientation things that happened when I moved to Boston. I got involved with ABLL. Thank you, guys!

They are one of the few law library organizations that is not affiliated with AALL, either, so that's another interesting thing. They do their own local salary survey each year, and created their own terrific logo. It takes a lot for a group of firm librarians to keep an organization like this so active.

Ministry of Reshelving

Check out the Ministry of Reshelving project to move copies of George Orwell's novel 1984 from fiction to Current Events.

Librarians, blogs, RSS, and more

From Library Stuff: Why Bother?:

"We've heard it time and again. Why should librarians care about blogs, RSS, podcasts, wikis, Flickr, Typepad, whatever? An article from ClickZ helps out with the answer:

'Though the temptation may be to jump onto the latest bandwagon, the fact remains most users spend their time on the Web doing pretty mundane stuff. A recent Forrester study finds only 2 percent of U.S. adults use RSS, a number that seems to fly in the face of the buzz associated with the medium. Podcasts are definitely growing in popularity (especially after the advent of podcasts on iTunes), and blogs have begun to catch the eye of media buyers (particularly after the publication of the Feedster 500 list). But these media forms are still in their infancy.'

'Does this mean you shouldn't consider these new media? Not at all; the demographics of all the latest, greatest stuff skew sharply toward younger, savvier users. If these are the folks you're trying to reach, you'd better be on the cutting edge. Even if you're not, you'd better understand what's up-and-coming. The today's young podcast listeners will be tomorrow's adult big spenders.'

'What do you do? These studies seem to point to a strategy that should comfort you overwhelmed marketers out there. Get your house in order first, concentrate on the basics, and experiment with new stuff until you understand it. If you can't get the basics down -- measurement and technical excellence -- all the fancy ways of getting people's attention are moot.'

Libraries need market research now more than ever to help us gain an edge over our competition and know what people want in library services. It's always better to be ahead of the curve (in terms of knowledge) than behind it. Libraries shouldn't always be playing catch-up.

Law Librarians Role in KM

We at OOTJ usually limit ourselves to covering the law school library beat, but here's an important paper noted by UK blog excited utterances:

In Libraries and Librarians: a Link Between Legal Information Services and Firm Productivity?, Margaret Aby Carroll, Library Sites Manager, Microsoft Corporation and Yvonne J. Chandler, Associate Professor, at University of North Texas School of Library and Information Science, seek to answer the following questions:

"Can an analysis of the characteristics of libraries or information centers and librarians in highly productive law firms yield operational models and standards which contribute to their . . . [firm's] productivity?”

"Is it possible to determine which variables make the greatest (perceived or real) contribution to the firm’s productivity?"

Important implications for study findings include:

(a) generation of staffing guidelines, e.g., appropriate credentials, optimum ratio of professionals to paraprofessionals, optimum ratio of staff to customers

(b) development of a criteria for resource allocation decisions

(c) identification and ranking of library and librarian services providing greatest contribution to productivity

(d) identification of measures to successfully demonstrate return-on-investment (ROI) on information services investment

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Guest bloggers

I am very pleased to announce that we have an excellent group of distinguished guest bloggers who will be joining us over the next few months.  We will be starting off with three guests in a row:

  • August 29-September 2: Simon Fodden (Professor Emeritus, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University; co-founder of blog)

  • September 5-9: Diane Murley (Reference/Web Services Librarian and Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois U. Law Library; Law Dawg Blawg)

  • September 12-16: Bonnie Shucha (Reference & Electronic Services Librarian, U. of Wisconsin; WisBlawg).

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Become a Copyright Royalty Judge

From Stanford Center for Internet and Society:

The Library of Congress is seeking applicants for the three appointments as Copyright Royalty Judges. Copyright Royalty Judges will preside over proceedings to determine rates and terms of the copyright law’s statutory licenses and to determine the distribution of royalties received by the Copyright Office under those statutory licenses. The Library will appoint (1) a Chief Copyright Royalty Judge, (2) a Copyright Royalty Judge with significant knowledge of copyright law, and (3) a Copyright Royalty Judge with significant knowledge of economics. The deadline for applications is September 6, 2005.

Friday, August 19, 2005

This Just In -- Christianity is not a Minority Religion in this country!

Well, from the various bills that you see being filed here and there in legislatures, you would think that Christianity was just hanging on by its finger nails, would you not? There are all kinds of little bills to help Christian prayer in schools or keep God in the Pledge of Allegiance, keep those little manger scenes out on the courthouse lawn at Christmas time. If you were an alien and just dropped in from Mars, you would imagine that Christianity was some dying breed of religion that had hardly any adherents left. I was very taken by a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe today proposing a little equity in supporting religion. Let's be more even-handed. If we are going to have those stone Ten Commandments in the Courthouses and crosses in the schoolhouse, I think we ought to consider having some Hindu goddesses and Buddha figures represented. Anybody like to nominate some other gods or religious figures?

Law Reports - the future

Here is an interesting post from our friend up north, Nick Pengelley at, on Law Reports - the future:

As I pack up my office at Queens, shred all the evidence, and prepare to move to Osgoode Hall, I pose a question for SLAW readers. By the year 2010, does anyone think any law library will still be subscribing to print law reporters? Myself, I think not - a view I know (and hope) will provoke a few.
I think the writing is clearly on the wall. Few law libraries in Canada now subscribe to foreign print reporters - relying on a combination of free and pay online services. Canadian reporters are the last bastion. In my view it is only a matter of time before that bastion crumbles. Our students - the lawyers, academics and judges of the future - increasingly prefer to access (and read) reports online. The cost of printed reporters continues to increase - and to eat up large amounts of diminished library funds. The judgments in those reporters are available in most cases for free via Court web-sites, with neutral citation, and through the commercial online services. They also take up vast amounts of space and take up the time of library staff to process and shelve. In my view they are not economical and, in the future, our users will see them mostly as wall-paper.

Query whether the situation is any different below the 49th parallel. The market here is much larger, so perhaps print can hang on a bit longer--maybe 2015?

Friday cat blogging (with legal commentary)

My1 cat Christopher enjoying2 his spot in the sun3.

1On property relations between cats and people, see posting of Paul Horwitz to Prawfsblawg, (Aug. 18, 2005, 20:56 EST) ("who owns whom is always a question in the minds of man and cat alike"). But see Stuff on My Cat, (last visited August 19, 2005) (showing people putting stuff on their cats).


3On cats in the sun, see HANS SILVESTER, THE COMPLETE CATS IN THE SUN (2000).

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Law Library Puzzler

Try this law library puzzle. Here are seven clues, in order. Figure out what they mean for law libraries:


Nearly Half Of All Data Breach Happens At Colleges and Universities

From The Kept-Up Academic Librarian:

Nearly Half Of All Data Breach Happens At IHEs

If it seems like nearly every other report of a major computer security breach that can lead to identity theft has happened at a college or university, well, that's because nearly 50% of them are happening at IHEs. At least that is according to new reports from the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center. As a result, IHEs are starting to get a bad public image when it comes to identity theft. Read more:

Using the Wayback Machine in Litigation

Lawyers Weekly USA: Feature Article:

Using an online database called the Wayback Machine and archived web pages collected by companies like Google, lawyers are unearthing a wide range of web-based evidence, including websites that no longer exist and old versions of current sites.

Intellectual property lawyers have been using these techniques for a few years to locate old websites that demonstrate that their clients' trademark or domain name has been misused.

But the practice is now expanding into other areas of the law, where archived websites are providing helpful evidence in a host of other cases, including criminal cases, family law matters and product liability cases, among countless others. Attorneys say it's only a matter of time before these tools become commonplace in law offices and courtrooms across the country.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Evil Worm

Evil WormThe new worm that brought down so many news media and big corporations takes advantage of a hole in the Windows security that can be patched. Be sure you have all your patches up to date if you are running Windows 2000! This worm does not require that you open any files to get your machine infected, so you need to be proactive. Be sure you have your virus definitions current on all your machines and network, too.

Law school: two, three, or four years

Professor James Maule has posted a lengthy and thoughtful piece arguing for a more challenging llaw school program at Mauled Again: Beer, Softball, 4-Day Weekends: Is This Any Way to Learn Law?.

An Appreciation of Lyo Louis-Jacques's Law Lists

Robert Abrogi has posted a message I wish I had written: An Internet institution quietly closes

In this time of blogs and instant messaging, we tend to forget the once-critical role played by e-mail discussion lists (often referred to by the trademarked name Listserv) in allowing legal professionals to discuss and share ideas. In the mid-1990s, for instance, the net-lawyers list was a virtual town square for lawyers on the Internet, with more than 2,000 subscribers. There were -- and, no doubt, still are -- discussion lists for just about any subject and interest group of law practice. But in that pre-Google Groups era, finding relevant lists was no easy task.

That was the simple and fundamental value of the Law Lists guide to electronic discussion groups. In 1992, Lyonette Louis-Jacques, foreign and international law librarian at the University of Chicago Law School, began to compile and publish her list of law-related e-mail lists. Her list soon became the most comprehensive and accurate list of lists. As she recently recalled in a posting to the law-lib discussion list:

"When I started posting messages ... about existing or new law- and library-related lists, it was to make it easier for everyone to connect with each other and network. By having instructions on how to subscribe to the existing lists in one place, it would facilitate joining/subscribing to lists that can help with day-to-day law library work. My 'Law Lists' guide evolved from posted e-mail messages that were maybe 10 screens long, to gopher-based, to a web-based, pretty comprehensive central resource for finding law- and library-related e-mail lists that was browsable, keyword-searchable, and regularly updated."

Monday marked the last day of Law Lists. Lyonette removed it from the Internet for good. In that same post to the law-lib list, she explained:

"It's now 2005. Most folks have Internet access and the resources for finding information are vast. I think folks have ... found the few good e-mail lists they want to belong to. ... Folks are checking out blogs. ... So there are many more ways of connecting up, networking, keeping up-to-date with information sources."

Lyonette's Law Lists was a resource I turned to countless times over the years. Many of us owe her a debt of gratitude for helping us get and stay connected.

Thanks Lyo!

Tibetan books: the light of the disk is endless

Here is a fascinating post at if:book, A Project of the Institute for the Future of the Book, about the embrace of digital technology in the reproduction and distribution of ancient Tibetan books. Not particularly law related (although some of the books are no doubt law books), but interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More Tea in the Harbor

We Massachusetts residents still resent taxes, after more than 200 years! The governor declared this past weekend a sales tax holiday and the merchants of the state managed to ring up more sales than they do for Christmas. Our sales tax is 5%, and the sales tax holiday didn't apply to really big ticket items. But people went crazy, and spent for the sheer joy of doing the state out of their 5% I guess it's that tea in the harbor all over again.

Making research obsolete?

Those of you who attended the Florida Coastal School of Law Symposium on the Future of Law Libraries will remember Dan Dabney's Utopian description of a coming search technology that would, among other things, make "researching" prior to writing a brief unnecessary. Instead, it continually searches and delivers information to you as you write.

Well, it's here. Or at least an early version of it.

From today's Resource Shelf, linking to a July 25 story in the Boston Globe:

Watson, software produced by Chicago-based Intellext, does the searching for you. It runs in the background as you work, analyzing your documents and looking for relevant information. The results (clickable links) are continuously delivered in a side panel on your screen. Watson goes to work when you open a Microsoft Office application such as Word or PowerPoint, or the Internet Explorer browser.

Watson is all about search, but it doesn't index information like a search engine. You configure it to use existing free and premium paid search services and websites by setting up ''connectors" in Watson's ''Site Search Wizard." It then uses built-in intelligence to make educated guesses about what you'd want to search for and automatically finds it as you work.

The program was spawned by researchers at Northwestern University, one of them an expert in artificial intelligence. Released in January, Watson has been recently upgraded to version 2.0. It's available as a beta (or test) product.

It also works with Firefox; I installed the free beta version minutes ago. I haven't yet figured out if I can get it to search proprietary databases such as LexisNexis or Westlaw, or other sources like JSTOR, but so far the basic results are impressive. It automatically searches the web (via Yahoo, AltaVista, Dogpile, and MSN Search), News (Yahoo News and Alltheweb News), blogs, (Blogspot and Livejournal), and "Research" (Forrester, Higbeam Research, and Gartner--I'm not familiar with any of them). If you use the Google desktop search tool for your email and desktop files, it can search those too.

I'm going to play with it for a while. So far I haven't noticed a performance hit with Watson running in the background.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Law Library Blogroll

I have used a handy free tool, Brilliant Button Maker, to create a link that other law library bloggers can add to their blog templates. It provides a convenient link to Bonnie Shucha's List of Law Library Blogs and Blogs by Law Librarians or Law Library Associations. To add the button to your blog, just paste the following into your blog template:

<a href="">
<img src="" border="0" alt="Law Library Blogs" /></a>

Next generation Internet searching

From today's CNET Academia's quest for the ultimate search tool:

The University of California at Berkeley is creating an interdisciplinary center for advanced search technologies and is in talks with search giants including Google to join the project, CNET has learned.

The project is one of many efforts at U.S. universities designed to address the explosive growth of Internet search and the complex issues that have arisen in the field.

U.C. Berkeley, birthplace of early search highflier Inktomi and the school where Google CEO Eric Schmidt got his computer science doctoral degree, is bringing together roughly 20 faculty members from various departments to cross-pollinate work on search technology, said Robert Wilensky, the center's director. The principal areas of focus: privacy, fraud, multimedia search and personalization....

The search problems of today are different from those of five years ago. With books, scholarly papers and television programs being digitized and put online, the technology necessary to search through the material needs to be that much better. People need a way to trust the information they find and to ask more-complex questions with search tools so they can extract knowledge or ideas....

CMU is also working under a government grant on a longer-term project called Javelin, focused on question-and-answer search technology. Google, MSN, Ask Jeeves and others already help people find quick answers for word definitions or encyclopedia facts like "What is the population of Los Angeles?" But for complex queries like "What is the cheapest flight from San Francisco to London?" or "Which university has the largest computer science department?" finding answers is still like doing long division.

"This is dynamic information," Carbonell said. "You must parse the question, look for answers in multiple places and do a comparison. There are multiple steps, and we're looking at how to do it in one step and provide a trace for the user."...

Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many other universities are working to solve problems presented by the library of tomorrow, which will be largely digitized. Sifting through and organizing billions of digital documents will require new search technology.

MIT, for example, has teamed with the World Wide Web Consortium to create next-generation search technology using the Semantic Web, in an overarching project called Simile.

Silly Talk About Libraries

One of the memes going around the blogosphere (see, I can talk like a geek!) is collecting examples of "Silly Talk About X." It started with silly talk about science, then philosophy, and now linguistics. Example:

The setting: Prof. Garrett, on the plane, sitting next to a middle-aged woman.
She asks, "So, what do you do?"
Prof. Garrett, "I'm a philosopher."
"Oh! What are some of your sayings?"

Personally, I've experienced more glazed looks than silly talk when people (outside of law schools or libraries) ask me what I do. What about you? Please share your favorites in the comments below.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Wikipedia and the Mainstream Media

From Language Log: Lack of editorial oversight in the mainstream media:

Newspapers and wire services are certainly welcome additions to the world's information economy, but these media, valuable as they are, can never be fully accepted as sources of information until they put into place some reasonable standards of editorial oversight and some workable mechanisms for detecting and correcting errors.

Um, that's a joke, sort of, but its conclusion is all too true.

Get the story on Wikipedia's (alleged) change in editorial policy here.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Empirical Legal Scholarship and Faculty Hiring

Lior Strahilevitz at PrawfsBlawg on “Big Tent” Empiricism:

Legal empiricists with graduate training in Economics, Political Science, Sociology, and other fields will continue to be in great demand in the coming years and will make enormous contributions to our understanding of the law. But I worry that this new generation of quantitative empiricism is crowding out qualitative empiricism and what is pejoratively called “casual” empiricism. My sense is that young law scholars doing qualitative empirical projects have been getting hammered on the job market, particularly when those scholars do not sport graduate degrees in disciplines other than law.

See Lior's earlier post on this faculty trends and my comments.

Law Porn and Credence Goods

Victor Fleischer at Conglomerate Blog on law school branding and whether grads get what they pay for.

Goods can be broken down into three categories: (1) search goods, where quality can be assessed easily before purchase, like clothing or furniture, (2) experience goods, where quality can be assessed easily after purchase, like a haircut or a lawnmover, and (3) credence goods, where quality is difficult to assess even after purchase, like financial advice, auto repair, or, I think, a law school education.

Is law school a credence good? I think it is. At first blush, you might think that experiencing law school would quickly tell you if it's good or bad. But even after the fact, I suspect many graduates are unsure if they got what they paid for. Some feel cheated by the absence of practial coursework. I agree that we can try to do a better job of preparing our graduates for the real world (as I try to do in my Deals course). But at the same time I think law school education often delivers what it promises. All that Socratic method and legal theory improves one's ability to think critically and think like a lawyer. Or maybe it's just that our students are pretty darn smart when they come in to law school. Hard to know. Law school, in sum, is a credence good.

Branding is especially important for credence goods. Brian Leiter, who seems to find branding a little unseemly, has begun a Sextonism watch. Preposterous hyperbole may not be the best way to create a brand image. But so-called "law porn" (glossy brochures) has a utility as well. It communicates the brand image of the school to students, employers, and alums. Employers have different expectations when they interview a Chicago law grad (law and econ brand) vs. a Columbia law school grad (Wall Street brand) vs. a Yale Law School grad (squishy theory brand). This is also true in B-schools: compare Wharton (finance brand) with HBS (leadership brand) with Kellogg (branding brand). Sometimes these brand images may encourage somewhat inaccurate stereotypes, but at least they offer a frame of reference for evaluating the product. They allow consumers to understand a bit better what they are buying, what to expect during school, and what to expect afterwards.

How Cool is Massachusetts?!

It turns out that the celebrated swan couple at the Boston Public Gardens, always called Romeo and Juliet, is Juliet and Juliet. Despite the fact that they have nested and laid eggs for the past two years, the eggs have not hatched. Experts revealed in the Boston Globe today that they believe the pair are both female. I guess our Supreme Judicial Court knew what they were doing in their decision, Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003).

This just in: a cow is not a motor vehicle

So holds the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Appellate District in Portage County, Ohio, as reported in A Criminal Waste of Space.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Free Range Librarian: U.S. Copyright Office to One out of Five Users: Drop Dead

From K.G. Schneider: Free Range Librarian: U.S. Copyright Office to One out of Five Users: Drop Dead:

The U.S. Copyright Office wants to know if it's ok if its copyright preregistration form should be browser-specific. "Today's notice seeks information as to whether persons filing the electronic-only preregistration form prescribed by the Copyright Office will experience difficulties if it is necessary to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser in order to preregister a work." ...
Yes, Internet Explorer is still the predominant browser (just as Netscape was, ten years ago). But we have a significant number of users who either prefer to use other browsers, need to use other browsers, or don't see why the government should be sidestepping international standards for code development to create a damn form.

Remaking the American University

Steven Bell at The Kept-Up Academic Librarian links to a University Business magazine excerpt of a new book, Remaking the American University.

The silver lining in these high-stakes games was supposed to be the prospect that the market would exact the same kind of accountability from the nation’s colleges and universities as it did from American manufacturers. In some respects, institutions of higher learning were already coming to resemble car companies, pricing their products like automobiles complete with sticker prices, discount rates, and accompanying credit packages. Why not expect the public to follow suit by viewing colleges as commodities that could be compared and ranked for quality, if not actually tested as Consumer Reports tests automobiles? Hadn’t U.S.News and World Report done just that each year with its increasingly complex methodology since the mid-1980s?

What we expected of the market was progress on two key fronts. Better-informed consumers would make better decisions, sending the message to colleges and universities that ever-escalating prices would not be tolerated, and that educational processes that ignored customer wants and needs would no longer suffice. Like the engineers and workers in the American automobile industry, faculty would get the message that the way forward lay in a fundamental investment in educational quality. The American Association of Higher Education, and subsequently the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, had already placed teaching and learning at the center of a national reform agenda that sought a fundamental reordering of higher education’s priorities. In short, what the government and the media had failed to accomplish by jawboning, the market, in conjunction with a growing reform movement within higher education, would achieve through the forces of competition.

It just didn’t happen. The prices colleges and universities charged continued to rise substantially faster than the underlying rate of inflation. While discussions of quality and accountability have gained some renewed intensity within governmental circles, there is scant evidence that much is happening at the institutional level.

Why didn’t the market have the expected impact? Why didn’t market forces impose the kind of accountability on colleges and universities that was being imposed on hospitals and health-care providers, as well as on the manufacturers of consumer products? A variety of answers could be given--none necessarily conclusive, but taken together they attest to how the market has unexpectedly changed higher education. Just as the lattice and the ratchet recast relationships within most institutions, the admissions arms race fundamentally changed the relationship between higher education’s most sought-after customers and the institutions that were doing the seeking.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Justice Breyer and the Judicial Shout-out

At The Volokh Conspiracy: Justice Breyer believes in giving foreign courts "a little boost sometimes."

What Law School Rankings Should and Shouldn't Do: A Former Law Dean's Perspective

Leiter's Law School Reports reprints a very thoughtful email from Professor Paul L. McKaskle, former Dean of the law school at the University of San Francisco, suggesting that there are really two tiers of law schools: the top six or ten or twenty "prestige" schools and te rest.

For proper evaluation of law schools, there are probably two tiers and each tier should be evaluated with different criteria. First, there are what I will call the “prestige” law schools–Harvard, Yale and another six to twenty schools (depending on whom one asks). Many of the students admitted to these schools have glittering credentials and some are truly gifted. If a student is interested in a career in academia (especially at a “prestige” school) or is interested in clerking at the Supreme Court or for top Court of Appeals judges, or employment at a top 20 (or even a top 50) law firm (or hot public interest firms such as NAACP LDF) then the prestige of the school is of considerable importance. A truly gifted student may even benefit from intensive contact with a faculty member who is on the cutting edge of some legal field. Sponsorship is extremely important too, and top faculty at top ranked schools can do a much more effective job of this than someone in a lesser school.

However I think the biggest advantage at being at a top ranked school for most students is the chance to interact with other very bright students–who are more plentiful at top rated schools. John Roberts, no matter how talented he may be, would have been very unlikely to be where he is today (or this Fall) if he had gone to, say Notre Dame, rather than Harvard. It isn’t that the teaching at a Harvard is “better” (whatever that is) it is the combination of prestige, faculty who can sponsor and other very bright students that make the difference. (I have a niece who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard LS who has some horror stories about neglectful teaching–but she studied with very bright students.) ...

So the other tier in my classification includes the other 140 or 150 odd schools which do not qualify as what I refer to as a “prestige” school. It is these schools for which the USNews evaluations by professors, judges and practitioners are likely to be inaccurate or at least seriously misleading, because it is probably impossible for any small group of professional “evaluators” (law faculty or practitioner) to evaluate with even a pretense of accuracy. Many such evaluators may simply be a look at last years evaluation with a quick look at the LSAT range (which for the “bottom” schools is pretty atrocious) in making a decision. Indeed, as you noted, it is because of the impossibility of evaluating all law schools that you confine
yourself to simply analyzing the top fifty or so law schools–and even fewer for specific characteristics.

What makes one law school in this second tier better than another? Ithink, first of all, it is more important that the school be a place where the student can learn how to be a competent lawyer. (A good student at Yale can probably figure most of this out on his or her own.) I suspect that even in a “lesser” school the quality of classmates is an important factor (something the reported LSAT figures measure somewhat). Good teaching is important, and I think there is a correlation (though imperfect) between good teaching and a reasonable amount of scholarly productivity. Good teaching includes mentoring and other non-classroom interaction, not simply classroom teaching and the latter may be a more plentiful quantity at a school where publication isn’t the foremost requirement of a faculty member. But all of this is something which is incredibly difficult for an outsider to measure (it is pretty hard to measure inside as well). I don’t pretend to know how such evaluation should be done, or even what various factors should be considered, but I don’t think USNews comes within a thousand miles of knowing how to measure this for what I define as “non-prestige” schools–except possibly by using the LSAT data....

More on third year

Regarding this post about the idea of reducing law school to two years: I seldom agree with Althouse, but this time I think she's right.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Serendipity, and more on teaching legal research

A new article in Capital University Law Review by Appalachian School of Law Professor Stewart Harris, Giving Up Grammar and Dumping Derrida: How to Make Legal Writing a Respected Part of the Law School Curriculum, 33 Cap. U.L. Rev. 291 (2004) (available on Lexis and Westlaw) presents, in its curmudgeonly way, some significant calls for reform in legal writing instruction. Some of what Harris says applies equally to legal research instruction, and gives me a clearer notion of what I was struggling toward in this posting.

Specifically, we should: (1) stop teaching basic grammar and writing skills, except by example; (2) stop coddling students with endless one-on-one conferences; (3) use oral commentary and standard models instead of providing written "feedback" on individual papers; and finally, in the time we gain by instituting the first three reforms, (4) concentrate on producing traditional legal scholarship, rather than publishing articles that attempt to make the teaching of Legal Writing a "scholarly" subject, or that serve as mere soapboxes from which to broadcast our discontent. If we take these four simple steps, we will reap immediate benefits in efficiency, efficacy, and job satisfaction.

(1) Harris illustrates his first point by juxtaposing excerpts from two writing textbooks, one from a Legal Writing textbook, the other from an eighth-grade textbook. The reader gets the fun of guessing which is which, but I'll clue you in here:

Eighth-grade textbook:

A paragraph is a group of sentences dealing with one topic. You learned many years ago to recognize a paragraph because the first line is indented a few spaces from the left margin. Indentation is the visual signal that a new idea is about to be discussed. A well-written paragraph also has three internal characteristics: unity, coherence, and development. Unity means that only one idea is discussed in the paragraph. Coherence means that the sentences are arranged logically and are connected by the use of transitions, pronouns, and the repetition of important words. Development means that enough specific information is given so that the idea is completely understandable.

Law school writing textbook:

Paragraphs exist for many reasons. First, they help writers organize what they are writing. Second, they help readers see and understand that organization. Third, they give readers a psychological, as well as a logical, break.
Writers need paragraphs to help them stay in control of what they are writing. Paragraphs are like tidy boxes in which to sort information. They make writing a manageable task.

How does Harris teach basic grammar skills? He doesn't.

I put the following statement into my syllabus: "The quality of your writing--grammar, style, spelling, etc.--will not be the focus of Appellate Advocacy class sessions or conferences, but it will be vitally important to your grade." There you have it: short, simple, even pithy. Students are responsible for good writing, but they are not going to learn it from me. I will be too busy teaching them how to conduct an appeal.

Harris expects that some of his students paid attention in school and know how to write; others will be motivated to teach themselves (much as students are expected to do in their other 1L classes). (His fallback, of course, is that Appalachian School of Law has hired a professional writing instructor to direct its Writing Center; students who need tutoring can go there.)

How does this apply to legal research instruction? Instead of spoon-feeding students with the traditional "big parade o' sources" and mind-numbingly tedious treasure hunt assignments, we could actually expect students to teach themselves--either by reading a good legal research textbook, or using the CALI exercises, or watching a video. This would require a fundamental rethinking of the way many of us teach legal research, but go with me on this--we're not finished yet.

(2) Instead of one-on-one conferences, Harris teaches writing by model and by group discussion.

Many Legal Writing professors seem to consider it their sacred duty to go over each draft memorandum or motion in minute detail, and to perform what appears to be a complete, line-by-line edit. Paragraphs are moved. Words are changed. Entire sentences are rewritten. And all of this is done with pens using green ink to avoid upsetting the students' delicate sensibilities, or with soft, gentle pencils, to facilitate the further editing of the editorial comments themselves.
Moreover, providing extensive written commentary is mind-numbingly repetitive. Nearly every paper, one after the other, requires identical admonitions to avoid the passive voice, to use simple, declarative sentences, and to maintain a straightforward organizational scheme. At least one paper in three requires correction of it's improper use of apostrophe's.

Here again, Harris's alternative approach is easily adaptable to legal research instruction:

In the practice of law, when a procedure is time-consuming, repetitive and often counterproductive, it is time for a different approach. The same is true in academia. Fortunately, I have a proposal: we should speak to our students about their papers en masse and use models as appropriate. In my writing classes, instead of writing the same comment dozens of times, I make a single, master list of the most common errors, whether expository or analytical. This is relatively quick and painless. Indeed, the same types of errors tend to crop up, semester after semester. I then discuss these common errors in class, using anonymous examples from student papers....
During my classroom discussions, I also often use models. In Appellate Advocacy, for example, I have my students submit detailed argument outlines well before they submit their first briefs. I select a good student-submitted outline and project it up on the whiteboard, and we edit it together, in class. By the end of the class, we have not only had a spirited and valuable discussion, we have also done so efficiently. Instead of having the same discussion fifty times, I have had it once, with fifty participants. Instead of being bored and irritable after the twenty-seventh repetition, I have been fresh and, I hope, effective during the single class discussion.

I will leave the translation to legal research instruction as an exercise for the reader.

End of the Summer Comes Too Soon!

Out of the JungleWhat is it about law school that makes the summer drain away faster? I have a theory that law school acts as a sort of black hole for holiday time. The McKenzie Theory of Black Hole of Law Time: t = L x C2 (where t = time, and L is Law and C is the Constant of the speed of light squared, meaning that time goes twice as fast as the speed of light in the vicinity of a law school, as any fool knows). What am I doing at this desk?

Some Question Third Year of Law School

The Washington Post has a story on the perennial debate over whether the third year of law school is necessary.

At many top law schools, the third year is famously relaxed, a halcyon interlude between rigorous introductory courses and the long hours that await graduates at law firm jobs. There is research and volunteer work, but also a lot of bar-hopping and little studying: 15 hours per week, according to one survey at 11 law schools, compared to 33 hours for first-year students.

But if it's an extended vacation, it's pricey: $30,000 or more at top private schools. And at many law schools, grads can't count on the six-figure salaries awaiting many at the most prestigious programs, so an extra year of debt is a big burden.

Some educators want to see the third year beefed up, arguing the law is more complex than ever and future lawyers need more preparation, both for the bar and exam and for their careers. But others want it dropped.

Critics say there's so much law that students will learn most of it on the job, anyway. They see the third year as a revenue racket, a full-employment scheme for faculty that comes at the expense of non-elite school students and discourages them from taking public service jobs.

It's a periodic debate in legal education, and with tuition going ever higher, there are signs it's heating up again.

The American Bar Association recently updated its accreditation guidelines for law schools to require more total minutes of instruction, but offering schools more flexibility in how that's structured.

That prompted the University of Dayton to announce a program starting this fall designed to help students earn a J.D. in two years, including summer work. It has no fewer requirements and doesn't charge less, but it saves students a year of living expenses....

But there are also signs the third year is as entrenched as ever. The ABA's requirements are still stringent. The legal profession wants to keep quality _ and in some critics' eyes, salaries _ high, so it doesn't want to make it too easy to become an attorney. Also, the legal recruiting process is built around a three-year schedule; summers are when law students earn money and take the internships that lead to jobs, so many will be reluctant to give them up.

Besides, many third-year law students do work hard. Increasingly, they are getting hands-on training in legal clinics. In the classroom, some educators say third year is when students learn the law they most need to know. University of Chicago Law Dean Saul Levmore says students there are more likely to suggest adding a fourth year than dropping the third.

Jeff Lewis, dean at St. Louis University, says he's pushing for more rigor and specialization in the third-year curriculum. He also says the final-year course he teaches is packed with attentive students _ though that may be unusual.