Monday, April 28, 2008

Chaos at the British Library

Here's an interesting story from today's New York Times about the venerable British Library, which is apparently the victim of it own success. Since the Library's 1998 move to its new home on Euston Road and its decision four years ago to liberalize its admission policies, its reading rooms are now available to "'anyone who has a relevant research need.'" That includes such well-known authors as Lady Antonia Fraser as well as undergraduate students who "hog the seats...and gather into clumps of chattering hormonal aimlessness." The overcrowding at the Library has been the subject of two recent articles in The Times of London, one of which described Lady Antonia's twenty-minute wait outside in cold weather and her additional twenty-minute wait for the obligatory coat check. Lady Antonia and other long-time users of the British Library believe the students are using the reading rooms as gathering places, not places for serious research, and wonder why they cannot use their university libraries. In order to help manage the traffic, the Library has "installed plasma screens announcing which reading rooms are full, in the manner of municipal parking lots." The Library is also sending out monitors to remind users of correct behavior while using the facility. However, these measures are not placating users such as Lady Antonia's daughter Flora Fraser, who has praised the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where readers can reserve a seat in advance over the Internet. "That way, no one turns up at the library only to find that all the spots are taken, a common problem at the British Library. 'Actually, I really recommend it,' [Ms. Fraser said]. 'Maybe the answer is to get on the Eurostar and go to Paris.'" I never thought I'd see the day when the British looked to the French as models of efficiency!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Brian Leiter's Influence

Here's a story from the Boston Globe about Professor Brian Leiter, author of several influential blogs, including the Law School Reports. The article discusses Professor Leiter's rankings of graduate philosophy schools, and how they can make or break a department: "Today Leiter's rankings, now based on a survey of hundreds of professional philosophers and posted online, are awaited in philosophy departments the way the World Cup brackets are awaited in Brazil. Applicants consult them, rising departments crow about them, programs past their prime fear them."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

$1,000,000 Gift to Pace Law School

Pace Law School recently announced that it was given $1,000,000 by the venerable labor negotiator Theodore W. Kheel to create a dispute-resolution program focusing on environmental issues. Here is the link to Pace's press release on this generous gift. Pace is well known for its highly regarded programs in environmental law, and faculty members believe that conflict resolution in the area will grow because of such problems as climate change and protection of open space. The name of the center will be the "Kheel Center on Resolution of Environmental Interest Disputes," and it will headquartered at the Law School. The photo above shows Mr. Kheel with Pace University President Stephen J. Friedman, who was formerly Dean of the Law School.

Internet Access Blocked at University of Chicago Law School

Today's New York Lawyer reports that Dean Saul Levmore of the University of Chicago Law School has blocked student "access to the Internet in classrooms last month to help them concentrate on course instruction." Moreoever, Dean Levmore has received "inquiries from about 10 other law schools interested in possibly following suit on the move." This issue has been discussed extensively, of course, but what I thought conspicuously missing from the article was any mention of student reaction to the decision. The article is below.

No Porn During Torts: Law School Blocks Internet Access in Classrooms
New York Lawyer
April 16, 2008

By Lynne Marek
The National Law Journal
CHICAGO — The University of Chicago Law School began blocking students access to the Internet in classrooms last month to help them concentrate on course instruction, the school said.
Saul Levmore, who is dean of the school, said he had been trying to simply persuade students not to distract themselves with the Internet during class, but turned to simply shutting off access when he found that the school's building had the capability to block wired and wireless access.
"It got a lot easier when I found I had technology on my side," he said in an interview.
Keeping students from surfing the Internet during class is similar to keeping them from picking up calls on their cell phones, he said.
Levmore has received inquiries from about 10 other law schools interested in possibly following suit on the move, he said.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Free Online U.S. American Indian Legal Resources

In my previous incarnation (read, last job), I did a lot of American Indian law searching. In November, I noticed that a lot of sites have outdated links to the resources I used to use. So, here are some very useful U.S. American Indian legal resources that are available on the Web for free.

For American Indian treaties, there are two main publications:

Volumes I & II of the American State Papers (Indian Affairs from 1789-1827)


Volume II of Kappler's Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (U.S. government treaties with American Indians from 1778-1883)

Additionally, The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, has 9 Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations. (The site explains that these 9 treaties are not included in the online version of Kappler's (linked above), but are recognized as ratified treaties by the Department of State. Seven of these are between the British and the American Indian Nations and two are between the U.S. and the American Indian Nations. The site says that the two U.S. party treaties are included in the American State Papers.)

The other 6 volumes of of Kappler's are also of significant value. They contain U.S. laws and executive orders concerning American Indians from 1871-1970.

The Library of Congress's American Memory Project (which houses the American State Papers) has Indian Land Cessions in the United States,1784-1894 including 67 maps.

The Native American Constitution and Law Digitization Project has quite a lot of good information.

"This Project is a cooperative effort among the University of Oklahoma Law Center and the National Indian Law Library (NILL), and Native American tribes providing access to the Constitutions, Tribal Codes, and other legal documents."
Included in the "other legal documents" are items like Cases and Materials on Problems In Lands Allotted to American Indians by Joseph F. Rarick, 1982. and Handbook of Federal Indian Law by Felix S. Cohen, 1941 (though the site mentions that there are errors in the imaged copy of Cohen's and an original should be checked for complete authority).

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) provides access to Tribal Codes and Constitutions too. NARF also has recently updated:

You can find Indian trust and Cobell lawsuit information at DOI's Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians:
"In 1994, the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act established the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians to improve the management of the Indian fiduciary trust in the Department of the Interior. OST manages Indian beneficiaries’ financial assets and is responsible for coordinating reform efforts to improve trust asset management and beneficiary services throughout Interior."
The Tribal Court Clearinghouse is a good place to go for current legal issues:
"The Tribal Court Clearinghouse is a comprehensive website established in June 1997 to serve as a resource for American Indian and Alaska Native Nations, American Indian and Alaska Native people, tribal justice systems, victims services providers, tribal service providers, and others involved in the improvement of justice in Indian country."

Cross-posted at AbsTracked

Monday, April 14, 2008

People magazine

The American Library Association has several new videos on YouTube for National Library Week. Here's one I enjoyed:

I wonder what number the avid People reader would be reacting to if the price increase scale had been based on the pricing of legal research resources instead? I suspect it would be rather higher.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shame on the National Archives!

From govwatch comes this article about the National Archives and Records Administration's decision not to record snapshots of Executive Branch websites at the end of each presidential administration. Much as I would like to forget that the current administration ever existed, I have to question NARA's priorities. NARA has apparently decided to rely on the fact that archiving sites such as the Internet Archive are preserving federal information. As the article points out, the "last Executivie Branch web harvest that NARA conducted [in 2004 and of congressional sites in 2006] preserved 75 million web pages, many [of] which will be valuable records for historians in the coming decades. The Internet Archive may cease to exist in 10 years, but the archives will only grow more valuable with time. Not capturing federal web sites now may mean losing millions of web pages authored under the Bush administration when leadership changes in January 2009." It is particularly unfortunate that NARA has made this short-sighted decision given that the current administration is likely to be fodder for historians and poliltical scientists far into the future. A commentator on the article points out, however, that NARA is not the culprit. Rather, it is Congress and the Bush Administration who establish funding for NARA.

Thanks to Gail Whittemore, Government Documents and Reference Librarian at Pace Law Library, for bringing this article to my attention.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Work-Life Balance

The New York State Bar Association's Special Committee on Balanced Lives in the Law recently released its report, which was adopted unanimously by the NYSBA House of Delegates. The conclusions of the report are discouraging for attorneys who are attempting to strike a balance between commitment to their profession and commitment to their families. Attorneys today are spending less time with their families and devoting less time to civic affairs than in the past. Young attorneys are finding it particularly difficult to strike an acceptable balance between work and home, and also report that they did not realize how demanding a legal career would be. Technology is one culprint. There is no longer a clear dividing line between our homes and our offices thanks to email, cell phones, etc., and this is exacerbating the pressures that attorneys feel today. Flexible work schedules are more talked about than actually implemented at most firms, which makes life particularly difficult for attorneys with young children.

The Committee recommendations include flex time or reduced hours. They also include urging law schools to prepare students for what the practice of law will be like so that they will not enter the profession with unrealistic expectations.

Nurturing Staff

Today's New York Lawyer has a very good article (reproduced below) about the fine art of appraising staff performance. I think the same principles that Mr. Sullivan discusses in the law firm context apply equally well in other institutions, such as libraries. It is very demoralizing for employees not to have any sense of whether they are meeting their supervisors' expectations. I will never forget my second job, at a scholarly micropublisher, where I worked for a notoriously demanding and driven vice president. It was the first time I had ever worked in publishing, and I had no benchmarks by which to measure my own performance. My boss never gave me any indication of how I was doing, although he kept giving me more challenging assignments. Finally, in frustration, I asked him one day if my work was satisfactory, and he looked at me in sheer amazement. Finally, he said something along the lines of, "If I don't say anything, then you should assume you're doing all right." That was the only conversation we ever had about my performance, and it struck me then--as it strikes me now--that it was a very bad way to manage an employee. Part of the investment we make in our staffs is time and attention. No one can be expected to meet their potential if they have no clear goals or direction, and if they do not receive feedback about their work.

Starving for Feedback

New York Lawyer
April 9, 2008

By Jay Sullivan
New York Law Journal

As an associate, I was once in a colleague's office when a clearly annoyed partner walked in. He threw a letter on my colleague's desk, a junior associate, and asked, "What's wrong with this?" The junior associate stared blankly at the document, trying to figure out what could possibly be wrong. Had he left out some important information? Was it addressed to the wrong person? Was the caption wrong? The font?

He stared wide-eyed at the document for a moment, embarrassed at the meeting and at the fact that I was present, when the partner suddenly leaned over the desk and jabbed at the second paragraph. "It should be 'will not,' not 'will.' Fix it," he barked and walked out.

Needless to say, it was not a textbook case of an effective professional development moment. For those of you thinking, "Yeah, but I bet that associate proofed his documents more carefully in the future," you miss the point. It's not whether the person got the message about the accuracy of his work; it's about how he got the message, and the ancillary message that came with it.

Giving feedback to junior attorneys is an essential part of being a more seasoned lawyer. Every time we convey to someone how they have performed on a task, it is an opportunity to not only develop that person professionally, but to build a relationship that says, "My job as a more experienced attorney is to help you grow and become a better lawyer." The tone of the conversation conveys that point. If the feedback is delivered with a tone that says, "My job is to wield my authority, which allows me to belittle you," the senior person has done more harm than good.

When the economy is doing well and associates leave large firms for opportunities at other firms or elsewhere, they often list a lack of feedback as one of their reasons for leaving their current employer. When the economy isn't doing well, and associates tend to stay put, they list a desire for effective feedback as a top concern, since they become more focused on how to make themselves more valuable as professionals.

When my firm conducted a survey through the first half of 2007 on the communication skills that professionals found most valuable in a leader, the ability to convey clear feedback to others ranked well ahead of delivering presentations, running a meeting, and even being able to write well.

If we don't receive feedback at work, we feel we aren't valued, that those around us don't care about our professional development, and that the firm itself is not a place where quality professionals are developed. If we receive feedback, but it is poorly delivered, it can come across as a personal attack, motivated more by uncontrolled frustration than a sincere desire to improve the recipient's performance. When feedback is conveyed clearly and effectively, it encourages people to develop their talents and to use all of their energy to perform more effectively.

Quality feedback is delivered in a consistent manner, with clear expectations on both sides about the purpose of the conversation. The first expectation should be that feedback will be given every time someone completes an assignment. We are all busy and it is unrealistic to think that every time a junior associate completes an assignment you will have time to sit down with him immediately to review the document he prepared. However, when you return a document to a junior attorney marked up with your comments, the conversation should sound something like this:

Here is the document you handed me and the final version I sent to the client. I can't go over this with you right now, but let's schedule some time to review what you drafted. Don't panic when you see the changes. When we meet I'll show you what changes are stylistic and what changes are substantive.

Then schedule some time with him within the next few days, even if only 15 minutes. You can't expect someone to perform better if you don't show them what "better" means.

When you do have a chance to review the junior associate's work-product, consider following these steps.

• Raise a specific issue. "I'd like to talk with you about the memo you prepared on the Acme matter."

• Ask permission before you explain. "Is now a good time? The answer will probably be "yes," but you don't want to take time giving someone feedback if he is focused on meeting an imminent deadline. If the associate can't meet at that time, he doesn't get off the hook. Ask, "When would be a good time later today? I think it will take [however many] minutes."

• Give the big picture. At the meeting, start by giving the big picture. "Overall, I think you did a great job. I just have some comments on a few specific issues." Or, "The document really missed the mark, and I want to find out if I didn't explain the issue well or where the disconnect happened." Or, "You did a great job explaining the law, but I didn't quite follow how you connected it to the facts of our case."

Make sure the person has a context for how he is going to hear the rest of your feedback. He needs to know up front whether his work was a 90 percent success or a complete disaster. He also needs to know that your job is to develop him. Once you begin getting into the details, you may need to say something like, "My job is to make sure you are gaining these skills. That's why we are going to go over this. I want to make sure you the next time you hand something to a partner it's exactly what they are looking for."

• Identify successes and challenges. Let the person know what worked well and what didn't. We often just point out the negative. If we mention positive elements too, it is often in a passing, perfunctory way. While a general comment about performance may help break the ice before delivering the real news, it doesn't usually add any value to the other individual.

Instead, comment on specific things the person did well. Often in life we do things really well completely by accident. Let the associate know that the structure of the document, or the word choice in a few instances, or the clarity of the message were positive elements of the work-product. Then, of course, let him know how he could improve, using specific examples in his document.

If the feedback addresses how an associate performed in a client meeting or on a conference call with a client, give specific examples of what you are talking about. "When you addressed the settlement options, you said the same thing three different ways." Then quote to the person the language he used. Specific comments are much more helpful than saying, "You tend to be too repetitive."

• Solve the problem together. Your job is to help develop the junior associate. Ask what steps you think he can take to improve her performance. Then offer your own advice. Obviously, the options will depend on the nature of the individual's challenge. He may need to attend a writing course or a communication skills course. You may need to meet with him after the first draft of the next document to make sure he is on the right track. You may need to give him other samples of similar work-product so that he has a guide.

• Establish clear next steps. At the end of the meeting it should be evident who needs to do what by when in order for the junior associate to improve. "So, call the professional development office to see when they are offering the next writing program. I will look for additional samples for you to review." Most of the initiative should be left to the person who needs development.

At the end of the day, we are each responsible for our own professional development. You can't make junior associates better attorneys; you can only give them the guidance they need with the tone that conveys a sense of commitment, and that's effective feedback.

Jay Sullivan, a former practicing attorney, is a partner at Exec|Comm, a communications consulting firm, where he heads the law firm group. He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"Online libraries are not libraries at all"

David Weinberger, author of Everything is Miscellaneous, which he dedicated to librarians, has an interesting, if somewhat disjointed opinion piece about libraries up at KM World.

Weinberger thinks that traditional libraries are nothing more than glorified warehouses--gilded in mystique because of their inefficiency and the "awesomeness of librarians." He points to books repeatedly as the source of the problem--they define us in the binary categories of authors and readers, they bind up information that wants to be free, they force us to spend hours meandering in stacks on the hunt.

Online libraries, he thinks, will be more different than similar to traditional libraries. With no bindings, readers will be free to discover and note their own connections among resources using tagging, comments, reviews, and features yet undreamed of. Instead of treating materials with care, Weinberger (noting that he is speaking metaphorically) says

Online libraries want books marked up, taken apart, coated in minty chocolate, and sucked on between innings at Little League games.
I love that.

Yet in the midst of this discussion, he also says that online libraries "won't be Libraries 2.0, a new and improved version with zippy features, albeit lacking the smell of must and varnish." It sounds like he's defining Library 2.0 as the same electronic OPACs and databases we've used for the past 20-30 years! To me, those are more like Library 1.0--or maybe even a beta test, albeit one many libraries have lingered in for far too long. Maybe that's why he can't tell the difference?

For all his admiration of librarians, I think Weinberger needs to spend more time in the biblioblogosphere reading what we think about the future of "online libraries" and how librarians who have at one time or another used the "Library 2.0" buzzword are implementing tags, comments, and reviews in their catalogs and elsewhere, and playing with the current Internet technologies and applications to enable better connections between and among their patrons and resources.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The six magic words

Quoting in full from Caveat Lector, because it's so brilliantly concise:

A lot of library-school students ask me wide-eyed how I learn what I know about computers and programming and miscellaneous stuff. When I tell them “Accidentally, sometimes because I had to, sometimes because I was just curious,” they look disappointed.

What? Do they think I can show them the Yellow Brick Road to library geekdom, like some kind of fat hippie Glinda? I can’t. There ain’t no such thing.

There are, however, six magic words. Be very careful with them; they are extraordinarily powerful.

You will be careful, right?

Okay, then. The six magic words are, “Hmmm. I wonder how that works?”

If you’re not sure how to get started with technology, use the six magic words on something you use, see used, or are interested in using. Blogs. Wikis. Databases. Regular expressions. OPACs. The Internet. A scanner. Your iPod. Whatever.< “Hmmm. I wonder how that works.” Magic. Seriously. Try it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

What's in a Font?

There has been a lot of interest lately in a subject that used to be the province of bibliophiles and printers--fonts. Steven Heller's piece in the New York Times discusses the Gotham typeface which is used as the unifying visual theme of Barack Obama's tightly disciplined campaign. Heller interviewed Brian Collins, an expert on branding, on the role of the font in the Obama campaign. According to Collins, the Obama campaign has "used a single-minded visual strategy to deliver their campaign's message with greater consistency and, as a result, greater collective impact. The use of typography is the linchpin to the program." Collins makes an interesting point--"type is language made visible. Senator Obama has been noted for his eloquence, so it's not surprising that someone so rhetorically gifted would understand how strong typography is and how it helps brings his words--and his campaign's message--to life."

Jessica Bennett makes similar arguments in her Newsweek article, "Just Go to Helvetica." She says that the "Obama 'brand' the best crafted of any politician's in history." Bennett also points out that "America has developed a geeky obsession with fonts, the latest instance of our sophistication about design." I thought this was perhaps an overstatement until I found myself in a conversation with colleagues this morning; we were discussing our favorite fonts, why we liked them, how certain fonts convey convey gravitas or seriousness of purpose, while other fonds convey frivolousness and make the user seem like an intellectual lightweight. I require my students to submit their papers in Times New Roman because I find it easy to read; I use it almost exclusively for my written work. Hence my surprise when Brian Collins in the Times interview said that in his opinion, a word put in Times New Roman is "self-important," while the same word in Gotham "feels just right." Collins's remark has led to question whether what I am trying to communicate may be undercut by my loyalty to the venerable Times New Roman.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Kickbacks for Advising Students

From the New York Lawyer comes this story of a corrupt law professor in Germany:

Law Professor Gets 3 Years in Hoosegow for Taking Kickbacks From Students

April 2, 2008

BERLIN (AP) _ A judge has sentenced a German law professor to three years in prison for accepting kickbacks from doctoral students.

The Hannover university professor, whose identity was not revealed, confessed to accepting euro156,000 (US$240,000) to serve as a faculty adviser to 68 doctorate students between 1998 and 2005.

Court documents say an agency brokered kickback deals for him to serve as the students' adviser. Adviers can be difficult to find in German universities.

Judge Peter Peschka called it "a very severe case of corruption" on Wednesday.

The professor said he needed the money to renovate his Hamburg mansion.