Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tax Deniers and Tax Defiers

Having just reviewed my 2009 tax returns, I was in an appropriate frame of mind to enjoy this article from the New York Times Magazine (March 29, 2009) about the tax-denial movement. Nobody likes paying taxes, but some people take this emotion to extremes, including one man who went so far as to send a firebomb to the I.R.S., for which he went to prison. People who do not believe in paying taxes have crafted a number of ingenious and sometimes bizarre arguments to support their position. These arguments unusually lose in court, but as soon as one argument loses favor, another one is put forth and enjoys temporary popularity until it too is shot down. The article offers fascinating insights into the motivations of individuals who believe passionately that the federal government does not have the power to tax them.

New Frontiers in Government Documents!

The Government Services Administration has signed deals for government agencies to use a number of different new social media to get their messages out to the public. Nextgov.com reports here:

After nine months of negotiations, the General Services Administration signed agreements with four video-sharing and social networking sites: Flickr, Vimeo, blip.tv and YouTube. GSA also is negotiating with the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.

"We found when we reviewed standard service agreements that they were not a good enough fit for the [requirements] of the federal government," said Michael Ettner, GSA general counsel.

For example, most terms of service agreements contain indemnification clauses that require a party to agree to be financially responsible for specified damages, claims or losses. Under the Antideficiency Act, the government cannot make payments or commit to payments at some future time for goods or services if not appropriated by law, and that includes possible payments for damages or claims. Most service agreements also hold users subject to state laws, but federal agencies are required to follow federal regulations, not state laws.
I'm waiting for the GSA negotiation team to start affecting the licenses I have to sign for my library!
GSA did not make an agreement with the online messaging service Twitter because the agency determined the provider's standard terms and conditions aligned with federal requirements.

At least 17 agencies have signed, or are in the process of signing, agreements with one or more of the providers using the template provided by GSA. Agencies with existing agreements with any of the providers can be grandfathered in to the terms and conditions negotiated by GSA. The agency recommends federal employees check with their agencies' Web managers and attorneys to determine the steps they need to follow to enter into an agreement.

Most agencies will appoint directors of new media to determine how they can use social networking tools to meet mission goals and comply with President Obama's open government directive, said Sheila Campbell, team leader of Web best practices for the government portal USA.gov and co-chair of the Federal Web Managers Council.

The directive will instruct agencies to make their operations more transparent and to create a process that asks the public to submit opinions on policy issues and enable collaboration with organizations in the public and private sectors.

"Agencies that already have a business case to use these tools will have the legal footing to do so," Campbell said. Tools should be used strategically, she added, "not just for the sake of using them, but to accomplish agency missions."

A number have begun to experiment with the new media to communicate with citizens and distribute information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used Twitter and Facebook to inform the public about the recent recall on peanuts, and the Library of Congress uses Flickr to share its vast collection of photographs.

As agencies increase their use of online services to share information, they'll also require enhanced capabilities for weeding through comments and questions received.

More tools will be developed to help agencies deal with the volume of online communication received, Campbell said. Instead of weeding through thousands of comments, they'll be able to cluster and filter messages to recognize trends and prioritize people's concerns.

"Agencies are interested in what solutions they can find to help aggregate all these comments they're getting from the public," said Teresa Nasif, deputy associate administrator at GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Communications. "They want to know if there are tools available governmentwide [and] what we can do collaboratively that makes sense."
Really and truly now... think about how government documents folks are going to have to begin to keep track of these things. So far, the feds are not doing a stellar job of archiving even the major web pages of major agencies. What will happen with these little things???! But aside from the archiving & locating functions, isn't this a wonderful step forward in providing government information in a way that much of the public will really be able to use it and find it accessible?

Encyclopaedia Britannica Reinvents Itself

The print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica occupied a hallowed place in my girlhood home. My father, a hematologist, was a contributor (he wrote the article on purpura, an important symptom which can indicate a serious underlying disorder) and he received a certificate attesting to this accomplishment. Our set lived in a specially-designed bookcase, and it had slots to hold the large atlas and the two-volume dictionary. My sister and I relied on the encyclopedia for school reports and general information, while my mother read articles for pleasure.

Like many traditional sources, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been challenged by the Internet, and it is now seeking to reinvent itself. The Britannica's strategy is laid out in an article from today's Boston Globe. The stragegy is this: "The new version of Britannica Online, set to debut this summer, will emulate the Wikipedia concept by letting subscribers make changes to any article, ranging from minor edits to near-total rewrites." Unlike Wikipedia, "[a]uthors and editors will be identified by name," which will help readers gauge their credibility and the reliability of the articles. All changes will go through a vetting process, being "submitted to a Britannica editor, and perhaps to the article's author." The author of the Globe article notes the irony that Britannica Online will have a "more open editing policy than Wikipedia's ... [which] permanently 'locks' some articles on controversial people and subjects to prevent changes."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Getting Tough for Library Students

After I looked over the post yesterday, I realized that it focused entirely on networking for law students. What, you may well ask, about library students? Well, there are lots of networking opportunities there, too. Librarians are nothing if not collegial! Law librarians have national, regional and occasionally, city organizations. Here is a set of links and a bit of info on those groups:

AALL, the American Association of Law Libraries (at http://aallnet.org/, is the national organization in the U.S. It was founded in 1906 and currently has over 5,000 members, including a number outside of the United States. Student dues are $54 annually, but are pro-rated, so it depends on the time of year you join how much it costs (see here). They also have a deal for unemployed members (note: when I visited, the form was damaged and would not load -- I hope it's repaired soon!). For all but director's positions, the main hiring for law librarians is done at AALL's annual meeting, usually held in July these days -- check the website for info on the place and time for the next annual meeting. You do not have to register for the meeting to go to the placement portion and put your resume into the files or get interviewed. However, it is a very good opportunity to network. It does cost a good bit these days, but you can register for less than the whole program, and can now choose to skip the expensive meal and social functions and save money there. A lot of networking gets done in the hallways, if you will introduce yourself to people and have your business cards ready.

A much less expensive alternative to the national meeting is to attend a regional meeting. These cost less and usually are held in less expensive places. They are also less crowded and overwhelming. You can still meet a lot of people, and hear a lot about the hot topics in the profession. As time goes along, there is more hiring that goes on outside of the annual meeting as well. If you watch the AALL website for openings, and the listserves (more on this below) -- which tend to be faster sources of news than the website, you can hear of openings way before the annual meeting. A lot of libraries would be happy to interview somebody local or a cheap trip away to fill a slot rather than wait for the annual meeting, if they get an interesting resume. Even if you aren't able to get interviews through the regional meetings, the networking is still very important. The world of law librarianship is surprisingly small, especially if you are looking for a law school library job. We all tend to know one another and talk to each other. It's good to be known if you make a good impression! Start networking before you are looking for the job.

All year round, the AALL website hosts a Job Hotline here. It sounds great, and I think it's always worth watching if you are looking for work. But frankly, it's not the best or fastest way to hear about a job. Here and here are lists of other job posting sites. And, AALL has a listserve that you can join. A listserve, most OOTJ readers probably know, is a sort of e-mail subscription. You sign up and read all the e-mails from all the members. It makes a giant conversation among all the participants. You don't have to "talk," and can just listen or "lurk." The listserves are often the best places to pick up job openings very early. The biggest listserve is Lawlib, info here. But there are also listserves for the various regional chapters that may be even better resources for job listings.

Regional Chapters of AALL are scattered across the country. Check here for a list of links to the websites of the regional chapters. Some regionals cover a huge space, like the Mid-American Association of Law Libraries (MAALL) which covers nine mid-western states from North Dakota south to Oklahoma and Arkansas and east as far as Illinois. Other "regionals" only cover a state, like Minnesota Association of Law Libraries (MALL) or Michigan Association of Law Libraries (MichALL) or Arizona Association of Law Libraries (AzALL). Others are narrower, such as Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NoCaLL) or Western Pennsylvania Law Library Association (WPLLA).

And a handful are city-specific:
Atlanta Law Libraries Association
Chicago Association of Law Libraries
Dallas Association of Law Libraries
Greater Philadelphia Law Library Association
Houston Area Law Librarians
Law Library Association of Greater New York
Law Librarians Society of Washington, D.C.
New Orleans Association of Law Libraries
San Diego Association of Law Libraries

If you look at the website for any of these regional associations, you'll find they offer a lower membership rate for students. And then, there are a very few associations of law librarians that are not affiliated with AALL. I know of the one local to me, Association of Boston Law Librarians. Again, a special rate for students, and, I happen to know, they also offer 2 "fellowships" for students who can't afford the fee. Many of the above organizations also have grants you can apply for as well, to assist members to attend the annual meetings. One last added benefit of AALL membership is that they offer small scholarships to law and library school students. All of these are great ways to meet law librarians in your area. They are friendly folks who understand how tough it is to get started in a new profession. Introduce yourself as a newbie. Do bring business cards. And don't be shy!

Friday, March 27, 2009

When the going gets tough...

Well, I can't claim to know it all, but here are some thoughts that might help find a job in a tough economy...

* Network, network, network! Go to events, join organizations, shake hands & hand out business cards. As a student, membership in most professional organizations is much less expensive. For instance, the Massachusetts Bar Association has student memberships at $35 per year. And they have a joint membership deal with the ABA that covers multiple years. Besides offering a slew of discount deals from Lexis and LimoLiner to Hertz and the Celtics and SportsClubs L.A, your Mass Bar membership also entitles you to a mentor program, an online forum (like a listserve) and free membership in one section or practice group. These sections or practice groups are the key part of the membership if you want to network and build relations among the practitioners in your topic area.

One of the cleverest ways I've seen a law student look for a job was just this. She was a stay-at-home mom, who had not had the chance for clinic, internships or summer jobs. She joined the Mass Bar in her last year of evening division, and chose the section in her interest area, Elder Law. She volunteered to register the folks attending a CLE for the Section and talked to them as they registered. She made some connections and a good impression, and voila -- job offer! You do not know when a job opening will appear -- but if you have made some connections and left a good impression, people may think to call you and tell you to send in your resume before the job gets posted. Therefore: NETWORK!!

* On a similar theme, exploit your existing connections. If you are a member of a community, a church/temple/synagogue group, an ethnic group, any interest group of some kind, that group may well pay off for you in terms of networking. Let people know you are looking for work and what kind of job you hope to find. Again, have those business cards ready. You can get them printed at a Kinko's, but our BLSA offers the service each year, to fellow students -- it's a great fund raiser and a good service.

* Look for opportunities for training. You may think this sounds strange in law school, but law school really doesn't get you ready for law practice. Suffolk includes an office called Advanced Legal Studies, which produces continuing legal education programs. This office has won national awards for the quality of its programming, that the programs are FREE to current students. Our students can locate the current and upcoming programs on the Suffolk website here. Outside of Suffolk, there are CLE programs advertised at bar associations. If your school has an internship program, like Suffolk has, here, or clinical programs, like here, those are also good opportunities for real-life training. There are a very few law firms that also offer internships and mentoring outside of law schools. I only know of one, but I hope the idea spreads -- it's desperately needed in the tough job market!

The amazing cover of the book Get Tough is apparently at a dead web page. Thank you, Major W.E. Fairbairn, as the author of the book, and whoever posted the image to the web, at http://aycu36.webshots.com

The Current Law Firm Toll & Affects on Students

The ABA Journal online has an article here summarizing the toll of layoffs in firms during February and March, 2009. Martha Neil writes

It appears that the worst might possibly be over, both for the struggling global economy and the ever-increasing number of major law firms that have been laying off support staff, associates--and even partners--in record numbers.

Although law firm layoffs continue--Thursday's tally included some 234 people let go at four well-known firms--they have slowed.

Following news of more than 3,000 law firm layoffs made between Feb. 27 and March 12, this blistering pace of earlier in the month has clearly slackened, at least for now. Since then, although there have been well over 400 additional reported law firm layoffs, that puts the total tally, in a little less than one month, close to the 3,500 mark. If earlier March mayhem had continued, the total tally for the month presumably would have been around 6,000.

That compares to rough tallies of about 2,000 law firm layoffs in February and some 1,500 in January at major firms. (A Latham & Watkins announcement in late February that the firm would be axing 190 associates and 250 staff has been counted in the March 12 total, skewing the March numbers a bit. However, some firms have confirmed layoffs but declined to give figures and others may have made "stealth" layoffs, neither of which are tallied. Hence, the overall figure for March, so far, is probably about right.)
The full article includes lots more details and hyperlinks within the quoted section I offer here, so it's worth a visit. A separate ABA article offers the hopeful news that 300 attorneys surveyed thought the layoffs are mostly over. See here. I don't know... I guess you got to take hope where you can get it.

This article finds BigLaw firms have cut their summer jobs for students by 50%, but notes grimly that the figure fails to account for the firms that have simply done away with summer associate programs entirely. By following a few links, the reader can come to The Shark blog, which thoughtfully, if gloomily, compiles the figures (I think, here) from National Association of Law Placement (NALP) into a table, here, so it's easy to see how many big firms have cut their summer associate programs.

Time to start networking!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day revisited

Had I but known! On the very day of the Ada Lovelace blogfest, the women who cracked the German Enigma code had their reunion! Here is an article in the Boston Globe from March 25, by Gregory Katz, about the ladies. When you read about the code breakers, they never stress that the group is mostly (all?) female. These women worked in secrecy and kept their secret until the 1970's. In fact, according to the article, they did not entirely realize what they were decoding, since each of them worked on a tiny piece.

The reunion, in Bletchley Park, returned the surviving code crackers to the scene of their World War II labors. The original machine, a Turing bombe was destroyed to preserve secrecy after the war. The machine in the photograph is a rebuilt replica. Interested readers, who really go for the history of technology might like to read more here, a BBC online article about the development first, of the bombe shown in the photograph, then replaced with teletype style machines that used paper tape, and finally with Colossus, an entirely electro-magnetic machine that used valves instead of paper tape or the mechanical switches of the Turing bombe. The Colossus I and II were fast and faster, working to solve the Enigma codes fast enough to be useful. They also threw off enough heat that the Women’s Royal Naval Service operators were reduced to working in their underwear!

The code breakers who worked here in anonymity helped alter history, frustrating Adolf Hitler's ambitions by giving Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his wartime Cabinet crucial advance knowledge of Germany's invasion plans, defenses, and U-boat movements.

Age has not dimmed the code breakers' fierce pride.

They don't boast - the British don't do that - but they know they saved lives.

"Do you know what Churchill called us?" said Jean Valentine, 84, her blue eyes flashing. "He called us 'the geese that laid the golden eggs but never cackled.' " (snip)

The real heroes were the hundreds of mathematicians, cryptographers, crossword puzzle aficionados, chess masters and other specialists who spent their days and nights operating the machines at Bletchley Park, about 40 miles northwest of London. (snip)

Retired Brigadier Patrick Erskine-Tulloch endorsed the widely held view that the success of the Bletchley Park code breakers saved an untold number of lives by hastening the Allied victory.

"The great thing is that the Germans never realized we'd broken their code," he said. "Otherwise they would have done something about it. They thought it was unbreakable."
(from the Globe article) More women heroes in the world of technology!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Yesterday evening, I went to the Suffolk National Women Law Students' Association Inaugural Alumnae Networking Reception. That's a mouthful! But it was a terrific event. Suffolk actually has quite a few well-placed women graduates, many in the area still, as judges, and a surprising number as partners in firms or working in government agencies. There was a very good turn-out, both of current students, and alums coming for the event. All the deans came, as well as all the clinical women faculty, and most of the women on the doctrinal faculty. A few of the writing faculty came as well. It was a pretty wonderful evening, with an excellent speech by alumna, long-time adjunct and judge Bonnie MacLeod-Mancuso, J.D. 1972. She recalled being one of 12 women in a class of 254. While the numbers have changed so much (now most classes are nearly 50/50 male/female), other things still require a great deal more work -- access to power and equal salaries notably.

This was actually the first alumni event I have been to where I have been approached by former students. I suppose this isn't surprising. Both at St. Louis University and here at Suffolk, I have always taught very small classes. But what a pleasure to see former students and hear how they are doing! It was also nice to talk to new students and alumnae and talk up the library services available to both groups.

Most excitingly, one former student, Rebecca Woodworth Brodie, went out of her way to say how helpful the class had been in showing her the ropes of finding less expensive alternatives for research. She has actually founded a very cool firm. They have a sliding fee scale mediation/litigation practice -- which is really booming as the economy tanks. She had been interested in legal aid practice, and actually has relationships with two area legal services to pick up pro bono cases. But the heart of her practice area is the big swath of population whose income lies between the less-than-poverty-level required for legal services coverage, and the really well-heeled level needed for most traditional law offices. Find her offices at www.BrodieandBrodie.com, to read more about her "social law firm." Besides doing well by doing good for their clients, the firm also does good things for the attorneys who work there. They offer a very flexible workplace, based only on the hours the attorney is willing/able to work and that defines the pay. Very impressive! If this isn't the answer to "what comes after the billable hour?", I can't imagine what is! They also offer a mentoring program for new attorneys who just passed the bar, but don't have a job yet. It's a very cool firm. Yay, Rebecca!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada B. Lovelace Day: Women in Technology

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day set up here to encourage bloggers and twitterers to talk about women in technology. Ada B. Lovelace was a friend of Charles Babbage, and actually wrote the first computer program for Babbage's proto-computer. The idea is that women need to see role models for themselves in technology, and this is one way to help that happen. We all signed up to blog about a woman role model in technology.

I have thought about it, and chose to blog about Henriette Avram, who developed the MARC record for the Library of Congress. I really first read about Mrs. Avram, here, on OOTJ, when Marie Newman blogged about her obituary. Oddly, Avram was not a librarian, she was a computer programmer and data analyst. Here are pieces of her New York Times obituary and biography scattered around the Web (rather appropriately):

Henriette D. Avram, a systems analyst who four decades ago transformed millions of dog-eared catalog cards in the Library of Congress into a searchable electronic database, and in the process helped transform the gentle art of librarianship into the sleek new field of information science, died on April 22 in Miami. She was 86 and had lived for many years in California, Md.

The cause was cancer, her family said.

Mrs. Avram, who was not a librarian by training, is widely credited with developing the automated cataloging system that rendered printed cards obsolete. Known to librarians as Marc, for Machine Readable Cataloging, Mrs. Avram's system is, in its current form, the worldwide standard.

Her work changed forever the relationship of a library to its users, making it possible, with the push of a button, to search the holdings of a library thousands of miles away. It also made it possible to "visit" the library at midnight attired in nothing more than a bathrobe, a practice brick-and-mortar libraries traditionally discouraged.

When Mrs. Avram joined the Library of Congress in the mid-1960's, the American card catalog had scarcely changed in half a century. Each item in a library's collection was represented by typewritten cards of thick, cream-colored paper. Many of the cards were annotated by hand, in what, impossibly, seemed to be the same handwriting in widely separated libraries. (In fact, the characteristic script — squarish and slanting slightly backward — was taught in library schools.)

"She developed the mechanism for being able to capture the data that the user was seeing on the 3-by-5 catalog card into an electronic format," Beacher Wiggins, the director of acquisitions and bibliographic access at the Library of Congress, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "And what that did was open the door for data to be shared broadly."

Mrs. Avram's work in encoding and organizing data for transmission across long distances also helped set the stage for the development of the Internet, Mr. Wiggins said. (snip)

In 1965, she joined the Library of Congress, where she was put in charge of the Marc pilot project.

It was not a job for the faint-hearted. The catalog comprised millions of items — books, maps, films, sound recordings and more — in hundreds of languages, many using non-Roman alphabets. The cards for each item contained many discrete pieces of information (including author, title, publisher and place of publication), each of which would need to be represented with a separate mathematical algorithm.

To translate the cards into something a computer could digest, understand and share, Mrs. Avram also had to enter the mind of the library cataloger, a profession whose arcane knowledge — involving deep philosophical questions about taxonomy, interconnectedness and the nature of similarity and difference — was guarded like priestly ritual.

"A big challenge would be just understanding what goes on in this world of cataloging because it's a really complicated world," Allyson Carlyle, an associate professor at the Information School at the University of Washington, said in an interview. "It's something that's passed from generation to generation; there's still a lot of unwritten practice."

The pilot project was finished in 1968, and, starting the next year, bibliographic records were dispatched on magnetic tape to libraries around the country. In 1971, Marc became the national standard for electronic cataloging; it was named the international standard two years later. Mrs. Avram retired from the Library of Congress in 1992 as associate librarian for collections services.
New York Times, Henriette D. Avram, Modernizer of Libraries, Dies at 86, By Margalit Fox, Published: May 3, 2006. That's quite beautiful and a lovely obituary piece.

On Wikipedia, Mrs. Avrams' biography is told in more detail. She was born in Manhattan in 1919, and grew up intending to become a doctor and find the cure for cancer, which was common in her family. In 1941, she married Herbert Mois Avram, who enlisted in the Navy. After WWII, the Avrams had three children, and seemed settled in New York.

In 1951, Mr. Avram took a job with the National Security Administration, and the family moved to the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Once settled in Virginia, Henriette Avram left her “peaceful” life of homemaking behind. She began studying mathematics at George Washington University, and joined the NSA herself in 1952. Working with the IBM 701, she soon became one of the first computer programmers. Reminiscing about her time with the NSA, Avram said, “Learning programming in those days was…a bootstrap operation. You were on your own with far less than perfect tools to learn from…and the numbers of people that made it through to become programmers were few indeed. It was an exciting time.

In the early sixties she moved to the private sector, working first with the American Research Bureau and later for a software company, Datatrol Corporation. Both jobs consisted of systems analysis and programming, but it was at Datatrol that Avram had her first professional experience with libraries. Asked to design a computer science library, she quickly read several library science text books in order to learn the appropriate jargon. She also hired a librarian to assist her in the design process. It was through this project that Avram was introduced to the Library of Congress Card Division Service. She also did consulting work with Frederick Kilgour, father of the Online Computer Library Center, on OCLC’s first attempt at computerizing bibliographic information, a task which Avram called, “the vision of bibliographic utility.” In March 1965, Avram heard of an opening at the Library of Congress (LC), and was hired as a systems analyst in the Office of the Information Systems Specialist. The rest, as Avram herself put it, is history.

Avram, considered a “librarian by achievement” by the American Library Association (ALA), owed much to the Library of Congress, about which she said, “…when I speak of and refer to it as ‘the Great Library,’ I do so with sincerity and appreciation for everything that I learned within those walls.” Avram is often noted for her petite stature, New York accent, and indefatigable drive. According to two of her co-workers, “No matter how hectic things got in those pioneering days, she was writing, publishing, speaking, taking work home, advising people, and performing myriad other tasks…” She was also an adept leader. “She was able to foster a cooperative spirit among the computer specialists and librarians on her staff. In her typical fashion, she stepped into the world of libraries and learned libraries’ problems, adopting them as her own,” her co-workers explained.

Her first assignment at LC was to analyze cataloging data for computer processing. In keeping with her training at NSA, where she learned “the prime necessity of thoroughly understanding the subject before tackling the computer solution,” Avram, along with two librarians, began this process by examining the information contained in a catalog record. “We went from right to left and up and down that card many times answering all my questions, and I had many,” Avram said of this experience. Her task was not an easy one: a separate mathematical algorithm would be needed for each piece of information, and there were millions of items in the catalog, in hundreds of different languages. She also studied ALA rules and LC filing rules to learn all that she could about bibliographic control. When Avram had thoroughly examined every aspect of the bibliographic record, “she translated what she learned into a set of fields…bearing a name (the tags), handling instructions (the indicators), and parts (the subfields).” MARC was born.

From the obituary in the Washington Post,
"Henriette Avram transformed libraries in the age of automation," said Deanna Marcum, associate librarian of Congress, in an e-mail. "Joining the Library of Congress at a time when information technology and librarianship had hardly begun to intersect, she immediately saw the potential of computers to create a networked global library catalog. Rather than warehousing books as in the past, libraries today are centers of information technology and communications hubs for entire communities, thanks to Henriette Avram's vision and energy."
That is a woman who used technology to transform the world I live in every day. She lived a life I can imagine -- not so long ago, not so far away. Thank you Henriette Avram!

Gay Marriage Advancing in Vermont & Other New England States

The Boston Globefeatures this story today about the Vermont Senate voting 26-4 in favor of the bill allowing gay marriage in the state. The story also looks at bills coming along in New Hampshire, next week and in Maine, next month.

"One of the advantages of New England is that we share geography and media markets, so folks in other states have seen marriage in Massachusetts for five years and can see the good," said Lee Swislow, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who has called for New England to be a "marriage equality zone." "I think the efforts build on each other. What happens in one state inspires folks in other states, and hopefully it will inspire the rest of the country."

Last year, Connecticut joined Massachusetts to become the second state in the country to allow same-sex marriage. Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and California permit civil unions, but advocates for gay marriage say it does not afford the same rights as marriage. A court decision last year briefly allowed same-sex marriage in California, but a voter initiative in November banned it.

Even the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage concede that the tide may be turning in New England.

"There's no doubt that they're making progress in the legislatures," said Kris Mineau, president for the Massachusetts Family Institute in Woburn, which has long opposed same-sex marriage. "They have wisely targeted the New England states, because of their progressive stance on social issues. But we have not conceded defeat." (snip)

In New Hampshire, lawmakers will vote on whether to approve same-sex marriages on Thursday.

Jim Splaine, a member of the New Hampshire House and chief sponsor of its bill, said the vote will be close in a chamber with a majority of Democrats, most of whom he said support the bill.

"It's going to be tough, but we stand a good chance," Splaine said. "I think most people have realized that we need full equality, not just civil unions."

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, also opposes same-sex marriage. But, like Vermont's governor, he is not saying whether he would veto such a bill.

"He thinks the civil unions that he signed into law prevents discrimination and provides the same legal protections to all New Hampshire families to the extent that it's possible under federal law," said Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch.

In Maine, Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said her group has found nine cosponsors of a same-sex marriage bill in the state's 35-member Senate and 55 cosponsors in its 151-member House. Next month, the bill will have its first legislative hearing.

"We hope the bill will pass this year," she said.

Maine's Democratic Governor John Baldacci has not taken a position on the bill.

Joy Leach, a spokeswoman for Baldacci, said the governor "remains open-minded and will follow the debate . . .. He has opposed gay marriage in the past, favoring civil unions, but he has not made a final decision on this legislation."
The article, by David Abel, goes into more detail, and also discusses the dimmer chances of successfully bringing a bill in Rhode Island. Conveniently, the University of Pittsburgh law blog, Jurist offers a nice report with links to the text of the bill and many related reports here.

Recession Reference

Last week, I got two questions that I only get during recessions. The first: how do I become a process server? What are the laws on service? I felt so bad for the young man standing in front of me. He was a good kid and should have better opportunities than risking his life. Process serving is dangerous.

The second question: How do I form a union? Our library has BNA's Developing Labor Law. That is a great book, but it is not written for the average person. A good topic for one of our AALL's LISs would be how our collection development policies are conservative. Labor unions and advocacy groups write good manuals on labor organizing, but Worldcat doesn't show any law libraries holding them. It is interesting that our association is not afraid to sponsor discussion on social movements, but neglects labor.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gay Marriage Advancing in Vermont

Here is a very good report from www.365gay.com, a gay-interest blog, on the legislation in Vermont to change their first-in-the-nation civil union statute to gay marriage. The Boston Globe reported here on May 18, about a special senate committee that held hearings on the matter, drawing more than 500 demonstrators for both sides to the Vermont state house in Montpelier. But the blog report linked above brings us more up to date and is quite fact-based, gibing with the comments in the Globe article. Apparently, the committee of 5 voted unanimously to move the bill along to the complete Senate. According to the blog, the prospects in the Senate look good, and even in the House. There seems to be doubt about whether the Republican governor will sign the bill if it passes both houses. If Governor Douglas vetoes the bill, it is not clear whether the legislative supporters of the bill can muster enough support to override the veto.

Social Security Administration pioneers standardized digital health data exchange

Click on the title to this post to link to an article at ComputerWorld.com, "Social Security goes live with first federal e-health information exchange," dated March 20, 2009. The Social Security Administration uses health records to decide disability claims. Migrating from paper to electronic transmission of health records will cut the decision-making time significantly. The system is based on open source software, and is the result of a partnership between SSA and many different IT and health organizations, including Sun Microsystems, IBM, MedVirginia (a Regional Health Information Organization, or RHIO) and Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston.

More significantly, this represents the first step in developing a Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), that was a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's health technology planning.

The goal of the NHIN effort is to enable secure access to health care data and real-time information sharing among physicians, patients, hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and federal agencies, such as the SSA and the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, regardless of location or the applications that are being used.

"It's been described as the local health information exchanges like MedVirginia would be like the local dial tone and the NHIN would be the long-distance carrier," MedVirginia CEO Michael Matthews said this week.

As part of the recently approved American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has allocated more than $19 billion for health IT, including $17 billion in incentive funding for health care providers to roll out electronic medical records systems and develop methods for sharing the information contained in them among different organizations.

The SSA and its partners built a prototype data exchange system that was put into limited production last August with Beth Israel Deaconess, to test the process of eliminating manual requests for paper-based medical records.
The article goes on to discuss other groups that will shortly benefit from this project: veterans and active duty military personnel and their families (the VA and Department of Defense are joining; the Indian Health Service; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention; National Cancer Institute; and health care providers who sign up with the MedVirginia. Wow! That's a fast roll-out.

Changes Coming in Scholarly Publishing

Inside Higher Ed is reporting today the University of Michigan Press decision to move its "traditional print operation to one that is primarily digital." It is no secret that university presses have been struggling for some time. The article points to the University of Missouri Press and the State University of New York Press, which have had to lay off staff recently, and to the Utah State University Press which may lose all university support. Michigan's move is meant to be proactive and to reflect "a belief that it's time to stop trying to make the old economics of scholarly publishing work." Officials believe that because online publishing is so much cheaper than traditional publishing, Michigan will be able to publish works that would have been rejected under the current model because of limited potential sales. It will be interesting to see the license arrangements Michigan sets up. Currently the plan is to develop site licenses which would make all the press's books available for an annual flat rate. I would prefer the ability to license only what my library needs, but this is still in flux.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Invisible Children

Page four of the Winter 2009 SCCLL Newsletter has my review of a book written by Judge Gilmore and Dr. Beal for the children of incarcerated parents. This population of at-risk children is well known to courthouses. This booklet can help laypeople working with these children. The authors are eager to work with interested groups and our courthouses and bar associations may want to know about such tools to support their community work.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Phishing Scams

I ran across a very helpful article in the December, 2008 issue of Scientific American, link here, on how to avoid phishing scams. By Lorrie Faith Cranor, "How to Foil 'Phishing' Scams; Understanding the human factors that make people vulnerable to criminals can improve both security training and technology."

Most OOTJ readers will know that phishing are e-mails set up to look like legitimate communications from, say, a bank, your IT department, or E-bay, all encouraging you to input such valuable data as your credit card number, social security number, bank account number, or passwords. But I was surprised to read that phishers also pose as business surveys, and as legitimate charities. I did know that just opening an e-mail from a phisher could load malware onto my computer -- sometimes setting up tracking software that can track my keystrokes and thereby send to the phishers all the information that I may be too clever to send them myself.

And one trick I did not know was to look at the URL and/or e-mail address of the sender -- you can hover your mouse over any link they offer and see if it matches what the type on the screen says. Especially look at any links they want you to follow (as opposed to links that supposedly show how legitimate the e-mail is). You can carefully parse the URL to see where it comes from. Look at the material between the http:// and the very first / that follows it. The last material there tells you the real identity. So, the link for you to go and clear up that confusion about the buyer who insists they sent you money and never got the goods SAYS http://customerhelp.ebay.com/ but when you hover the mouse over it, you notice at the bottom of your screen:


I encourage you to read the article completely, for which no subscription is needed. But among the sadder news they have is that e-mails you might send your patrons to warn them about phishing are less likely to be read than phishing e-mails themselves. The author took this piece of information and used it to build a learning tool. They built a fake phishing e-mail that zinged readers. After being "hooked" and told they had been caught, readers were then educated. Testing showed the readers were much more likely to read and retain the material, avoiding phishing e-mails even a month later in their test! This compared very well to a control group who read the same material, and fell for the phishing e-mails a month later. Expanding this finding, the author's group eventually developed a game which teaches users to avoid phishhooks, and when the player gets hooked, explains what went wrong. The interactive learning tool seems to work even better than the original "entrapment" and teach moment.

The author explains that she is part of a consortium that is working on a multi-prong effort to stop phishing. They are working to actually track and stop phishers -- very difficult. They are also working to educate users -- and this game is one option. The author has spun off her research and the game can be purchased. And the last prong is that the group is working on improving filters to recognize phishing e-mails and catch them before they reach users. All of these efforts are on-going, as the phishers become more clever. An arms race.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A New Research Paradigm

Sarah Kubik, an associate faculty member in visual communications and design at Indiana University-Purdue University, writes in today's Inside Higher Ed about the use of online research sources. She is of two minds--on the one hand, she loves print for the same reasons most librarians do. On the other, as a faculty member, she recognizes the fact that today's students naturally gravitate toward digital media; moreover, she herself has embraced technology and the "flow of information" that has come about because of it. Kubik describes a changing landscape. At one time, it was thought to be wrong to cite Wikipedia, and yet now we have judges citing it. At least some online reference sites seem to acknowledge their role in modern scholarship. Wikipedia "wants to make the site more accepting to academic referencing by having 'faculty-approved' sites." Another wiki, Scholarpedia, describes itself as "the peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia written by scholars from all around the world." Kubik's conclusion is that "[i]f we are to use these quality online resources, while insisting on high standards for students, academics need to take seriously issues related to citing materials in media that didn't exist a generation ago more seriously."

This may be beginning to happen in some fields. Kubik points to the new edition of the Modern Language Association's style guide, which "no longer recognizes print as the default medium," and the recent edition of the American Psychological Association style guide, which "includes many different types of electronic referencing." The APA guide provides citation forms for blogs, online journals, email, and podcasts, but doesn't provide for citation to tweets, text messages, or instant messaging, all of which might eventually prove to be "credible and reference-worthy." All of these forms of communication fall under the heading of "personal communication," which Kubik claims is "transitioning into reliable news" through the new phenomenon of "every-man reporting." Kubik believes that academics should not automatically dismiss "groundbreaking information ... delivered from a grassroots leve," but rather should apply a "filtering process" that accepts materials from nontraditional academic sources. As she says, "We need to have sound procedures for citing such materials to show that we are aware of their limitations, but also of their value." Finally, Kubik discusses online-only journals to which she believes the scholarly community should "start attributing intellectual respect." Such journals are often retrieved by students using Google for research, and yet they do not generally have the prestige associated with print journals. She concludes by stating that, "While it once made sense to equate print with quality, it's time to embrace newer forms of communication as valid. If they need academically sound forms of verification and procedures for citation, let's get to work." I couldn't help thinking of the Bluebook, which retains its preference for citation to print materials despite the reality of how the legal community does research today, and wishing that the editors would think about the issues that Kubik raises in her provocative article.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Women and Land

I had never made the connection between hunger and African women's ability to own land until I read this column in the Boston Globe. Author Liesl Gerntholtz, who is director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, points out that

[W]omen and their children are the most likely to lack food and go hungry. One of the most under-used, and cheapest, mechanisms of ensuring better food security for women is to improve and secure their access to land. Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of food in rural Africa, but laws often allow male relatives to take away their land. Laws that protect their right to property can therefore play an important role in reducing hunger and ensuring access to a dependable food supply.

Both customary laws and statutory laws conspire to take land away from women. The former keep women from inheriting land from their husbands and fathers, and women and their children may be thrown off the land if their husbands die. Statutory laws do not allow women to prevent their husbands from selling land, and if they divorce, they have no legal right to the land. Even where women may legally own land, "patriarchal customs frequently stop them from making decisions about its use." As Gerntholtz concludes, "[p]assing laws that protect women's land rights will cost governments very little, but will go a long way to reducing starvation and improving the lives of African women and children."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Cart Drill Teams!

When things get too grim, it's time to have some fun! Here is a link to a collection of YouTube favorite videos of library book cart drill teams. The quality of the videos varies a good bit, but it's fun to poke around. Who knew these were being saved? There are strict rules for competing: Five minutes to decorate the carts -- magnets are apparently the secret; Four minute routines; No more than twelve carts.

At various library association meetings, there are book cart drill team competitions -- I see the announcements through my listserve for Massachusetts Library Association. Law libraries are too staid, I guess, to sponsor such things at our meetings. These tend to be public libraries, but also school and university libraries that are competing. Here is the Austin, Texas Public Library Bibliofiles team winning the Texas state championship in April, 2008. There is a combination of costume, careful choreography and marching precision involved. Very creative and a hoot to watch.

Another excellent video is the Cartwheels of the Des Plaines Public Library, billing themselves at America's Number One Book Cart Team. They are preparing for the town's Fourth of July parade, and celebrating the library's centennial. The professionally produced video shows the team practicing, and introduces the team members. It gives the viewer some idea of the amount of effort that goes into a well done book cart drill routine.

I just love when librarians are presented to the public in alternate ways, moving away from the stereotypes. These videos are all shot with great affection, whether created by family members or local public television. Hooray for libraries and the communities that support them! The illustration is the first team that competed at the ALA 2007, to the Flight of the Bumblebee. You can see it at the YouTube video list early in this post, and it's one of the better-shot videos -- the camera holds quite still. It's an impressive routine. But I cannot find any source that notes what library is represented. The image is courtesy of Government Info Pro.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Law Firm Meltdown -- Partner Firings

Click on the title to this post to read an entry from the ABA Journal online about U.S. and U.K. partner firings on an upswing as the economy heads downward. The article quotes consultants speculating that the cuts are to bring the partner/associate ratio back into line after slashing the population of associates, or that the move shows that firms are estimating that the recession will last into late 2010. Severance costs can equal a year's salary for equity partners, so cutting one loose costs the firm a year's salary anyway. Ergo, the firm must figure it needs to save more than a year's salary....

For more dark humor, read the snarky comments back and forth below the original story. My favorite is the bitter observation that law firms began to die when they expected loyalty to flow UPwards but did not see any reason for it to flow DOWNwards. And now, the commentator observes, the firms see no reason to have loyalty flow laterally.

New Texas Law School(s)?

University of North Texas seems on the verge of getting its law school authorized, according to rumors. Click on the title to this post to read an article from the Daily Texan (University of Texas (the flagship campus at Austin for those of us without Longhorn connections) newspaper about a bill pushing for the UNT law school. The article also mentions a possible law school at Brownsville as well.

Not surprisingly, the U.T. connections are interested in protecting their slice of legislative pie and come out swinging against both possible law schools. However, it does seem that the University of North Texas school may actually become a reality. According to the article, the legislature has considered the proposal twice before. And I hear that the funding has actually been authorized for this Dallas-based state law school. Apparently, there is a dean, and some staff already as well. But I do not hear any rumors of a law library consultant....

OOTJ will keep its collective ears to the ground on this one. And wish our friends at SMU and all the other Texas schools all the best! Change is always unsettling; don't mess with Texas!

Garner on finding examples of good legal writing

Click on the title to this post to read a terrific entry at the ABA Blog, by Brian Garner. He writes on Finding Models of Good Writing. First, he points out that the most important way to learn how to write well, for any kind of writing, is to see and read good examples. Then, he mentions how difficult is has been to locate good examples of legal writing. Even in legal writing courses, faculty have often been reluctant to offer samples of excellent memoranda or briefs lest the students simply copy those without understanding what about them make them good, and learning to write their own original versions. (Wait, I thought that's what teaching was supposed to be about?!)

Finally, and most exciting, Garner offers his readers a number of resources for finding excellent examples of legal writing:

The problem, then, is finding good models. I’ve been aware of the problem for a long time, and I’ve tried to remedy it in my own books, especially in Legal Writing in Plain English and in The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style, both of which contain plentiful examples that it has taken a career to collect from some of the best legal writers around the country. But let’s assume you want more examples than can be found in those two books. Where should you look? Here are my recommendations. Let's begin with legal scholarship. The answer here is pretty easy: get a subscription to the Green Bag. Here you'll find some of the best, most interesting legal scholarship to be found anywhere. It's a law review that defies most law-review conventions. Your subscription will get you not just a quarterly journal at a reasonable cost, but also a yearly almanac of good writing.

For several other types of legal writing, the Green Bag Almanac is your best choice. Published since 2006, it gives awards for excellent legal writing of various kinds, including short pieces in law reviews, long pieces in law reviews, op-ed pieces, judicial opinions, briefs, motions, and books. Most of the award-winners are reproduced in full. It's an extraordinarily useful compendium of good legal writing—and it comes free with your subscription to the Green Bag.

For briefs, there are outlets many legal writers hardly ever think of, such as the Solicitor General's website, which contains every brief that the SG has filed in the federal appellate courts since July 1998 and selected briefs going back to 1982. Mostly, the briefs are astoundingly good—on the whole, markedly superior to what other lawyers are filing in those courts. Also worth reading are any Supreme Court briefs you can find by Walter Dellinger, Clifton Elgarten, Miguel Estrada, Theodore B. Olson, Evan M. Tager, or Charles Alan Wright.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Click on the link in the title to this post to read a thoroughly charming Globe report by Brian Ballou on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's appearance at New England Boston Law School's centennial Law Day celebration. The justice gave a lovely talk and answered questions from a lottery-chosen group of students.

Ginsberg reveals that if she could have asked God for any talent, she would have asked to be an opera singer. She also speculates that the Court may soon be adding a new Justice.

Ginsburg said she has taken advice on how to deal with her recovery from former justice Sandra Day O'Connor, herself a cancer survivor, and has received support from her co-workers. She said Justice David H. Souter was so supportive that he filled in for her ailing husband, taking her to the opera.

"He never goes out, so people were amazed to see him," Ginsburg said of Souter.

A student then asked Ginsburg to name her favorite opinion, to which Ginsburg answered, "That's a little like asking me which of my four grandchildren I like best."

But she did highlight the importance of several ground-breaking cases, including the 1967 case striking down a Virginia statue [sic] that barred interracial marriage. "Now, the president of the United States is the child of an interracial marriage," she said.

She declined to answer how she would handle the same-sex marriage issue if it were to come before the high court, saying she did not want to be seen as prejudging the case.
Justice Ginsberg goes on to tell about graduating at the top of her class from Columbia Law School in 1959. Not a single law firm would give her a job.

In a separate article about a very different judge, the Boston Globe reported that Federal District Judge Reginald Lindsey died. Lindsey, who grew up in Jim Crow Alabama, went to Morehouse College and then Harvard Law School. He was recruited to Hill, Barlow, where eventually, he was a firm partner to now Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, from 1986 until Lindsey was nominated to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1993. From 1983, Lindsey was confined to a wheelchair because of a tumor on his spine, but continued to work steadily and long hours.

In the article,
Hilani Morales, a Northeastern University School of Law student who met Judge Lindsay in 2001 at a summer fellowship program at the courthouse for Boston high school students, said she and three other former fellows visited him at Youville [hospital in Cambridge] in early February. He was energetic and making jokes, she said, and expected to return to work in June.

"I feel like we've lost an amazing man, a friend, and family," said Morales, 25, who spoke at a gathering of about 150 grieving courthouse employees at a jury assembly room.

Morales said Judge Lindsay inspired her to overcome a difficult childhood in Dorchester that included placement in foster care. She said Judge Lindsay, who had no children, always referred to the dozen or so fellows each summer as "his kids," and said that the youngsters, many of them poor, were like bumblebees that defy the laws of physics by flying. "It always stayed with me," she said. "He was like a bumblebee. He defied all odds. He was an African-American, he lived with a disability, and yet he managed to overcome all obstacles."
Apparently, he loved being a judge.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

To Make Magic Happen: Deans' Job Description

I just spent a few days hanging out with a surprising number of deans. I was on an ABA inspection team that consisted of 3 deans and a vice-dean, plus the president of a small state college. Then me, and a federal district attorney. It actually was an amazingly nice time. In the course of one conversation, Rudy Hasl, who has been dean at St. Louis University, St. John's, Seattle and now at Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego, made a pretty cool little quip. Rudy said he thought the job description for a dean was:

To Make Magic Happen
Wow! Does that sound like he's having a great time or what?!

Rudy said, think about it, sometime in every day, a dean has the opportunity to make magic happen in the life of somebody. It could be a student, it could be a faculty member, or an alum, a donor, a trustee.

What about a librarian???

PS. Alert readers may recognize Rudy Hasl's name from the recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, detailing how the excavation at the site of the Thomas Jefferson Law School's new building turned up the remains of a Columbian Mammoth. Since then, the work has turned up more prehistoric creatures: a baleen whale -- ancestor of the blue whale, and a giant sloth. OOTJ refuses to take cheap shots by speculating about mascots for the law school, and instead, thinks it's just darned cool that they keep digging up more mega-fossils!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Have You Gotten Your Westlaw Pricing Letter?

I just opened the letter from Brian Cahill, Director, Marketing Law School Libraries for Thomson Reuters. It announced an increase of a little over $4 per FTE for academic year 2009-2010. For my school, that amounts to an increase of several thousand dollars. Call me a fool, but I had hoped that with inflation running at
0% and library budgets being cut at every type of school, public and private, the vendors might have kept prices steady for the coming year. The letter from Mr. Cahill announces a few minor (to me, anyway) tweaks to TWEN, but otherwise doesn't allude to any major enhancements to Westlaw content or functionality. Shabby behavior on the part of Thomson!

Use of Signing Statements Curtailed

Today's New York Times features an article by Charlie Savage on President Obama's ordering "executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on [any of President Bush's signing statements] to bypass a statute." Savage is well known for his columns on signing statements, for which he won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. President Bush issued an unprecedented number of signing statements, more than any other modern President. President Obama did not indicate that he would never issue a signing statement; rather, he "signaled that he intends to use signing statements himself if Congress sends him legislation that has provisions he decides are unconstitutional." The memo to administration officials is here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Results of Laptop Bans

Reproduced below is an article commenting on the results of banning laptops in several law school classrooms. I can't say I'm surprised to learn that students felt that banning laptops had improved their concentration. Laptops can turn students into scribes more intent on taking down every word than into active learners who mentally process the information. Still, Professor Eugene Volokh reported no differences in the quality of classroom discussion after the laptop ban, which seems counterintuitive. If students are not focused on taking notes and are more actively engaged with the material, they should be more active participants in classroom discussion. Frankly, the bans strike me as paternalistic. I haven't considered banning laptops in my classroom because I want students to visit the websites that we cover during class. I understand that there might be a different dynamic in a doctrinal course. However, by the time they get to law school, shouldn't students know how they learn most efficiently?

Law Students Report Positive Reaction to No-Laptop Policy
Posted Mar 5, 2009, 07:43 am CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A law professor who banned laptops in his first-year criminal law class surveyed his students about their reaction—and found it was generally positive.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh had the results in a memo to his collegues (PDF) and on his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy.
Seventy-one percent of the students who responded reported the policy had a strongly positive or slightly positive effect on their concentration in class. Fifty-four percent said it had a positive effect on their overall enjoyment of the course.
Only 36 percent reported a positive influence on learning, though; 41 percent said the experience was neutral in regard to learning.
One student pointed out that the experiment had a negative effect on trees. The student’s e-mail to Volokh said those who brief cases on their computers have to print out their notes for class. And those who want their class notes neatly typed and available on their laptop have to transcribe classroom notes.
While students were positive, Volokh said he noted no material differences in classroom discussions. He suspects 1Ls tend to be engaged, and they often find criminal law particularly interesting. He wonders if the results would be different in classes with little voluntary class participation.
Earlier this week on Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman, an associate law professor at Florida International University, noted that his own classroom laptop ban was going better than he had hoped.
"I never realized how much I missed eye contact," Wasserman wrote. "Even the bored and checked-out students at least look up at me. And when students have to look up, you can get a sense from their eyes as to whether they are 'getting' what you were talking about and adjust accordingly. I also never realized how loud keyboards are when 75 students are typing simultaneously."
He noted that he'll have to wait for class evaluations at the end of the semester to see what his students think of the ban.

Law Firm Layoffs dominate the ABA Journal Coverage

The headline in the ABA Journal online edition is March Mayhem: Law Firm Layoffs in One Week Total Nearly 1,500. Click on the title to this post to read the full article, which echoes the drumbeat of the online blogs I linked to below. They list the big firms and number the layoffs -- focusing always on the lawyer layoffs, rather than staff, of course. But it's sobering that the ABA Journal has begun to pick it up and focus coverage on the carnage. There are three related stories linked on the same page, covering January and February layoffs as well, and looking at the job market for lawyers in Canada. (look out!)

The glut on the market of experienced attorneys will make it tough going for graduating law students, I worry. The posts I linked to yesterday includes mentions of firms withdrawing offers, or, less, awfully, postponing the start dates for their new hires, to save money.

Timing makes so much difference in people's lives. What year you graduate, for instance.... A few years ago, firms were vying hard to hire quality associates and driving up the salaries. Of course, they also were expecting their pound of flesh in exchange -- we began to hear stories of associates being expected to bill nearly all their waking hours.

I suppose this, too will pass. But what will happen to the students who graduate in these years?

Lieberman Grills Federal Judiciary About Pacer

This article from the National Law Journal discusses Senator Joseph Lieberman's questioning the Rules Committee of the Judicial Conference about why "it continues to charge the public and lawyers for access to electronically filed documents and whether enough is being done to protect the personal data collected by courts." The cost issue was discussed in an earlier blog post on OOTJ. Lieberman made the point that "the federal judiciary had a $150 million surplus in its technology fund as of fiscal year 2006 yet continues to charge the public and lawyers $.08 per page for access to documents." He is also concerned about the possibility of identify theft, stating that "not enough has been done to protect personal information contained in publicy available court rulings ... I would like to the court to review the steps they take to ensure this information is protected and report ... on how this provision has been implemented as we work to increase public access to court records." The Judicial Conference has not yet responded to Senator Lieberman.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Law Firm cost cutting

Click on the link above to read a piece at Above the Law, a self-proclaimed legal tabloid, about Chicago law firm Locke Lord Bissell mandating LoisLaw over Westlaw or Lexis for most online research. Entertainingly, they class it with Kirkland Ellis downsizing their breakfast perk or K & L Gates switching to bargain basement bathroom supplies and declining to cover members' bar dues. And you know things are bad when Debevois and Plimpton cancels the annual firm dinner at the fancy restaurant, and instead, offers drinks at the firm.

Still, it's better for the firms to look for ways to trim the perks than to trim off the associates, paralegals or (gasp!) even the librarians! For stunning graphs that summarize the bloodshed, go to Layoff Tracker at Lawshucks... Above the Law treats Black Thursday here. Then, Law Shucks begins their This week in Layoffs feature with 2/20/09, and now 2/27/09. They even have an archived The month in layoffs for January, 2009.

It's scary times for all of us in law.

A tip of the OOTJ hat to my invaluable colleague, Susan Sweetgall, who tipped me off to this entertaining blog, Above the Law.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gay Rights Activists File Suit Against DOMA

The Boston Globe carried a story on March 3 about gay rights activists filing a suit challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) law that prevents those married in Massachusetts from filing a federal joint income tax, or enjoying any other benefits of the legal recognitions of marriage. The suit was filed yesterday in federal district court in Boston by the same legal team from GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) who argued the Goodridge case in 2003. The case is styled Gill et al. vs. Office of Personnel Management, et al. (Gill v. OPM). Basically, the plaintiffs seek a ruling that DOMA Section 3 is unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs in Federal Income Tax, Social Security, federal employment benefits, and the issuance of passports.

The link to GLAD, above, will take readers to their excellent DOMA page. The page has information on the couples and widowers in the suit, but also the full text of the complaint. There is a nice history of DOMA, and explanations of the suit. There is a link for a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General in support of the suit. Interestingly, they also have a blog. And there is a video of the press conference announcing the law suit. GLAD has other advocacy projects going on as well, which can be explored by hovering a mouse along the menu at the top of the page. This is a very information-rich site.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Author's Guild on Settlement with Google

Paul McCallister sent along an e-mail from the Author's Guild to its members:

Subject: Authors Guild v. Google Settlement: Official Notice

Click here for your official notice of the $125 million settlement in Authors Guild v. Google. We encourage you to read it. (http://hosting-source.bronto.com/896/public/Final-Summary-Notice-of-Class-Action-Settlement.pdf)

The settlement strengthens authors' rights and will, if approved by the court, result in millions of dollars of payments to authors. At least $45 million will be paid to authors and publishers to release claims for books that are scanned by Google by May 5th of this year. But that's not the most significant part of the settlement, in our view. We expect the licensing that this settlement would enable, particularly of out-of-print books, will result in far more revenues for authors over the coming years.

The settlement covers essentially all in-copyright books that were published by January 5, 2009. (Some authors have told us that they think of the settlement as covering only books for adults or nonfiction books. This is incorrect. Books of all types are covered by the settlement.)

We think it's in the strong interest of authors of all books, whether in print or out of print, to go to www.googlebooksettlement.com and claim their books. Here are some of the benefits of doing so:

1. If you file your claim by January 5, 2010, and a book in which you have a copyright interest is scanned by Google before May 5, 2009, you will be entitled to a small share (at least $60 per book, but up to $300, depending on the number of claims) in a pool of at least $45 million that Google is paying to release claims for works that were scanned without rightsholder permission.

2. By registering, you'll be able to share in potential revenues for uses of your works under several new licensing programs that the settlement enables. Here are examples of licensing revenues you may be entitled to share in:

A. Revenues from printing out pages from your works at terminals in public libraries.

B. Revenues from ads that may appear near "previews" of your works at books.google.com.

C. Revenues from sales of special online editions of your works.

D. Revenues from institutional subscriptions that may include your works.

Important note: Only out-of-print books will be included in these programs by default. In-print books will be included only where rightsholders affirmatively elect to do so.

3. By registering, you'll automatically enroll in the new Book Rights Registry, which will give you a considerable amount of control over the rights to your works, including your right to withdraw your work from the licensing programs described above.

The important thing is to assert your rights. It's easiest to do so by setting up an account at www.googlebooksettlement.com, the official settlement website. Once you're logged in, it's generally most efficient to claim your works by searching the database of titles by your name.

There are many more details, which the attached document spells out. For those who would like more information, we'll soon be announcing a new series of phone-in seminars. You will receive that e-mail later this week.

Please feel free to forward and post this message: non-Guild members are entitled to the same advantages of the settlement as Guild members.

This message was sent to you as a member of the Authors Guild.
I find the e-mail interesting because it encourages the members to join the settlement and informs them of a new world order where readers of books (and parts of books) will pay authors fees to read on demand. This is an interesting development. In some ways, it makes books more available than ever -- a potential reader of a hard-to-find book available under the agreement can now access it by Internet (assuming the reader has Internet access). Isolated readers in rural areas have as much access to books as readers in the heart of a university (again, assuming those readers have access to the Internet, and some way of paying).

It certainly will make it easier for authors to make a bit more money off their writing. This is good -- it's hard enough for most writers to make a living. The ease of paying for the copy will balance the irk of extended copyright for at least those libraries with some cash to pay for Interlibrary loan-type transactions.

But in my heart, I agree with the essay by Harvard's Robert Darnton in the New York Review of Books Feb 12, 2009, "Google and the Future of Books." If research libraries had taken the leadership role, instead of Google, we would be looking at a different future!

Yikes! ALDA raises the ante

Click on the title to this post to read an article at Inside Higher Education titled, "Calling in the Big Guns." Dated March 2, 2009, the article briefly recaps the struggles between ALDA deans over tenure and long term contracts for clinical faculty and librarians. Then, it goes on to tell that the law school dean at Northwestern, David Van Zandt, went to the departing University President there, Henry S. Bienen, to enlist his support in the battle. Bienen sent a letter to 130 university presidents, echoing the arguments of the ALDA deans, that offering tenure reduces the ability of institutions to be flexible.

Interestingly, the article goes on to tell that the letter has stirred up a hornet's nest at Northwestern's law school. Faculty are upset, considering that this letter will interfere with recruiting top notch faculty of all types by giving the message that Northwestern does not really stand behind the concept of tenure. Bienen's letter insists that the attack is not about tenure as such, but about clinical faculty tenure and ABA standards. At least some of the Northwest faculty are concerned that this attitude is the beginning of a more general attack on tenure for all faculty. I am glad to see broader support, myself!

Tip of the OOTJ hat to Helane Davis for alerting us to the article!