Monday, October 20, 2014

FREE Webinar For Public Librarians: Connecting Patrons With Legal Information

Webinar: Connecting Patrons with Legal Information
Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Time: 2:00–3:00 p.m. EDT

Every day, public library staff are asked to answer legal questions. Since these questions are often complicated and confusing, and because there are frequent warnings about not offering legal advice, reference staff may be uncomfortable addressing legal reference questions. To help reference staff build confidence in responding to legal inquiries, the American Library Association (ALA) and iPAC will host the free webinar “ Connecting Patrons with Legal Information” on Wednesday, November 12, 2014, from 2:00–3:00 p.m. EDT.

The session will offer information on laws, legal resources and legal reference practices. Participants will learn how to handle a law reference interview, including where to draw the line between information and advice, key legal vocabulary and citation formats. During the webinar, leaders will offer tips on how to assess and choose legal resources for patrons. Register now as space is limited.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Coherently Reporting Research In Emails

Garner's On Words series in the ABA Journal is very useful. Each month, he offers great tips for better legal writing.

Garner's September post is about coherently reporting research in emails. As noted, "[i]n the rushed exigency of modern law practice, with the expectation of nearly immediate responses to all manner of queries, emails are overtaking formal memos as the standard method for communicating research to senior colleagues and to clients."

As Garner mentions, email is often seen as a more informal means of communication, which means that many emails are rushed and may lead to more questions than answers.

He advises that "[b]efore hitting 'send,' step back and ask yourself exactly how clear you’re being. Avoid answering in a way that is sure to beget further queries. You might be well-advised to make your summary at least as clear as it should be in a formal memo."

To paraphrase Garner, this means instead of replying to a research question directly, you may want to lay it out fully in an email with a question presented and brief answer. After all, research queries are often put aside until needed, so it may be awhile before the email is read for comprehension. This could lead to frustration of having to sift through a long email exchange to fully understand the final answer.

While this advice is generally useful for associates and attorneys reporting research to senior counsel or clients, it resonated with me (a law librarian) because I often get research queries from law students in emails. I usually restate the question as I understand it (sometimes law students have a difficult time articulating exactly what they need), and I lead the student through my research process, as well as the final answer. The research process is important for law students because any research query from a student should be seen as a teaching moment so that they can effectively perform their own research. Although I make sure to include all of this information in a response to a student-research query, I could do a better job of organizing the information according to Garner's advice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chemerinsky's Preview Of New SCOTUS Term

Erwin Chemerinsky recently reported to the ABA Journal his preview of the new SCOTUS term. SCOTUS will review many familiar issues this term like executive power, bankruptcy, religious freedom, voting rights, employment discrimination, and the Fourth Amendment. There is one novel issue on the docket this term: "true threats" and the First Amendment.

As Chemerinsky noted, "[t]he U.S. Supreme Court’s summer recess is over and the justices will return to the bench for oral arguments. The court traditionally sets half the docket for the coming year before it adjourns in early July, and grants the remaining cases between late September and mid-January."

The cases on the docket this term include:

  • Executive power: Zivotofsky v. Kerry is back before the court for a second time. Earlier the court ruled the case did not pose a political question and now the court will consider whether Congress impermissibly intruded upon executive powers by enacting a law that directs the U.S. secretary of state, on request, to record the birthplace of an American citizen born in Jerusalem as having “Israel” as a birthplace.
  • Bankruptcy: In Wellness Intern. Network Ltd. v. Sharif the court will again face an issue of enormous importance to the federal courts that it ducked last year: May a bankruptcy court issue a final judgment as to a state law claim with consent of the parties? In Stern v. Marshall the court held that bankruptcy courts cannot issue final judgments over state law claims unless they stem from the bankruptcy itself. The circuits have split, though, as to whether consent can cure this.
  • Religious freedom: Having ended last term with a major issue about religious freedom, the court will return to it in Holt v. Hobbs. The court granted review to decide whether the Arkansas Department of Corrections grooming policy violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in prohibiting a prisoner from growing a half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
  • Voting rights: Once more, the court will have a voting rights case on its docket. In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama the court will return to the issue of when the government may use race in drawing election districts. The challengers argued that Alabama “packed” minority voters into districts where they already were in political control, thus reducing their chance of having influence elsewhere in the state. The question is whether this denied minority voters equal protection.
  • Employment discrimination: Although last term there were no employment discrimination cases, in Young v. United Parcel Service the court will consider whether it violates the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act when an employer provides accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations, but refuses to accord the same accommodations to pregnant employees. 
  • Fourth Amendment: And, of course, as always, there is a major Fourth Amendment case. In Heien v. North Carolina the court will consider whether a police officer’s mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires for a traffic stop. 
  • First Amendment: The Supreme Court long has held that “true threats” are not protected by the First Amendment. But the court never has developed a standard for determining what is a true threat. It is an issue that has come up with ever greater frequency because of the Internet and social media. In Elonis v. United States the court will consider whether a conviction for threatening another person requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten, or whether it is enough to show that the reasonable person would regard the statement as threatening.

Thanks to Dean Chemerinsky for this comprehensive preview of the issues facing SCOTUS this term.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

SCOTUS Updates Website

Last Monday, SCOTUS unveiled an updated website. Findlaw reported on the new website noting  that "[a] new carousel of images greets visitors to the Court's main page, along with a more conspicuous calendar, a list of recent decisions, and a table of recent arguments with accompanying transcripts and audio recordings."

Here are some highlights of the Court's new website (and compare with this version of the website as it was archived on August 29):

  • It's responsive. Page elements automatically change size when the window is resized. This also means that the site is finally mobile device-friendly.
  • The menus have been simplified. Instead of over a dozen menus and submenus, there are only six on the new website, and they fit into fairly logical categories: "Opinions," "Oral Arguments," "Case Documents," "Rules & Guidance," "News Media," and "About the Court."
  • The image carousel on the main page shows many pictures of the Court, including the Courtroom and the Main Reading Room of the Library. And when you reload the main page, you get a different set of images in the carousel.
  • Irrelevant ancillary buttons are gone. For example, the button to view a "printer-friendly version" of the main pages.

Although the updated website is an improvement, there are still no briefs. "[I]f you want to learn anything substantive about a Supreme Court case, you must go to SCOTUSblog, which isn't officially affiliated with the Court and yet keeps a repository of information -- including comprehensive docket sheets showing every document filed, with links to the important ones (petitions and responses, amicus briefs, and merits briefs)."


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Use Adverbs Sparingly In Legal Writing

Adverbs and legal writing go hand in hand. For example, statutes that deal with criminal intent use adverbs to describe the essential state of mind. "Words such as 'knowingly,' 'intentionally' and 'recklessly,' which deal with criminal intent, pop up most frequently, but plenty of other adverbs have enjoyed the spotlight." One of the most recent adverbs litigated was "[w]hen the U.S. Supreme Court recognized religious protections of closely held companies, justices pondered the significance of an adverb in a 1993 federal statute that guards against laws that 'substantially burden' the exercise of religion."

Because statutes are often written with adverbs, it means that the exact meaning of a particular adverb is litigated fairly often. In fact, the Wall Street Journal notes that "[t]he number of adverb-dense disputes over how to properly construe a criminal statute has surged since the 1980s, according to a case-law search conducted by Brooklyn Law School professor Lawrence Solan, author of 'The Language of Judges.'"

Although the meaning of adverbs is litigated regularly, lawyers should watch their use of adverbs in briefs. "According to a 2008 study by two scholars at the University of Oregon School of Law and Brigham Young University, lawyers who stuff so-call intensifier adverbs in their legal briefs—words such as 'very,' 'obviously,' 'clearly,' 'absolutely' and 'really'—are more likely to lose an appeal in court than attorneys who avoid those."

As Justice Kennedy said, "avoiding adverbs 'forces you to confront the significance of your word choice. You just discipline yourself to choose your words more carefully.'”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Library of Congress's Guide To Law Online

When a legal issue presents itself from a new state or country, librarians must acquaint themselves with the legal materials from that state or country to do proper legal research. Understanding the courts within the jurisdiction or if the jurisdiction has an administrative code, for example, may be essential to proper legal research depending on the focus of the issue. 

One of my go-to resources for information about state, federal, or international resources is the Library of Congress's Guide to Law Online. The Guide aggregates and offers a portal to information from each of the jurisdictions. 

"In compiling this list, [the LOC emphasized] ... sites offering the full texts of laws, regulations, and court decisions, along with commentary from lawyers writing primarily for other lawyers. Materials related to law and government that were written by or for lay persons also have been included, as have government sites that provide even quite general information about themselves or their agencies."

When externs call from other jurisdictions wondering, for example, how to do legislative history in a particular state, this Guide offers links to the information that is available online from the jurisdiction. 

The Guide to Law Online offers the following information from the states:
  • Constitution
  • Executive (admin code or executive orders)
  • Judicial (court opinions)
  • Legislative (code and bills)
  • Legal Guides 
  • General Sources
This is just one tool in a librarian's arsenal to become acquainted with law from jurisdictions that she may not be familiar with. And it's a wonderful tool for legal research, in general. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Privacy, Privilege, & The Cloud

According to the 2013 ABA Tech Survey, over 90% of attorneys use smartphones in practice. The most popular smartphones (Androids & iPhones) generally have default settings that store material directly in the cloud. This should be a major concern for attorneys who must protect client confidentiality and adhere to the attorney/client privilege.

The ABA Journal recently reported on ways for attorneys to protect their privacy following recent iPhone updates. "Lawyers must be especially vigilant about securing their mobile devices to guard any potentially sensitive client data." For iPhones, make sure to change your '"Diagnostics & Usage Data,' which can be found in the 'Settings' icon, under 'Privacy.' If you don’t check off the 'Don’t Send' option, 'pretty much everything you do on your iPhone or iPad' is tracked by Apple."

To further protect sensitive data, "Apple provides more suggestions on ways to guard your devices and offers a deeper explanation of their privacy policy on its website."

The ABA Journal also reported on the perils of using of Gmail and other Google Apps for practice. "Imagine that a direct marketer has offered a lawyer free services, such as photocopying, in exchange for being allowed to scan client files for research purposes. Is client consent required? Is this project a good idea, even if clients do consent? The answers to those questions are obvious, and it is nearly as clear that lawyers may be taking a risk by using Gmail and Google Apps for Business."

According to Chris Castle, "[l]awyers are arguably required to obtain express client consent to Google’s data harvesting under Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 1.05. [The rule] says attorneys cannot use 'privileged information of a client for the advantage of the lawyer or of a third person, unless the client consents after consultation,' and Google’s free email and business apps arguably constitute such an advantage for the lawyer."

There may also be consequences for violating client confidentiality. "[I]n order to maintain attorney-client privilege, communications need to be confidential. Does Google’s scanning of email and data harvesting violate this requirement? That question has not been definitively answered, according to Castle, but risk-averse lawyers may want to rethink if they are relying on Gmail."

These are important points, and this shows that attorneys need to be aware of the ways that technology intersects with the law in order to protect their clients and against malpractice claims.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tell Your Library Story

Gale has started an online community called My Library Story to combat the impression that libraries are past their prime or doomed to irrelevancy.

From the promotional material:

"Let's get the good news out about libraries!

Visit and share the brand-new online community, My Library Story, to talk about the great things libraries do every day. How they are an essential institution in your community or on your campus. How all ages use libraries to thrive. How libraries make a significant impact on positive user outcomes like greater student performance, job placement, and more."

There's a great story about a high school dropout who credits his local library, the Detroit Public Library, for educating him for "free." He never completed high school, never went to college, but he was admitted to the Detroit College of Law and practiced as a lawyer for 30 years (at the time when more law schools would admit nontraditional students without undergraduate degrees if they had relevant experience). Librarians have always considered libraries as the "people's university," and it's wonderful to see someone who took full advantage of the resources available to him through his local library.

Please share your library story and help spread the word that libraries are still relevant and doing great things for their communities.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Luring Attorneys To Rural America

In recent years, there's been a push to get more attorneys to underserved rural areas. As I mentioned in April 2013, "[n]early 85% of law students graduate with $100,000 in debt, and it is nearly impossible to service that type of debt by offering low-cost legal services in rural areas."

Like South Dakota's stipend to get lawyers to its rural areas, a small town in North Dakota is doing something similar. The ABA Journal reported that "Wishek, [ND] took the unusual step of offering to pay for office space and other business expenses if a young lawyer agreed to move to town. The city got two: Cody Cooper and Mary DePuydt, a married couple who both finished law school in 2013 and moved to Wishek from the Twin Cities in April. They planned to set up separate law offices to avoid potential conflicts of interest."

Wishek's offer to pay for office space and other business expenses was just one thing that lured the attorneys to town.

"The two were interested in Wishek because they want to try growing and making much of their own food. They also liked the idea of living in a small community because it provides more opportunities to take on leadership roles. Cooper hopes to eventually run for McIntosh County state's attorney. 'That's also a thing that attracted us to Wishek—the possibility that we're going to be able to do good out there,' Cooper says. 'In a big town like Minneapolis, you feel like there's not so much to do to really make an impact.'"

It's great to see young attorneys who are small-community oriented willing to move to rural areas and offer their services in a mutually beneficial way. And it looks like this will continue as "[n]early 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but the New York Times says just 2 percent of small law practices are in those areas. Those still practicing law in small towns are often nearing retirement age, without anyone to take over their practices."

Friday, October 3, 2014

New RIPS Blog Post - Researching Across the Law School Curriculum

Please check out my new blog post on the Research, Instruction, & Patron Services (RIPS) Blog about incorporating legal research instruction across the law school curriculum.

Libraries Lend The Internet

NPR reported on a cool new alternative lending service available at some public libraries. "The public library systems in New York and Chicago won funding from the Knight Foundation to experiment with the idea of hot-spot lending. Both say they hope the move will help them expand Internet access among low-income families."

As the New York Public Library's pitch reads, "'[b]ecause many Americans find themselves unable to afford quality Internet at home, they are caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.' This chasm presents an obstacle to participation in America's $8 trillion digital economy and deprives the Internet of contributions from these individuals."

With so many people unable to afford Internet at home, "[g]iving patrons — particularly those who are low income — the ability to 'check out' the Internet seems a simple solution to improving Internet access across the country, particularly if the program expands beyond these two metro areas."

This is a wonderful new service for libraries to offer. It would be fairly easy to monitor hot spot devices and manage Internet access remotely, and it bring a much-needed service directly into a library patron's home.

And with that, I am headed to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to take in the fall foliage, which means I will be without Internet for a long weekend (if only I could "check out the Internet" in Michigan). I am excited for the short break and to "hit the reset button in my brain," so maybe it's not so bad to have a forced vacation from electronic activity.