Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Justia Consumer Recalls Website

Justia, the trusty regulation tracker, has just released a recalls website.

Recall Warnings contains over 50,000 consumer recalls collected from different US Government Agencies. Auto Recalls contains recall information and RSS feeds for every car make, model and year.

Product recalls are notoriously hard to find, and Justia has created this website as part of its Public Interest and Pro Bono series.

The product recalls at Justia are organized into sensible categories to find the correct product.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Study Finds Public-Service Lawyers Happiest

The ABA Journal reported on a recent study about lawyer well-being that shows "that lawyers in 'prestige' jobs, who had the highest grades and incomes, aren’t as happy as lawyers working in public-service jobs for substantially lower pay. Judges, however, were happiest of all. 'Prestige' jobs included lawyers working in firms of more than 100 lawyers and those working in areas such as corporate, tax, patent, securities, estate-planning and plaintiff’s tort law. Public-service lawyers included legal-aid lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and in-house lawyers for nonprofits."

And to reaffirm that money doesn't buy happiness, "[t]he survey of lawyers in four states found that satisfaction of psychological needs—including the need for autonomy and to feel competent and connected to others—is far more important to happiness than external rewards such as money."

Law school should take note: "The study by Florida State University law professor Lawrence Krieger and University of Missouri psychology professor Kennon Sheldon noted that law schools emphasize grades, honors and potential for high earnings, though those factors 'have nil to modest bearing on lawyer well-being.'"

Other survey findings include:

• To the surprise of the authors, reported well-being did not vary significantly with the number of hours worked in a week. A subsample of lawyers who had to report billable hours, however, experienced a small decrease in life satisfaction as billable hours increased. Taking more vacation, however, did show a modest correlation with well being.

• Married lawyers were happier than others, as were lawyers with children.

• There was “an almost meaningless correlation” between lawyer well-being and graduating from a higher-tier law school.

• Those who exercised regularly reported greater well-being than others. Practicing yoga and tai chi, however, was not related to well-being.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Lexis For Microsoft Office Enhancements

Lexis will release enhancements to Lexis for Microsoft Office, an application that provides direct access to Lexis research and citation tools and Web search tools from directly within Microsoft Word and Outlook.

As LawSites mentions, one of the new features will be integration with Lexis Search Advantage. Lexis Search Advantage "enhances search capabilities across a firm’s internal document management collection, incorporating Shepard’s Signal Indicators and embedded links to citations in a firm’s internal documents. From within Word and Outlook, users can perform a single search across internal firm content, external content in Lexis Advance, and the open Web, or narrow the search to any of those types of content."

Another great feature of version 4.9 of Lexis for Microsoft Office is the "ability to directly download into CaseMap, the Lexis case analysis litigation software. Users can choose to have documents delivered in a format compatible with CaseMap, so that they can be incorporated into case planning and assessment."

Other new features added in the past year include:
  • Link to Cites. This enables users to easily add permanent hyperlinks between citations in a document and the full text documents on Lexis Advance. If you share the document with someone else, they can click on the link and open the pinpoint citation directly in a browser. The person does not need to have Lexis for Microsoft Office, but would need a Lexis Advance subscription.
  • Validate All Quotes. This finds all the quotations within your document and checks their accuracy against the original documents on Lexis Advance. See your document and the original side-by-side, with errors in your document highlighted in red. With a click, you can replace the misquoted text with the correct source text.
  • Email Suggestions for Review. Users can email suggested corrections of quotes and citations from a document to colleagues via Outlook. Details of the suggestions are included within each email.
  • Prepare Table of Authorities. With a single click, create a table of authorities or update it after you’ve made further edits. There are a number of options for formatting the TOA’s styles, fonts and headings.
With the new enhancements, Lexis for Microsoft Office continues to be a great tool for both academics and practitioners. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Accredited Online JD Programs Coming Soon?

Unaccredited-online JD programs have existed for years, but the ABA recently took an unprecedented approach to accreditation when it decided to approve William Mitchell College of Law's hybrid online program.

As CNBC reports, "[i]n January, 85 students from 31 states and two countries began taking classes in the first-of-its-kind hybrid program, according to the William Mitchell College of Law." This approach is unique in that "'[e]very class is half online and half in person,' said law professor Greg Duhl, the hybrid J.D. program's director."

This creates much more flexibility than what was previously allowed under the ABA Rules for Accreditation. Before only 12 credits could be taken via online or distance education. But with this new accreditation, it appears that as long as 50% of any given class is in-person, then it will comport with ABA Rules.

"Like many online MBA programs, tuition for the William Mitchell College of Law's hybrid version costs the same as the traditional program. In this case, the price tag is still a whopping $27,770 a year. Still, there is one striking benefit for many who choose the hybrid option: Students don't have to quit their jobs or uproot their families. That is where the savings come from."

It will be interesting to see if law schools will continue to push the boundaries of online legal education until the ABA eventually accredits an all-online JD program.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Leveraging Library Data

Libraries keep a lot of data. As David Weinberger, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, notes, libraries should leverage this data to create search applications that include context to evaluate sources.

But privacy concerns and the lack of interoperability of the data makes leveraging the data across libraries a challenge.

By leveraging the data, "[l]ibrary search engines [can] be tuned to what ... is relevant to the community. Researchers could explore usage patterns over time and across disciplines, schools, geographies, and economies. Libraries could be guided in their acquisitions by what they’ve learned from the behavior of communities around the corner and around the globe."

As Weinberger notes, "[t]here are many types of relevant data: Check-ins. Usage broken down by class of patron (faculty? grad student? undergrad?). Renewals. Number of copies in the collection. Whether an item has been put on reserve for a course. Inclusion in a librarian-created guide. Ratings by users on the library’s website. Early call-backs from loans. Citations. Being listed on a syllabus. Being added to a user-created list."

To this end, Weinberger promotes the use of a stackscore to bring all of the data together. "Any library that would like to make its usage data public is encouraged to create a 'stackscore' for each item in its collection. A stackscore is a number from 1 to 100 that represents how relevant an item is to the library’s patrons as measured by how they’ve used it." Each library would be responsible for creating a methodology for computing a stackscore, and "[i]n the interest of transparency, libraries should publish their formulae, but they are not beholden to any other library’s idea of relevance."

And the Harvard Innovation Lab is a great example of leveraging library data to browse Harvard Library's 13 million items. HIL uses a system called StackLife, which "always shows items in a context of other items [displayed] as spines on a shelf. [HIL] use stackscore to 'heat map' each work: the deeper the blue, the higher the stackscore. And [they] generally sort the shelves in stackscore order." When a user is browsing "an unfamiliar area, being guided by a metric of community relevance often turns out to be extraordinarily helpful."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Beware The Knowledge Bubble

NPR recently reported on a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General that shows that "[s]earching for answers online gives people an inflated sense of their own knowledge. It makes people think they know more than they actually do."

The researcher, "Fisher, began with a simple survey: he asked questions such as 'How does a zipper work?' or 'Why are there leap years?' He allowed just half of his subjects to use the Internet to answer the questions. People who had been allowed to search online tended to rate their knowledge higher than people who answered without any outside sources."

"To reveal factors that might explain why the Internet group rated their knowledge higher, [Fisher] designed follow-up experiments using different groups of people. First, he asked people to rate their knowledge before the test; there was no difference between subjects' ratings. But afterwards, the Internet-enabled subjects again rated their knowledge better than the others."

Fisher continued to design a slew of follow-up experiments to test the phenomena. But "[t]he results kept coming back the same: searching online led to knowledge inflation."

As for why this happens, Fisher notes that "[t]he more we rely on the Internet, the harder it will be to draw a line between where our knowledge ends and the web begins. And unlike poring through books or debating peers, asking the Internet is unique because it's so effortless. 'We are not forced to face our own ignorance and ask for help; we can just look up the answer immediately,' Fisher writes in an email. 'We think these features make it more likely for people to consider knowledge stored online as their own.'"

This study is highly interesting in the way that our psyches somehow acquires Internet knowledge without previously knowing the answer to a given search. And it's definitely something I will keep in mind before I become an insufferable know-it-all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Legal Industry Sees Improvement

The NYTimes recently posted an article from a law professor at UC-Berkeley noting that the legal industry is seeing improvement, which is good news for law schools and recent graduates.

One of the factors that will help law students is that "[t]he smaller classes will begin graduating this year and continue to shrink through 2018. Fewer lawyers are likely to mean better first-job numbers, assuming the employment market does not keep declining."

And according to the article, "several new studies ... point to signs of vigorous life in the legal job market, at least toward the higher end. The top global law firms ranked in the annual AmLaw 100 survey experienced a 4.3 percent increase in revenue in 2013 and a 5.4 percent increase in profit.
At the top law schools, things are returning to the years before the financial crisis. Last year, 93.2 percent of the 645 students of the Georgetown Law class of 2013 were employed. Sixty percent of the 2013 graduates were in the private sector with a median starting salary of $160,000."

Additionally "[a] new study provides a compelling reason to be optimistic about a career in law. Two professors, Frank McIntyre and Michael Simkovic, recently released a study of lawyer salaries from 1984 to 2013 with the goal of seeing whether students who graduated in a down economy suffered long-term negative effects. In another paper, the two authors found that such acceleration in compensation results in a premium of $1 million for lawyers over their lifetime compared with those who did not go to law school. Another study released last fall by the American Bar Foundation supports the authors’ findings. The foundation’s After the JD project surveyed lawyers who passed the bar in 2000 to assess their career trajectory 10 years after graduation. The foundation found that as of 2012, lawyers had high levels of job satisfaction and employment as well as high salaries. Even graduates with low grades from low-ranked law schools had median incomes in the $85,000 to $95,000 range. This follows the fact that law firm salaries have risen by more than inflation since 1995, according to the National Association for Law Placement."

As the article notes, "there will [continue] to be disruptions [in the legal field], but [it] is likely to be a case of lawyers shifting from law firms to corporate departments and compliance becoming its own industry. Solo practice, meanwhile, will become more difficult because of automation. Again, these changes are likely to hit students at lower-tier schools harder than those graduating from the top schools."

So good and bad news, but's better than constant bad news all of the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Audio Files On PACER

Yesterday, I had an interesting research request from a faculty who needed access to audio recordings of hearings from PACER (or Bloomberg Law, for that matter). 

When I went searching for the audio files, I could find them in the docket and download the PDF file, but I could not figure out how the audio was attached to the PDF file to actually listen to the audio. 

A simple Google search for "listen to audio from PACER" turned up a handy guide from the United States Bankruptcy Court - District of New Jersey that explains exactly how to listen to the audio files attached to the PDF files in the dockets. 

Essentially, you open the file in Adobe and click on the paperclip icon on the left-hand side of the document. Once you click on the paperclip, you can see the audio-file attachment. Once you click on the audio-file attachment, your media player should open, and you should hear the audio file. Voila!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Remember The Search Tips For Any Database

This morning I instructed on free or low cost legal-research databases. Databases like Casemaker, Fastcase, Google Scholar, Loislaw, and VersusLaw to name a few. When doing this type of instruction, I always try to reiterate to the students that each of the databases have nuanced search functionality, and the students should always look at the search tips from the respective database to maximize searching.

Most of the databases allow for boolean searching, but it may not be the same type of boolean searching that you can do on WEXBERG. The search tips will generally tell you which proximity connectors to use in the particular database.

Also, most databases provide a comprehensive user guide:
In addition to user guides, most of the databases also provide blogs or websites offering search tips:
Because many state bars provide Casemaker to their members, there are quite a few research guides from the various state bars providing tips on using Casemaker. One must simply Google "Casemaker research tips" to find more information.

Monday, March 30, 2015

RIPS Blog Post - The Importance of Legal Research Skills for Practice

Check out my latest post on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog discussing the importance of legal research skills for practice.

Powerful Teaching

Law librarians generally spend a lot of time in front of classes instructing on legal research. To that end, we have to be jacks of all trades paying attention to our teaching styles.

1. Personality:  Great teachers tend to be good-natured and approachable, as opposed to sour or foreboding; professional without being aloof; funny (even if they’re not stand-up comedians), perhaps because they don’t take themselves or their subject matter too seriously; demanding without being unkind; comfortable in their own skin (without being in love with the sound of their own voices); natural (they make teaching look easy even though we all know it isn’t); and tremendously creative, and always willing to entertain new ideas or try new things, sometimes even on the fly.

2. Presence:  The best teachers, as Lang concluded, are always "present" — fully in the moment, connecting with both their subject matter and their students.

3. Preparation: To be a powerful teacher you must go into every single class meeting as prepared as you can be, given the time you have. That means more than just reviewing your notes or PowerPoint slides. It involves constantly reassessing what you do in the classroom, abandoning those strategies that haven’t proved effective, or are just outdated, and trying new ones. It means being so familiar with your subject matter that you can talk about it off the cuff.

4. Passion: Passion, or love, manifests itself in the classroom in two ways: love for students and love for your subject matter.

As noted in the article, these four properties are always a work in progress. It may be hard to work on your personality (it can be done!), but presence and preparation are undoubted areas where you can continue to build your skill set. Passion may ebb and flow over the course of a career, but it's important to try and keep it up and express it to your students.