Friday, May 31, 2013

Roving Reference

The new trend in libraries these days is to tear out the reference desk and make way for information stations suitable for roving reference. "Roving Reference is reference conducted outside of the reference desk. The idea here is to remove barriers between staff and patrons, and to lend assistance where patrons need it rather than having them come to a desk."

The Stanford University undergraduate library sponsors information stations throughout campus as outreach. "This Fountains of Information service is a pilot roaming reference service that began during the spring quarter. The roaming reference librarian will be outside of Green Library, Monday through Friday (weather permitting), in the vicinity of the red fountain, equipped with a laptop or iPad to answer questions."

When asked about the success of roving reference on the ALA Think Tank Facebook page, various librarians responded with:

"Roving is very important - not only does it improve customer service, it helps you stay on top of potential problems by showing that you're active on the floor - you can keep an eye on troublemakers and potentially prevent security issues. I personally ask anyone in Nonfiction or Reference once if there's anything I can help them with, and even if there isn't, they know that I'm available the next time I come around. I don't usually ask patrons in fiction, since they're usually browsing, unless they look lost."

"We started roving in 2011. We tore out our old reference desk and placed a station near our Circulation desk. Every 30 minutes or so we ask our staff to rove. We've seen a nice jump in our reference statistics and it's remained consistent. Our crew has an area they rove through with an iPad and if they see someone they just ask "are you finding everything okay?". When you compare this to how often our Pages are asked questions out in the stacks it becomes clear that this move was the right one."

I like the idea of roving reference as a way to let patrons know that the librarians are willing help. Some patrons are too intimidated to ask questions. Others want to try and research on their own, but with roving reference, they can easily ask for assistance when they are stuck. It is also useful to have an iPad in hand in the stacks to perform a query. There is no need to stay planted in a seat at the reference desk. It's nice to see that roving reference has been successful in other libraries because, as a librarian, I would be concerned with bothering people. It is analogous to walking into a store and having every clerk come and ask if they can help you with something. Sometimes I just want to browse and not feel like they are hovering over me.

I wonder if setting up a reference station in other parts of campus is truly helpful. While the idea seems great, I feel like many students would be too busy on their way to and from class to stop and have a meaningful reference transaction. I suppose the only way to find out is to try.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Let's Get Patrons Into The Library

Libraries are always trying to find innovative ways to reach a wider patron base. We want people to come and use our resources and find value in our mission, but that isn't always easy -- especially at a law library.

Our main patron base of law students, faculty, and staff are very busy people. With so many responsibilities and demands on their time, many of our patrons don't have time to venture outside of the material required to get an A in a class or go outside of their area of expertise. So how do we attract our current patrons to use our vast resources, as well as attract more patrons?

A few law libraries have started to look for innovative ways to attract users by circulating unusual items that are generally not in a law library collection. For example, in 2011 Yale started "circulating a [therapy] dog as part of its collection during periods of high stress, such as the weeks leading up to exams or bar finals."

"In addition to his stress-reducing abilities, [the therapy dog] represented a statement of intent by the library: that it was serious about meeting the interests and needs of its users. The provision of a therapy dog was seen as a natural extension of the library’s innovative and positive approach to its patrons, and created another avenue for the library to interact directly with students and cultivate face time."

Other examples of innovative circulation items that patrons can borrow are "bicycles, soccer balls, soccer goals, phone chargers, umbrellas, iPads, e-readers, cameras, popular fiction, in addition of course to the expected print legal materials. DVD and audio book collections have also become increasing popular and sought after."

These are all great services to add to a library collection to show patrons that the library cares about their well-being. If patrons feel like the library is a comfortable place that supports them, they will be more likely to use the space.

At my institution, we stopped purchasing textbooks for elective courses because textbooks do not add value to the collection when looking from a strict collection development perspective. But textbooks do get patrons into the library, so we may need to revisit this decision.

Greenbag -- Not Your Parents' Law Library: A Tale of Two Academic Law Libraries

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court Scandals

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway was sentenced yesterday for a bank-fraud scheme. She used her legal and real estate expertise to conceal assets while she was pleading with a bank for a sale on her underwater home in Grosse Pointe Park.

Hathaway's attorney, Steve Fishman, argued that she has suffered enough after losing her job as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, her law license, and her real estate license. Fishman remarked to the judge, "Hathaway’s name and reputation have a permanent stain. Is that enough? I say it’s enough."

But the judge in the case did not think it was enough and sentenced her to 366 days in prison where she will likely serve 9-10 months with credit for good behavior.

Although the bank-fraud scheme was not connected with her position as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, it doesn't bode well for the reputation of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Hathaway's scandal couldn't have come at a worse time for the Court as former Chief Justice Elizabeth Weaver recently released a scathing book called Judicial Deceit on the inside dealings of the Michigan Supreme Court.

In the book, Weaver argues for an overhaul of the election process for justices, and she might just get her way if popular opinion of the Court is tainted.

Lansing State Journal -- Disgraced ex-Michigan judge Diane Hathaway sentenced to 1 year in prison 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Not-so-happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright

This year marks 50 years since the landmark Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, was decided. Gideon v. Wainwright set the standard "that anyone too poor to hire a lawyer must be provided one free in any criminal case involving a felony charge."

This set a wide-reaching mandate for both federal and states courts, but states cannot keep up. "While the constitutional commitment is generally met in federal courts, it is a different story in state courts, which handle about 95 percent of America’s criminal cases. This matters because, by well-informed estimates, at least 80 percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for lawyers and have to depend on court-appointed counsel."

After Gideon was decided, Florida established a public defender office that was a shining model for the rest of the country, but demand has outpaced financing as "caseloads for Miami defenders have grown to 500 felonies a year, though the American Bar Association guidelines say caseloads should not exceed 150 felonies."

Last Thursday, "[t]he Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Miami-Dade County public defender’s office could withdraw from a large chunk of felony cases because of excessive workloads." It seems that the Florida courts have realized that these excessive workloads mean inadequate defense as "[a]ttorneys are routinely unable to interview clients, conduct investigations, take depositions, prepare mitigation, or counsel clients about pleas offered at arraignment. Instead, the office engages in ’triage’ with the clients who are in custody or who face the most serious charges getting priority to the detriment of the other clients."

There is a similar problem across the country as more indigent individuals need court-appointed representation, but the funding for indigent defense has not kept pace with demand. This at a time when the Michigan legislature is set to vote on new standards for effective counsel without offering any financial help to revamp the system. There is a constitutional right to indigent defense, but without proper financing, at this point, the best we can hope for is ineffective assistance unless more attorneys are willing to do these cases pro bono.

NYTimes -- The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered at 50

ABAJournal -- Public defenders can reject cases because of excessive workloads, state supreme court rules

Friday, May 24, 2013

Law School Grades -- Only B- Or Better?

A professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is promoting grade inflation in his forthcoming article.

Professor Joshua Silverstein says that "U.S. law schools should set their required grade point average for good academic standing at the B- level, giving C grades only for unsatisfactory performance."

He notes that "many law schools ranked in the top tier by U.S. News have essentially eliminated the use of C grades, while fourth-tier schools award large numbers of Cs, often under policies that encourage or require it."

Finally, someone is actually verbalizing what has become common place in the legal academe. With the higher-ranked schools eliminating the C grade and the lower-ranked schools still awarding C's (or lower), the students at the lower-ranked school's suffer disproportionately.

The graduates of the higher-ranked schools will generally have an easier time finding employment anyway, now couple that with a higher gpa, and the students at the lower-ranked schools are all but doomed.

"[L]ow grades damage students’ placement prospects,” Silverstein writes. “Employers frequently consider a job candidate’s absolute GPA in making hiring decisions. If a school systematically assigns inferior grades, its students are at an unfair disadvantage when competing for employment with students from institutions that award mostly As and Bs."

This issue has received press in the last few years with administrators at Loyola Law School Los Angeles retroactively inflating grades in 2010. "The school retroactively inflated its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market."

ABA Journal -- Law schools should mostly ditch C grades, law prof argues


Thursday, May 23, 2013

MOOCs, Legal Education, & What It Means For Law Librarians

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are all the rage these days. Companies like edX, Udacity, and Coursera are offering free (for now) classes online that are taught by one professor (generally from a prestigious university) and have huge enrollment numbers. Many MOOC students take the classes for knowledge and the free certificate that comes with completion. And some universities are even starting to accept MOOC credits toward degree completion.

It definitely seems that MOOCs are here to stay, and there could be major ramifications to come. Take law school instruction, for example. At the height of the law school boom, you might have one professor lecturing in front of 100 students in a first year class. What if that one professor could be broadcast to all of the first year law school classes across the United States?

This would obviously presuppose a huge shift in ABA requirements, but, hypothetically, it could be done. "In legal education, we have the ABA limitations that apply to online instruction.  The ABA allows a law school graduate to have taken no more than 12 credits in online courses, and none of those during the first year.  I suspect when we as legal educators become facile with teaching online, and use best practices in online pedagogical design, that restraint will be relaxed."

This could change the entire landscape of legal education. It has the potential to substantially lower the cost of legal education. And law schools would also need fewer rank-and-file professors. So it makes sense that many legal educators are reacting with fear. But law school education doesn't have to be all or nothing. Legal educators could embrace the new wave of online education now by creating hybrid classes with online and in-class components, which work remarkably well. This would ensure that when the time comes, law schools are prepared for any changes and can stay ahead of embracing the (potential) future of legal education.

So what does this mean for law librarians? Online courses -- whether MOOCs or not -- need librarian support for things like clearing copyrighted content, supporting production, supporting faculty and students, and preservation. Law librarians need to continue to promote their services and update their skills to keep pace. Even though my institution does not require the librarians to create online instruction, I have a colleague who purchased Captivate and is teaching it to herself. She is smart to do so, and it definitely has me thinking about ways to keep my skills up to date and how to advance with technological changes that seem inevitable.  Also, some law librarian job postings are now asking for examples of librarian-created online instruction.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Courts Use Urban Dictionary To Define Slang

Courts are using Urban Dictionary in court opinions to define slang terms.

The definition of a single word can turn a case, and courts are often stumped with slang. "Slang has always been a challenge for the courts in cases that involve vulgar or insulting language. Conventional dictionaries lag the spoken word by design. That has lawyers and judges turning to a more fluid source of definitions: Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced collection of slang words on the Internet."

As noted, traditional dictionaries are often behind when it comes to slang terms. "It can take years for slang terms to be included in traditional dictionaries, whose editors want to be certain that the words have staying power. By contrast, some new words rush into Urban Dictionary in less than a day. As a result, the site has cropped up in dozens of court cases in recent years."

In fact, "[i]n the last year alone, [Urban Dictionary] was used by courts to define iron (“handgun”); catfishing (“the phenomenon of Internet predators that fabricate online identities”); dap (“the knocking of fists together as a greeting, or form of respect”); and grenade (“the solitary ugly girl always found with a group of hotties”)."

We're starting to see more of a reliance on Wikipedia and other crowdsourced sites. So much so that "St. John’s University in Queens published an article that tried to create standardized rules for the most appropriate uses of crowdsourced Web sites."

Critics call these resources the lazy-man's resource, but often, these types of resources are the only authority available. I've used Urban Dictionary enough to know how useful it can be when dealing with popular slang, but it is important to realize that it is just one interpretation. Urban Dictionary can be used as one authority, but courts should refer to many authorities before settling on the definition of a word that is important to a particular issue. 


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

February 2013 Michigan Bar Exam Results


From the State Bar of Michigan's blog: February 2013 Michigan Bar Examination Passage Statistics

From the Board of Law Examiners, here's a PDF of the statistics, summarized below:

Passage Rate

All Takers: 58% (last year's February passage rate was 59%)

First-time Takers: 65%

Retakers: 48%

By Law School

Thomas M. Cooley

All Takers: 55%

First-time Takers: 61%

Retakers: 42%

Michigan State University

All Takers: 60%

First-time Takers: 71%

Retakers: 55%

University of Detroit Mercy

All Takers: 49%

First-time Takers: 59%

Retakers: 45%

University of Michigan

All Takers: 82%

First-time Takers: 87%

Retakers: 71%

Wayne State University

All Takers: 63%

First-time Takers: 90%

Retakers: 50%

University of Toledo

All Takers: 69%

First-time Takers: 67%

Retakers: 75%

Other Law Schools

All Takers: 68%

First-time Takers: 76%

Retakers: 58%

For information on how Michigan compared to other states for 2012 passage rates, see another recent post from SBM's blog:

The March edition of Bar Examiner, a publication of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, has charts on the 2012 bar passage rates in the 50 states and District of Columbia (and U.S. territories).  Here's a PDF with Michigan's statistics highlighted. Bottom line, Michigan's July 2012 passage rate of 57% was the nation's fourth lowest, behind Wyoming (51%), District of Columbia (53%), and California (55%).  If you look only at the takers from accredited law schools, however, only Wyoming's passage rate is lower than Michigan's. Take a look at the 10-year summary while you're at it.

It looks like Michigan is still on a quest to become the hardest bar exam in the country...


Monday, May 20, 2013

Publishers Sue Librarian Bloggers

The news has been aflutter recently with reports of librarians being sued over their blog posts.

First, it was Edwin Mellen press suing a university librarian who was critical of the publisher in a blog post. Edwin Mellen sued Dale Askey, a librarian at McMaster University, seeking more than $3-million in damages for a post where "Askey referred to the publisher as 'dubious' and said its books were of 'second-class scholarship.'"

The lawsuit prompted a public outcry where "critics have called the lawsuit an attack on academic freedom." After intense public pressure, Edwin Mellen decided to drop the suit.

Now there is a lawsuit brewing against Jeffrey Beall, a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver. Beall is "known online for his popular blog Scholarly Open Access, where he maintains a running list of open-access journals and publishers he deems questionable or predatory. The list now features more than 250 publishers that he considers to be 'potential, possible, or probable predatory' companies, which take advantage of academics desperate to get their work published."

One of the publishers on the list intends to sue Beall for $1-billion in damages. "The publisher, the OMICS Publishing Group, based in India, is also warning that Mr. Beall could be imprisoned for up to three years under India's Information Technology Act, according to a letter from the group's lawyer."

The funny part of these lawsuits is the amount of damages that the publishers are suing for. Who in their right mind thinks that a librarian could come up with that kind of money?!?

But the lawsuits do raise interesting questions about blogs and the defamation suits that may arise over a blogger's opinion. While opinions should be protected, there is still the problem with having to defend a lawsuit.

There is also the issue with foreign jurisdictions. Jeffrey Beall could be found in violation of Indian law and sentenced to a jail term in India for doing something that is not against the law in the United States.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Scholarly Article Publishing Strategies

You have written a scholarly article, now what?

Now it's time to get published, and you need a publishing strategy.

First, you should upload your article as a working paper to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). This is free and is keyed into Google search results. Many preemption checks require would-be authors to search SSRN for working papers on their topic, so uploading to SSRN lets others know that your article exists and will (hopefully) be published soon. Additionally, SSRN tallies article downloads, so if your article is downloaded many times on SSRN, you could use that information in your cover letter to a law review or journal as a reason why the journal should publish your article.

Next, you should start an ExpressO account and Scholastica account. ExpressO & Scholastica are electronic database that most law reviews and journals use to receive article submissions. They are propriety databases (i.e., for cost), but, if you are a student, you can sign up and receive one free submission. In addition to your article, you will need a cover letter, an updated CV, and an abstract. Each of these items can make a difference when trying to get published.

You might decide to submit to a variety of law reviews or journals -- both general interest and special interest. All of the 200+ law schools in the U.S. have a flagship law review that is considered general interest, but there are many more special interest journals that focus on a particular area of law. Many authors decide where to submit based on the rank of the journal, and Washington & Lee maintains a well regarded law journal rankings database. If you do receive an offer to publish, you could use that offer to negotiate with a higher-ranked journal and ask for an expedited review.

The optimal submission season for most law reviews & journals is mid-August through Labor Day, as most schools are out for the summer, so they will not start reading submissions until this time. If you decide to submit later, you might find that the law review or journal has already filled their issues for the year, or the journal may have chosen an article with a topic similar to yours, and you may get rejected.

Above all, do not fear rejection. There are a variety of reasons why a law review or journal might pass on publishing your article -- many that are outside of your control. But don't give up. If you have an article that is logically strong and formatted properly (including citations), my mantra is "(s)he who works the hardest at getting published will get published."

For more Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews & Journals, see this annually updated document by Allen Rostron & Nancy Levit. This document contains information about submitting articles to law reviews and journals, including the methods for submitting an article, any special formatting requirements, how to contact them to request an expedited review, and how to contact them to withdraw an article from consideration. It covers 203 law reviews. The document was updated in July 2016.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

To Buy Or Not To Buy, That Is The Question.

Today I struggle with the question of whether to continue purchasing an expensive periodical or rely on the electronic version that is available on WestlawNext.

This issue comes up frequently enough -- should we continue to buy the more stable print format, or should we rely on the access that we have through our other online subscriptions (like Lexis & Westlaw)? I find that a lot of the print periodicals have duplicative coverage on one or both of the major databases.

The particular print periodical in question had a price increase of 19% from 2012 to 2013. It went from nearly $2100 per year to $2400 per year. It's a great resource, in theory, but it is not widely used in print.

The problem with relying on the online databases for access is that material comes and goes so frequently. The resource could be available one day, and then with no prior notice, there may be a dispute with the licensing agreement, and the resource is pulled from the database. Or, more recently, many print publishing houses have closed or been sold, so the availability of the material is in flux.

In addition, there are issues with library archiving. To date, the print version is still the most stable version. If a library buys in print, the library always owns the material and can archive the material as the library sees fit. If a library signs a licensing agreement with a database, generally, that database will have a substantial archive of past issues. But as soon as the library decides to end its subscription to the database, there goes the archive along with it. Most database licensing agreements give the right to access information, but these licensing agreements, generally, do not give full ownership rights of the material.

Electronic access and licensing agreement issues are still in transition. We are all trying to understand the implications and what it means for collection development. In the present case, I will recommend that we cancel the expensive print periodical in favor of electronic access on WestlawNext because the print periodical is not widely used by our patron base. This will free up more money to buy monographs that are not available electronically.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Scholarly Article: Preemption Check

So you've chosen a topic for a scholarly article, now what?

Now it's time for the preemption check to determine if anyone has already written on your topic. A thorough preemption check allows you to proceed with confidence that you are analyzing a novel issue and ups your chances for publication.

You should perform a preemption check after you have chosen a potential topic but before you begin your actual research -- keep in mind that the preemption check, itself, is often a good start to research.

The main piece of advice for conducting a preemption check is to search many different databases because the various databases often cover different content. This ensures that you are doing a thorough check.

Databases to search for your topic/issue:
1. A full-text law reviews and journals database on Westlaw & Lexis
2. The Hein Online Law Journal Library
3. Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP)
4. LegalTrac
5. Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals for international or foreign legal topics
6. JSTOR, ProQuest, or Google Scholar for multidisciplinary articles
*7. SSRN or Bepress Legal Depository for working papers on your topic

*There is not a consensus among legal scholars or law reviews & journals whether working papers need to be considered in a preemption check. In my opinion, they do.

Generally, searching all of these databases for your issue will be sufficient to find similar articles. When searching, if you find that the topic has been covered, it may be preempted, and you may have to tweak your topic to analyze the issue in a new light. Or you may need to find another topic altogether. These issues depend on the specific articles that you find during your preemption check.

If you find that there is an article out there that discusses your topic, but it is old and/or there has been substantial change in the area, you may not be preempted because you could update the issue. But if you find a large number of articles analyzing your topic from many different angles, it may be hard to convince a journal that your article is worth publishing. A journal may think that the topic has been overdone and pass on publication.

There are many resources available on the Internet to guide you through a proper preemption check. Just do a simple Google search to find more information.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pew Internet & American Life Project: Libraries

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is an amazing resource that tracks trends in Internet use and its affect on society.

From the mission: "The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit 'fact tank' that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives."

An offshoot of Pew Internet & American Life is an arm focused solely on libraries. Pew researches how society uses libraries, including how the Internet has impacted library use.

In January 2013, Pew released a report that found "in a new survey of Americans’ attitudes and expectations for public libraries... many library patrons are eager to see libraries’ digital services expand, yet also feel that print books remain important in the digital age."

In addition, "[t]he availability of free computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as a vital service of libraries. In a national survey of Americans ages 16 and older:

  • 80% of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
  • 80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
  • 77% say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries."

Personally, I am elated to see that the public still views reference librarians as a very important service of libraries. The Pew project is wonderful, open access research for all libraries to evaluate services based on American public opinion and use statistics, as well as how the digital age continues to influence libraries.

Pew Internet & American Life: Library Services in the Digital Age

Monday, May 13, 2013

Librarian Research Recognition

I ran across a peculiar situation recently where a man called the reference desk at my institution and asked for a few pages of scanned microfiche. I graciously replied and sent him the pages. About six months later, I received an email from him informing me that he had thanked me in his book for my assistance.

At first, I was delighted that he would think to thank me in his book, but as I thought about it more, I couldn't help but feel that I hadn't done much for this man. I was just fulfilling a research request like any other librarian who would have answered the reference desk phone. It wasn't as if I had done major, in depth research on his topic. I just sent him a few pages of scanned microfiche.

The pages of scanned microfiche that I sent him were hugely important to the development of his story, so I believe that he had placed unnecessary importance on my contribution. It wasn't the research that I did that was worthy of a "thank you" in print, it was the substance of the scanned microfiche that had him so excited.

After contemplating the situation, I called and asked the man not to thank me in his book. I didn't deserve special recognition.

But when is it okay to accept research attribution in a book or other work?

I haven't seen much written on this topic, and I haven't seen any guidelines published. It seems that it is left up to the librarian to decide when to accept recognition.

I recently read a comments thread on ALA ThinkTank's Facebook page about a librarian who was excited to be recognized for research, and she asked the group for advice about putting the recognition on her CV. Some librarian commenters told her she could and should, others said she should not put it on her CV -- that research recognition should remain as additional information in her cover letter, if at all.

At this point, I feel like I am creating my own personal guidelines for this type of recognition. I have no problem with receiving individualized recognition for substantial research that I do to aid law school faculty in their publication efforts. However, I will not accept recognition for the situation I referenced above -- basically just a document delivery request.

So the questions become, do I ask the author to attribute the resources at my institution's library instead of thanking me individually for help? Or do I tell the author that there is no need to thank anyone -- it's just a librarian doing her job? I'll continue to ponder this, no doubt.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Study Shows Student Debt Hurts Economy

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report this week outlining the effects of private student loan debt on the economy.

Congress realizes that student loans are more of a strain on society than ever, and Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to analyze student loans and make recommendations to policymakers. "The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established a student loan ombudsman within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to focus on student loans. Pursuant to the Act, the ombudsman shall conduct analysis on input from borrowers, prepare an annual report, and make appropriate recommendations to policymakers, including the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Education."

The report solicited feedback in a number of areas, including

  • How student loan burdens might impact the broader economy; 
  • How distressed borrowers manage their student loan obligations; 
  • What options currently exist for borrowers to lower their monthly payments on student loans; 
  • Examples of successful alternate repayment programs in other markets and which features could apply to the market for private student loans; and 
  • The most effective mechanisms for communicating with distressed borrowers.

The report notes that "[w]ith collective student-loan debt now totaling more than $1-trillion and far outpacing wage growth for college graduates, borrowers are less likely to take financial risks that would normally help fuel economic growth." This includes consumer spending, buying a house, or marrying because of the financial implications of student debt.

This information is common knowledge these days, but, I have to say, it's refreshing to see this type of report and that policymakers are paying attention to the concerns of the people. For real reform, the main thing that needs to be considered is the cost of tuition at all levels of higher education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education -- Rising Student-Loan Debt Hinders Spending and Hurts the Economy, Reports says


Thursday, May 9, 2013

SALT's Law Faculty Salaries 2012-13

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) has released the results of its 2012-3013 Salary Survey, reporting the median faculty salaries and summer stipends at 68 of the 200 American law schools -- most law schools did not respond.

For those schools that did respond to the survey, the salaries range from the 120,000's to the 180,000's for full-tenured professors. Most also get a summer stipend.

Not too shabby! Although, it would be interesting to also see teaching loads and/or publications listed along with salary to get the full picture of what this salary covers. The teaching loads are likely internal information, so the law schools would have to comply with another request -- one that feels a bit like an investigation.

Tax Prof Blog - Law Faculty Salaries, 2012-13

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tamanaha Attacks 'Liberal' Law Faculty

Law faculty were once the less-paid counterparts in the legal world. They found a higher calling to teach and  made the trade off for quality of life over the higher salary and longer hours of private practice.

Well, at least that used to be the case. With the faltering of the legal economy, most law professors, today, make more than many lawyers entering private practice. Brian Tamanaha, a Washington University at St. Louis law professor and author of the book Failing Law Schools, is calling out law faculty for their contribution to the law school crisis.

In a forthcoming essay, Tamanaha notes that “[t]uition increases meant yearly salary raises, research budgets to buy books and laptops, additional time off from teaching to write (or to do whatever we like), traveling to conferences domestically and abroad, rooms in fine hotels, and dining out with old friends. A sweet ride it has been.” All at a time when the average tuition of law schools has exploded. "In 2001, average tuition at private law schools was $22,961, he writes. A decade later, it was $39,184. When fees and living expenses are taken into account, the cost of obtaining a law degree can exceed $200,000."

Tamanaha does make a few good points about the class implications of rising tuition and places the blame, at least partially, on the shoulders of 'progressive' law faculty. "The pricing structure of legal education has profound class implications. High tuition will inhibit people from middle-class and poor families more than it will deter the offspring of the rich with ample resources. Law school scholarship policies … in effect channel students with financial means to higher ranked law schools, reaping better opportunities, while sending students without money to lower law schools [where they qualify for better aid packages]. A growing proportion of elite legal positions will be held by people from wealthy backgrounds as a result. … Yet as law school tuition rose to its current extraordinary heights, progressive law professors did nothing to resist it.”

Maybe it is time for law faculty to take a good, long look at their contribution to this mess.  It's clear that the law school pricing structure needs to change to give law students/graduates a fighting chance. Whether I agree with Tamanaha's assertions or not, he sure knows how to get people talking. 

An Internet World

There's a lot going on in Internet land.

It is well established that the United States is mediocre in its broadband service. "[M]ost Americans are still stuck in the Internet slow lane, far from the frontier of our possibilities. And the main roadblock remains much the same as it has been for years: a lack of competition." But Google has a new project called Google fiber that they hope will start to bridge the gap and drive a competitive market. "Shortly after Google’s fiber started operating in Kansas City, Time Warner increased speeds across the city, offering its first 100 Mbps service in the country. After Google said last month it would build a 1 Gbps network in Austin, AT&T said it would build one too."

It's great that the United States will have access to higher-speed Internet access to keep pace with places like South Korea, Japan, and Switzerland. The Internet has had such a huge impact on society since its inception (happy 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web). But this greater access may now come at a price.

The FBI is weighing a sweeping overhaul of wiretap laws because it says that the current wiretap laws are antiquated in light of new technology. "The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders." Opponents of an overhaul say that "the F.B.I.’s proposal would render Internet communications less secure and more vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves." Proponents of an overhaul say that "[t]his doesn’t create any new legal surveillance authority. This always requires a court order. None of the ‘going dark’ solutions would do anything except update the law given means of modern communications."

So we win some (greater access), and we lose some (more surveillance).

The Internet is such a powerful communication tool, and it's a little scary that it can be controlled so easily. We are left to the will of the grid (and the government). A prime example is Syria where the Internet has played a major role in uprisings. Today, Internet services were restored in Syria "after a countrywide outage cut off the country from the rest of the world for nearly 20 hours. There had been speculation that the regime pulled the plug, possibly as a cover for military actions, but no large-scale military offensives were reported Wednesday. In the past, President Bashar Assad's government halted Internet service in selected areas during government offensives to disrupt communication among rebel fighters."

I had a recent conversation with my friends who fall in the 30-50 age group, and we were discussing the ubiquity of the Internet and the awe-inspiring fact that anyone 20 or younger does not know a time without the Internet. It's already transformed the world, and it is constantly evolving. It will be interesting to see how the law evolves to keep up with it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Michigan Legislation For Indigent Defense

In the ongoing saga to fix the indigent defense system, the Michigan State Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up bills today that would change the current system in Michigan.

Currently, individual judges give flat-rate contracts for indigent defense, which creates issues with the quality of representation (or lack thereof). "Instead of having full-time public defender offices, many counties now control costs with low-bid, flat-fee contracts in which appointed attorneys accept cases for a predetermined fee. That causes a conflict of interest between their duty to competently defend their clients and a financial self-interest to invest less time on cases to maximize profits, according to a 2008 report commissioned by the Legislature."

Under the new legislation, "lawyers’ workloads would be better controlled, and financial incentives or disincentives leading attorneys to short-change defendants 'shall be avoided.'" Additionally, the legislation "would create an independent, permanent state commission to establish standards ensuring effective counsel is given to low-income defendants. Lawyers’ ability, training and experience would have to match the nature and complexity of the case assigned, for example."

Counties are leery of the changes because they still have to pay the costs for indigent defense under the new legislation, and they fear that these changes could create an even greater cost. Note that "Michigan is among just seven states to provide no state funding for trial-level public defense services," and "83 counties spent about $75 million to $80 million in 2009 on criminal defense for the poor, ranking 44th-lowest nationally."

I agree that the current system could use an update, but creating new legislation that compels the counties to act without opening the purse strings may not be the best way. Michigan needs to bite the bullet and become one of the 43 other states that have state-level funding for indigent defense. If the State of Michigan wants a skilled attorney base to represent indigent people, they need to be willing to pay.

CBS Detroit -- Push Continues To Fix Michigan's Indigent Defense

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why Do I Need a Book When Everything is Online?

Librarians often hear questions like, "why does this library continue to buy so many books when everything is available online?"

"'When people say everything's online,' says Jerry Dupont of the Law Library Microform Consortium, 'they're woefully uninformed.' Dupont, founder of the LLMC, a nonprofit law library cooperative, estimates that of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form. That figure includes access via proprietary, commercial services like Westlaw and LexisNexis."

Even though there is still a lot of information that is only available in print, many people continue to rely solely on electronic information. Generally, researchers tend to prefer the most convenient resource (aka online). Take with this library-budget constraints, "and the pressures are creating concerns that the public will lose access to essential legal documents" that may only be found in print. 

Most law librarians see an upside to increasing public access through the use of electronic resources but are concerned about the accuracy and preservation of legal information that is born digital, as well as the potential for lost information. "[T]he concerns facing modern law libraries are incredibly complex, noting that it’s difficult to keep up with the sheer volume of legal information being generated." Additionally, “[s]o much is now represented by what’s online. The concern is that materials that are not online will disappear from history and won’t be part of our societal knowledge.” With these concerns, many libraries have started to digitize their print resources, but it is expensive, and generally moves at a slow place.

Not only are librarians asked about the need for books, we are also asked about the need for librarians, in general. Librarians still need to teach how to access information whether it is online or in print. It would seem that with all of this online information, legal research should be easier, but "in some ways it’s more complicated. Where print research relied on a linear process, the transition to Internet research often requires mastery of multiple websites with different search mechanisms. Accuracy and reliability are often hard for the novice researcher to determine."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Creative Legal Writing

It's common knowledge that most legal writing is banal. The briefs and motions need to advocate the facts and analyze those facts in light of precedent. In this setting, creative can come across as less serious, so many  legal scholars, attorneys, and judges are reluctant to let a lot of color creep in -- this is true for law review articles and legal opinions alike.

It is so unusual to see creative writing in the law that when creative articles or opinions are published, it makes the news (or it was a slow news day).  In the last year, I've seen a few news articles announcing the publication of law review articles that interweave pop culture.  These articles may appeal to a wider audience or at least make for a fun read.

One recent law review article used zombies to discuss estate tax issues.  Another used lyrics from Jay-Z's song "99 Problems" to analyze a Fourth Amendment search.

Generally, it is more widely acceptable in the legal field to be creative in scholarly writing than in other types of legal writing, but now and then a judge surprises us with an interesting opinion. Most recently, a federal judge in Texas has loaded his ruling on a case involving San Antonio strip clubs with at least 17 double entendres.

There are many instances of judges using poetry in opinions.  Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge Michael Eakin issued opinions in verse like in this excerpt from Porreco v. Porreco where the judge stated the facts in rhyme:

“A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium
When his spouse finds he’s given her a cubic zirconium
Instead of a diamond in her engagement band,
The one he said was worth twenty-one grand.
Our deceiver would claim that when his bride relied
on his claim of value, she was not justified
for she should have appraised it; and surely she could have,
but the question is whether a bride-to-be would have.”

It's fun to see these pop up. As a Scholarly Writing prof, it reminds me that scholarly articles can come in all shapes and sizes, and it's nice to be able to show the students examples from a lighter side of the law.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Shed West Era

In keeping with the electronic versus print theme, a challenge that we currently face in the law library setting is whether to maintain the vast, expensive West print material in what has been dubbed the 'Shed West Era.'

Most legal researchers today prefer electronic resources. We see this with both legal scholars and the current crop of students who can't remember a time in life without a computers. I've seen a rapid shift in the resources that legal scholars use to write law review articles.  It's gone from primarily print - to a mix of print and electronic - to primarily electronic in just a few short years (at least for my institution's law review).

In many respects, the electronic resources are superior to the print version.  A prime example is the West digests. The electronic version available on Westlaw is fairly easy to use and is up-to-date with the most current information. The books take more specialized knowledge to navigate, and the researcher is then charged with the task of updating.

So, as a collection development librarian, the question becomes, when is it okay to shed the print and rely solely on the electronic version of a resource? This is an ongoing challenge in all libraries.

My institution has five campuses spread across the country with an ABA-required core collection at each institution.  This means that we are currently maintaining five print copies of many of the same West titles when most of our teaching and access occurs through the electronic version on WestlawNext.  In my humble opinion, there is no need to have five copies in print of almost anything because we have a very strong system for resource sharing among campuses.

As I've stated before, I find it imprudent to rely solely on electronic resources because of the unstable nature of license agreements, etc..., but there is a balance. We should follow the lead of other law libraries, such as Harvard, and shed most of the West print material but not all. To be prudent, we should maintain one print copy because it continues to be the most stable format and share that print copy among the campuses while relying on WestlawNext for popular access.

Law Librarian Blog -- Digital-Only: The Shed West Era Has Been Officially Institutionalized in the Legal Academy

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Libraries, The Great Recession & Ebooks

Today is a wonderful day for public libraries nationwide.  The Big Six in publishing -- HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Hachette, and MacMillan -- have decided to let public libraries in on the ebook game. "[U]ntil very recently they’ve been mostly unwilling to sell e-books to libraries to lend, fearful that doing so would hurt their business, which is under considerable pressure."

It's a smart move on the part of the publishers because "e-book readership is rising much faster than readership of print books; digital books could soon be the most popular book format. Readership of [the New York Public Libraries'] e-books soared 168 percent from 2011 to 2012; print circulation, while much larger, remained constant."

While all of the publishers have decided to make their ebooks available to public libraries, the access will differ. "Five of the Big Six are making their entire e-book inventory available to [public libraries] to choose from, while Macmillan is offering only a limited selection. HarperCollins allows us to lend each e-book ... only 26 times per title; Penguin and Simon & Schuster offer one-year licenses; and Random House sells licenses without time limits but charges much more per license. (In all cases, an e-book can be borrowed by only one patron at a time.) Prices charged to libraries vary widely according to the kind of license agreement, and we hope they will be reduced as demand increases."

Although some say that the advent and instant popularity of ebooks means the death of the print book and libraries, statistics show that this is not the case (at least in the near future). "The Great Recession triggered a nationwide surge in library usage. Total circulation at the New York Public Library’s 87 neighborhood branches — in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island — has risen 44 percent since 2008. Libraries remain essential repositories of books, periodicals and research collections, but they are also places to check e-mail and browse the Web... and to learn computer skills, seek jobs and get information about government benefits."

Although a library's mission may be changing, and the access to library information from the comfort of your own home is here, libraries are still important places for research and community development -- especially for those that cannot afford Internet access.

NYTimes -- E-Books, Libraries and Democracy