Wednesday, August 31, 2016

ABA Adversely Reviewing Schools in Light of Criticism

InsideHigherEd provided a comprehensive overview of recent actions by the American Bar Association (ABA) in what is seemingly a response to the long-standing criticism of legal education.

As noted, earlier this month, the ABA’s accrediting arm recommended against approving the University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law, citing low admissions test scores scores of entering students. Days later, it found Ave Maria Law School in Florida out of compliance with its standards, again citing admissions practices. The ABA is also considering tightening bar-passage standards to make them tougher for schools to meet. 

The long-standing criticism stems from the law school bubble that was created during the recession. Law schools, like many other areas of higher education, saw increased enrollment during the recession. But the job market for law graduates has tightened in recent years. That’s meant more lawyers looking for work and fewer applications from prospective law students. To fill out their incoming classes, some programs began admitting less-qualified students who are more likely to struggle on the bar exam and to find employment after taking on large student debt loads, experts say. Those issues were clearly on the minds of members of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity -- the federal body that oversees higher ed accreditors -- at its July meeting. Ultimately, the NACIQI suspended the ABA from accrediting new institutions for one year. 

The action of the NACIQI does not come without its own set of criticism, however. Ohio State University law professor Deborah Jones Merritt said the ABA’s accrediting arm hadn’t taken enough of a nuanced approach toward UNT Dallas specifically. Whether a school is admitting students who will succeed in law school and in taking the bar exam is not just a matter of LSAT scores, Merritt said. UNT has sought to train lawyers interested in representing lower-income residents by admitting students from more diverse, and non-traditional backgrounds. The school, which was launched in 2014, also placed a lower priority on LSAT scores than many institutions. Instead, it looked for work experience and other accomplishments that indicated applicants could succeed in classes and on the bar exam. And UNT is charging thousands less in tuition and fees than even other public law schools in the state. But ABA staff cited those admissions standards and concerns over financial stability in recommending against accreditation. 

As one commenter on the InsideHigherEd article points out, Bar passage rates have been the elephant in the room of law school affirmative action admissions since the 1970s - affirmative action admits were almost all (there were exceptions, but very, very few) admitted with LSAT scores a full standard deviation below that of 'nonminority' students, and the bar passage rates reflected this. At one law prominent public school where [the commenter] saw the numbers in the late 1970s-early 1980s, 20% of the class was admitted on affirmative action. The 'white' first time bar passage rate averaged over several years around 92%, with the 'black' first time bar passage rate running around 67% and the Hispanic first time bar passage rate running around 80%. This sort of thing is discussed at some length in the book Mismatched.... Now, as law school applications are down, you're seeing schools below the elite levels admitting lots of 'nonminority' students who have similarly low LSAT scores and concomitantly lower first time bar passage rates.The biggest problem here is that toughening standards - insisting on LSAT scores that suggest a student has a reasonable chance of first time bar passage - will hit minorities and poor nonminority prospective law students worst. Which the ABA types don't want to do.

And I would further add that they shouldn't do it. We already have issues with diversity in the legal field, and this sort of gatekeeping will continue to exacerbate the problem. This isn't because minorities or poor nonminority students are dumb. It's because the current state of legal education and higher education, in general, advances students who have been supported and encouraged throughout their education with better schools and test prep, etc.... Instead of gatekeeping before law school, we should consider innovative ways of teaching during law school that will ensure success in the legal field on a broader scale. Of course there are other issues with the cost of legal education and making sure that students who take on the huge debt load for a JD degree can successfully take a bar exam, but that isn't done with LSAT score alone.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Best Practices for Creating a Digital Law Library

If you are considering creating a digital law library, Lexis put together a wonderful white paper on topic that guides you through the process. 

While there is product placement throughout, this white paper is helpful for anyone considering a digital law library. The white paper offers general best practices, along with information on the LexisNexis Digital Library product. 

According to the white paper, one of the first things to consider is the approach that your law library will take to digital migration:
  • Incremental: Some organizations have an ongoing preference for printed volumes and offer eBooks for just a select portion of titles.
  • Accelerated: Others place more emphasis on mobility or are concerned about the administrative overhead that comes with physical books; they may choose to replace a large percentage of hard-copy volumes with eBooks. According to the 2015 ABA technology survey, one third of lawyers report using legal eBooks for work. 
  • Holistic: Either way, many libraries are combining eBooks from multiple publishers in a single digital resource that also provides analysis tools to measure usage.
After considering your approach, it is best to develop a strategy and build your timeline to determine what to expect and what to plan for. 

After you launch, it is important to build usage and adoption through awareness and training initiatives. Even with an intuitive digital library solution, a successful plan needs to include initiatives that:
  • Build awareness of the offerings and their benefits
  • Train people to access and use resources, whether they are in the office or off site using a mobile device
An awareness plan should include repeated communication through various channels such as practice groups, intranet or portal posts, and special launch events like an open house. Read here about an awareness plan that worked well for a large law firm

Ulitmately, after lauching it's a good idea to determine your ROI: 
  • First calculate expected annual savings: Total annual cost for status quo minus total annual cost for digital library. The factors in determining annual costs can include expenses for print volumes vs. eBooks, as well as costs for space, shipping and subscriptions. Costs can include salaries and wages, materials expenditures and operating expenses. If desired, you can explore lifecycle costs of traditional vs. digital materials, as well as recent expenditure, staffing and related statistics from the Association of Research Libraries
  • Then calculate percentage return on investment: Expected annual savings divided by total annual cost for status quo. 
It's important to carefully plan for a migration to digital content. It's also important to build awareness so that your digital content is used effectively. Ultimately, you want to be able to prove that any migration is successful by showing a positive ROI to the various stakeholders that control the purse strings. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Writing While Law Librarianing

Being on the tenure track is hard for everyone. It's really hard for law librarians because we have so many roles to fill. We often have our administrative library roles, as well as the teaching, research, and service required of faculty. Writing tends to be the thing that gets cast aside as other, more pressing concerns carry the day.

For the last few years, I've designed my weeks to write on this blog and a couple of others because I enjoy learning and thinking about the profession. Being required to write full-length law review articles or book chapters has been a good change of pace because it allows me to dig deeper into a topic, but it is much harder to carve out the time and attention necessary to write a full-length piece.

Last weekend, I finally submitted a book chapter for publication in a forthcoming book called Millennial Leadership in Libraries. My chapter covers creating a leadership philosophy. I had been working on it since April, and it was a challenging, yet rewarding process - most of all because it got me thinking about my own leadership philosophy.

The process was also good for what it taught me about fitting full-length pieces into my everyday work. Admittedly, a lot of the writing happened on weekends when I had more time to fully devote to it. I suppose that's why it's so important to find a topic that interests you. Otherwise writing will feel like a chore and become an over-extension of the work week and ultimately cause burnout.

A couple of points of advice for anyone undertaking a full-length writing project as a law librarian:
  • Choose a topic that interests you - This cannot be overstated. 
  • Find a writing project with a reasonable deadline - I find that a deadline means that I make it a priority. 
  • Keep your writing muscle toned every day - After outlining, a full-length piece is naturally broken into shorter, more manageable subparts. Choose a subpart and devote a set amount of time to it each day.
  • Choose the best time of day for you to make progress - I can't start writing until after my first cup of coffee. But I need to start before there are too many demands on the day. This will be different for everyone, but make sure to carve out the time and guard it.
  • Have a RA help with the citations - Because of the various demands on my day, I focused on spending writing time working on the substantive parts of my chapter. I provided my research assistant with enough information in the footnote to know where the source came from, and I provided the original sources. This was well worth the money, and I'll never go back if I can avoid it. 
I spent just enough time on the book chapter to be happy to see it go off to the editor. My writing muscle is toned to the point where I am excited to maintain it by delving into another full-length piece on a different topic. Hopefully I can follow my own advice. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The State of Open Access in Academia

Earlier this year, Forbes ran a great article on the state of open access in academia. More than any other technology, the web has revolutionized access to the world’s information. While nearly every other form of informational output has been reinvented in some fashion in the internet era, academic literature has remained steadfastly locked in the centuries-old subscription format, paywalled away from all but those who can afford to purchase access

Even at public universities, where the salaries of faculty and staff and the operating costs of the institution are often heavily subsidized by taxpayer money, either directly by their states or indirectly through grants from NSF, NIH and other federal agencies, the majority of the research output of the institution is not publicly accessible.

Instead, much of the world’s scholarly knowledge is owned and controlled by commercial enterprises that operate the journals that academic researchers publish in.

The extreme cost and paywalled access to information of traditional journal publishing has led to the open access revolution in which grant funding agencies (such as NIH) are increasingly requiring publications stemming from research they support to be made publically accessible. 

As part of the open-access movement, many academic disciplines now permit preprint publication of works in arXiv and similar scholarly repositories, as well as institutional archives.

Why is academia so far behind in terms of open access? Perhaps the simplest answer is that in academia promotion and tenure are still tightly linked with publishing in top-tier journals, which are largely well-established commercial venues. Faculty who choose to simply post their research on their personal or institutional websites or in archives like arXiv will find that those papers do not count towards their performance reviews for tenure and promotion.

As noted, one possible solution is to transfer the burden of subscription costs to the national government as a service to its citizens. Last year the government of Egypt launched an ambitious initiative called the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, described as “the biggest digital library in the world, housing contents of the most prominent publishing houses all over the world such as National Geographic, Discovery Cambridge, Oxford, Reuters, Britannica and others.” Instead of the American model in which each individual university purchases its own journal subscriptions and ordinary citizens have no access at all, the Egyptian government purchased national site licenses to a wide array of content, making it freely available to its citizens. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Use Google Scholar's Advanced Search for Narrow Case Law Searching

There are various tricks to using Google Scholar for free case law searching that will help you narrow your search results to relevant cases.

To narrow your search results, make sure to use the Advanced search menu.

To use the Advanced search menu for case law searching, click into the case law radio button on the Scholar home page. Then, click the down-arrow on the right side of the search box to invoke the Advanced search menu

While the first four Boolean connector and phrase search boxes located on Scholar’s Advanced search menu are the same as Google.com’s Advanced Search menu, there are three “field” search boxes and one drop-down list unique to Scholar’s Advanced Search menu.

Unfortunately, many searchers don’t use these features because Scholar never bothered labeling them with appropriate case law terminology—they simply left the articles’ database labels on them. For example, the field search box labeled as:

  • Return articles authored by should really be labeled Return cases authored by
  • Return articles published in should really be labeled Return cases published in
  • Return articles dated between should really be labeled Return cases dated between

If you didn’t know that the Return articles authored by field search could actually be used to Return cases authored by, you might simply enter the judge’s name (e.g., Charles Vogel, a California judge), into the all the words Boolean search box and limited your search to California. You would retrieve 476 opinions and it’s possible your results for that name could also be that of a party, an attorney, a witness, or an expert, and so on, many of which would be irrelevant to our analytics.

But restricting the judge’s name to the Return articles authored by field search box eliminates all those extraneous and irrelevant results that you would have had to sift through.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Role of a 21st Century Librarian

The Atlantic recently posted an article on the evolving role of the 21st Century librarian.

There’s a stereotypical image of a librarian in popular culture: someone older, in thick-rimmed glasses and overly modest clothing, guarding the silence in a room full of books with all-powerful shushes.

But as the internet has largely replaced brick-and-mortar libraries as the go-to resource for information gathering, librarians’ purview is no longer confined to just books. Libraries have had to evolve from providing the internet as a service, to being responsible for interacting with it, to indexing and archiving a rapidly increasing amount of information. Though the occupation is only expected to grow by 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, many librarians have forgone bookkeeping and cataloging for specializing in multimedia and taking on research- and technology-oriented projects such as digitizing archives.

The author of the article interviewed Theresa Quill, a research librarian at Indiana University, Bloomington, who specializes in the relationship between geography and cultural behavior, and digital mapping. Theresa provides an overview of what it's like to be a 21st Century academic librarian who has a strong professional identity while fulfilling both the traditional and evolving roles of a librarian -- and also performs her own research!

The interview is enlightening for many reasons. I particularly appreciate the part about the new "library school" curriculum. While getting a master's degree in library & information science (or library science or information science or any number of iterations), Theresa mentions that the curriculum is intended to give you an introduction to librarianship as a profession, because we do have a pretty strong professional identity and a lot of people say it's a calling to be a librarian. [Theresa] took classes on website development, library management, strategic intelligence, and how information itself is a commodity. [She] took a class on international information issues, which dealt with the flow of information across different cultures and library culture in different parts of the world. Now, tons of people take classes on programming languages and it's becoming much more tech-focused.

This article is a great read for anyone interested in the library profession. It's the closest article I've seen to capturing the true essence of what it means to be a modern librarian.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Reading Books is Tied to a Longer Life

The NYTimes Well Blog reports that reading books is tied to a longer life.

Researchers used data on 3,635 people over 50 participating in a larger health study who had answered questions about reading.

The scientists divided the sample into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books up to three and a half hours a week, and those who read books more than three and a half hours.

The study, in Social Science & Medicine, found that book readers tended to be female, college-educated and in higher income groups. So researchers controlled for those factors as well as age, race, self-reported health, depression, employment and marital status.

Compared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.

They found a similar association among those who read newspapers and periodicals, but it was weaker.

“People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said the senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale. “And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Copyright Office To Revise Section 108 & The Library Exception?

Librarians were surprised to hear at the ALA Annual conference that the U.S. Copyright Office planned to hold closed meetings to discuss revision of Section 108, the “library exception.” The process was announced in the Federal Register on June 2. Interested parties were asked to schedule a meeting with the Copyright Office, located in Washington, DC. (Soon after the announcement the Copyright Office said that phone conversations could also be scheduled). There will be no public record of who attends the meetings or what is discussed.

Although, the Copyright Office has been upfront about the changes. They believe that Section 108 needs to be updated to better reflect the digital environment. Indeed, they have said that Section 108 needs to be re-written altogether. They have already drafted Section 108 legislation that librarians haven’t seen.

According to The Internet Archive Blog, the Library Copyright Alliance (which represents the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries) has said it does not want changes, the Society of American Archivists has said it does not want changes. The Internet Archive does not want changes, DPLA does not want changes. 

This recent move, which has its genesis in an outdated set of proposals from 2008, is just another in series of out of touch ideas coming from the Copyright Office. We’ve seen them propose “notice and staydown” filtering of the Internet and disastrous “extended collective licensing” for digitization projects. Now the Copyright Office wants to completely overhaul Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the “library exceptions,” in ways that could break the Wayback Machine and repeal fair use for libraries.

After discussing this issue with a well-respected colleague, I have decided that we should not rest on a few court wins in favor of fair use for libraries to hold the day. Section 108 should be rewritten to truly reflect the digital revolution with a keen eye on a library's role in that revolution. The main issue is with the lack of transparency and very little librarian input.