January 29, 2011
Legal research instruction in law school is out of touch with practitioners when it comes to Wexis alternatives
That's the thrust of this post from the Law Librarian Blog describing the experience of Laura K. Justiss (!) as she transitioned from law firm librarian to law library academic:
I was naively surprised to learn that most law students had little, if any, awareness of the electronic services other than Lexis and Westlaw routinely used by practicing attorneys. Of the alternative research databases I had used in my former life as a law firm librarian, only PACER was available in the law school in 2000. There were no court docket services for state courts, such as CourtLink or CourtExpresss; no financial or business research databases, such as Live EDGAR or Dun & Bradsteet; no public record databases (other than those available on Lexis or Westlaw); and no intellectual property, engineering or technology research databases such as Dialog. Thus students seldom had the opportunity to learn the existence of such alternatives, let alone why or how a lawyer might use them in practice.
Ouch. But there's a resource available to those trying to help students become more practice-ready with respect to legal research skills. Ms. Justiss has published a survey that identifies the alternatives to Wexis used by law firms and ranks them by subscription frequency. Read the full survey results here.
What's the best tablet computer for your law practice?
Tablet computers are big this year. Businesses are expected to push sales to 10 million units while overall sales are expected to hit 50 million. This column from the blog Law Technology News reviews 10 different models, including the iPad, to help you pick out the right device for your practice needs
Hat tip to Law.com.
Are 'scambloggers' Right About Law School?
Here are the results of an unscientific poll on www.abajournal.com (results as of Jan. 28, noon EST)
- I didn't go to law school and don't plan on it.
49 votes (4.29%)
- No. Law school worked out well for me.
294 votes (25.72%)
- Yes. I'm concerned about my future.
800 votes (69.99%)
Total Votes: 1143
In Montgomery County, PA, Jurors Can Donate Their Pay to Charities.
In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, jurors can contribute their jury pay to local charities. Jurors receive $9 per day for up to three days of service and $25 per day for four days and beyond if they are selected for a trial. They also receive 17 cents per mile in travel expenses based upon their zip codes. Jurors who volunteer their checks direct them to one of three local charities. So far, between 10% and 20% of jurors are participating.
Since 2003, neighboring Delaware County has operated a similar program and collected $450,000 for charities. Bar associations in jurisdictions without this program may want to consider proposing it. Here is an article on the program from the Montgomery News.
January 28, 2011
The problem with most bad writers is that they write for themselves, not the audience
So says Professor John Trimble, author of the popular text Writing With Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, just released in its third edition. Professor Trimble had this to say in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
The novice writer, [Trimble] argues, has a 'natural tendency ... to think primarily of himself—hence to write primarily for himself.' His description of how that tendency plays out in the head of the novice writer deserves to be reproduced in full:
'He thinks through an idea only until it is passably clear to him, since, for his purposes, it needn't be any clearer; he dispenses with transitions because it's enough that he knows how his ideas connect; he uses a private system—or no system—of punctuation; he doesn't trouble to define his terms because he understands perfectly well what he means by them; he writes page after page without bothering to vary his sentence structure; he leaves off page numbers and footnotes; he paragraphs only when the mood strikes him; he ends abruptly when he decides he's had enough; he neglects to proofread the final job because the writing is over.'
More advice for keeping good writing on track - write in an authentic voice:
'Each time we write,' he says in the book, 'we're making a choice as to the kind of person we prefer to be. Since it's so important, let's make that choice a conscious one for a change. Here's what it involves: 'Do I want to be authentically me, speaking my own thoughts in my own idiom, or am I content to be a pseudo-self, using borrowed thoughts, borrowed language, and a borrowed personality to gain the approval of a few literary traditionalists?'
In the spirit of arguing for this more authentic prose style, he devotes an entire chapter, 'Superstitions,' to debunking a set of popular dogmas about what we should and should not do in academic writing. One of his seven targets in the chapter is the idea that we should never refer to our readers as 'you' and should instead use the more formal address 'the reader.'
'What reader,' he asks, 'wants to be addressed as 'the reader'? It's akin to saying, in conversation, 'I'm glad to hear the listener has recovered from her cold."
On the 'rule' against contractions, he contrasts two sentences: 'Why should we not have clean air?' and 'Why shouldn't we have clean air?'
'Honestly,' he says, 'which of those two writers would you rather hang out with?'
Professor Trimble - superstar writing teacher. Icon. Read more of his interview with the CHE here.
Do all those "client alerts" that law firms send out actually get read?
Some corporate in-house counsel say they are overwhelmed with "client alerts" sent by firms every time a new case is decided and thus never read them. Here are some tips from the National Law Journal to make sure your client alerts get read and circulated:
• Client alerts should be very brief (think blog posts).
• Client alerts that are industry-specific are rare, but will stand out and better position the lawyer not just in his practice area but as understanding the business realities faced by GCs.
• Include a personal message with the client alert and it will have a much better chance of getting read.
I guess the bottom line is, don't write anything that you wouldn't enjoy reading. Seems obvious, right?
As for stylistic advice, keep the writing simple - even though the clients are sophisticated:
One final point about writing client alerts. "We work with our lawyers to create alerts that are easy to read," said Foley. "We put on a seminar for them where we start out by saying, remember everything they taught you about writing in law school? Now forget that — we need you writing alerts on a 6th grade reading level, not an 18th grade level." This rule may not apply to all audiences, but it's important to limit the legalese in your writing.
You can read the rest here.
Itemized Billing v. Block Billing
In billing a client, should a lawyer provide the total daily time spent working on a case (block billing) or itemize the time spent on each specific task (itemized billing)? In an article in the Washington State Bar News (Jan 2011), attorney Michael Caryl gives this example:
10/10/2010: Phone conf. with expert Jones; review documents for cross prep; msgs to and from client re files etc.; prepare cross and exhibits for defendant; msgs to and from court.
Total: 4.0 hours
10/10/2010: Phone conf. with expert Jones (.4) review documents for four hours cross prep (.8); msgs to and from client re files etc. (.3); prepare cross and exhibits for defendant (2.4); msgs to and from court (.1)
Total: 4.0 hours
Although many attorneys find block billing more convenient, Mr. Caryl argues that courts, academics, and consumers disapprove of it. When lawyers employ block billing, courts sometimes reduce fee awards. He predicts that in his state, the Washington Supreme Court will address the practice in the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Judge Judy Flunks Tax
Over on the Mauled Again blog (Jan. 21), Jim Maule reviews a TV episode where Judge Judy seems to assume that (1) the transferor spouse in a marital property settlement gets a tax deduction and (2) the recipient must include the property in gross income. Wrong on both counts. This is basic tax law. Who knows how many members of the TV audience are going to take her word for the state of the tax law? Who knows how many audience members are going to mess up their filings? Who will they believe--the Judge or TurboTax? Jim has promised to expose another Judge Judy tax goof soon. Stay tuned.
January 27, 2011
The "Top 10" law school websites.
From the National Law Journal:
A recent empirical study and ranking of the home pages for all 200 American Bar Association-accredited law schools found that 65 included photos of students in or around trees, a phenomenon the authors dubbed 'Girls Under Trees.'
According to the study, titled 'Top 10 Law School Home Pages of 2010,' photos of students under trees and pictures of Supreme Court justices, moot court competitions and students sitting class aren't necessarily useful or informative.
'While thought to give potential students a taste of law school life, these photos usually do not add any content, context, nor important information for visitors to a site,' reads the study, authored by Georgetown University Law Center Associate Law Librarian Roger Skalbeck and Yale Law School Librarian for Emerging Technologies Jason Eiseman.
And here's the list along with the "Bottom 10" websites courtesy of the TaxProf Blog:
Click here to see the best and worst websites from 2009.
Friday Fun: So this is what they mean by cloud computing!
From the blog Big Legal Brain:
For those of you who don’t have ten minutes to spare surfing the web, we’ve culled through the crap and come up with this Master List of best cloud computing options:
For the traditional rainmaker, the Nimbostratus brings constant precipitation and low visibility. This rocks for keeping secret stuff under the radar while you’re raking in the dough. For the boring elderly lawyer, we recommend the Nimbostratus Nebulosus — known for being featureless and for wearing a uniform.
For the recent grad launching his solo practice out of his mom’s basement, we recommend the Cirrocumulus. Its convective instability creates a cumuliform (“puffy” or “cotton-like”) appearance, which studies show will create a paradigm shift for the virtual law office industry within the next six months. Supplementary features include the Cirrocumulus Mamma with bubble-like downward protuberances (“bulbs” or “knobs” or “other things that protrude”), and/or the Cirrocumulus Virga that produces light precipitation that evaporates well above ground level. (How cool is THAT?!)
The Cirrus Cloud comes from the highest region of the troposphere where things “tend to be wispy, and are often transparent.” As transparency and wispiness are important to any real or hobbying lawyer’s personal brand, we recommend the Cirrus to anyone who can afford it. The best value is most likely the Cirrus Radiatus, which boasts a “large area of circus cirrus displaying horizontal branding.”
Source: Wikipedia’s List of Cloud Types
You can read more about "cloud computing" here.
How to handle student frustration
Does the following exchange sound familiar:
Student to teacher: "Just tell me what you want [fill-in assignment]!"
Teacher back to student: "I want you to learn something!"
The popular blog columnist ProfHacker at the Chronicle of Higher Ed advises that when students express this sort of frustration with the teacher, we should consider whether something about our teaching has contributed to it. Monsieur ProfHacker has devised a list of questions to help teachers with self-reflection. You can read them here.
College freshman report record levels of stress
That's the finding of a new study discussed in this New York Times article. There's a caveat, though. The survey asked students to describe their mental health relative to their peers and that might lead some respondents to overstate their problems. Other findings from the study include many students reporting that they are worried about the economy and whether they will enjoy a better lifestyle than their parents. Women also report more psychological distress than men.
In the survey, 'The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,' involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as 'below average' in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.
Every year, women had a less positive view of their emotional health than men, and that gap has widened.
. . . .
The annual survey of freshmen is considered the most comprehensive because of its size and longevity. At the same time, the question asking students to rate their own emotional health compared with that of others is hard to assess, since it requires them to come up with their own definition of emotional health, and to make judgments of how they compare with their peers.
'Most people probably think emotional health means, ‘Am I happy most of the time, and do I feel good about myself?’ so it probably correlates with mental health,' said Dr. Mark Reed, the psychiatrist who directs Dartmouth College’s counseling office.
“I don’t think students have an accurate sense of other people’s mental health,” he added. “There’s a lot of pressure to put on a perfect face, and people often think they’re the only ones having trouble.”
You can read the rest here.
Drafting Wills in Accordance with Islamic Shariah Law
As the country grows increasingly multicultural, lawyers need to be aware of the laws and customs of various religious and cultural groups. In its January/February 2011 issue, “Probate & Property,” the magazine of the American Bar Association’s Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section, has published, “Shariah-Compliant Wills: An Overview,” by attorney Omar Mohammedi.
The article provides a detailed description of Islamic law on the topic. The Qu’ran offers extensive specifics on how one should distribute an estate. When disputes arise, the author urges using Islamic arbitration panels, a method that allows U.S. courts to avoid making decisions on issues beyond their ken and perhaps in violation of the First Amendment’s religion clauses.
Creating a Research Workflow: Part 2
Over at the Attorney at Work site I've been writing a series of posts describing how I approach the task of doing research online (not case law, but just regular research). In the first post I talked about using Google Reader to capture the stories you want to read. But what if you don't have time to read them?
January 26, 2011
Legislation considered in several states to stop multitasking pedestrians
It's not that they're walking and chewing gum at the same time that's got legislators riled. It's that they're walking and using portable multimedia devices at the same time. From the New York Times:
The ubiquity of interactive devices has propelled the science of distraction — and now efforts to legislate against it — out of the car and into the exercise routine.
In New York, a bill is pending in the legislature’s transportation committee that would ban the use of mobile phones, iPods or other electronic devices while crossing streets — runners and other exercisers included. Legislation pending in Oregon would restrict bicyclists from using mobile phones and music players, and a Virginia bill would keep such riders from using a “hand-held communication device.”
In California, State Senator Joe Simitian, who led a successful fight to ban motorists from sending text messages and using hand-held phones, has reintroduced a bill that failed last year to fine bicyclists $20 for similar multitasking.
“The big thing has been distracted driving, but now it’s moving into other ways technology can distract you, into everyday things,” said Anne Teigen, a policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks legislative developments.
. . . .
Hal Pashler, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, said that listening to sounds through two earbuds creates a particularly powerful kind of “auditory masking” that drowns out external sounds. Such masking not only goes directly into the ear, it also is involuntary in the sense that the sound floods the brain even when a person tries to listen to something else — say, traffic.
“It’s even more overwhelming than the kind of multitasking costs we normally talk about,” Mr. Pashler said.
You can read the rest here.
Here's a chart showing the trend in LSAT takers since 1987
The New York Times ran a story on Tuesday discussing the recent decline in LSAT test takers. Included is this chart showing the total number of test takers from June through December of each year since 1987 (the February figures have been omitted because the 2011 test hasn't been given yet).
Hat tip to Above the Law.
Bluebooking (or not) with Judge PosnerJudge Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviews the 19th Edition of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation in The Yale Law Journal. He’s not fond of the guide or, apparently, of any other citation-system manual. Among other things, Judge Posner dislikes the ever-increasing length of the manual (“malignant growth”), a phenomenon he attributes to (as befits one of the major figures in the “economic analysis of law” movement) “[a] grim capitalist logic.”
Notably, the review reprints the citation rules and principles Judge Posner sets out in his in-house manual for his law clerks.
h/t Howard Bashman and his invaluable How Appealing blog.
Scholarly Writing for Law Students 4th edition
Congratulations to Betsy Fajans and Mary Falk on the publication of the 4th edition of their pathbreaking book, “Scholarly Writing for Law Students” (West). Here’s West’s description of the contents:
This book teaches law students how to write scholarly papers for seminars, law reviews, and law review competitions. It helps novices and even more-experienced scholars to write papers with a minimum of anxiety. Employing a process theory of writing, the text first describes the enterprise of scholarly writing and then discusses techniques for brainstorming, researching, drafting, and revising for substance and style. There are also chapters on footnote practice, plagiarism, law review editing, and publication. Appendixes provide a sample law review competition paper, answers to in-text exercises, and sample syllabi for scholarly writing courses.
I just emailed some free legal advice to one of our recent grads who is freelance lawyering and dealing with a challenging case. In these economic times, freelance lawyering has become a viable option. From the Attorney at Work blog, here is some guidance for lawyers looking for income and interesting work.
January 25, 2011
More on that U. Chicago study finding college students learn nothing.
We reported late last week on a new study from the U. of Chicago titled "Academically Adrift" that found undergrads don't learn much during their time in school. Among other findings, the study noted that "half of the students surveyed did not take any classes requiring 20 pages of writing in their prior semester, and one-third did not take any courses requiring 40 pages of reading a week." Yikes.
We should be careful about reaching definitive conclusions on the quality of undergraduate education from a study that uses a single outcome measure, the Collegiate Learning Assessment. Our diverse higher education marketplace claims to produce a wide range of outcomes which in fairness, require multiple forms of assessment.
. . . .
[U]nless or until we warm up to the possibility that curriculum and instruction in higher education need to adapt to a changing world, to new frontiers of content and especially to what we now know about how people learn, I doubt we will see big changes in engagement or learning. I am expecting the higher education community to take these findings and run with them, recognizing that public and private support for a system that has been the envy of the world depends on taking student learning more seriously.
And here's an interesting reader comment (#14, he calls himself "eyestrain") from a current grad student:
By the time I was a college senior in 2008 and now as a grad student in 2011 I have several courses that all have accompanying online resource pages, blogs, google groups, you name it. If I could make a plea to professors and college instructors everywhere- just because we're young and adept at technology doesn't mean we want to spend all our time using it and PLEASE be more organized and focused as to what we're actually using these things for in the long run. If the outcome is to create a digital portfolio to be used in a professional context, great, if its just to make us blog once a week and to bore your grad TAs to death with reading responses, please re-consider what you're intention is with an online component to a class.
Read more of Dean McGuire's response to "Academically Adrift" and the many interesting reader comments that follow, here.