Sunday, March 21, 2010

What's the best online research engine outside Wexis?

According to the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, Casemaker is the best research engine for state law among the second-tier contenders which also includes Fastcase, Loislaw and Google Scholar

When I started this project, I assumed that Loislaw would be the hands down winner.  After all, they have the huge backing of Wolters Kluwer for a few years now, and you'd hope that they'd want to compete with Westlaw, LexisNexis and now Bloomberglaw.  However, I quickly learned that I was wrong in my assumption.  Turns out that the low-cost legal research provider that has the most state case law coverage, based on years of coverage, is Casemaker.

Here's how I broke down the research:
  • Looked at coverage for all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia
  • Established the year that the each state published its first official state court decision (highest court)
  • Reviewed the scope of coverage for each research provider
  • Graphed who had the best pre-1950, pre-1920 and pre-1899 coverage
  • Graphed who had the most states where there was complete coverage of all decisions
  • Finally graphed the overall percentage of state case law decisions for all 50 states and the District of Columbia

In all categories but one, Casemaker had more coverage than Fastcase, Loislaw or Google Scholar.  Loislaw had five more states with pre-1950 coverage than Casemaker, but the further back you go the better Casemaker starts to look.  Casemaker had over twice as many pre-1920 states than Loislaw (28 vs. 13); Casemaker had four times as many states with pre-1899 coverage than Loislaw (28 vs. 7); and Casemaker had over twice as many states with complete case law coverage (11 vs. 5).  Fastcase and Google Scholar ran a distant third and fourth place with Fastcase only having 10 states with pre-1950 coverage, and Google Scholar having zero.  The overall percentage of case law coverage for all states and the District of Columbia also went to Casemaker (68%).

A big hat tip to the Legal Blog Watch where you can read more coverage about this story here.  Also, a hat tip to 3 Geeks for coining the phrase Wexisberg to refer to the top tier research engines which now includes Bloomberg Law.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 19, 2010

legal un-writing

ImagesCAQDVK0K It's a brave new world when it comes to undoing your legal writing.  Here's a helpful new article on how redact text successfully.

hat tip:  Nolan Wright


March 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Shakespeare for lawyers

1620432_big The ABA had published this book, Shakespeare for Lawyers, so you can find the perfect quote for your next appellate brief or legislative committee hearing.  If you're an ABA member, you get a discount on the price.  And just for the record, Shakespeare is popularly misunderstood on his "first kill all the lawyers" line.  The full line explains that if we want anarchy to reign, the first thing to do is to kill all the lawyers.  Shakespeare frequently expressed appreciation for the rule of law (quite understandable given the religious strife of his time) and many of his quotable lines to that effect are in this book.


March 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Essay alert: "Where Have All The (Legal) Stories Gone?"

Here's an essay by UNLV Law School Prof Nancy Rapoport available in the Fall 2009 edition of a publication called M/E Insights (Litigation Issues in the Entertain Industry) (but also available on SSRN here) that should be of interest to many readers.

From the abstract: 

This essay examines whether law schools are doing a good job of teaching the art of storytelling to law students.

Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Stats on college student use of Wikipedia for research projects

A recent study shows that approximately half of all college students turn to Wikipedia for course-related research projects.  Most of those students use it at either the beginning, or towards the end, of their research trail.  The Law Librarian Blog has a nice pie-chart illustrating the different ways students make use of Wikipedia in connection with their research projects.

As we've previously reported, courts are beginning to grapple with whether Wikipedia entries are admissible in court.  In this case, a Texas court refused to take judicial notice of a Wikipedia entry reasoning that the online resource is "inherently too unreliable" because anyone can create or revise a post.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scholarship alert: "Toward a theory of persuasive authority'

This article is by Professor Chad Flanders of St. Louis University School of Law and can be found at 62. Okla L. Rev. 55 (2009).  From the abstract:

As a court attaches some weight to any of the matters herein described as of imperative authority or of persuasive authority or of quasi-authority, and as a court has it in its power to disregard even imperative authority, the question naturally arises whether the attempted distinctions between the kinds of authority are not wholly imaginary, or at least unimportant.  

In the ongoing-and by now increasingly tired-debate over foreign authority, little attention, if any at all, has been paid to the idea of persuasive authority.  This is puzzling because so much in that debate seems, if only   implicitly, to rely on assumptions about what persuasive authority is. Those who favor citing to decisions in foreign courts will often defend the practice by pointing to the established practice of citing authorities that are "merely persuasive." The idea that some authority is "persuasive" is then contrasted with authorities that are mandatory or binding and which have their authority by virtue of something else besides their persuasiveness-for example, because they are the rulings of a higher court or are decisions made by the same court in the past. Foreign authorities, the argument goes, are merely "persuasive" and are not binding and as such can be cited insofar as they are helpful and illuminating to the issue. Because they do not bind, they do not raise the specter of being ruled by a foreign country, as some fear.

But very little has been said to explicate the very idea of persuasive authority itself, in its own right: Why indeed should there be any such thing? Why shouldn't there simply be the authority of higher courts and the court's past opinions, plus the court's own reasoning and interpretation?  Further, what entitles a source-whether it be a decision of a foreign court, a blog entry, a law review article, or a treatise-to count as a persuasive authority?    Are some sources, either by virtue of their merit or their status as a kind of source, generally more persuasive than others? The obviousness of these questions, coupled with the lack of any clear answers to them-still less any theory that might generate answers to them-shows the extent to which we are still in the dark as to the nature of persuasive authority.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Scholarship alert: "Burying the living? The citation of legal writings in English courts"

This article is authored by Alexandra Braun, a Teaching Fellow of Law at Oxford, and can be found at 58 Am. J. Comp. L. 27 (2010).  From the abstract:

Until recently English judgments were characterized by a dearth of references to academic legal writing. This is often ascribed to the existence of a professional convention preventing judges and counsel from citing living authors. While there is generally no doubt that such a convention did exist, it is not certain whether and to what extent it actually involved and affected legal academics and their role within the English legal system. This Article examines the claims that have been made about the genesis and the nature of the convention and attempts to shed light on the true reasons for its emergence, as well as its impact on the status of legal writing in England and the relationship between judges and legal academics.


I am the scholarship dude.


March 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Legal writing prof tells online ABA Journal judges shouldn't withhold unpublished opinions from Wexis

Nova Southeastern's legal writing prof David Cleveland was quoted extensively in last week's online ABA Journal in an article entitled "A Judge's Unusual Request:  Don't Print This in Westlaw or Lexis" discussing one federal judge's practice of restrictively endorsing his unpublished opinions so Wexis won't include them in their databases.

Unpublished opinions are withheld from the official reports and traditionally treated as not having any precedential effect. But [Los Angeles federal district court Judge Howard] Matz's request referencing databases is out of the ordinary, according to David Cleveland, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center.

Cleveland says the trend is toward greater openness, publication and citation of unpublished opinions.

He points out that the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure were recently amended to bar courts from prohibiting or restricting citation to newly issued unpublished opinions. He also notes the E-Government Act of 2002 requiring courts to make available all written opinions on their websites.

Since others can still disseminate Matz’s orders, the request is impractical, Cleveland says. It’s also inappropriate to try to create a secret body of law, he says.

Cleveland argues that litigants ought to be able to point out a court’s prior decisions even if they aren’t binding precedent. He sees a potential due process or equal protection violation if litigants aren’t allowed to ask a court to act today as it did in the past or to explain the distinction.

Cleveland doubts that Westlaw or Lexis will comply with the judge’s request. He appears to be right. The ABA Journal turned up 15 cases in which Westlaw apparently ignored Matz and published his unpublished orders in its electronic database. In each case, Matz’s unfulfilled request was printed at the bottom of the document.

You can read the rest here.

Hat tip to Robb Gregg.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Travel Information for the LWI Summer Conference

LWI 25 Marco Island Rowe 3 The Legal Writing Institute Conference will be held this summer at Marco Island, Florida from June 27-30, 2010.  Although most attendees will likely be flying into Ft. Meyers, there are a number of other airports you can use.  Click here to read our post on travel options (and when you are at that post, check out the helpful comments posted there).


March 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

UT Dean responds to student editorial about lack of legal writing training

In a story we covered extensively last week precipitated by a student editorial decrying the lack of a mandatory brief-writing course in the 1L curriculum at U. of Texas School of Law, the UT Dean responded on Thursday with this column in the Daily Texan:  "The Firing Line:  UT School of Law's dean speaks out on a practical legal education."

I am writing in response to the opinion piece written by three students which appeared in The Daily Texan on March 4 under the title, “Law students need a practical education.”
A little more than halfway through their first year of law school, the authors of this call for practicality have not yet confronted the law school’s extraordinary array of courses, ranging from Admiralty Law to Wind Power Law.

In between are dozens upon dozens of courses of undeniable practicality in topics such as complex litigation, intellectual property, family law, innovation and entrepreneurship, tax, trusts and estates.

Nor have the authors encountered our legal clinics (educational programs in which students deal with the real problems of real clients), our Advocacy Program or our clerkship and fellowship programs. We have 17 clinics ranging in areas including criminal law, environmental law, transnational worker rights, children’s rights, national security, community development, legislative lawyering, domestic violence, immigration law and Supreme Court litigation.

Our Capital Punishment Clinic had four cases pending in the Supreme Court in a single recent term and won all four. More than half of UT Law’s students take at least one clinic, and their experiences are remarkably intense, rewarding and exquisitely practical.

Terry Tottenham, the president-elect of the State Bar of Texas, took umbrage at The Daily Texan piece; he has taught all phases of litigation to our students for the last 20 years and is only one of 41 adjuncts presently teaching in the Advocacy Program. Hundreds of students participate in the program each year, and many more participate in various interscholastic advocacy competitions.

You can read the remainder of the Dean Sager's remarks, as well as those left by the commenters, hereAbove the Law has more commentary and coverage here.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scholarship Alert - "Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews and Journals"

The wildly popular "how-to" guide for successfully placing scholarly publications written by UMKC School of Law Professors Nancy Levit and Alan Rostron has been recently updated and is available here on SSRN.  From the abstract:

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 195 law reviews. The document was fully updated in March of 2010.

An earlier version had more than 5,600 abstract views and 2,300 downloads, so you know they're doing something right.

I am the scholarship dude.

March 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mel Weresh wins alumni service award

WereshMelissa Legal writing director extraordinaire, Mel Weresh, has been named this year’s recipient of the University of Iowa’s Alumni Service Award. Congratulations Mel! 

hat tip:  Ruth Anne Robbins


March 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 12, 2010

update on U. Texas legal writing program

We have it on good authority:

Yesterday the law faculty at the University of Texas approved doubling the credits for the required legal-writing courses and cutting the student-faculty ratio in half.  Credits will go from 2 to 4, and the student-faculty ratio will go from 100-1 (!) to about 47-1.  Brief writing and oral advocacy will again be required in the 1L legal writing curriculum.

Hmmm, maybe this means we'll be able to announce some job openings here soon, too.


March 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chief Justice Roberts at the University of Alabama School of Law

US Supreme Court U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts spoke recently at the University of Alabama School of Law.  The speech was recorded and made available on C-SPAN.  Click here to watch (or listen to, while you do other work around your office).  The recording is about an hour an twenty minutes long.


March 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

American Book Review's "Top 40 Bad Books."

After soliciting the opinions of many academics, the American Book Review has compiled this list of the "Top 40 Bad Books."  What does it mean when we say a book is bad?  "Is it an overrated 'good' book?  Can an otherwise good author produce a 'bad' book? Is the badness in style, in execution?  Or is it in theme or outlook?"

The list runs the gamut from the Great Gatsby to Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  There's sure to be something on this list to tickle your fancy.

You can read the full list here.

Hat tip to the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

I am the scholarship dude.



March 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

U. of Texas faculty to consider expanding legal writing curriculum

Earlier this week, we ran a couple of stories (here and here) about University of Texas students who are complaining about the lack of legal writing classes in UT's curriculum.  Today, Above the Law is reporting that according to a "tipster," the UT faculty will soon be voting on a proposal to double the number of credit hours devoted to legal writing.  ATL quotes its source as saying:

With respect the nature of the proposal before the University this week, the faculty will be voting on a proposed change to the legal writing curriculum that will outright double the number of credit hours devoted to legal writing. There will also be upper-division writing classes available to remedy anyone lacking writing courses. In short, every problem raised by the article will be addressed in full.


The  post on LRW Prof Blog gives the impression that the proposed change to the Texas legal-writing program is being considered in response to the student complaints raised in a recently published editorial in the campus newspaper.

But the proposal was prepared by our curriculum committee 18 months ago. The faculty vote on it was scheduled more than a month before the editorial.

We'll keep you posted on any further developments.  In the meantime, you can read ATL's coverage here.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is this the most poorly written judicial decision ever?

With individual sentences topping out at more than 300 words each, Eric Turkewitz of the New York Personal Injury Blog sure thinks so:

A decision from the Second Department in December in Dockery v Sprecher, regarding a $109M medical malpractice verdict that was reduced to $9 million for a brain damaged man. The first sentence of the decision, regarding the procedural history, weighs in at a staggering 303 words. Without any semicolons. Is there a secret law that says writing a procedural history must induce dread on the part of the reader?

But wait! There's more! Not to be outdone, the second sentence of the same decision laughs in the face of the first, stomping it into the ground with a jaw-dropping 343 words. But at least that has two semicolons. (Both re-printed below.)

Really, is such gobstopping exposition necessary? Have simple, declarative sentences been outlawed? Is clarity a crime?

I challenge anyone to find a sentence in another judicial opinion of such length.

You can read the rest of Mr. Turkewitz's post here, included excerpts of the offending opinion.

Hat tip to Above the Law.

I am the scholarship dude.


March 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 8, 2010

A University of Texas Professor Responds to Criticism About the UT Writing Program

Wayne Schiess from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law asked us to post this message in response to two articles posted this past weekend. 

The first article posted concerned a story that the University of Texas fails to provide its first year students with adequate training in brief writing.  Click here to read that story.

The second article posted concerned a story from the University of Texas student newspaper, which carried a call from students for more legal writing and skills courses to be made available.  The article quotes a practitioner who said he would never hire another graduate from that school "because they can't write."  Click here to read that story.

So here is the response that we've just received from Professor Wayne Schiess, who was named Director of the Legal Writing Program at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law in 2004.  We hope that he and his colleagues will be successful in bringing back the writing classes and skills education that the students (and practitioners) seem to be demanding.  Here's his response to the stories posted this weekend:

It is true that the University of Texas School of Law has a first-year legal-writing curriculum without brief writing. When the law school administration removed credits from the required course five years ago, brief writing was lost. Needless to say, the legal-writing faculty thought it was a mistake. So we’ve been teaching a brief-writing elective that only some 1Ls can get into. We're optimistic that brief writing will return to the required first-year curriculum. Indeed, a proposal to do that comes before the faculty this week.

Thank you.

Wayne Schiess, University of Texas School of Law


March 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LWI Board Election Results

LWI 25 The Legal Writing Institute just announced the results of elections for candidates to serve on its Board of Directors.  The field of 27 candidates who stepped forward was an exceptionally strong and competitive field, reflecting great interest in the work of the Legal Writing Institute and a deep commitment to serve those teach legal research, writing, and analysis.  Only seven candidates could be elected. 

In announcing the names of the seven winners, LWI President-Elect Ken Chestek had this to say:  "I am delighted with the strength and depth of the field of candidates this year. The LWI Board is a very hard-working board, and I am grateful that so many of our members were willing to step up and serve our profession. While only seven of the candidates could be elected, all of the candidates deserve our congratulations and thanks for their dedication."

He's absolutely right.

Here are the names of the winners.  They will serve four-year terms that start at the end of the LWI Conference at Marco Island.  (And as a side note, if you haven't yet made your hotel reservations for Marco Island you should click here for more information about the LWI Summer Conference.)

Here are the winners (in alphabetical order):

Croskery-Roberts, Rachel 2 Rachel Croskery-Roberts (pictured at left) is the Associate Director of the Legal Practice Program at Michigan Law School, where she has taught for eight years.  In 2009, she was the Chair of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research.  This year, she is the Chair-Elect of the AALS Section on Teaching Methods.  She is an editor on the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute.Julien, Alison

Alison Julien (pictured at right) is an Associate Professor of Legal Writing at Marquette University Law School in Wisconsin.  Her school recently hosted the successful 2009 Central Regional Legal Writing Conference, and she served as the Chair of the Site Committee for that Conference.  Alison is Co-Chair of the 2010 LWI Biennial Conference Program Committee and is also chair of the LWI Committee on Committees.  She was a member of the editorial board of the first volume of the LWI Monograph.McElroy, Lisa


Lisa T. McElroy (pictured at left) is an Associate Professor of Law at The Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University.  She was previously Dean of Skills Training and an Assistant Professor of at New England School of Law in Massachusetts and a Professor of Legal Writing at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.  She was a frequent U.S. Supreme Court Commentator on CourtTV (now part of CNN).  Beyond her contributions to the field of legal writing, she also is a contributing author for Parenting magazine. She's also written several biographies of U.S. Supreme Court Justices for children, including forthcoming biography of Sonia Sotomayor: First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.  Click here to learn more about Lisa.


Oates, Laurel 2 Laurel Currie Oates (pictured at right) is one of the founding members of the Legal Writing Institute.  She's a Professor of Law and Director of the Legal Writing Program at Seattle University School of Law.  Laurel has worked on seven national LWI Conferences (1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 in case you were wondering which ones).  She is the co-author of five books, including The Legal Writing Handbook. Click here to learn more about Laurel.  Laurel and her colleague Mimi Samuel have conducted workshops for lawyers and law students in India, Uganda, and South Africa among other places.  In 2007, she received the prestigious Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education.


Rabe, Suzanne Suzanne Rabe (pictured at left) is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.  She started teaching legal writing in 1980 (in a capped program -- remember those?)  After taking time off to practice law she returned to teaching legal writing in 1987 as an adjunct professor.  She became the director of Legal Writing at the University of Arizona in 2000 and the following year founded and co-hosted the first Rocky Mountain Regional Legal Writing Conference. 


Malmud, Rocklin, Joan Joan Malmud Rocklin (pictured at right) is a Legal Research and Writing Professor and Director of Externships and Clinics at the University of Oregon School of Law.  She is co-chair of the Program Committee of the LWI 2010 Biennial Conference and is also coordinating the Critiquing Workshop that will be held at Marco Island as part of that conference.  She has been a Co-Editor of the LWI Newsletter, The Second Draft.  She was also the 2008-09 Secretary to the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research.  Her work includes working with non-U.S. lawyers and law students on their legal writing and analysis.  She also co-authored (with two colleagues) the first year legal writing textbook called A Lawyer Writes.  Her law school website says that since moving to Oregon she has taken up the sport of snowboarding.


Thomson, David David Thomson is a Lawyering Practice Professor and Director of the Legal Writing Program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  As a member of the LWI's Website Committee, he worked on the 2008 redesign and launch of the LWI website.  Since then he has chaired the LWI's Website and Communications Committee.  He is also serving the LWI by heading up the technology aspects of the 2010 Conference at Marco Island.  He previously served on the LWI Bylaws Committee, chaired the Idea Bank 2.0 Committee, and was an assistant editor of the LWI Journal.  In his non-LWI work, he is series editor for the Lexis Nexis Skills & Values Series of supplemental texts.  His own publications include the very highly regarded Law School 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age (LexisNexis/Matthew Bender 2009).


Congratulations to the seven winners and also to the 20 other candidates who were brave enough to step forward and offer their skills and energy in service to the Legal Writing Institute.  I look forward to serving with you on the Board!  Hat tip to LWI President-Elect Ken Chestek for providing the election results.

Mark E. Wojcik (The John Marshall Law School-Chicago)

March 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

UT student newspaper declares "Law students need a practical education"

Apropos to the story below, the University of Texas' student newspaper, The Daily Texan, recently ran the above Op-Ed headline. It's a call by students for more legal writing and other skills courses in the UT curriculum.  At one point, the Op-Ed quotes a "well-known" practitioner who complained to UT's dean that he would never hire another grad because they can't write.  Here's more:

Lax institutional standards have marginalized the law school’s role in society of preparing its students to be competent, ethical lawyers.  Institutional indifference to students and the school’s role in society as a whole is nothing new.

Several years ago, Judge Harry Edwards criticized our law school in a now-famous article in the Michigan Law Review. Edwards revealed that a well-known UT constitutional law professor confided in Edwards, saying he is “unwilling to redirect” his activities in “useful ways.”  Edwards charged that this “so-called elite” law school is primarily dedicated to work that serves “no social purpose at all.” Of such professors, Edwards concluded, “We do not give tenure to stamp collectors, or to light readers.”

The late professor Charles Allen Wright found these arguments persuasive. At an American Law Institute conference, he presented Edwards’ criticism, commenting, “In the academy we are tending too much to pretend that we are a think tank and a graduate school and forgetting that the high percentage of our graduates are going to go into the practice of law and ought know at least a little about what lawyers do and how they ought to do it.”

But the criticism has changed nothing.

Consider Edwards’ comment that the law school is “insufficiently clinical” and suffers from a “lack of good training in legal writing.” Last semester, a well-known lawyer wrote to law school Dean Lawrence Sager, charging that UT graduates are incompetent legal writers and that he would never hire a UT Law graduate again.

You can read the full story here.

Hat tip to our commenters for alerting me to the story.

I am the scholarship dude.


NEW:  Click here to see a response from the UT Writing Faculty.

March 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)