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November 29, 2007

Building Better Briefs: Legal Research & Citation Tools on the Internet

Tomorrow morning I'm speaking at the Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference. My presentation is entitled Building Better Briefs: Legal Research and Citation Tools on the Internet. I placed the slides up on Scribd.

There is a lot of great legal information on the Internet, but it's important that you know how to find it and evaluate it. I'll be offering tips on evaluating Web content and exploring some advanced Google options for finding it.

I'll also be sharing advice on how to access the 84% of Web content that can't be found via search engines like Google--a.k.a. the Invisible Web.

Finally, I'll wrap up with a discussion of some legal citation tools that can help you organize, check, and even auto-create a citation list for you.

Any WisBlawg readers attending the session-- please stop me and say hello. Or you can catch me at the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin booth Friday afternoon.

November 28, 2007

UW Legal Assistance Programs Profiled in The Third Branch

Several of the UW Law School's legal clinics/projects are featured in the latest edition of The Third Branch. They include:

  • Family Law Assistance Center
  • Small Claims Clinic
  • Family Court Assistance Project
  • Restraining Order Clinic

These programs, developed by the Dane County Bar Association and the UW Law School, are designed to assist self-represented litigants at the Dane County Courthouse.

November 26, 2007

Minnesota's Answer to CCAP - Statewide Electronic Case Records

Minnesota has recently introduced a statewide electronic case records service called MPA Remote, which is short for Minnesota Trial Court Public Access Remote view.

Similar to Wisconsin's CCAP system, MPA Remote displays trial court case information for public viewing, including register of actions, calendars, judgments, and orders and notices prepared by the court. Note that Internet Explorer is required to use this service - Firefox doesn't work.

See the National Center for State Courts for information about other states' public access to court records.

November 23, 2007

Public.Resource.Org & Fastcase Partner to Offer Free Archive of Federal Case Law

From the press release:

Public.Resource.Org and Fastcase, Inc. announced today that they will release a large and free archive of federal case law, including all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. The archive will be public domain and usable by anyone for any purpose.

This is a big deal and has generated quite a buzz around the blogosphere. Check out the reaction from Elmer Masters (see also his post on Teknoids); Real Lawyers Have Blogs; and Jason the Content Librarian.

More from the press release:

This transaction represents a one-time purchase of a copy of data. This corpus will be integrated into the ongoing public services from organizations such as AltLaw and the Legal Information Institute, thus providing continuity of coverage into the future.

I was wondering if this would duplicate efforts with AltLaw (which already has federal case law from the last 10 to 15 years), but it seems not. Looks like this new partnership will provide the retrospective materials while Altlaw will continue to collect the newer cases.

My Holiday Gift Guide for Librarians

It's Black Friday and I seem to have gift buying on the brain. Thanks to Bev Butula for sharing with me the Holiday Gift Guide for Lawyers. Lots of fun stuff -- I agree with Bev that the Personalized Lawyer Figurines are particularly cool.

But why should lawyers get all the cool gifts? So - I present to you my Holiday Gift Guide for Librarians!

  • Action Figures
    What librarian wouldn't love a librarian action figure? Modeled after real-life librarian, Nancy Pearl, the librarian action figure is complete with shushing action. I recommend getting the deluxe model which comes computer and book cart.

    And did you know that Batgirl was a librarian? Of course, she has her own action figure, too. "Barbara Gordon transforms from librarian to crime-fighter Batgirl with a flip of her cowl!" Check out the book under her arm. ALA also has a Batgirl poster.

  • Books (books for a librarian - how novel!)
    There are a bunch of fun books that feature librarians - too many to list. Here are a couple of fun ones: The Librarian from the Black Lagoon, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, & How I Fell in Love with a Librarian and Lived to Tell About It.

    SecretStorageBooks.com sells hollowed-out, recycled books in which to hide your treasures. I've always thought these were so cool. There is even a selection of law books featuring various state codes and treatises.

    For other book related gifts, Levenger sells a section of "Tools for Serious Readers"

  • Kitschy Stuff

    Looks like the library enthusiasts have been busy over at CafePress.com, a site which allows anyone to create and sell custom products. They have a ton of kitschy librarian stuff.

    Wouldn't the librarian-in-your-life look great with a tattoo? Well, maybe these temporary librarian tattoos anyway.

  • Classy Stuff

    ForCounsel.com, a site featuring gifts for lawyers, has a beautiful framed Librarian Stamp Collection. All stamps are guaranteed authentic and date from 1940 to the present.

Anyone else have any fun librarian gifts to recommend? If so, please share in the comments.

November 20, 2007

Open CRS Offers Meta Search of CRS Reports

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress. The reports issued by CRS, which are created to inform members of Congress on issues of public policy, are excellent sources of in-depth, non-partisan information.

Unfortunately, while the taxpayer-funded CRS reports are unclassified, they do not become public until a member of Congress releases them. Fortunately, a number of libraries and non-profit organizations have sought to collect as many of the released reports as possible. Open CRS, a project of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), brings together these collections.

Because there is no systematic way to obtain all CRS reports, not all reports appear on the Open CRS web site. But with the help of one anonymous lawmaker, we at least know what we are missing. According to a CDT press release, this lawmaker is providing a running list of new reports, making it possible to seek out the "fugitive" reports and upload them to the database. Looks like all known ones so far have been tracked down.

Sources: Virtual Library Cat's Eye View and beSpacific

New WI Law Clarifies to Whom Library Records May be Released

Wisconsin Senate Bill 214, which clarifies to whom library records may be released, was signed into law by the Governor last week as Wisconsin Act 34.

The law states that library records "indicating the identity of any individual who borrows or uses the library's documents or other materials, resources, or services may not be disclosed except by court order or to persons acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library or library system, to persons authorized by the individual to inspect such records, to custodial parents or guardians of children under the age of 16..."

However, the law also states that the library may release surveillance recordings to law enforcement officials. This can be done at the request of law enforcement or voluntarily by the library seeking assistance from law enforcement. The law does not indicate that a court order is necessary.

See my earlier post for background on the bill. The complete bill history is also available.

November 19, 2007

Key Number Searching in Westlaw Just Got Easier

From CM Law Library Blog:

At last! You can now easily get to the digest topic outline on Westlaw via a link on the top of the Westlaw page that says "Key Numbers". [Read more]

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Takes on a Legal Theme with "Trying"

Check out JS Online for a review of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production, Trying, "about a crusty and cranky old lawyer butting heads with a determined secretary from the Canadian prairies."

From the MCT Web site:

Georgetown, November 1967. Cantankerous Judge Francis Biddle, once Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Attorney General, must hire yet another new secretary or risk leaving his life's work unfinished. Enter Sarah Schorr, a Saskatchewan prairie girl who endures his ornery, elitist behavior to help the judge complete his remarkable memoirs.

TRYING is an endearing tale about two wary individuals overcoming generational and class differences in their tumultuous journey toward friendship - a heartwarming story for the holidays.

Trying runs November 15th through December 16th at the Studio Theatre. Tickets are available online.

La Crosse Tribune Looks at Plea Agreements

The La Crosse Tribune is running a series of articles on plea agreements - "how plea agreements are forged, why they have become a fixture in the courts and what they bring to our legal system."

According to The Tribune, only about one percent of felony cases in La Crosse County make it to trial compared to about three percent state-wide.

The paper also states, however, that despite a decreasing number of trials, La Crosse County has more than doubled its trial budgeting and spending in the past decade, mostly due to a dramatic increase in court-appointed attorney costs.

Articles in the series so far:

Source: The Wheeler Report

November 16, 2007

Murdoch Confirms Intention to Make Wall Street Journal Content Free Online

From the New York Times:

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, said today that he intended to make access to The Wall Street Journal's Web site free, trading subscription fees for anticipated ad revenue.

Source: Moritz Legal Information Blog

November 15, 2007

PACER Free at Some Libraries

In a two year pilot project, free public access to federal court records via PACER has been made available at 16 libraries in 14 states under a joint pilot project of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and the Government Printing Office.

According to a press release from the US Courts, the project is part of the judiciary's continuing effort to expand public access to court records by discovering if a segment of the public desires access to information contained in the PACER system but is unlikely to go to a courthouse or become a PACER user.

The federal depository libraries participating in the pilot are:

  • Alaska State Court Law Library, AK
  • 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Library, IL
  • San Bernadino County Law Library, CA
  • University of Michigan School of Law, MI
  • Sacramento County Public Law Library, CA
  • University of Tennessee College of Law, TN
  • Nova Southeastern University Law Library, FL
  • New Mexico Supreme Court Law Library, NM
  • Lee College, TX
  • Rutgers Law Library, NJ
  • State Library of Ohio, OH
  • Fordham Law School, NY
  • Wayne State University, MI
  • Rogers State University, OK
  • Portland Public Library, ME
  • Northern Kentucky University, KY

Madison Computer Recycling Roundup This Saturday

Periodically, the City of Madison sponsors a Computer Recycling Roundup. The next one is schedule for this Saturday, November 17th.

According to the Web site, there is a $5 fee for computer monitors and laptops and a $25 fee for televisions. There is no charge for other computer or electronics parts or components. This event is limited to home electronics ONLY. No computers from businesses.

WI Court System's Public Librarian Training Program Profiled in Library Journal

The Wisconsin Court System's workshop for public librarians received some recognition in the Library Journal last month. The workshops acquaint public librarians with the latest law resources available for pro se litigants.

From the article:

Local and state court officials, lawyers, and the state law librarian made presentations on the range of resources now available, including how to research statutes and laws, find information in court offices and at the state law library web site, or download and fill out forms, many of which were developed specifically for self-representing litigants.

November 14, 2007

Those Evil Librarians

"Alcatraz Smedry doesn't seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them...by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness." (Amazon.com)

That's the plot of a new book called Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, which was reviewed by Nancy Pearl on NPR this week. Her review and an abstract of the book are available at NPR.

Hmm - an orphan boy hero taking on evil forces--and he's got dark, messy hair and circular glasses. Sounds vaguely familiar. And you can bet it will be on reading list. Some of my favorite books lately have been YA novels (young adult) - the Twilight series, The Goose Girl, and of course Harry Potter.

November 8, 2007

Radio Interview About Blogging Jurors

This morning, Anne Reed of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, SC appeared on Lake Effect, a program on Milwaukee's public radio station WUWM. In the ten minute interview, Anne discusses the phenomenon of blogging jurors. Really interesting stuff.

In case you missed it, the interview is available on the Lake Effect Web site.

For more on how blogs and social networking sites have impacted jurors, see Anne's blog, Deliberations.

Tools for Finding Old Web Pages

Determining if and how a Web site has changed can be an important factor in litigation. Many of you probably know about a wonderful tool called the Wayback Machine which archives sites and displays them as they were at various points in time.

But, but did you know that there were other tools that do this as well? I didn't.

Search Engine Showdown has compiled a handy chart for Finding Old Web Pages. In addition to listing each tool, the chart notes how far back the archive goes, and how to search it.

Wisconsin Law Journal Site Has New Look, New Features

About a week ago, the Wisconsin Law Journal unveiled a new Web site. Besides a sleek new look, WLJ has introduced some sweet new features including several new blogs and a handful of RSS feeds.

In his introductory post, Managing Editor, Tony Anderson explains:

New features will include a variety of blogs touching on a range of topics relating to the practice of law and our courts. Readers will be able to comment directly on blog postings and stories, making our site a place to discuss the issues that are important to you. We also have added a daily update of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court calendar.

Bar associations and other non-profit groups are invited to visit our community calendar and post your upcoming events. And subscribers will be able to sign up for our daily e-mail news service - WLJ Today.

In addition to our Web site and daily e-mail updates, we will continue to provide our weekly legal newspaper with all the features you've trusted and relied upon for the past 25 years. Content that is more than seven days old will be limited to print or online subscribers only.

November 7, 2007

World's Weirdest Cases and Dumbest Laws

Weirdest Cases:

The Times (of London) Online is kicking off it's new column, Weird Cases, with a list of the columnist's top twenty "favourite bizarre disputes, prosecutions and lawsuits." Number one? Right here in Wisconsin, a Fond du Lac man "sued a television company for making his wife fat and transforming his children into 'lazy channel surfers'."

Dumbest Laws:

The Telegraph (also from Britain) reports on the results of a survey in which people were asked to rank the stupidest laws in Great Britain and internationally. Number one dumbest British law? "It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament"

Why would it be illegal to die there you ask? According to Nigel Cawthorne, author of The Strange Laws of Old England, "Anyone who dies there is technically entitled to a state funeral. If they see you looking a bit sick they carry you out quickly."

Thanks to Nancy Paul and Novalawcity for the tips.

November 6, 2007

Some Law Enforcement Records Could be Shielded from Open Records Requests per Assembly Bill

"A pending bill in the Legislature could have a broad silencing effect on Wisconsin open records law," says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Assembly Bill 522 would shield from all open records requests certain law-enforcement records not "in the custody of an authority that performed the service or conducted the investigation" - wording that the head record-keeper in the state's busiest courthouse called "too broad and too vague" to be practically applied without severely limiting public access to court cases.

"I think it would place in doubt every criminal complaint," Milwaukee County Clerk of Courts John Barrett said, "as to whether or not that would be open or not."

Apparently, the proposal was drafted to protect records in situations where disparate police agencies use a central county communications system.

In such cases, [bill sponsor Rep. Garey] Bies said, records that might be shielded from open-records requests because they're part of a pending police investigation could be unprotected because copies of them are in the county's computer system.

Disposable Phone Numbers

There is a service called Numbr (formerly Craigsnumber) that provides free disposable phone numbers. You say how long you need the number (one hour to one month) and tell it to what real phone number(s) you want it forwarded.

There are some additional advanced options and you can terminate or extend the number if desired. Get your number at the Numbr web site or call (415) 234 5678.

One suggested use for a disposable number is when posting a contact number on an auction or ad. I could also see using it for online transactions or prize registrations when a phone number is required. I'm sure there are lots of other uses. If you think of any, add them to the comments.

Source: inter alia

Dissertation Calculator Suggests Manageable Deadlines

Have a dissertation looming in your future and don't know where to start? Check out the Dissertation Calculator developed by the UW Madison CIMC (Center for Instructional Materials and Computing).

Simply enter your start date and target end date. The calculator breaks down the dissertation process into manageable deadlines and provides you with important resources and advice. Using this tool can help you develop your specific process in collaboration with your department, advisor and others.

Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Changed

From the Christian Science Monitor:

This week the US Sentencing Commission, with little fanfare, officially reduced its recommended sentences for crack-related offenses. The commission announced last spring that it intended to make the change, and Congress had until Nov. 1 to stop the move. It didn't, and the revised guidelines became effective Thursday.

Thanks to Bill Ebbott for the tip.

November 2, 2007

Free Ethics CLE to be Held at Law School

A free Professional Ethics CLE Program will be held at the UW Law School this Wednesday, November 7th from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M in room 7200 (Lubar Commons).

Three Ethics CLE credits for Wisconsin lawyers will be available. No registration is required.

New Business Database Availability from Madison & Milwaukee Public Libraries

Two business databases available to public library card holders have just been announced:

Value Line from the Milwaukee Public Library

Value Line, a popular online database for investors, is now available remotely through the Milwaukee Public Library's Website. All City of Milwaukee residents with valid library cards can use this great resource. To access this database from your home computer: Go to the Milwaukee Public Library's home page. Select "Research Resources," then "All Library Databases". Scroll through the alphabetical list until you reach Value Line. Click on the Value Line link. Enter your library card number and PIN, and you're in!

Value Line is also available at some Madison Public Library locations.

Morningstar Library Edition from the Madison Public Library

Madison Public Library and the Madison Public Library Foundation are offering a five-month trial of the Morningstar Library Edition financial evaluation service. Morningstar Library Edition incorporates the best of Morningstar data, analysis, technology, and information design. Individual investors can access and use all of the features and functionality in this online destination, including analyst reports of 2,000 mutual funds and nearly 2,000 stocks. An exceptional Education Center offers in-depth guides on five different topics that matter most to today's investor: retirement planning, college planning, investing during retirement, investing for beginners, and portfolio tips and tricks.

Morningstar Library Edition will be accessible from November 1, 2007, to March 31, 2008, to anyone who visits a Madison Public Library location. The service will also be available remotely to any City of Madison resident who has a current public library card. Contact Carla DiIorio at 266-6310 or email madisonlibrary@gmail.com to participate in this trial.

Morningstar is also available from the Milwaukee Public Library.

Website of Shame About to Get Some New Names - Amount Owed Lowered to $5K

A whole lot more delinquent taxpayers are about to get added to the Department of Revenue's Website of Shame.

According to the Wisconsin Radio Network, a provision in the new state budget lowers the threshold to $5,000 owed. Currently, the site lists taxpayers who owe $25,000 or more.

Delinquents will have a chance to pay off their debt before they end up on the list. DOR is currently contacting those who will qualify under the new requirements for being listed.

Some Bloggers = Journalists According to SC Federal Judge

A South Carolina District Court judge has ruled that bloggers may have the same rights as journalists, depending on the content of the blog. The complete case, BidZirk LLC v Phillip J Smith, is available at Justia. Justia rocks!

From Judge Henry M. Herlong, Jr.'s opinion:

However, in determining whether Smith was engaged in news reporting or news commentating, the court has applied the functional analysis suggested by commentators and the Plaintiffs in their memorandum in support of a preliminary injunction, which examines the content of the material, not the format, to determine whether it is journalism... In addition, the court has considered the intent of Smith in writing the article. The court agrees that not all bloggers are journalists. However, some bloggers are without question journalists.

Source: What I Learned Today...

November 1, 2007

Library Services for Alumni Featured in Latest Issue of The Gargoyle

The latest edition of The Gargoyle, the UW Madison Law School alumni magazine, is now available online.

On a research note, I'd like to draw your attention to an article I contributed about the various library services available to UW Law School alumni and others (see page 8). This includes document delivery, databases, current awareness services, and reference assistance.

Other highlights from this Summer 2007 issue include:

  • Constitutional Law in Action
    Professors Richard Monette, Heinz Klug, and Brady Williamson have used their expertise in constitutional law in a very concrete way: helping nations to create their own constitutions.

  • Clinical Legal Education: It's For All Kinds of Lawyers
    Contrary to the misconception that clinical legal education always involves criminal law, the Law School's 13 clinics help students develop professionalism and skills for all fields of law.

  • How I Got Here
    Professor Marygold Melli decided in eighth grade that she wanted to be a lawyer. She met -- and surmounted -- challenges all along the way from a legal profession that wasn't ready to admit women.

  • A Plan Called LRAP
    Careers in public interest law can seem out of reach for graduates carrying the burden of debt that grew as they paid for their education. The Law School is building a Loan Repayment Assistance Program to help out.

Interesting Findings from the AALL Salary Survey

The 2007 American Association of Law Libraries 2007 Salary Survey is now available online to AALL members.

In addition to statistical tables summarizing salary data by position for each type of library (academic, private firm/corporate, and state, court and county), the report also provides other information, such as member demographics, library budgets and staffing.

Here are some of the more interesting results:

This table shows the average information budget by type of library in 2007. Information budget means the amount spent on library materials (as opposed to staffing and other costs)
Notice the difference in expenditures on print v electronic information by type of library. Also, notice the percentage increases of total budget for 2007. It's likely that this increase is not because new materials are being purchased, but because libraries are paying more to keep what they've got.

Another interesting table shows the various responsibilities of firm librarians, increasingly outside of the library.