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January 31, 2008

PreCYdent, New Public-Domain Law Search Engine, Features Sophisticated Search Engine & Social Networking Tools

There is a new public-domain law search engine on the block and it's a dandy.

Like parallel projects, Public.Resource.Org and AltLaw, newcomer PreCYdent aims to compile public-domain cases and statutes for free availability on the Web. "We believe judicial opinions and statutes must be in the public domain, in practice as well as in theory. To us this means that effective legal research in all of these materials should be free to the user -- not expensive, not inexpensive. Free." Officially, the alpha version contains only U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals cases so far, but it looks like the US Code is available, as well.

Search Engine
There are several things that make PreCYdent stand apart from the other projects, however. Foremost is its sophisticated, yet simple-to-use Google-esque search engine developed specifically with legal resources in mind. "PreCYdent search technology is able to mine the information latent in the "Web of Law", the network of citations among legal authorities. This means it is also able to retrieve legally relevant authorities, even if the search terms do not actually occur or occur frequently in the retrieved document."

Social Networking
Another stand out aspect is PreCYdent's incorporation of social networking tools, such as offering users the option to add tags and comments to documents, and to rate their importance. "Our objective is to create a space where people interested in law will be able to share knowledge, find help and to exchange experiences. We are going to integrate our effort with successful social communities such as Facebook. "

For more on PreCYdent, see Robert Ambrogi's insightful analysis, as well as, Joe Hodnicki's interview with founder Thomas A. Smith, professor at University of San Diego School of Law.

January 30, 2008

The New Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

On December 1, 2007, a revised and restyled Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (F.R.C.P.) became effective. The Style Project, as it is called, rewrote the rules using "plain language" with the purpose of making them easier to understand. This project, begun in 1992, resulted in the most extensive revision of the rules since their establishment in 1938.

The new rules may be viewed online at the Federal Judiciary's website for federal rules of practice, procedure, and evidence, as well as, at Cornell's Legal Information Institute website.

The Federal Judiciary's website also gives you considerable insight into the rulemaking process itself, and the changes that were made. For example, you will find links to the Current and Restyled Rules Comparison Chart, another chart outlining the Civil Rules Style Project Global Drafting Issues, as well as, excerpts from the Report of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (Part 1 of this report presents action items and the second a side-by-side comparison of the old and amended rules).

It is important to remember, though, that these changes are merely stylistic in nature as an aid to their use and implementation. The amendments are not and should not be construed to affect the substantive meaning of the rules themselves. Rule 86 addresses this very point by including a provision that the restyled Rules are not to be treated as superseding existing laws. Likewise, the Rule's Advisory Committee Notes appending each of the restyled rules state the same, i.e. "These changes are intended to be stylistic only."

Among the recently updated print resources incorporating the 2007 style amendments to be found in the library include:

Federal Civil Rules Handbook. St. Paul, Minn. : West Pub. Co.
Location: Reserve Collection KF/8816/A195/2008 (24 hour loan)

Moore's Federal Rules Pamphlet in 4 parts (see Part 1 for F.R.C.P.). New York, NY : Matthew Bender, 1997-
Location: Reserve Collection KF/8840/M642/Rules/Pt.1-4/2008 (24 hour loan)

Moore's Federal Practice. 3rd ed. New York, NY : Matthew Bender, 1997-
Volumes 1-14 have been completed revised to reflect the new changes.
Location: Quarles & Brady Reading Room, 5th Floor East, section 57 (non-circulating)

[Originally posted in the UW Law School Newsletter. Written by my colleague, Eric Taylor.]

Atlantic Monthly Goes Free, But WSJ Doesn't

Despite speculation to the contrary, The Wall Street Journal will keep a significant portion of its content behind its paid-subscription wall.

The Atlantic Monthly, however, has recently dropped its subscriber registration requirement, making the site free to all visitors. Back issues are available from 1995 to the present. Note that the search box, oddly enough, is at the bottom of the page.

Sources: beSpacific and Boing Boing

Free Overnight Parking in Madison Ramps During Snow Emergencies

From a City of Madison News Release:

Beginning Monday, January 28, 2008, the Parking Utility will not charge for parking in cashiered sections of city garages between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. on declared snow emergency days.

Parkers will need to pay for parking before 9 p.m. or after 7 a.m. on those days.

These new times will take affect immediately at the following facilities: Government East, Overture Center, State Street Campus, State Street Capitol and Capitol Square North. It is not available at other Parking Utility facilities.

By expanding these parking hours during snow emergencies, the City hopes that there will be fewer parked vehicles on public streets, which would help facilitate snow removal during heavy snowfalls.

Diploma Privilege Lawsuit Reinstated

A lawsuit questioning Wisconsin's diploma privilege was reinstated on Tuesday by the Seventh Circuit, reports JS Online.

From the article:

U.S. District Judge John Shabaz dismissed the lawsuit last year. The rule exempting University of Wisconsin and Marquette University law graduates from taking the exam does not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, he said.

But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Tuesday that Shabaz erred when he did not rule first on whether to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit. The court sent the case back to Shabaz for additional proceedings.

January 29, 2008

Historical Photos - Wisconsin Law

Have you seen the collection of photos that the Library of Congress has recently posted to Flickr? There are some pretty amazing photos, including a series of color photos from WWII era.

It got me curious about whether there were any interesting Wisconsin photos. I didn't find much from the Library of Congress collection, but then I remember that the Wisconsin Historical Society also maintains a large online photo collection. Here are a couple that caught my eye.

The State's First All-Woman Law Firm, 1945
Eight-foot Tall Lawyer, 1944

The Law Office, 1894

Update 1/31/08: Robert Ambrogi over at Legal Blog Watch was intrigued by the photo of Clifford Thompson, the eight-foot tall lawyer and did a bit of research.

January 28, 2008

Bo Ryan & Crew Featured on New READ Poster

From Libraries@UW Madison newsletter:

UW basketball Head Coach Bo Ryan and several of the Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball players are the subjects in the latest READ poster by the UW-Madison Libraries, which will arrive in early February.


January 23, 2008

JS Online Weighs in on Proposal to Limit Access to Court Records

In an editorial yesterday, JS Online weighs in on another proposal to limit access to Wisconsin's online court records.

Companion proposals by Vos and Lassa would have state officials remove cases or charges involving a civil forfeiture or misdemeanor from the Web site within 90 days after being notified that the case or charge has been dismissed, the defendant has been found not guilty of all of the charges or the case or charge has been overturned on appeal and dismissed. In the case of felonies, the case or charge would be removed within 120 days after officials had been notified that one of the above had happened.

As Peter Fox of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association put it in an e-mail, the proposals are poor public policy. "For one thing, the WCCA site is intended to reflect the actual record of Wisconsin courts, not excerpts thereof," he wrote. "Essentially, this proposal would create two 'sets of books.' "

Source: Wheeler Report

January 22, 2008

New Bill Would Give Police Instant Access to Drivers' License Photos

Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen is backing a bill that would offer electronic access by law enforcement agencies to photographs on motor vehicle operators licenses and identification cards.

According to Proof and Hearsay:

The bill Van Hollen backs, which as he says "isn't costless," would sync up the police computers that already use this system with the DOT's and enable electronic signatures to be used to request pictures. The first-term AG says federal grant money is available to defray the costs, but he didn't give an estimate on the total tab.

January 18, 2008

OPAC of the Future Featured at UW Reference Retreat

Last week the UW Madison Libraries sponsored a Reference Retreat for our campus reference librarians. There were some really great sessions that I thought might have a broader appeal and which some WisBlawg readers might enjoy viewing. By way of full disclosure, I was co-chair of the committee that organized the retreat.

One session though, pretty much stole the show: Making Your Catalog Data Work Harder: A Library R&D Project by Steve Meyer, Library Application Developer at UW Madison. This presentation is toward the end of part 1 in the Webcast.

In his presentation, Steve gave us a glimpse of the OPAC the future and, boy was it cool. Living up to his own mantra, "embrace the beta," Steve introduced us to, SaneCat, the "OPAC-like toy" that he developed last winter, during our campus intersession.

According to Steve, SaneCat was built to solve the following problems:

  • To create an OPAC-like prototype that doesn't suck
  • To showcase library collections not just provide the call number for an individual title
  • To approximate the experience of browsing the stacks in 2-D

And solve them it did, as you can begin to see in the screen shot below. Note the Amazon-ish feel with the "more like this" links (of which there were much more than this screen shot shows) and the "browse virtual stacks" link.


Obviously, this was a very small project using a very small sample of our catalog data, so we won't be moving into production anytime soon here at the UW Madison Libraries... but it does give our imaginations something a bit more concrete to build upon. As Steve points out:

  • we have proof that our data can do what we want
  • we know that Amazon does not have a monopoly on 'more like this'
  • we have a mockup that can stand as leverage with vendors
  • we can lend our tech to vendors so our systems are better

Libraries have so much awesome data with which we could do so much more. It's so cool to see a system like SaneCat that can leverage that data into something much more powerful than our current OPAC. Let's do this thing.

January 17, 2008

Of Overdue Books and Library Cops

OnMilwaukee had a funny post today in which the author is reminded of some long overdue books from the Milwaukee Public Library.

"So, in the end," he writes, "I unwittingly gave myself up, ending my life on the lam." Too bad he didn't have the cash with him to make good on the hefty fine.

Oddly reminiscent, the author notes, of the classic Seinfeld episode, "The Library" in which Jerry gets a visit from Mr. Bookman, the Sergeant-Joe-Fridayesque library cop from NYPL, over the matter of an unreturned book from 1971. Check it out on YouTube.

BOOKMAN: You took this book out in 1971.

JERRY: Yes, and I returned it in 1971.

BOOKMAN: Yeah, '71. That was my first year on the job. Bad year for libraries. Bad year for America. Hippies burning library cards, Abby Hoffman telling everybody to steal books. I don't judge a man by the length of his hair or the kind of music he listens to. Rock was never my bag. But you put on a pair of shoes when you walk into the New York Public Library, fella.

And then there is Kramer: "The Dewey Decimal System, what a scam that was. Boy that Dewey guy really cleaned up on that deal."

January 16, 2008

Additions to Cornell's Legal Research Engine

Cornell Law Library has recently enhanced their Legal Research Search Engine to include a few new specialty search engines. It now includes four search engines:

  • Legal Research Guides (compiled by law libraries around the county)
  • Legal Internet (sites indexed by InSite)
  • Academic Blawgs
  • and a combined search of the all of the above

You can also add these search engines to your Google homepage by clicking on the Google button under each one. Nifty.

Do Librarians Belong in Facebook?

"If you could contact a librarian via Facebook or MySpace for help with your research, would you? If not, why?"

That was the question asked of 300+ college students in a recent University of Michigan Library survey. See the results on the right.

According to Suzanne Chapman at UM:

The main impetus for this question comes from a current trend for libraries to create Facebook apps that allow OPAC searching and other library related functionality from within Facebook. There has also been a lot of discussion and experimentation with using Facebook for reference and outreach.

Thanks to Leah Ujda over at the UW Digital Collections Center for forwarding this to me. We'd just been discussing this question last week at our semi-annual UW Madison Libraries Reference Retreat. Good to have some data to consult.

January 15, 2008

UW Law Library Recent Acquisitions RSS Feed

Last week I announced that MadCat, the UW Madison Library catalog, had added RSS feeds for new items from various campus libraries and subjects, including law.

I also noted that the Law Library is continuing to produce our Selected Recent Acquisitions list which is much more detailed. Customized email delivery is available and I'm pleased to announce that we've just added a RSS feed.

Unlike the previously mentioned MadCat generated feed, our Selected Recent Acquisitions feed only lists titles which are truly new. Because it is tied to our acquisitions system, the MadCat generated feed lists everything we've received, like new supplements of long held titles, older items that have just been retrospectively cataloged, etc.

So, if you're interested browsing new items received by the UW Law Library, I recommend that you subscribe to our Selected Recent Acquisitions RSS feed or customized email service.

If you would like to request one of our recently acquired titles, or any other title for that matter, you may use our Outlaw Document Delivery service. (See our fee schedule.)

January 14, 2008

Bella is Bewildered About Blogs

Bev Butula, law librarian colleague and blogger over at the Wisconsin Law Journal, shared with me a fun story she created to illustrate how useful blogs can be to legal professionals.

The story is entitled Bella is Bewildered About Blogs. Think Wolf v. Pig, but about blogs.

All silliness aside, this story is a great way to learn more about blogs and how you, as a legal professional, can use them to stay current with a very small investment of your time. Several Wisconsin-related blogs are featured, including WisBlawg.

January 11, 2008

Searchable Bibliography of UW Law Faculty Publications Is Now Online

From UW Law School News:

A searchable bibliography for locating articles and books written by University of Wisconsin Law School faculty is now up on the Law School Web site. The search form is at


The directory is searchable by author, subject, title, and keywords. "We hope it showcases the varied scholarship of our faculty," says UW Law Library Faculty Services Librarian Cheryl O'Connor, a member of the committee that produced the new service.

The bibliography is still a work in progress, O'Connor says. "Our goal is to make it retrospective for each faculty member and to add more citations from emeritus professors as well as those faculty no longer affiliated with the UW."

O'Connor adds a thank-you to the many contributors to the project. "In addition to the fine work done by our IT staff," she says, "Virginia Meier, Steven Weber and Nate Dau-Schmidt of the Law Library staff did much of the data verification and entry. Associate Dean for Research Kathryn Hendley should be applauded for her efforts to keep this project on task as well as her vision for the format, and Sue Sawatske for her invaluable assistance."

Workshops at the WI State Law Library

The Wisconsin State Law Library is offering two very useful - not to mention free - workshops this spring.

  • Using LegalTrac and HeinOnline to Locate Law Reviews Online Wednesday, February 13, 2008, 9:00-10:00 a.m. The number of full text law review and journal articles available electronically continues to increase exponentially, making it more convenient than ever to find what you need. Come and learn how to access and use LegalTrac and HeinOnline, two databases available through WSLL that can enhance your law journal research. FREE Class. 1 CLE credit applied for.

  • Tax Resources On The Web
    Wednesday, March 5, 2008, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
    Tax research giving you headaches? Come spend an hour unraveling the maze of tax-related websites. See what's available for free in the way of forms and tax help for Wisconsin, other states and the IRS. Jane Colwin, a tax librarian in a former life, will lead you in a hands-on tour.
    FREE Class. 1 CLE credit applied for.

For additional information, see their Classes & Tours web page.

State Law Library Introduces New Catalog

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin State Law Library introduced a new interface for their library catalog. It offers several new customized features, including the ability to save a re-run searches, renew your materials online, as well as customized email and RSS alerts for new materials.

The the latest WSLL @ Your Service for information on how to use these new features.

January 3, 2008

RSS Feeds for New Items from Law Library & other UW Madison Libraries

I'm pleased to report that MadCat, the UW Madison library catalog, now features RSS feeds for new items. New In MadCat is a list of books, journals, and titles in all media that have recently been cataloged by campus libraries. The list is updated every Wednesday.

You may subscribe to RSS feeds for particular Subjects and Campus Libraries.

Law-Related Subject feeds

* All
* America. North America
* Asia and Eurasia, Africa, Pacific Area, and Antarctica
* Canada
* Europe
* History of canon law
* Islamic law
* Jewish law
* Latin America. Mexico and Central America. West Indies. Caribbean area
* Law of nations
* Law of the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy See
* Religious law in general. Comparative religious law. Jurisprudence
* South America
* United Kingdom and Ireland
* United States

A feed for all newly cataloged items from the UW Law Library is also available. However, we will continue to produce our Selected Recent Acquisitions list which is much more detailed. Customized email delivery is available.

January 2, 2008

WI Personnel Commission Abolished

The Wisconsin Personnel Commission is yet another agency abolished by the state budget. Others include the Revisor of Statutes Bureau and the Sentencing Commission.

From their Web site:

Pursuant to the provisions of the State budget that was recently enacted into law, the Personnel Commission has been abolished and its authority has been distributed between two other state agencies: 1) the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) is now responsible for processing Appeals, and 2) the Equal Rights Division (ERD) of the Department of Workforce Development is responsible for processing Complaints.

Thanks to my colleague, Eric Taylor, for pointing this out.

Libraries As Relevant As Ever, Esp. to Young Adults

From a recent survey on library use conducted by Pew Internet & American Life:

The survey results challenge the assumption that libraries are losing relevance in the internet age. Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes.... And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose.

Wisconsin Passed Nation's First Open Records Law in 1849

In response to my post last week about Wisconsin passing the nation's first open records law in 1849, I received a request to post the full text of that law. So, I did a quick scan from our 1849 Wisconsin Revised Statutes print volume and here is Chapter 10, Section 137.