July 30, 2010

Zimmerman's Legal Research Guide - and Blog

Zimmerman's Legal Research Guide is a tremendous resource for discovering the best resources in specific areas of law. I often use the online encyclopedia when I'm presented with a research question on an unfamiliar topic.

Zimmerman's guide is well known among the law librarian community - and rightly so. With addition of a new Zimmerman's blog, we can keep up to date with new additions.

The author is Andrew Zimmerman, a librarian with many years of research experience in large law firms. He created the guide after visiting a senior law librarian at her office. "In the middle of our conversation she opened a drawer and pointed to a black ring binder stuffed with paper. This was her 'black book.' She said the binder held twenty-odd years of her accumulated wisdom." He soon started his own black book, shared it with his library staff, and eventually put it up on the web.

Zimmerman emphasizes that the guide is still a work-in-progress and welcomes suggestions, additions, comments or criticisms. See the about page for contact information.

I've corresponded with Andy over the years and had the pleasure to meet him in person this month at the Blogger's Get Together at AALL in Denver. He is genuinely nice guy and very approachable.

Hat tip to Laura Orr of the Oregon Legal Research Guide about the new blog

November 25, 2009

Guides to Legal Research for the Layperson

The American Association of Law Libraries Legal Information Services to the Public SIS has recently published a new edition of its research guide, How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyers. This guide introduces sources of law generally and offers tips on how to get started.

For a more detailed guide covering both federal and Wisconsin specific resources, see the Introduction to Legal Materials: A Manual for Non-Law Librarians in Wisconsin prepared by the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin.

May 12, 2009

Student's Wikipedia Hoax Fools Journalists, Bloggers

From Yahoo Tech:

When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

The sociology major's made-up quote -- which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer's death March 28 -- flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.

There is nothing wrong with using Wikipedia for quick look-ups. I do it myself. BUT - you absolutely need to verify the information against other reputable sources. If the article contains footnotes, you need to follow them. If it doesn't contain footnotes, you should be suspicious.

See my recent post, Case Reversed for Allowing Wikipedia as Evidence.

Source: Twitter - Ross Kodner

July 29, 2008

The Virtual Chase Comes to an End

Genie Tyburski has announced that she's closing down The Virtual Chase. Wow - the end of an era.

I will take down the site gradually over the next several months unless I find someone willing to archive it or continue its development. I anticipate that the site will be completely offline by no later than May 2009 (and quite possibly, sooner) except in the event of a new owner.

February 25, 2008

Researching "Green" Issues

Bev Butula over at the Wisconsin Law Journal blog has put together a useful guide to researching "green" issues.

The list also appeared in the print edition of this week's Wisconsin Law Journal on page 10A.

December 12, 2007

New WLJ Blog, Research and Resources, by Law Librarian Bev Butula

It's my pleasure to announce a new blawg from the Wisconsin Law Journal. Research and Resources, authored by fellow law librarian, Bev Butula, will "introduce quality websites and search tips to improve your online research experience."

Bev's inaugural post highlights several of the resources available from the Wisconsin State Law Library.

May 18, 2007

Back to the Future of Legal Research Symposium - Librarian and Practitioner Legal Research Survey Results

At the mid-morning session at the Back to the Future Symposium, we learned about the results from various practitioner and librarian surveys regarding legal research practices. Speakers were Sanford Greenberg and Tom Gaylord of Chicago-Kent College of Law and Patrick Meyer of Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

There was a lot of interesting data presented, including recommendations by Chicago law firm librarians on what skills they would like to see from new associates:

  • Electronic Searching Knowledge - 28.57%
  • Print Materials Knowledge - 37.14%
  • Subject Area Knowledge - 20%
  • Online Cost Efficiency - 14.29%
  • General Research Strategies - 22.86%
  • Google/Web - 2.86%

Also interesting were the recommendations by law firm librarians on which types of information are better accessed online and which are better in print. The majority of librarians surveyed felt that cases and digests were better used online while legislative and administrative codes were better used in print. And it's no surprise that the vast majority felt that Shepards/KeyCite was better online. Over three quarters of survey respondents felt that secondary sources were better used in print.

May 16, 2007

LLJ Articles from the Berring Symposium on Legal Information & the Development of American Law

The latest edition of Law Library Journal is out and it contains articles from the symposium on Legal Information and the Development of American Law: Further Thinking about the Thoughts of Robert C. Berring. Included is Should Legal Research Be Included on the Bar Exam? An Exploration of the Question by the UW Law Library's own director, Steve Barkan.

April 20, 2007

ABA Litigation Section Podcast

The Litigation Podcast from the ABA Section of Litigation promises to serve up practical tips, tactics, and interviews with today's leading trial attorneys.

Looks like there have been some interesting topics so far, including one on Quick and Dirty Research.

January 16, 2007

Legal Research Movie on YouTube

From Law Librarian Blog:

A group of students in Stanford Law's advanced legal research class created a short (3 minute) silent film, Legal Research: The Movie. Fantastic! I guess the movie isn't a "talkie" because some scenes were filmed in the law library.

December 12, 2006

Librarian's Ultimate Guide to Search Engines Has Tips for Everyone

Scott Hawksworth over at DegreeTutor has created a very useful guide for online research called the Librarian's Ultimate Guide to Search Engines. It covers "things librarians understand about search - and things that anyone doing online research can benefit from."

These things include discussion of where search engines are and where they are going, a glossary, advanced search tips, and a description of some of the players - big and little - in the search market.

This guide has something for everyone - from novice searcher to expert researcher.

November 21, 2006

Guide to Assessing Information on the Internet

Mary J. Koshollek, director of information and records services at Godfrey & Kahn S.C. in Milwaukee has written an excellent article on evaluating websites in the November issue of the Wisconsin Lawyer. In Assessing Information on the Internet, Mary describes the whys and hows of evaluating the authority of Internet materials.


This article provides guidance as you search and work to evaluate the information that you are gathering. Healthy skepticism and critical evaluation techniques are basic lawyering traits and should be applied to working with Internet-based information.

July 27, 2006

Law for the Layperson: An Annotated Bibliography of Self-help Law Books

Southern Illinois University Law Librarians Diane Murley and Amber Hewette have written a new book entitled, Law for the Layperson: An Annotated Bibliography of Self-help Law Books. It is available from Hein and Amazon.

Nearly 1,000 self-help books and other resources are reviewed and classified by topic and jurisdiction. The book is intended to help nonlawyers find the information they need and help librarians serve their pro se patrons.

Source: Law Dawg Blawg

April 26, 2006

WisStat Offers Custom Demographic & Economic Data

Looking for a map of median house values for Dane County? a family demographic profile for DeForest? or a table of major crops harvested in Wisconsin? These and many more customizable tables, profiles and maps are available free on WisStat from the UW Extension Applied Population Laboratory.

WisStat is a very powerful database for compiling demographic and economic statistics for the state of Wisconsin, its counties and smaller communities. Learning to use it takes a while, but it will be time well spent for those needing this type of detailed, customized data. A help page and introductory power point presentation are available.

March 13, 2006

Good, Fast, or Cheap: Best Two out of Three

The following is based on an article about evaluating information that I wrote for our Law School Newsletter a few years back:

First the good news: Legal information may have three desirable characteristics - good, fast, and cheap.
Now the bad news: You can only have two out of the three at one time.

As researchers, we would like for the sources we choose to meet all three criteria. Unfortunately, this is a very rare occurrence. Quite often we must choose which two of these three characteristics are most important for our research needs.

Good and Fast

The most obvious example of legal information that is both good and fast is that which can be found in subscription databases such as Westlaw and Lexis. An experienced researcher can quickly find accurate information to address a legal issue. But, it's not cheap!

In fact, a single search in one of the larger databases could reach almost $200. However, considering the rate at which many attorneys bill their time, this cost may be perfectly acceptable. Remember-time is money.

Good and Cheap

There are several examples of information that is both good and cheap. One might be print resources. Attorneys can often find accurate information using the print resources in the firm's library with no per use search fees. However, it often takes more time to research with books than it does to search a database.

(With the high cost of maintaining print subscriptions, many librarians know that this type of search may not be as inexpensive as it seems. However, many attorneys do not pass on this cost to their clients.)

The Internet could also be considered another source of good and cheap information. There very well might be a free site out there by a reputable author that accurately answers your legal question. But how long is it going to take you to find it?

Fast and Cheap

Internet information can also be categorized as fast and cheap. Using any number of search engines, you can often very quickly find free information on your legal issue. Unfortunately, it may or may not be accurate. In fact, the very first site you find may say that the US Constitution was signed in 1984. Be aware that just because someone "publishes" a site, doesn't mean that the information contained within it is reliable.

Which Two to Choose?

Unfortunately, there is no absolute answer to this question. The type of resource you choose to answer your legal question may be different in every situation. How able is your client to pay for legal services? How comfortable are you using databases versus print resources? What is your hourly billing rate? Do you think the answer you seek will be elusive or easily found?

To be an effective legal researcher, you must learn to balance your time, search costs, and the accuracy of the information you find.

February 7, 2006

Brush Up Your Searching Skills

Do your searches often yield too many or too few search results? Or would you just like to brush up on your search strategies? If so, help has arrived.

The UW-Madison campus librarians have created a series of nice, short narrated tutorials that offer strategies for achieving better search results. The tutorials were created using Macromedia Captivate, a screen capture program.

The following general tutorials are available: Research Tips and Strategies: Basic Search Strategies | Identifying Scholarly Articles | Finding Information about Periodicals | Strategies for "Too Many Results" | Strategies for "Too Few Results"

There are also a number of tutorials for resources available in campus libraries such as MadCat (a catalog of items available on the UW-Madison campus), WorldCat (a catalog of library materials worldwide), and more.