Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Blog for Legal Writing Help

You're probably well aware of Black's Law Dictionary, but do you know anything about its editor-in-chief? Brian A. Garner has authored many other works on legal writing, including Elements of Legal Style, Legal Writing in Plain English, and Making Your Case: The Art of of Persuading Judges, co-written with Justice Scalia. He has been called "the legal authority on good legal writing."

Fortunately for us, he also maintains a blog with helpful tips for your writing. Called LawProse Blog, it's dedicated to legal writing tips and lessons. It include Usage Tips of the Day and Quotations of the Day, like this one:

"An attractive title is nothing less than miraculous in gaining readers for a paper." David Lee Clark et al, Form and Style: A Manual of Composition and Rhetoric 16 (1937).

Recent usage tips include an entry explaining the etymology of the expression "lay of the land," when to use "lie low" or "lay low," and whether to write "toward" or "towards."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Can I Have That in English Please?

One request that we get here at the Reference Desk is “how do I find the law from a certain country, in English?” Many times the eventual answer will be that the law is not available in English, but sometimes it is. This post is going to review some sources to be used for answering that question. 

The major go-to source for this kind of inquiry is unquestionably Reynolds and Flores Foreign Law Guide. This resource was taken over from long-time editors Thomas Reynolds and Arturo Flores in 2012 with its purchase by Brill/MartinusNijhoff. With that change came a new platform and a new General Editor, Marci Hoffman, who is also the Associate Director of the Boalt Hall Law Library. The initial goal of the Foreign Law Guide, which has since been expanded, was to provide sources of English translations for foreign law. Often the source will be an older translation and perhaps not useful for a more modern primary law, but this is a typical obstacle in finding English translations. To use this source for the purpose of discovering whether an English translations exists, find the country in which you are interested, find the type of law needed (official gazette, compilations or official codifications, session laws, codes, court reports), click into that source and start reading the description. If there is an English translation available it will be described.

What if you don’t have access to the Foreign Law Guide, which is only available by subscription?  Consider the Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law by Marr Rumsey, the Foreign, Comparative & International Law Librarian at the University of Minnesota. Mary describes the purpose of this particular guide as describing “basic strategies for finding the laws of countries other than the U.S, primarily in English.” The focus of this Guide is on statutory codes and laws rather than cases. However, Ms. Rumsey does include secondary sources written in English describing other country’s laws. But as I alluded to above, the search for English translations is often unsuccessful–Ms. Rumsey includes the following warning on her guide: “Very few foreign laws, and even fewer cases, are translated into English.” So, consider the strategy of dampening your patron’s expectations right from the start so that if you are able to turn up an English translation, the victory will be even sweeter.

I also like a guide by Mirela Roznovschi, Finding Foreign (Non-U.S.) Law … in English, If Possible. This guide contains general advice on starting a foreign law research project including that it is important to know what kind of legal system your country of interest has – civil, common law, mixed, customary, Islamic law –so that you don’t waste time looking for case law reporters in a civil law country. One free online source to use to make this preliminary determination is JuriGlobe, which has a page that can help you answer that question. 

Good luck with this task. And although you may not come up with the result requested, you will definitely learn a lot along the way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LexisNexis Practice Adviser

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a Practical Skills Panel put on by LexisNexis in Cambridge, MA. One component of the event on getting law students practice-ready involved an introduction to a tool on Lexis called "Lexis Practice Adviser" (LPA).  It was introduced with the intention to "practicalize" legal education. It provides a task-based setup with annotated, customizable forms that go beyond what's offered in a typical form book; they contain practice notes as well as optional, alternative clauses. In addition to forms, LPA has cherry picked relevant cases for transactional lawyers (given that they are rarely called upon to engage in legal research). There are eleven modules altogether, covering topics like mergers and acquisitions and real estate. In practice, firms or solo attorneys can sign up to access all of the modules, or just select the ones most relevant to their practice. 

Below, I'm including some relevant screenshots on how to access LPA and what it offers. (Click on each picture to enlarge the screenshot.)

To access LPA from the LexisAdvance hompage, just click the "Research" tab from the top of the page and select the LPA link.

From there, it will ask you to choose a particular module that it defaults to. In my case, I chose Real Estate. On the left, you'll see the topics covered by the modules. To the right, you'll find relevant Law360 news articles.

You can still access all of the other modules, though, by just clicking on the "Practice Adviser" tab.

Now, back to the Real Estate Page. Under topics, for this example, I'm going to show where clicking the "Letter of Intent" link takes us. 

Once we access this portion of the module focusing on a letter of intent, you'll see a table of contents to the left, which breaks down the relevant documents into snapshots (an overview of what a letter of intent is), forms, practice notes, cases, statutes and legislation, and secondary materials.

When we click on a particular form link, this is the page we're brought to. On the right, you'll see a link that allows you to draft the document with fillable fields, a summary of the form, and a link to drafting notes and alternative clauses. Towards the left-center of the page, you'll see who authored the form. 

As you can see, LPA is easy enough to navigate, and can lay out the process behind certain legal transactions better than a traditional form book or secondary source. To learn more about LPA, visit this link of video tutorials made available by Lexis. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Dragon DictationHas this ever happened to you? You are out and about and out of nowhere you think of just the right words for that document you've been drafting at work. This happens to me all the time and by the time I am able to jot them down, I've forgotten them. That's why I like the Dragon Dictation app by Nuance Communications. Just speak into this free voice recognition application to create texts, email messages, notes, and reminders. You can update your social media status too.

This app works on devices with at least OS 4.0 and iTunes 9 operating systems. There are several languages to pick from, but keep in mind that recognition accuracy is best for native speakers of the language. One nice feature is that recognition gets better over time. Note: tech support is only available in English at this time.

iPad Screenshot 1 Helpful tips

  • In order to add punctuation, just speak it. For example, "Dear John comma."
  • Similarly, speak text commands like "next paragraph" or "new line." 
  • Instead of tapping the "done" button, you can have Dragon Dictation detect when you are done speaking by turning on the "detect end-of-speech" option. 

While Dragon Dictation is a great tool, it is not perfect. The application has a limited recording time (60 seconds) before the information automatically gets processed, and there is no audible signal to let you know when it shifts from recording to processing. A number of reviews mentioned that this makes it less than ideal while driving because you do not know when to stop talking so you do not lose any information. Another factor to consider while driving is that this app requires devices be connected to the internet in order for it to work.

Despite these limitations, Dragon Dictation is definitely worth a try.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Keeping Solo Practitioners in Mind

I was perusing a Law Library Journal the other day when I came upon an article of interest: "What about the Majority? Considering the Legal Research Practices of Solo and Small Firm Attorneys" by Joseph D. Lawson, Deputy Director of the Harris County Law Library in Houston, Texas.

Specifically, it discussed the use of fee-based resources by practicing attorneys. The author in the past had expressed concern about the research needs of solo practitioners, since they were often underrepresented in surveys. Working at a library that was open to the public and used by many attorneys unaffiliated with a firm, meeting their needs was of substantial importance. Interestingly, he found that as of 2005, 49% of all private practicing attorneys in the US were solo practitioners. However, when the American Association of Law Libraries conducted a survey on practitioners "understanding how practicing attorneys conduct legal research," solo practitioners comprised only 13.77% of the sample population. These survey results may have unintentionally favored the needs of attorneys working at law firms.

Another survey was conducted by the Ford Bend County Bar association to collect data from its local members. In order to generate a higher response rate, the questionnaire was distributed with the annual election ballot; more than 50% of respondents in this case were solo practitioners. These respondents reported similar usage of print and free online resources as the ones from the national survey, but reported using fee-based sources far less frequently. In fact, 42% of local respondents reported that they never or rarely used fee-based resources.

There are, of course, implications of this study for law libraries that are used heavily by practicing attorneys. The article concludes that in order to understand how attorneys conduct legal research, attention must be paid to the behaviors of solo practitioners. Library response to their needs should come in the form of providing access to fee-based online sources, especially expensive databases that are often cost prohibitive for solo practitioners and attorneys are small firms.

At my own library, I've noticed a number of professionals who've come in, relieved to find that they can access a lite version of Westlaw (called "Westlaw Campus Research"). The ability to search cases and statutes, as well as to generate KeyCite reports, is an invaluable resource for them. Keeping their needs in mind should be a key part of the mission of any law library.