Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Lawyer’s Almanac 2014

Every once in a while when I’m looking for a topic to blog about I just turn around to my Ready Reference shelves and pick a resource to highlight. In this way I either make a new friend or become reacquainted with an old one. Today I am sharing my discovery of The Lawyer’s Almanac with you.

On the whole, this is a useful resource. It is divided into sections covering the legal profession, the judiciary, government departments and agencies, and the small last section covering commonly used abbreviations.

As an example of potential usefulness, I have been asked about continuing legal education requirements in other jurisdictions, and just discovered that those requirements are listed for every jurisdiction in Section D of the Almanac. That’s useful. The section on the legal profession also reproduces national statistics for bar examination results, including a chart showing bar passage rates by state, for first time takers, over a 10-year period. While it is true that this information is reprinted with permission from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (“NCBE”), and the information on the NCBE website will at certain times of the year be more up-to-date than what’s available in the book, there is something convenient about being able to flip between pages. 

In the judiciary section, I found a complete listing of the judges in a particular circuit, along with contact information. Now, one can probably find that on the circuit’s website, but when I just tried to do it for the Second Circuit, I actually couldn’t come up with a simple list. There’s also a list of salaries for state judges, a list of state supreme court chief justices, and federal litigation statistics. Now, again, these statistics suffer from the same issue expressed above vis-à-vis bar passage rates – at some point in the year the statistics will be more up to date on the website (Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Statistical Tables for the Federal Judiciary), but they are all the same useful to examine in print.

Part III on Government Departments and Agencies has the expected contact information on each agency, with a useful break down between executive and independent agencies but if you want anything more than that, you will still want to use The Federal Regulatory Directory, discussed in an earlier post. The Part IV list of abbreviations appears to be limited to federal agencies, but there is a useful section on abbreviations of state and federal courts using the ALWD style, which I believe mimics The Blue Book in this respect.  

So, as I say, on the whole a useful resource with a few reservations caused by sometimes less than current statistical information.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Digitization: Where Lincoln and the Internet Meet!

Prior to the advent of the internet, digitization, and other modern technological marvels that we today take for granted, there were only two ways to view very old historical documents in the original: you had to be present at the creation, or you had to make a trek to whatever archive had the documents available, set up an appointment, and view the documents in person at the site. Today, we’re fortunate to have a third option: many documents, of varying historical import, are available for online viewing, and often at no cost.

Should you require an historic document for legal research, always remember to check online to see if something is available in digital format before running off to an archive. You may find yourself happily surprised.

For example, I was doing research on Indian tribal law, and discovered that many early laws and treaties were available online in their original form from the Library of Congress:

Since I am sometimes easily put off the research track, I happened to notice that the good people at the Library of Congress have a significant digital collection of documents relevant to our nation’s history, such as: American Indian Constitutions and Legal Materials; John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trial; the Statutes at Large; and, a collection of documents authored by President Lincoln, just to name a few.

Of course, when viewing them online, you miss the sensation of handling the materials, flipping their pages, smelling their mustiness. Until 3D printers can recreate this experience for you at home, you’ll have to settle for these digital alternatives. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pay Attention to the Extensions!

Recently I needed some information from the FDA and crafted a very sophisticated search for “FDA.” On the first page of results, there was a number of “official” looking websites, such as I immediately realized that this was not the official government site that I was expecting. Instead, the site contained articles and information related to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This website is owned by Gelinas Associates, an Orlando, Florida based company, and has no affiliation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, this is not readily apparent unless you scroll down to the Disclaimer.

Similarly, I noticed is a division of GMP Publications, Inc., a private firm and again, not affiliated with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. In addition to informational links, this site offers numerous government publications for purchase, such as the Code of Federal Regulations, which I remembered is free on several websites.

I wonder how many people take the time to look closely at the extension of a website result before clicking it. Differences among sites may be subtle and easily missed by busy researchers.


One noticeable difference is the advertisements on the .com and .org sites. If someone mistakenly believed he or she was on the official site, it may look like the government endorses or recommends these products.
A few other differences I noticed include the currency of the information provided and lack of any author information. For instance, the .gov site was updated as recently as one day ago, while the .org site has a copyright date of 2010 and the .com site’s copyright date is 2009. Also, without author information the authority and accuracy cannot be verified and may be questionable.  

So what do these different website extensions mean and how do they get assigned? 

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains a list of all official domain extensions and is in charge of assigning them. 

Here are the most common original extensions created early in the development of the Internet.

.com -- stands for "commercial" and is the most widely used extension. This is categorized as an open extension, meaning any person or entity is allowed to register. Originally intended for use by for-profit business entities, it has become the "main" extension for many entities including nonprofits, schools and private individuals.
.org -- stands for "organization," and is primarily used by nonprofits or trade associations. This is an open extension, similar to .com.
.net -- stands for "network," and is most commonly used by businesses that are directly involved in the infrastructure of the Internet. This is another open extension.
.edu – stands for “education” and is used by educational institutions. This is not an open extension and is almost exclusively used by American colleges and universities.
.gov – stands for “government” and is used by governmental entities and agencies in the U.S. Like .edu, this is not an open extension. 

As the Internet evolves, so do the extensions. Some newer extension that you may not be familiar with include:  
Piqued your interested? Check out these and other extensions on this .net site.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Save Time, Stay Informed: Read BNA Email Highlights

Trying to keep abreast of certain areas of law and stay informed? Why not use a current awareness tool, such as Bloomberg BNA (Bureau of National Affairs).

I think you will find it is a great time saver! Bloomberg BNA offers daily, weekly, or monthly news services on topics that span corporate law, tax, accounting, employment law, environment, health care, intellectual property, litigation, and more. Bloomberg BNA newsletters keep you up-to-date with news and analysis on the most current developments in a particular practice area and are great for staying current for an ongoing research assignment or to ensure as a practitioner that you remain up to date in your field. These products go beyond case law, providing updates on legislative and regulatory developments, and industry trends and developments.

For example, if you follow developments in the area of criminal law, you may be interested in the following highlight from BNA's Criminal Law Reporter issue dated September 24, 2014, Vol. 95, No. 24:
  • Sept. 18 -- The Fourth Amendment does not require that a search warrant for a mobile phone identify the specific components of the phone that the police have authority to search, the Kentucky Supreme Court decided Sept. 18. (Hedgepath v. Commonwealth, 2014 BL 259813, Ky., No. 2013-SC-000343-MR, 9/18/14)
BNA Snapshot
  • Holding: A search warrant doesn't have to particularly describe the features of the mobile
    phone that officers have authority to search.
  • Potential Impact: Takes a position on an issue raised by the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on digital privacy.
These types of highlights from Bloomberg BNA can be sent directly to your email and keep you informed. WNE School of Law students can access BNA by going to the Library's Databases page, and then choosing Bloomberg BNA Databases from the links listed. From that page, a user can select from one of the many different products that focus on specific areas of law. You will then have the option to sign up for email updates for each service in a given area of law. From the initial Bloomberg BNA homepage, you will see "Create an Account Profile" in the upper left of the screen.

Creating an account profile not only allows you to sign up for email updates, but allow you to take advantage of unique features available to personalize your subscription. For each individual BNA database, you will then have the ability to customize what you see each time you access it. By clicking on the "Customize Topics" tab at the top of the page, you can select specific sub-topics, courts, agencies, and states that you wish to see news and analysis from on the home page.

By personalizing your subscription you also will be able to:
  •     Save search history for 90 days
  •     Create folders to save searches, documents, and more
  •     Email a direct link to a colleague with the Share link
Get started on using Bloomberg BNA to keep you up to date!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Federal Legislative History - A Webinar by the Federal Depository Library Program

At some point, every law student will need to become aware of the various materials that were generated in the course of creating legislation which includes committee reports, analysis by legislative counsel, committee hearings, floor debates, and histories of actions taken.

On October 7, 2014, the FDLP, Federal Depository Library Program, will host a 60 minute webinar at 2:00 PM Eastern Time on just this topic. Registration is required but the webinar is free to everyone. The webinar will discuss the ways in which Federal statutes are published and cited, what  Federal legislative histories are and how they are used, the normal steps in compiling and researching Federal legislative histories, and the various resources available, both free and commercial.

You can register today at Federal Legislative History 101.

If you cannot make this webinar at this time, the FDLP archives them for later use and should be available at the archived site.

Don't miss this opportunity to get the information directly from the source.