Thursday, May 16, 2019

Research Tools for Summer Associates & Externs

If you have a position as a summer associate or an extern this summer, great! You will be happy to know that in addition to your Lexis Advance and Westlaw summer access*, rising 2Ls and 3Ls have access to many other legal research tools. Here are a few you may find particularly useful.

Legal Databases

Bloomberg Law: This database offers access to primary laws in all U.S. jurisdictions as well as several unique secondary sources including United States Law Week, the Bloomberg BNA Manuals and Portfolios, MCLEs, and many other resources. It also has some of the best docket research features available anywhere. Bloomberg Law permits unrestricted access for law students during the summer. You will need to create an account to access Bloomberg Law. Please contact Artie Berns for more information.
HeinOnline: This is a different kind of legal database. Rather than focusing on current law, HeinOnline provides historical context. It has a very extensive library of law reviews with most going back to volume 1, issue 1. Hein also has an amazing collection of primary legal materials going back centuries in many jurisdictions. You will need your Library Barcode and PIN to access HeinOnline from off-campus.
ProQuest Congressional and ProQuest Legislative Insight: ProQuest Congressional is the most extensive collection of federal legislative history documents available. The database has a great advanced search function. ProQuest Legislative Insight is a collection of compiled legislative histories. For any federal legislative history question, this is the first place to look. You will need your Library Barcode and PIN to access the ProQuest databases from off-campus.
Social Law Library’s Administrative Law Database: This database contains many Massachusetts specific resources simply not available anywhere else including the decisions of the many of the Massachusetts administrative agencies well as the Housing and Land Courts. This resource is available on campus only.

Law Libraries

The reference librarians here at the Western New England School of Law Library are available for research questions from our students during their summer positions. You can always contact us in person, through email, or via telephone. However, if you are away from Springfield, you might prefer to visit a law library in person. Fortunately there are many other law libraries throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut.** Follow this link to learn about services offered at law libraries throughout these states.
*Lexis Advance and Westlaw summer access policies: Lexis Advance offers free unlimited use over the summer. If you are working at a firm, you may be required to use a different ID when researching for a client. Be sure to check with your employer. Westlaw allows use over the summer for non-commercial research but not in situations where you are billing a client.
** There are probably law libraries in other states as well. If your summer position takes you outside of Massachusetts or Connecticut, we can try to find law libraries located wherever you are going. Please contact Artie Berns for more information.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Researching Historical Documents

I recently assisted one of our professors with research about Oliver Ellsworth, one of our founding fathers. Ellsworth attended the Constitutional Convention, was an early Supreme Court Chief Justice, and was one of Connecticut’s first senators.

The professor had a theory concerning the interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act, which was passed in 1793. Ellsworth was a leader within the United States Senate at the time the bill was enacted. The professor hoped that some of Ellsworth’s contemporaneous writings would shed light on the professor’s theory.

Initial findings from my usual sources (such as Westlaw, Lexis Advance, HeinOnline, etc.) revealed little written by Ellsworth that I could identify as useful to the question at hand. I then searched at the Library of Congress (LOC) thinking it would be likely that they would have documents written by one of the nation’s founding fathers. The results from LOC’s catalog included a collection entitled Oliver Ellsworth Family Papers. I noted the collection included documents written by Ellsworth himself contemporaneous with his time in the Senate and the collection included an online finding aid.
The finding aid turned out to be a terse index of what was included in the collection of papers, more or less just a list of titles. It did not give enough information about the documents within the collection to determine if any specific papers would be useful to answering the professor’s questions. However, the first item in the collection was titled A Calendar of the Personal Papers of Oliver Ellsworth.

I contacted LOC about the possibility of borrowing the Calendar or obtaining a scan. I was informed that since it was part of a manuscript collection the Calendar could not be loaned. Also, the Calendar’s length exceeded what they could scan and send for free; I was then quoted a pretty steep price for scanning. I decided to look through WorldCat to see if the Calendar was available elsewhere.

WorldCat told me that the Calendar was available at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS). I contacted CHS about the possibility of borrowing the document through interlibrary loan or getting a scan sent to me. CHS responded that they were not a lending library and that for various reasons they could not provide the desired scans, but that I could visit the library and look at the document there.

It happened that I would soon be visiting the University of Connecticut School of Law which is within walking distance of CHS. I arrived at CHS and was finally able to look at the Calendar. The Calendar had descriptions of the contents of the various documents within the collection; I felt this information was sufficient for the professor to get an idea of which documents warranted further investigation. Using Adobe Scan with my iPhone I was able to produce a pdf of the document on the spot. A sample page of the Calendar is below.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

GAO Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Reports are sometimes overlooked by the legal researcher, but they offer a wealth of information.
The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. The agency provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services. GAO’s work is done at the request of congressional committees or subcommittees or is statutorily required by public laws or committee reports. Often called the "congressional watchdog," GAO examines how taxpayer dollars are spent and provides Congress and federal agencies with information that is objective, reliable, and nonpartisan to help the government save money and work more efficiently.
There is an extensive collection of reports and testimonies organized by topic, date, and agency. The variety of searching options helps the user identify reports of interest.
The numerous topics reported on range from the Older Americans Act: Updated Information on Unmet Need for Services (2015) to 

To view the wide span of topics, view the below alphabetical listing of significant reports and testimoniesissued in February 2019. 
GAO often produces highlights of its reports that serve as a statement for the record for various subcommittees of Congress.
There is even a listing of restricted reports that contain either classified information or controlled unclassified information by the Executive Branch audited agencies and therefore cannot be publicly released. The reports are therefore not posted to GAO’s website and have product numbers that end in C (classified) or SU (controlled unclassified information). Many of these reports have an unclassified, publicly releasable version, which can be found in the “Reports and Testimonies” section of GAO’s main website.
There are also videos and podcasts sometimes available.

You can follow GAO work in different ways, such as feeds, topic updates, social media options, etc. 
Check out the variety of ways to receive information!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Shopping For Legal Software

Have you heard of Capterra? Capterra is a website which contains thousands of user reviews for different kinds of business software, including several categories of legal software. I recently had occasion to shop for software and Capterra had an answer for me.

I have been training students using Clio practice management software for several semesters. In the past, I was able to delete everything in the account in order to start the training table rasa. However, Clio modified their software so that it no longer permits the user to return the account to a blank slate. I decided to look for an alternative product to use as an example of practice management software.

Since my experience was limited to Clio, I decided to use Capterra to help me decide which practice management software to use. I first went to Capterra’s main page and from there I selected “Software Categories.” This took me to an A to Z list with hundreds of software categories. Near the top of this page is a search bar asking, “What kind of software are you looking for?” I typed in “law.” As I typed in the word, the list automatically shrank from hundreds of categories to less than ten. I then selected “Law Practice Management Software.”

This brought me to a new page listing all of the law practice management software options as well as a list of filters I could apply to narrow the list. By default, the list is sorted by “Sponsorship,” which means that the companies that own these software products paid a promotional fee to have their product appear more prominently in the list. A drop-down menu allowed me to change the sorting method to “Most Reviews.”*

On this list, each product included the average user rating, the number of product reviews, a link to the company’s website, and a short description of the product. Each product also included a checkbox that allowed me to select four products for a side-by-side comparison. I selected Clio and three other products with good ratings, 10 to 8 Scheduling, Practice Panther, and MyCase. I then hit “Compare Now!”

In comparing the four products side-by-side, the first thing I noticed was 10 to 8 Scheduling did not have most of the same features as the other three. This product did not actually appear to be law practice management software but rather scheduling software. From the remaining three I saw that Practice Panther had the best rating; I decided to investigate Practice Panther.

The comparison chart did not include information about whether I could return Practice Panther to a blank slate for each class. I contacted Practice Panther and found out that they do permit users to delete everything in their account. Since Practice Panther had the highest user ratings and permitted users to delete everything in their account, I chose Practice Panther to use to as my example practice management software.
* Other options included “Highest Rated” and “Hot Products.” I chose “Most Reviews” because I felt this would give me the most reliable user ratings statistics.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Apps for Congressional information

The swearing in of the 116th Congress has created a flurry of media coverage. Even a novice researcher can locate a vast number of articles in a matter of seconds. I searched "new congress" in Google and retrieved 579,000,000 results. Of course, not all of those results come from trustworthy sources or would be relevant to legal research. For the serious researcher concerned with pending legislation, committee activities, and even executive orders, there are a number of free and low cost apps that are more suitable as a starting point.

U.S. Congress Info allows users to read text of bills up for consideration, as well as, see actions taken on the bill. Bills can be found using a keyword search, so users can locate bills without having to know the bill number. Additionally, there is information on each legislator, including voting history.

TrackBill is updated every 30 minutes and allows users to receive real-time alerts for introductions, amendments, hearings, and votes.

The Congressional Record app allows users to browse the Congressional Record by day starting from 1995 to present. The Congressional Record contains daily accounts of the debates, proceedings, and activities of the U.S. Congress.

The current government shutdown highlights the fact that Congress does not work in a vacuum and its power is limited by Executive branch involvement. 

The Federal Register, in conjunction with GPO, maintains the free mobile Web app, Compilation of Presidential Documents. This app includes executive orders, speeches, statements, and approved acts, among others. Users can search by date, category, and subject.

The White House app provides live streams to the President's speeches, press releases, and policy info, not to mention a handy "get involved" section. 

Take a look at these resources the next time you are looking for pending legislation on the go or just trying to keep up with current developments in our government.