Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Being Short

Confucius said "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life". But a good complement to that might be find a job with people that you like working with, and going to work everyday will never be an issue (except when it's 5:30 in the morning, the wind is blowing at 25 mph, and it's snowing out, because "We Never Ever Close").

I've been fortunate to work with a great group of people nearly all of my life. Maybe it was because I've always worked in libraries, except for the years I was in graduate school studying to become a librarian. And now that I am at the end of my career and retiring in December, I look back and think how lucky I've been. It really has been hard thinking about leaving it all behind and moving forward to the next phase of my life, going from the known to the unknown. Everyone who knows me, knows that, like my cats, I feel the most comfortable when I have a regular routine.

I know when I was younger, I always thought that retiring meant a permanent vacation, set your own schedule, do what you want to when you want to, no real obligations, but now that I'm there it's so much different. In a way it's like opening a door to a room and it's completely dark inside, and I don't know when I step in if I will fall down and crash, or even fall up, and end up in some place that I never expected. Will I find something that I really like to do, or will I spend the rest of my days looking for just the right thing. And, in the end, who will I be doing it with.

Over my career, I have had 12 bosses, 7 women and 5 men. Looking back, some were good and helped me to grow in my profession. Others were good examples of exactly what not do as a manager. Some were scary, some were demanding. Some were at the end of their careers and didn't really care about anything. I was extremely lucky in that my first boss and my last boss were exceptional. Professional, caring, nurturing, encouraging, and hard working themselves. People who kept me moving forward, even when I didn't think I could do it. People who believed in me even when I didn't believe in me.

But work is also about community. It's about the people you see every day. The people you share your life with. And who share their life with you. Some will come and some will go, and yet we will all remain on the same team with the same goal. Often I've been amazed that my supervisors could put together such a diverse group of people who can be so good at what they do.  When I left the D'Amour Library in 2002 after over 17 years to move over to the Law Library, I really felt sad to be leaving such a great team behind even though I knew I would still be working at Western New England. And now that I'm retiring from the Law Library I feel the same thing, how do I leave such a good team behind.  But my 30 years of working at Western New England is now coming to an end, and so I must give it up and leave it all behind.

So what I have to say in my last posting, is find a good boss who will help you grow and has developed a good team of people to work with. And enjoy your time there because it will all be over before you know it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cloud Computing--It's OK!

            As a soon-to-be attorney, or one who’s already in practice, you’ve probably given a good amount of thought to integrating cloud computing into your practice, or you’ve already made that step. You’ve probably also been worried about the potential ethical ramifications, since you’d be placing sensitive client information beyond your safekeeping. 
          
           A number of state bar associations have issued ethics opinions on the issue. For example, an opinion approved for publication by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s House of Delegates in 2012 permitted the use of cloud computing and applied a “reasonable care” standard when evaluating proper use. Specifically, it called for attorneys to periodically review the terms of service, restrictions to access to data, data portability, and vendor’s security practices; to follow clients’ express instructions regarding the use of cloud computing; and, to obtain express client approval before storing sensitive information via the internet. Click here to read the entire opinion.

            An informal advisory opinion issued by the Ohio State Bar association also adopted a reasonable care standard, and specifically called on attorneys using cloud technology to competently select a vendor for cloud storage; to preserve client confidentiality and safeguard client property; supervise cloud vendors; and, to communicate with the client (though this does not imply that storing client data in the cloud always requires prior client consultation).

            For a state-by-state overview, visit this page from the ABA. So far, the states that have addressed the ethics of cloud computing have all given it their blessing and applied a reasonable care standard for attorneys.
            
            What does cloud computing actually mean in practice, though? That’s less clear and there are a number of unanswered questions floating around as attorneys venture into this new frontier. Bar journals and law reviews have explored potential issues in greater detail than what has been discussed in ethics opinions. For example, in an article titled Being Prepared when the Cloud Rolls In, published in the New York Bar Journal, Natalie Sulimani lays out the clear benefits of migrating data to the cloud. For example, storing files on the cloud offers less opportunity to make a mistake than transferring files to a thumb drive, or storing paper files in an off-site warehouse. Cloud computing also reduces error by “[putting] files in the hands of competent IT professionals,” who are better able to preserve and store duplicate files and prevent loss than attorneys managing digital files on their own. She points out that there is actually little difference in potential ethical breaches when it comes to cloud computing when compared to storing files in a brick-and-mortar offsite storage facility; in either case, attorneys are handing over sensitive information to third parties.

            Something she overlooks, though, is that unauthorized third parties are more likely to hack into cloud storage and release certain documents than they are to break into a physical storage facility. O. Shane Balloun, in an article called Cloud Computing and the Practice of Law, published in the Wyoming Lawyer, makes this point when he states that “[a]lmost all electronic data can be accessed with enough persistence by the person or entity trying to do so.” Nonetheless, he ultimately concludes that the benefits of cloud computing far outweigh its risks, going so far as to predict that “it will be per se (rebuttably presumptive) professional malpractice if a client is prejudiced by an act of omission that reasonably could have been prevented by the use of cloud computing.” Earlier in the article, he extols the benefits of cloud computing, listing out all of its potential pros, including: the ability to access materials regardless of location or access to a particular device; the reliability of data storage and preservation; and, better and faster maintenance by the third-party knowledge experts managing the cloud.

            Ultimately, most attorneys and bar associations appear to be vastly in favor of the cloud, finding that its potential benefits outweigh any security risks. Migration to the cloud seems to be inevitable at this point, though only time will tell. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Recycling Laws

Yesterday in Massachusetts, voters rejected Ballot Question 2, which sought to expand the state's
bottle deposit law. Naturally, this has me wondering about the existing law and how to go about researching this topic.

There is not a particular federal statute governing this issue, but Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations deals with protection of the environment and governs disposal of certain products, such as specific types of batteries, which must be managed as Universal Waste. Otherwise, each state is free to handle recycling as it sees fit.  For instance, Massachusetts does not require rechargeable battery recycling, while most neighboring states have at least some requirements for rechargeable battery recycling. Call2recycle.org has a nice map detailing these differences.

Solving a problem as large as reducing solid waste has led to some creative laws. One approach and perhaps a growing trend, is to ban certain products altogether, thus eliminating the need to recycle them. Concord, Massachusetts recently passed a ban on plastic bottles. Penalties for violating the ban and selling bottled water range from a warning for a first offense to up to $50 for each subsequent infraction. A number of cities have banned plastic bags, including five cities in Massachusetts.

So, what is the best way to locate recycling laws?

Searching the official website for each state seems to be the most effective way to locate laws for your state. A quick Google search for "recycling laws MA" retrieved the Energy and Environmental Affairs page on Mass.gov, which displays both statutes and regulations in a nice chart format. Clicking on the link will give you the current law and any proposed or recently promulgated amendments. As mentioned earlier, individual cities may have stricter laws, especially densely populated ones like NYC.




Connecticut's site includes a list of mandatory items that must be recycled.

It is a little more difficult to compare laws across states. Many websites discuss how to recycle, but don't necessarily get into the laws of recycling. While sites such as Call2recycle.org gather information across states, they don't cover all types of recycling.

November 15 is America Recycles Day. To help us get in the recycling mood, Keep America Beautiful, Inc. is sponsoring a contest that ends on November 20. Take a picture of yourself recycling with the tag line  #RecyclingSelfie for a chance to win one of many prizes!

To close, here's a fun fact I learned during my research: In Massachusetts, a
redemption center may refuse to accept more than 120 beverage containers from any one person during a 24-hour period.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Perils of Technology

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending this year’s Boston Book Festival. An impressive array of major literary and academic figures participated as panelists in the event, engaging in discussions with each other and taking questions from the audience. One panel—Technology: Promise or Peril—held particular interest for me as a research and emerging technologies librarian.

I was extremely excited to see Nicholas Carr on the Technology panel, as I was very influenced by his wonderful book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, an exploration of how technology can affect us in unintended and unforeseen ways. Alongside Carr were two other distinguished figures in the world of technology: David Rose, an MIT Media Lab Researcher and author of Enchanted Objects, and Andrew McAfee, co-founder MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy.

The Technology: Promise or Peril discussion began on an upbeat note, with David Rose introducing the audience to the idea of “enchanted objects”—devices containing some small amount of artificial intelligence, with their ultimate goal being to simplify our day-to-day interactions with technology. These devices—such as a self-cleaning Roomba vacuum cleaner—are supposed to have a positive effect on our health, housing, and means of transportation. Rose posits that there are six categories of human aspirations that these objects can fall into: omniscience (the desire to know all); telepathy (the desire for human connection); safekeeping (to protect and be protected); immortality (to be vital and healthy); teleportation (to move effortlessly); and, expression (to create, make, and play). Rose also showed us a period table of elements-style chart—pictured below—displaying different kinds of objects across these categories.



While the discussion had a certain appealing whimsy to it, the whole project felt a bit too utopian in its aims. When an audience member asked about the security dangers that a wired household would present, Rose’s treatment of the question was a bit too cursory for my tastes.

Next on the agenda was Andrew McAfee, who made a sharp 180 from Rose’s forward-thinking talk and brought us back to the past for a moment. He reminded us that the technological advancement that began in the late 18th century created a tidal wave of change that continues to affect us today. McAfee made the point that while the first machine age overcame the limitations of man’s physical strength, the second machine age is bringing with it a means to overcome man’s limited senses in the form of computing. He concluded on a somber note, acknowledging that while technological advancement can be good for society, there is no economic law promising that this progress will benefit all equally. For example, he pointed out that not only is the average American family no better off economically today due to technological changes in the last several decades, but the middle class itself has been hallowed out.



It was appropriate then for Nicholas Carr to begin his talk by quipping, “In the future, you won’t have a job, but you’ll have a really cool umbrella”—referencing the cover of Rose’s book on enchanted objects (above), while bringing to mind the economic fallout that can come with major technological change. Carr told us of a study done in the 1950s to investigate whether or not it was true that automation had emancipated the average American worker from drudgery and allowed him or her to operate on a higher, more skilled level. The study, done in the industrial sector, found that the skills of the average worker did not rise at all, but in fact went down. Factory workers had turned from tradesmen into machine operators. The study found that sophisticated equipment didn’t necessarily require skilled operators; intelligence itself could be built into the machine.

Carr pointed out that this assumption persists, that technology will bring our jobs to a higher level, but real-life evidence counters this at every turn. Pilots spend most of their time on autopilot. Doctors are using computers to help with their diagnoses. Even highly educated professionals are being transformed into sophisticated button pushers. Our complex interactions with the world are increasingly being reduced into what Carr called a “homogenized economy of computer operators.” Beyond our professional lives, we are becoming more dependent on computers for our everyday tasks—from hailing taxis, to looking up recipes, to interacting with our friends and families.

Carr finished by arguing that there has always been a general historical struggle with tools, and that we can distill this struggle down to two choices: we can design tools so that they force us to use our talents and engage in more fulfilling work, or we can use technology as a barrier between ourselves and the world and its complexity. His feeling about our current use of technology was obvious enough that he didn’t have to state which choice he thought we were making in the 21st century. 

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.