Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Blawgs - More Than Legal News

Like other Web 2.0 tools, blogs are good for networking, collaborating, and discussing topics of interest. Blogs that focus on legal matters are commonly known as blawgs. Did you know that some contain well-researched, serious legal analysis?

While many blawgs focus on the latest news, some are used as tools to draw on the expertise of others and determine where and how to begin research. Many judges, practitioners, professors, and other legal researchers write blawgs that contribute to scholarly communication on legal issues. Blawgs have even been cited in journal articles and opinions (most often in footnotes).

It is always important to make sure that you critically review all information. Of course, this rule applies to blawgs. Take a look at Nicole's post on Law Firm Blogs in which she reviews identifying reliable sources by looking at the currentness, length, and authorship.

Here are a few directories that will lead you to some of the best blawgs:
   ABA Journal Blawg Directory published by the American Bar Association and categorized by practice, jurisdiction, region, and law school.
   Justia Blawg Search searchable by category, state, country, and law school.
   Library of Congress Legal Blawg Archive arranged by topic.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Research Guide to Instruments of European Regional Organizations

For my blog post this week, I am going to review a book that just came through our reviewing shelves this month – Research Guide to Instruments of European Regional Organizations ("Research Guide"). Authored by Frederic Eggermont and Stefaan Smis, this is the second edition of a work originally published by Intersentia in 2010 but it’s new to me.

Getting our hands on official versions of treaties and conventions is easy these days, and you won’t need this book for that. But, if you want to know about the origins of some of the better known European organizations, what the relationship is between these organizations, and what kind of materials they create, that is a matter beyond the strengths of Google.

Research Guide covers the following organizations:  the Council of Europe, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area, the Western European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as the Benelux. One great feature is that the book covers each organization in a separate chapter, and each chapter starts with background information on that organization, including descriptions of the main bodies to enable a better understanding of the organization’s legislative process. I also like that each chapter points to additional resources one can consult on that particular organization.

I will use Chapter II, covering the Council of Europe, to illustrate the usefulness of this resource. First of all, the introductory material on “what is the Council of Europe” is helpful, especially since that section concludes with an explanation of what is the interface between the COE and the European Union:  “Even though it was originally designed to be the motor of European integration, as an intergovernmental organization it had limited means to achieve its broad goal and was later surpassed as motor of integration by the three supranational organizations that later formed the European Union.” I was actually wondering about the interplay between the two organizations. 

Further, I learned that the COE has two legislative bodies, the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly (the Committee of Ministers later created the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and a Commissioner of Human Rights). The Committee of Ministers is the main decision making body of the COE and its main task is to consider action required to further the aims of the COE. The Parliamentary Assembly is the deliberative organ of the COE. The Guide explains that the Parliamentary Assembly was originally referred to as the “Consultative Assembly” in the originating statute, but that in 1974 the Assembly decided to call itself by the new name. Of course, there is also a section entitled “How to Find the Law of the Council of Europe.”

All of this is essential information that would take a researcher unfamiliar with this organization a lot of time to put together. This book was originally programed to be shelved in the stacks, but I am so taken with how thorough it is I have moved it to the Ready Reference shelves directly behind the Reference Desk. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fantasy Island

Looking for a quick way to pay back student loans? Turn on the television and you will likely see a commercial touting how much money can be won playing fantasy football. I  don't know the first thing about picking players or any of the rules of the game, but I must admit the commercials grabbed my attention. Likewise, these winnings have come to the attention of lawmakers, which has fueled a lively debate of chance vs. skill; gambling vs. entertainment.

Gambling is regulated at both the federal and state level. According to 31 U.S.C. § 5362, bets or wagers occur when the opportunity to win is predominantly subject to chance, but  subsection (1)(E)(ix) states that bets or wagers do not include participation in fantasy sports if certain conditions are met. Personally, I thought this would fall under online gambling, which I thought was illegal.

A few states have taken to the courts to decide the issue. This is not surprising, given the amount of revenue at stake. One of FanDuel's leagues promises a payout of roughly $2.25 million each weekend. In Massachusetts, which recently awarded its first casino licenses, category 1 resort- casinos are set to be taxed at 25% of gross gaming revenue.
If I were a betting woman, I'd say the odds are in favor of the states. Care to wager a bet? 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The National Conference of State Legislators' Website

This post is about a website that I have found useful over the years – the National Conference of State Legislators website. The NCSL bills itself as “the nation’s most respected bipartisan organization providing states support, ideas, connections and a strong voice on Capitol Hill.” So I want to bring to your attention the kinds of work product that you can expect to find on this site.

Material that is likely to be the most useful for researchers is found under (predictably) the “Research” tab. For example, NCSL is keeping tabs on the following topics: genetically modified organisms (“lawmakers across the country introduced 101 bills addressing genetically modified organisms in the 2015 legislative sessions”); civil and criminal justice (“eyes on crime: police body-worn cameras”); labor and employment (“state minimum wages”); and human services (“child support and family law legislation database"), to name just a few.

That gives you a taste of the breadth of topics followed by NCSL, but now I’ll give you a taste of the depth of coverage. Let’s take the section on genetically modified organisms as an example. On that page, NCSL reports on how many states actually passed proposed legislation on genetically modified food, how often a state legislature introduced bills on this topic and what happened to those proposals, and provides links to summaries of the enacted legislation and bill number information. That would provide a great jumping off point for someone wanting to get an idea of how legislation is advancing in this hot topic. 

Take a moment to review the topics covered on this website. I think you will find it helpful.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

ScholarRank - Ranking of Legal Scholars by HeinOnline

ScholarRank is an impressive new feature that HeinOnline instituted earlier this year that analyzes HeinOnline author activity. This tool evaluates the number of times an author has been cited in articles and cases, as well as the number of times the author’s articles have been accessed (by HeinOnline users) during the past 12 months. HeinOnline then ranks its leading 250 legal scholars, according to these metrics. Looking at the frequency that articles have been accessed is valuable because it helps determine scholarly activity before citations to an author can accrue.

Take a look below at the top 10 rankings from Hein, or the entire list of the top 250 legal scholars. When viewing an author’s ranking, you can click on the author’s name and view the author’s profile, which includes details about frequency of citation. 
This feature is part of HeinOnline's ScholarCheck, a set of tools which compiles the most-cited journals and authors, displays the number of articles and cases that cite the current article, enables users to sort search results by the number of times an article has been cited by other articles, the number of times accessed, as well as link to the list of articles that cite the current article.

All of this helps users locate the most relevant articles pertaining to their research topic. Users can see which articles are trending in HeinOnline and which articles are the most heavily-cited by cases and articles, and then easily link to those cases and articles. Take a look!