Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wolfram Alpha -- A Computational Search Engine

WolframAlpha is the best search engine you've never heard of—and it’s a wholly different animal from Google and its analogs. Wolfram bills itself as a “computational knowledge engine,” accessing data from other trusted sources to generate answers to user queries; a not-at-all exhaustive list of these sources includes the CIA’s World Factbook, the United States Geological Survey, and the Dow Jones. Using a piece of software called Mathematica, Wolfram Alpha uses this externally sourced data to generate the numbers it spits back out to users. Most of the information evaluated by Wolfram is numerical in form, which means that it’s an excellent resource for scientific, quantitative data, but is less useful for researchers interested in the social sciences or pop culture, for example.

This introduction is all well and good, but you’re probably wondering to yourself: what can Wolfram Alpha do? The answer: a lot.

From the eschatological to the mundane, Wolfram Alpha has it all—or a ton of it, anyway.

Formulating a useful search query can take some getting used to, so it’s a good idea to start out with Wolfram’s own list of examples (screenshot below). Using these, you can find out your own life expectancy (mine is 82.16--not bad), the weather in Paris in December of 1980 (temperatures ranging from 23 to 55 degrees Farenheit), and the population of New York City in 1875 (1.206 million). 

If you’d like to access this from your mobile device, it’s available as an app too on iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle fire, and Windows Phone, though it will cost you a whopping $2.99. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


If your 2015 resolutions include optimizing your legal content service, you may be interested in Bestlaw. This is a free Chrome extension designed by Joe Mornin, a 3L at UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and computer programmer, to enhance productivity in WestlawNext. According to Mornin, the quest for perfect Bluebook format was the driving force behind his ingenuity.

Once installed, Bestlaw adds a toolbar that is accessible when you retrieve a case, statute, or law review article in WestlawNext.

Available features depend on the type of document retrieved, but include copying a perfect Bluebook citation with one click (currently available for reported federal cases), copying the full text with one click, adjusting readability for viewing on mobile devices, and sharing these documents via popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. I would review your licensing agreement before using that last feature, though. Speaking of restrictions on sharing, one feature I found especially useful was the ability to search for the document on free sources, such as Cornell LII and Google Scholar with one click.

As you can see, many of the features involve saving time by reducing tasks to one click or eliminating needless scrolling, such as jumping to footnotes or returning to the top of the document.

While there are some limitations, Bestlaw has received great reviews overall and is worth a test drive.

If you're wondering what's in Mr. Mornin's near future, besides spending countless hours studying for bar exam(s), he is working on versions for Firefox and Lexis.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DOJ Law Jobs App for Job Hunters

Looking for a job? 

For law students and attorneys looking for positions with the Department of Justice, check out the free DOJ Law Jobs app. The app was released this September and provides a listing of present openings for both entry-level and experienced attorneys.
If you are looking for a internship (either volunteer or unpaid), this app may be just what you need.  Presently there are a total of 240 such positions posted.

The DOJ rightly calls itself "the nation's litigator," and it's currently the largest's legal employer in the entire world, employing over 10,000 attorneys in the United States. The organization's purpose is to protect the people of the United States from criminal acts against its citizens and to enforce the rule of law. While the Department has opportunities for attorneys at every stage of their legal careers, the  positions themselves are still quite selective. Each year, though, various Department components and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices hire entry-level attorneys through their Honors Program. The number of these positions varies yearly, and usually ranges from 100 to 200 positions. Justice attorneys represent virtually every accredited law school in the country.

When homing in on a particular position that you might be qualified for, you can limit your search according to filters such as“Type of Vacancies,” “Locations,” “Hiring Organizations,” and “Areas of Law”. If you are looking for the Honors Program specifically, refine your search after selecting “Entry Level” under “Type of Vacancies.” You may select “Save” to retain any position you find of interest.

This app is a nice way to look for openings in particular DOJ offices that interest you and to locate openings in offices that handle your preferred practice areas, such as "Civil Rights,” “Computers/Technology,” or “Employment Law.”

Not at the job searching stage yet? 

If you are looking for a Internship (both volunteer or unpaid), this app may be just what you need.  Presently there are a total of 240 such positions posted.The app is intended to provide information about DOJ positions, not to enable you to apply for these positions. You will need to follow links to actually complete an application.

Download DOJ Law Jobs and see if there is a position for you!

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.