Tuesday, November 29, 2016

HeinOnline – a different kind of legal database

In law school we tend to focus on the major commercial legal databases, Lexis and Westlaw. For many, these two databases represent the universe of legal materials. While these databases are very useful in obtaining current law and secondary legal materials they often fall short in older materials. For instance the coverage for most law journals in those databases begins in the 1990s, but what if you need a law review article from 1950? Fortunately, HeinOnline exists.



HeinOnline provides coverage of most law reviews and journals all the way back to volume 1. For instance, the Western New England Law Review is covered, beginning full coverage with volume 16 on Westlaw* and Lexis while HeinOnline provides access to all issues. The extended coverage on HeinOnline doesn’t stop with law review articles. HeinOnline also includes many historical legal resources including: session laws, statutory codes, federal legislative history materials, and English Reports. This is only a sample of what HeinOnline offers since it has dozens of databases and thousands of titles.**

Another difference between HeinOnline and the major commercial databases is that instead of using just the text of the materials in its database, HeinOnline provides OCRed pdf scans of all the materials which it provides. This preserves the layout of the original publications. It can also be useful for the lay reader who may be unfamiliar with star pagination or to the law review cite checker who needs to check the pagination of a footnote. 

How do I access HeinOnline?


HeinOnline can be accessed from the terminals within the Western New England University School of Law. It can also be accessed remotely by faculty and current students using your barcode and PIN. If you are not a Western New England University affiliate or  you  are not near our Springfield campus, you may be able to access HeinOnline through the Massachusetts TrialCourt Libraries either by visiting one of their locations or through their website ifyou have a current borrowing card. HeinOnline may also be available on public terminals at state run universities.

So the next time you’re looking for rare or historical legal materials remember, try HeinOnline.

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* Partial coverage begins with Volume 8.
** The links in this paragraph assume the reader has access through Western New England University.



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Protecting Metadata in a Word Document

What is Metadata?

Metadata is literally ‘data about data.’ In the modern world just about every aspect of our life generates metadata. For example, every email you send has a surprising amount of additional information attached to it which is hidden by most email client programs. Legal professionals need to be aware that the metadata generated by various technologies needs to be accounted for to prevent inadvertently transmit confidential information to opposing counsel.* The ethics committees in several jurisdictions have issued opinions stating that attorneys have a duty to scrub metadata prior to sending.  In its Formal Ethics Opinion 06-442, the ABA discussed the duty to protect confidential client information under Rule 1.6 as applied to metadata.

Metadata Generated by Word

One example is the use of the ‘track changes’  feature of Word. Microsoft developed this feature to help people collaborate when writing a document.  This feature, when turned on, saves changes made to a document and allows the collaborators to compare the original to the changes. For example, if attorneys within a firm were working together to draft a contract and were using ‘track changes’ they could easily discern where and what changes were made from one version to another.


If opposing counsel were to receive a copy in Word format of the shown contract with the tracked changes intact, they could learn a lot about the strategy of the contract’s drafters.

How to ‘Scrub’ Metadata From a Word Document

I will cover two methods of scrubbing metadata: Word’s built in feature and creating a PDF.

Using Word’s Built in Feature

Go to the ‘File’ tab.  In the middle of the screen will be the ‘Inspect Document’ section. Hit the button marked ‘Check for Issues.’ Then hit ‘Inspect Document’ from the dropdown menu.


This will launch the ‘Document Inspector’ window. From here Word gives several categories of metadata which it will search for. Here, you have the option of not searching specific categories.


Then hit inspect.  Word will then show you the results of the search and give you the option to remove metadata wherever it was found.


Note, some categories of metadata which Word might remove using this method might be items the user actually wants in the document such as page numbers within the footer.

Creating a PDF

A lot of the metadata in a Word document will not be converted if you save the document in another file format, such as the PDF. To save the file as a PDF, go to the file menu and click ‘Save As.’ Word will then determine in which directory you want to save your file. From the ‘Save As’ dialog box make sure you select PDF from the ‘Save as type’ drop down menu.


When saving in the PDF format for the purpose of scrubbing metadata, the user should be aware that certain types of hidden text such as white on white or black text highlighted black might still be selectable and thus capable of being copied and discerned.

Conclusion

The metadata generated by Microsoft Word is just one example of possibly confidential information of which the practicing attorney should be aware. Most technology products an attorney might use have the potential for inadvertent transmission of confidential information. The attorney has the responsibility of finding this out since, keeping confidential information safe is part of the ethical responsibilities of attorneys regardless of whether or not jurisdictional rules explicitly require attorneys to scrub metadata.
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* See E.G. Blake A. Klinkner, Metadata What Is It? How Can It Get Me into Trouble? What Can I Do About It?, Wyo. Law., April 2014, at 18, and Crystal Thorpe, Metadata:The Dangers of Metadata Compel Issuing Ethical Duties to "Scrub" and Prohibit the "Mining" of Metadata, 84 N.D. L. Rev. 257 (2008).


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

CARA - New Feature on Casetext

Do you find it difficult to translate a legal issue into a search query to generate a manageable list of on-point cases? Check out CARA - a new Casetext tool!


Casetext
If you are not yet familiar with Casetext, it provides free caselaw research to over 10 million cases, statutes, and regulations; it includes all federal cases since 1925 (published and unpublished) and state appellate cases from all 50 states. It is updated daily. See my previous post about Casetext.





CARA
Casetext rolled out a new feature called CARA (Case Analysis Research Assistant) in July. CARA will find cases that are relevant to a particular legal memorandum or brief. Users upload a document and CARA analyzes it and generates a list of relevant cases not cited in the document. CARA does this by identifying dozens of factors including the legal authority cited and the subject matter discussed in the document. CARA uses a proprietary algorithm, then automatically searches Casetext's database to locate similar, on-point cases. CARA uses indicators to weigh relevance, including how often cases are jointly cited.

CARA could be very useful in a couple of ways:

l. If you just received your opponent's memorandum in support of a motion to dismiss, upload the document to CARA and it will quickly generate a list of cases that are on point with your issue, but that your opponent has not included in the document. This can be a very effective tool as you research and begin drafting your reply, and are trying to find potential missing arguments or alternative arguments not discussed within your opponent's document.

2. Double-check your own research, whether in rough draft or a final version, by uploading your document to CARA to see if you have missed any important cases.

CARA does not replace traditional legal research systems, but it could be a powerful supplementary tool. It may help you locate cases you missed using other search methods or help you locate cases more efficiently. Legal research continues to be a very human process, but one that can be prone to human error.

Caveats
l. CARA is not effective for case law that is less than one year old. If cases cited within a document are more than one or two years old, CARA can be very effective.
2. If you are using a scanned document, be sure to OCR it before uploading.
3. CARA is not accessible in the free Casetext basic plan. Check out the cost of their research plans.

Privacy Issue?
Attorneys may be concerned with security and confidentiality of legal documents they upload to CARA. Casetext, however, addresses this concern by encrypting the uploaded document and, after processing, the document is immediately deleted from Casetext's servers.

Want to Try It?
If you are a Casetext registered user, just sign in and click on the CARA link. If you are new to Casetext, you will need to sign up for a free trial.

Another exciting  new development on the legal research front!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Penultimate





                 





Brilliant ideas can come at any time--like my idea for this week's post-- and you don't always have pen and paper handy. Enter Penultimate. While, not necessarily a research tool, it can be thought of as a productivity tool to help capture your research ideas, and as such, is a helpful research app for iPads. And with an estimated 79.7 million iPad users, there's a good chance you have access to one.

This is an Evernote product, so your notes sync to your Evernote account. This has several advantages. Unlike handwritten notes, these notes are searchable and you can access them from any of your devices, depending on your Evernote account. You can also export them as PDFs. Additional features include the ability to highlight, erase, and move things around.

Flowcharts and other various diagrams, like timelines, can be especially useful to help understand complex issues. However, I am reluctant to create flowcharts on the computer because of the time it takes me to design them, especially if I am short on time and need to capture my idea quickly. I do draw them on paper often, but hadn't found a good way to incorporate them into my typed notes until now.

I think this tool would be helpful also for  group study sessions. 1Ls listen up! If you use Penultimate in conjunction with an Apple TV, you can project your notes from your iPad and then share them with your group members via your Evernote account.


Penultimate offers a variety of paper options in addition to the usual plain or lined versions. Just have the perfect guitar riff pop in your head? Need a break from studying? They have a paper option for that!



I think Penultimate is definitely worth checking out as an alternative to paper.

Looking for a voice recognition alternative to paper? Check out my earlier post on DragonDictation.








Thursday, September 22, 2016

Darn Broken Links!

The World Wide Web has become the go-to source for information in our society.  We have easy access to about 47 billion web pages on the World Wide Web. This number only accounts for the surface web.*  In order to be accessed web pages need to have an address.**  Web pages can lose their addresses if their owner fails to pay the web-hosting bill, if the server breaks down, if the files which make up the web page are moved or deleted, or if the owner of the website simply decides to change the content.  We even have a name for when a web page loses its address: link rot.

This can be a problem when conducting research.  In academia, writers rely on the process of citation to show the reader where they found information.  In law, jurists and expert witnesses will also use citations to inform the reader of information upon which a decision or the expert’s opinion might be based.***

Prior to the internet the citation process was straightforward because once something was published in print it was recorded in a physical and unchanging form.  This is not so with web pages, since there are many reasons links may become unavailable over time.

So what can you do if you’re conducting research and come across link rot?  Well, there is one thing you can try—check out the Wayback Machine.

What is the Wayback Machine?


The Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a web archive which enables users to view webpages across time. Simply go to the website and enter the URL of the website for which you’d like to see past versions in their search box. If the website has been archived, you will be brought to a page with a bar graph indicating how often the page has been indexed.
The bar pictured is for “en.wikipedia.org”
The bar graph consists of one box for each year since 1996.  Within each box are up to 12 black vertical lines which represent each month within that year.  The height of each vertical black line represents how many times the web page was archived that month. Clicking on the boxes will bring up a calendar for that year with days highlighted when a snapshot of the webpage was archived. To see the webpage as it was, click the highlighted dates.

Note: The Wayback Machine is a free service and is also very popular.  This means that sometimes you may sometimes get an error message because their servers are busy—be patient.

I recently had occasion to do some research on expert witness reports. In one of these reports (link requires Westlaw password) I was surprised to find a great number of the references to an advocacy website (PFLAG) were broken due to changes to the organization’s website. Of the five links which were broken in the expert report, I was able to retrieve all five using the Wayback Machine including one pdf file.  While your results may vary—if you come across a broken link while doing research the Wayback Machine may be a good solution.
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* Surface web means the part web which is indexed by the commercial search engines (e.g. Google). The surface web accounts for about 4% of the total web.  Non-indexed parts of the web are called the deep web and dark web. To learn more about those click here.  
** Web addresses are usually thought of as Uniform Resource Locators or URLs. For more detailed information about URLs click here
*** Legal scholars have recognized link rot as a problem. See e.g. Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, Lawrence Lessig, Perma: Scoping and Addressing the Problem of Link and Reference Rot in Legal Citations, 127 Harv. L. Rev. F. 176 (2014).