Friday, September 1, 2017

Millions of New Federal Court Documents Available on CourtListener Free of Charge



The Free Law Project, a California-based non-profit, has gathered and made available every free written opinion and order available on PACER, the federal courts’ document portal. This collection now provides access to 3.4 million documents from 1.5 million federal district and bankruptcy cases dating back to 1960.

Over the last year, the Free Law Project crawled PACER and used optical character recognition to "read" scanned documents in order to obtain the text. These new documents were added to the expanding RECAP archive operated by the Free Law Project, which now provides access to more than 20 million documents from 1.8 million cases on its website.



This project was supported by a grant from the Department of Labor and two professors studying employment law at Georgia State University. The materials now make judges' opinions available to the public free of charge.

Monday, August 28, 2017

United Nations Treaty Series

The United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) is the world’s largest collection of treaties. It has become so popular partially through the action of Article 102 of the U.N Charter which states:
1. Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it.
2. No party to any such treaty or international agreement which has not been registered in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article may invoke that treaty or agreement before any organ of the United Nations.
Article 102 provides the impetus for member states and international organizations to register their treaties and agreements since it would also provide the judicial organ of the United Nations, Court of International Justice, jurisdiction to resolve disputes which arise concerning the interpretation of such treaties.* Since Article 102 was adopted in 1945 the Secretariat of the United Nations has been publishing the UNTS in print. The UN now provides access to the UNTS in a searchable online format.  This page provides four ways to search the UNTS: Advanced, Title, Participant, Full-Text.

Advanced Search

The UNTS Online Advanced search feature is rather strange for anyone who has an expectation for what Advanced Search means. For this post we’re looking only at treaties, for which one can look at all treaties or limit to Original, Subsequent, or League of Nations treaties. After selecting a group of treaties to search than utilizing Boolean or proximity searching the user is presented with a group of filters which one can apply one at a time. Filters include Authentic Text (which is a language filter), various dates, parties, subject terms (which one can select from a list), and many others. Most strange to me is that with the exception of the English or French document title search there is no place to enter a user-defined search of the text to use in conjunction with the other filters.

Title Search

Here one can enter words to match within treaty titles and limit the results to an exact match, any, or all words entered. Example: entering “optional protocol” and selecting “Match this phrase” returns 20 documents.

Participant Search

This search presents the user with a list of nations and international organizations along with a checkbox for each. One can also select to search for all or any of the checked participants. A search for Kiribati, Laos, and Namibia with “Match all of these participants” selected returns 57 documents.

Full-Text Search

The Full-Text search feature offers a user defined search of the UNTS online database. One can enter a text into the search box and then select whether to search for an exact match, any, or all words. For instance, entering “illegal ivory trade” in the search box and selecting “All” returns 67 documents.
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Legislative History Without Research?

Occasionally an attorney may find herself with a unique problem. She is litigating a matter which involves the interpretation of an ambiguous statute and there is not a case on point which has resolved this issue. This may be the time to engage in legislative history research. This type of research attempts to resolve statutory ambiguities by investigating the documents produced during the legislative process such as bill versions, committee reports, floor debates, and others. The Law Library has prepared a guide about how to do legislative history research.

But what if you didn’t have to do the research? If you find yourself in a situation where legislative history research might be beneficial and you could just have the results of such a search without having to go through the process? Well, that might be a possibility.

Precompiled legislative histories are exactly what they sound like. Someone has gone through the legislative history process with certain laws and recorded the results. The Law Library has a few sources which have precompiled legislative histories so checking these should be your first steps in doing this kind of research. Note, both resources discussed below cover federal legislative histories.

HeinOnline


To navigate to these resources, from the School of Law front page go to Law Library, then Databases, then HeinOnline Databases, then the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library.
From this page, one can search through the alphabetical title list, public law numbers, or popular names. One could also click on “Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories.  This will give you a search function as well as the Browse by Congress option.
HeinOnline’s legislative history of the USA PATRIOT Act contains 106 documents which are compiled in five volumes as PDFs. By selecting one of the volumes one can navigate the document through the table of contents on the left of this screen. One can also search within the documents contained in the title by clicking on the search icon. For instance, searching “Osama” in “this title” results in 33 hits.


ProQuest Legislative Insight


ProQuest is different than HeinOnline for legislative histories.  This is because ProQuest Legislative Insight is a dedicated place to find legislative histories. Also, ProQuest produces the legislative histories itself rather than republishing the work of others as HeinOnline does. Thus, ProQuest is probably the best source for precompiled legislative histories. To navigate to ProQuest Legislative Insight from the School of Law front page go to Law Library, then Databases, then P, then ProQuest Legislative Insight.

Legislative Insight provides several access points to help you find a legislative history. First, you can search popular names or alternatively select a popular name from a drop down menu. Using the citation checker allows you to enter a Public Law number, Statutes at Large Citation, or a Bill Number and it will return the other two items and tell you whether the item you entered has a precompiled legislative history. You can also browse by Congress or search by subject.

By searching for “USA PATRIOT Act” in the popular names list I was able to get a list of seventeen possible legislative histories. I further limited this list to the 107th Congress because I knew the PATRIOT Act was passed in 2001.  Here we see the legislative history we seek, for Pub. Law 107-56.
This legislative history contains 184 documents. One can use the search box pictured to search for terms in all of the documents in the legislative history. Searching for “Osama” results in 26 hits. Like HeinOnline, ProQuest provides its content through downloadable pdfs.

Conclusion


Should you find yourself in need of the legislative history related to a federal statute, do yourself a favor and see if there is a precompiled legislative history either on HeinOnline or ProQuest Legislative Insight. You could save yourself a lot of effort.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Evaluating Online Legal Information

As legal researchers, we know we need to validate our research to make sure we are relying upon good law. We update and validate authorities online using Shepard’s Citations or Westlaw’s KeyCite. But how do we know other legal information we find online is reliable and current? Is it fabricated or fake news?

Before even thinking about citing or relying upon legal information found online, ask yourself what you know about the website. Do you always evaluate the website before relying on the information you found?

Librarians at the University of Maryland created a comprehensive, easy to use checklist for evaluating websites. By taking just a few minutes to complete the checklist, you will have considered important factors in determining: the quality and accuracy of a site, authorship, qualifications of the author or group that created the site, the purpose and content, bias or objectivity, and information currency.

Think that your information is accurate or current because you found it on a .gov or .org site? That’s not always correct. Take a moment to see when the information was updated and look for a disclaimer that the information on the site is not official.

The American Association of Law Libraries created a Guide to Evaluating Legal Information Online that gives a great overview of how to evaluate legal information online. The Guide covers the three main factors to consider when evaluating legal information found in online sources: content coverage, currency, and reliability. Take a look at the Guide and bookmark it so you review it often.

Get in the habit of evaluating your sources, and it will be something you automatically do before repeating something, even casually, only to find out it was fake news or invalid legal information..

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hi-Tech Research Tools for Facts

When I was in law school I generally didn’t think of facts beyond whatever was included in the fact pattern for an exam. This isn’t the way things work in the real world. Litigants and their attorneys often employ investigators, interns, and newer associates look for facts in the real world. When I was an intern for attorneys, my tasks often included looking for as much information as I could find about witnesses using social media. I recently attended the ABA Techshow and found several companies offering hi-tech tools that can gather information from social media sites.

Tomoko

Tomoko is an app which includes a client, enhanced searching for Facebook, and other eDiscovery tools. I viewed a demonstration of the app given by its creator Karhrman Ziegenbein and it was quite impressive. First, he showed me a search of a person’s Facebook profile using the regular Facebook search tools that anyone can access (the same sort of search I was able to perform as an intern); this yielded three groups the person is known to be a member of. Then, using Tomoko, we performed the same search which yielded dozens of results. The app also allows the user to save a copy of a website, create a video of whatever is being presented on the screen, and create authentication data sufficient to satisfy evidence standards. In addition to many other real world uses this tool has been used to prosecute human traffickers conducting online auctions via the darknet.

Vijilent

Vijilent is an app that can be used to create a profile of an individual’s web presence. Vijilent has a demo version which anyone can use to create a snapshot of an individual and includes as much information as can be gleaned publicly from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It also searches public records. This data is presented in a report that includes photos, social media links, personality analysis, and analysis of sentiment towards the individual. The paid version includes ongoing social media tracking, authentication tools, and cloud storage of this data.

TrialDrone

TrialDrone is another social media analysis product. TrialDrone does many of the same functions as the other products discussed here but also uses social media to help digitally reconstruct an event. This can help litigators to find potential witnesses and evidence before it disappears. TrialDrone can also be used to track individuals—for instance tracking the social media output of an individual. Among other uses, this tool has been used to recreate the events related to the Boston Marathon Bombing.

All of these products can help a litigator to discover facts about individuals and events that before the widespread use of social media would have been impossible.