Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When to Stop Researching: after locating a variety of legal resources on topic

The question of when to stop researching is a difficult one to answer. This is an issue that arises in two different contexts. The first is when to stop researching when you do not locate any results. The second, and more common context, is when to stop researching after locating a variety of legal resources addressing your topic; specifically, when is your research complete? do you know when you are done?

This week's post focuses on the second issue -- when your research is complete after locating various authorities. Last week's post focused on the first issue -- when you should stop researching if you are unsuccessful in finding relevant results.

With experience, legal researchers learn when to stop researching; mainly through the experience of researching more without results. It becomes an intuitive skill that develops over time. However, if you are new to legal research, and you have located a wide variety of sources that address the particular issue you are researching, the following considerations may help you decide when to end your research.

  • When researching and locating primary authority, remember you should always try to locate a mandatory primary resource for each legal issue. What if you find multiple cases on topic? Select mandatory authority over persuasive authority. If you locate several mandatory cases, choose the case(s) that is/are most factually and legally similar, that analyze(s) the law most clearly, and that is/are from the highest court. In other words, choose the lead case or cases. If you are lucky enough to find the answer to your question, be sure to Shepardize or KeyCite the authority to ensure it is still good law and identify any authority that affects its application.
  • When researching and locating several secondary authorities on point, remember that it is not necessary to include such authority if the primary authority found provides a clear answer to your question. However, checking a secondary authority is a good way to ensure your understanding of the proper analysis. Additionally, it may be helpful to reference such sources in order to provide your reader with a comprehensive treatment of the relevant issue. In any case, the information located in secondary sources may inform your own searching methods. Stop researching in secondary resources when this commentary becomes repetitive.
  • Whatever type of authority you are researching in, you may find an obvious repetition of citations and notice that you are not gleaning any new information. If you keep finding the same authority from a variety of search methods and resources, you are done. Research is circular in nature. Looking at various resources, you may keep coming back to the same results. This is a good sign that you have exhausted the need for further research. One rule of thumb is to check two or three sources on the same topic to see if they all cite to the same authority.
  • Be sure you have identified all issues necessary to fully address your issue.
  • Be sure you have looked at each issue from both sides. For example, consider what defenses and procedural challenges could be brought.
Please let the Research Librarians know if you need any assistance.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When to Stop Researching: when you are not finding results

The question of when to stop researching is a difficult one to answer. This is an issue that arises in two different contexts. The first is when to stop researching when you do not locate any results. The second, and more common context, is when to stop researching after locating a variety of legal resources addressing your topic; specifically, when is your research complete? do you know when you are done?

This week's post is focused on the first issue -- when you should stop researching if you are unsuccessful in finding relevant results. (Keep an eye out for next week's blog posting, which will discuss the second issue.)

If your research has not yielded any results after about 45 minutes, consider reevaluating your research plan.

Verify that you are:
  • using a number of different research techniques (i.e., topic/key number, index keyword, full-text searching)
  • examining secondary resources. A secondary resource can provide background information to help you understand the context of your legal issue. It can give you the lay of the land, so you know, for instance, that your research is governed by state or federal law, or it can provide you with key search terms.
  • examining a variety of primary resources. Your issue may not be addressed by statutory law. If you have conducted statutory research using all possible terms, move to another source such as case law.  It is also possible that your topic is covered by federal versus state law.
  • consulting both print and online sources
  • looking at resources from different publishers. While you will find most of the same primary resources (cases, statutes, regulations) from i.e., LexisNexis and Westlaw, secondary sources, such as treatises and practice guides, are more unique to each publisher.
Reconsider the issue and search terms. You may be conceptualizing and examining the issue too broadly or narrowly; your search terms may be articulated too broadly or narrowly. Take a second look at secondary sources, which can be helpful in reframing the issue or determing pertinent search terms.

Reconsider the legal theory.  You may have inacurrately formulated your issue and are researching in an incorrect area of the law. Again, a second look at secondary sources can provide an overview of the law that consolidates the various ways a topic may be analyzed.

Do you have a matter of first impression? It is possible that you are researching an issue that has not yet been addressed in your jurisdiction; you will therefore be unable to locate law on your topic. If this is the situation, look at how other jurisdictions have treated the issue by using a secondary source such as a legal encyclopedia, treatise, or ALR annotation. You should advise your supervising attorney not only that your jurisdiction has not addressed this issue, but detail the distinct ways other jurisdictions have decided the matter.

Confer with a reference librarian. Chatting with a professional about your research methodology may turn up a step/issue you have yet to consider. "Principals are your pals," but librarians are your friends!

As always, it is best to keep a research log that lists the steps you have taken, including the resource checked and the search used. The purpose of the log is to help you review your process to be sure you have exhausted possible research paths.

Keep an eye out for next week's posting on when to stop researching after locating a variety of legal resources addressing your topic; specifically, when is your research complete? do you know when you are done?

Happy research trails to you!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Natural Disasters

Recent media coverage of the destruction caused by super storm Sandy and the threat of a nor'easter hitting the same area has me pondering the legal issues surrounding natural disasters and emergency preparedness.

As we saw with previous hurricanes, such as Katrina, much litigation arises from the government's response and clean up efforts. Insurance and labor are just two of the areas of law affected by natural disasters. Too often, survivors are left to navigate through the muddy legal waters themselves because they do not know where to find needed information.

A good place to start researching is the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) website. One of the many helpful links is the Declaration Process Fact Sheet, which walks you through the steps required for states to receive federal assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206 (Stafford Act). The Governor must certify, among other things, that:
  • the severity and magnitude of the disaster exceed state and local capabilities
  • federal assistance is necessary to supplement the efforts and available resources of the state and local governments, disaster relief organizations, and compensation by insurance for disaster related losses
Which brings me to insurance related issues. For the most part, damage caused by natural disasters is covered by traditional homeowner policies, excluding flood damage. FEMA provides the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Summary of Coverage on its site. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) October 2012 CIPR Newsletter, the recently enacted Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 extends the NFIP for five more years and moves it toward risk-based pricing by phasing out subsidies for vacation and second homes, businesses, severe repetitive loss properties or substantially improved/damaged properties. As The Natural Disaster Law Lawyer Mops Up for Victims points out, having coverage does not guarantee a stress-free experience.  

Let's not forget about all the labor issues that can float to the surface after a disaster. Employers still must comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Check out Extreme Weather, Natural Disasters and Personnel Issues for a few general pointers for businesses closed due to a natural disaster. If your business is lucky enough to remain open during clean up efforts, ensure you are following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.

Both employers and employees should be aware of guidelines for:
  • Federal and Medical Leave Act
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act 
  • The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act
 We all know that the best time to plan for a disaster is before it happens. Likewise, the time to look at these resources is before we are faced with another disaster. So, when you rush out to stock up on bread, water, and gas, remember to check out these resources too!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

It would not be Halloween in Massachusetts without mentioning the Salem Witch Trials. For those of you not able to visit the Law Library's Salem Witch Trials display, I wanted to highlight some of the material in our collection about the trials.

Also, don't forget that you can take any of these books' call numbers and see what else is near them on the bookshelves using WILDPAC.

Title: The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide

Author: Goss, K. David

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 G67 2008
Title: The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege

Author: Roach, Marilynne K.

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 R63 2002
Title: The Salem Witch Trials Reader

Author: Hill, Frances

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 H555 2000
Title: The Story of the Salem Witch Trials: "We Walked in Clouds and Could Not See Our Way"

Author: LeBeau, Bryan F.

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 L43 1998
Title: A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials

Author: Hill, Frances

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 H55 1995
Title: Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt

Editor: Rosenthal, Bernard

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 R43 2009
Title: Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692

Author: Rosenthal, Bernard

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 R67 1993
Title: Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall

Author: LaPlante, Eve

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 L37 2007
Title: Escaping Salem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692

Author: Godbeer, Richard

Call Number: Law State Collection KFC3678.8.W5 G66 2005

Friday, October 26, 2012

QR codes in WILDPAC

Have you ever found a book while searching in WILDPAC on the first floor of the Library, only to forget the call number by the time you reached the third floor?

If you have a smart phone or other device with a QR code reader, that never has to happen again. If you find something in the catalog after searching for a title or author, the web page will include a QR code that you can scan, and presto - that web page, with the title, author and call number, is on your phone. There is no need for scrap paper or taking a picture of the computer screen that you will have to find in your phone’s photo album later.

QR Code after a title search in WILDPAC

What if you found the book when searching in Encore? Just select “View in classic catalog” and you will see the QR Code for that item.

QR Code after a search in Encore

If your QR code reader lets you archive the pages you find, use that to create a makeshift list! You can scan the QR codes for all of the books you find at once, and not have to return to the computer to search over and over again.

A librarian will be glad to answer any questions you have about using this new catalog feature.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Massachusetts Criminal Practice

Today’s post comes from the Division of Shameless Self-Promotion here at the Law Library:  did you know that a long standing resource for criminal law research – Massachusetts Criminal Practice – is now available on-line and it’s FREE?

Professors Eric Blumenson of Suffolk University Law School  and Arthur B. Leavens of our own Western New England University School of Law, co-edited the 4th edition of this bible for criminal law practitioners. And, for the first time, this resource includes a chapter devoted to researching criminal practice and procedure written by me and my colleague, Patricia Newcombe, our Associate Dean for Library & Information Resources.

As stated in the Preface, this edition “marks a new era in the life of Massachusetts Criminal Practice. Commenced in 1990 as a hardcover book, and continuing through the following two editions, Massachusetts Criminal Practice was available only to subscribers and purchasers. But the purpose of the project was always to disseminate legal knowledge to lawyers, law students, and others involved in the criminal justice system, including defendants – and the commercial imperatives of book publishing necessarily detracted from this goal. With this edition, we take a long step towards making the book more accessible to our intended readers … Massachusetts Criminal Practice is now available to all who can access the internet, without charge.”

If you haven’t used this book in a while, I think you will be surprised to be reminded about what a rich resource it is. Chapters range from the probable cause hearing, confessions, issues in eyewitness identification cases, opening statements, examination of witnesses, all the way to postconviction remedies.  The authors of the substantive chapters are experts in the criminal practice field and the experiential knowledge they bring to this work is invaluable. Take the opportunity to become reacquainted with Massachusetts Criminal Practice at your soonest convenience.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Zimmerman's Research Guide

Zimmerman's Research GuideZimmerman's Research Guide bills itself as an "online legal research encyclopedia." The Guide was created by law librarian Andrew Zimmerman more than a decade ago. It started as a collection of resources that he himself found useful when doing legal research. Over the years, it has expanded to cover a wide range of sources. Currently, Zimmerman encourages other librarians to contribute to the Guide, with corrections, additions, and comments.

This is not a how-to website for legal research. Rather, it lists available resources on many different topics - just over one thousand! The entries generally fall into one of three categories: a jurisdiction, including states, foreign countries, and even some cities; a specific resource, like "tax forms" or "obituaries;" or an area of law, like "antitrust."

The Guide is now hosted by LexisNexis, under the publisher's "InfoPro" brand. Unsurprisingly, this means the website has some marketing material for LexisNexis' products. However, the actual content of the Guide includes resources published by other vendors, showing no bias toward Lexis. For instance, the entry for "Legal Research Guides" mentions two books published by West, and no LexisNexis books at all. Many of the entries include links to government information and other free resources, making this a useful resource for people needing to do research without spending money. 

For sources on Westlaw Classic and Lexis, the Guide gives the appropriate database identifiers to find the specific resource. Unfortunately, there is no deep linking into WestlawNext or Lexis Advance (which may not even be possible.) It will be interesting to see what happens when the prior generation of databases is finally phased out.

The legal research universe is so vast that not even the best legal researcher can always remember all of the sources available on a topic. Zimmerman's Research Guide is a great place to go to get a feel for where to start your legal research.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Researching military law can seem like a daunting task for researchers unfamiliar with this area of law. Fortunately, the authorities governing military law are easily discoverable. As expected, both Westlaw and Lexis have pulled together an array of resources under the topic of Military Law. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the major authority in this area and it is codified at 10 U.S.C. § 801-946. For those of you without Westlaw or Lexis access, LII provides free access to the U.S.C. Periodically, you may encounter times when you need documents that fall outside the scope of primary authorities.

I recently stumbled across another free resource that pulls together documents not easily accessible in traditional legal databases, as well as, links to sites such as LII. The Military Education Research Library Network (MERLN) is maintained by the National Defense University Library in Washington, D.C., and consists of a variety of unique electronic resources:

  • Military Policy Awareness Links (MiPALs)
  • Digital collections of full-text papers, lectures, and legislation;
  • Links to worldwide military library catalogs;
  • Links to military journals and publications; and
  • Access (password controlled) to full text ejournals and reference tools.
MERLN contains a wealth of information, especially for those interested in international conflicts. For example, browsing through the Digital Collections, I was able to locate a collection of Peace Agreements maintained by the United States Institute of Peace that contains PDFs of the actual agreements:

Under the "Issues at a Glance" tab, you can find links to background information, official U.S. responses, and the latest analysis from think tanks for current events as they unfold. Some topics, such as U.S. Grand Strategy for Afghanistan/Pakistan, contain links to PDFs of Congressional Hearings, which can aid in determining the intent behind an official response or newly enacted legislation.

I should mention a few drawbacks I noticed while navigating through the site. Due to the fact that this site is an aggregation of various electronic resources, there is no standardized searching method. This means that ease of searching and navigation varies among the resources. Additionally, the tab for the Military Policy Awareness Links (MiPALs) does not always function properly.

You may come across information that is restricted to students, staff, faculty, and alumni of the participating institutions. If you run into this issue, contact your local Interlibrary Loan librarian to try to obtain the document.

As you can imagine, I have provided only a glimpse of the unique documents available through this resource. The next time you are trying to locate an elusive military document as part of your research, why not take a look at MERLN.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Defining Research

Black’s Law Dictionary is a staple of legal research. However, it is far from the only dictionary that a lawyer may need in practice. In the last Supreme Court term, 19 cases had a citation to a non-law dictionary.

Why would the Supreme Court refer to a dictionary so often? Unsurprisingly, they use dictionaries to determine what a particular word in a statute means. A fundamental canon of statutory construction is that “words are to be given their common meaning, unless they are technical terms or words of art.”1 This “ordinary meaning” needs to be from the time the law was passed, not the present day. This means that lawyers could need a dictionary (and preferably several) from any time period.

Looking at the last term, the case Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., 132 S.Ct. 1997 (2012), may have been the most dictionary-dependent case of the last term. It turned on the meaning of the word “interpreter” in 28 U.S.C. §1920. The party that won had several dictionaries on their side, while the loser primarily relied on a single one.

Overall, the most cited dictionary of the term was Springfield, Massachusetts’ own Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, an edition of which appeared in seven opinions. Interestingly, one commonly cited dictionary is not even American! The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) featured in several cases. Its reputation for quality, not to mention the number of words it has from older time periods, makes it a useful choice for statutory interpretation.

When doing legal research, don’t forget that there are also many subject-specific dictionaries that include terms of art. There are medical dictionaries like Black’s Medical Dictionary and Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary. The publisher Barron’s has several dictionaries covering the financial world. Highly regulated, technical fields, like environmental law, also have dictionaries to help researchers deal with the mass of acronyms that characterize EPA publications.

It is easy to forget about dictionaries, as features like spell-check and thesauri are integrated with word processing software. Will courts one day quote the results of Microsoft Word’s "Synonyms" feature in an opinion? We’ll see, but I feel bad for whoever has to Bluebook that citation!

1Abner J. Mikva and Eric Lane, An Introduction to Statutory Interpretation and the Legislative Process 25 (1997).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words

Have you ever done a search in WILDPAC for treatises, found some titles that looked like they might be appropriate and wondered exactly what was inside the book?

Well, if you do a search using "Search Now" in WILDPAC, there's a good chance that you can actually look into the title and find out more about it. In some instances all you have to do is click on the "More Details" link to see the Table of Contents, but often there isn't really any Table of Contents information in the record. Then what can you do aside from walking over to the library and actually looking for the book?

That's where the "Picture" is really worth a thousand words. If you do a search and it turns up images of the book's jacket on the right hand side of the display, you may be just a few clicks away from the information that you need.

Try doing a search in "Search Now" on "assisted suicide". You will come up with something like this:

If you click on the "Date" link next, you will bring up the newest titles first, including those that are in the D'Amour Library. Clicking on the title or the book jacket image will bring up the full record of the title. In some instances you will even see the Table of Contents information then, or if you click on the "More Details" link.

But in this case, there really isn't any more useful information. But by clicking on the book jacket image on the left you will be taken to .

There all you have to do is click on the the link "Search inside this book". That opens you up to the title page of the book along with the Table of Contents and a small part of the treatise. In addition, if you scroll down to the bottom of the inside of the book, you will find an even better tool than just the Table of Contents, you will find the index to the entire book. In almost all cases, if Amazon has the link to search inside the book, you will find an index to the book, if the book has one, and everyone knows that searching through an index can be the best way to find out exactly what is in the book. Sometimes you might get really lucky and find the bibliography which can lead you onto many other titles that can help in your research.

In any case, there's probably more than a "thousand" words behind that little book jacket image.

Don't forget to use this tip when you get our "Selected New Acquisition" for each month. There you will find a direct link to the "Search inside this title" from Amazon if it's available, so you can quickly check to see if you want to borrow the book from the library.

Happy researching!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keeping up with the Supremes

As summer turns into fall, we approach "First Monday," the start of the Supreme Court term. The Supreme Court does not ease into the new term – there are arguments scheduled on Monday, October 1st! Luckily, there are plenty of resources for keeping track of the latest Supreme Court action all year long.


First, you need to know what cases the Supreme Court is considering. Luckily, the Court does a good job of keeping its website updated with current information. For instance, it posts its argument calendar months in advance. The blog SCOTUSblog and the newsletter U.S. Law Week (subscription required) also have the calendar and have the added benefit of including case previews. Keep in mind that just because a case was appealed to the Supreme Court, it will not necessarily mean the case will be heard. To check if the court did grant certiorari to a case you are tracking, or disposed of it without a hearing, you can look over the Supreme Court's Order Lists to see its dispositions in many cases at once, or just Shepardize or KeyCite your particular case.


If you want a preview of the arguments that the parties' attorneys will make, or at least try to make, at oral argument, the best place to look is briefs filed in the case. The Court itself does not host the briefs filed in any of the cases it hears. Those briefs are on the American Bar Association website with its Supreme Court Preview, but only those for the current year. The ABA has briefs from the parties as well as briefs from amici in the case. Older briefs are available on Westlaw and Lexis.


If you want to see a Supreme Court hearing, you have to go to Washington, D.C. – the Court does not televise its proceedings, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. However, you can listen to an audio recording of the arguments. The Supreme Court puts them online at the end of every week.

If the end of the week is too long to wait, the SCOTUSblog posts daily updates from hearings, with summaries of the arguments and the questions asked by the Justices. SCOTUSblog also maintains a page with convenient summaries of all of the term’s cases, in chronological order.


After hearings, it can take the Court months to actually decide a case. The Justices and their clerks are very tight-lipped about their deliberations, meaning that it is hard to even find rumors of how a case is being decided. Then, they don't even pre-announce the day that they are going to decide a particular case; the Court announces that there will be opinions handed down on a day, and then you have to tune in (not literally - see above) to see what cases they decide. Once a case is decided, the case is quickly put online with the Court's other recent slip opinions. Lexis, Westlaw and many other legal databases also post them within a day. Don't hold your breath waiting for them in print. The official source of Supreme Court opinions, U.S. Reports, is several years behind in printing cases.

Knowing The Rules


Just as it is hard to follow football without knowing the rules, following the Supreme Court is more satisfying if you know the rules of the game. The Court posts its rules on its website. However, if you want a full analysis of not just the rules, but how they play out in real life, check out the book Supreme Court Practice. It's 1500 pages long, but there is no better source for explaining the intricacies of Supreme Court procedure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Congressional Research Service - Getting Our Monies Worth

I think Congressional Research Service (CRS) first came to my attention while I was at Library School.  I have since found many opportunities to tell others about it.  I find it especially useful when I teach specialized research classes. For example, in recent Law and Terrorism and Genetics and the Law classes, students found reports that were both on point and unique.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  The Library of Congress website describes CRS as a service “exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation.”  It falls within the ambit of the Library of Congress and provides background research for every stage of the legislative process.

Signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, CRS was originally called the Legislative Reference Service, and was renamed Congressional Research Service in 1970. Today, CRS purports to examine issues from a variety of (disinterested) perspectives. Its final work product appears as reports on policy issues, confidential memoranda, seminars, workshops, congressional testimony and responses to individual inquiries.

There are five CRS research divisions: American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; and Resources, Sciences and Industry.  All of these divisions have further breakdowns which are listed on their respective websites. The reports we found for our Law and Terrorism class came under the foreign affairs rubric, the foreign policy management and global issues subset. A report is written by a subject specialist and will typically be rich in the background of the issue under consideration, including differing views and the applicable legal framework.  As you can see, this kind of material can be a treasure trove for a researcher.

I want to hark back to the description of CRS from the Library of Congress website quoted above, specifically where it says that CRS is a service “exclusively” for Congress.  Oddly, although this service is paid for by the taxpayer, its reports are not available to the taxpayer.  We here at Western New England University School of Law have great access through our paid subscription to the ProQuest Congressional database. Others not so lucky can use resources like Open CRS.  The CRS argument for limiting access to its reports, argued in seven pages by the CRS Director in April 2007, was posted by the Federation of American Scientists. It’s slow reading and ultimately not persuasive to this blogger – why don’t all of those arguments apply equally to the paid access we have through the aforementioned ProQuest Congressional database?

Again oddly enough, between the time I started this post and the time I am concluding, a colleague brought to my attention H. Res. 727 introduced in July 2012, and a recent (like today) Law Librarian Blog post which proposes open access to CRS Reports.  If this sounds like a good idea to you, make your support known to your representatives.

Concluding on a practical note, CRS has more than 600 employees working in Washington, D.C., with more than half that number (450) working as policy analysts, attorneys and information professionals.  If this sounds like a career you might find interesting, read more about CRS career opportunities.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Researching (not so) Uniform Laws

Justice Louis Brandeis, in his dissent in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, wrote “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”1

Not to disagree with Justice Brandeis, but sometimes it is just easier for everyone if every state has the same law on a topic. This is not an original idea - the Uniform Laws Commission (ULC), also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, is a 120-year-old group whose mission is to draft legislation on various topics meant to be adopted by every state.

The most famous Uniform Law, at least to law students, is probably the Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC.2 There are many others though, covering topics such as property, business organizations, family law, and probate.

The ULC provides a wealth of information about these Acts on its website. One of the most interesting features is the list of the completed Uniform Acts – there are more than 150. Note that “uniform” does not mean “universal.” Some of these acts have had little adoption, and some, like the Uniform Criminal-History Records Act (1986), have not been enacted by any state at all! The ULC provides information about which states have adopted an Act, and which ones are considering it, in the form of proposed legislation, in 2012. They also provide a summary of each Act, as well as the full text of most. The main exception is the UCC, for which the ULC does not have the exclusive copyright. Final versions of the Uniform Acts can also be found in the set Uniform Laws Annotated, which is in print in the Law Library and on Westlaw. The annotations in this set make it a must-use resource when doing research on any Uniform Law. This source also details code sections where states adopted text that varied from the Uniform Law.

The ULC’s archives are housed at Biddle Law Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers looking for older drafts of various uniform laws can find many of them online on the archive’s website. HeinOnline has even more material digitized in its National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws library (subscription required). It has the drafts of more Acts than the free archive, and it also has some memoranda by the drafters written during the drafting process.

The next time you are doing some research on an issue covered by a state statute, don’t forget that it could be based on a Uniform Law. If it is, you will find more history, and more jurisdictions interpreting the same statutory language, than you may have thought even existed.

1New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932).
2The UCC is a joint effort between the ULC and the American Law Institute. The American Law Institute publishes the various Restatements of the Law and the Model Penal Code.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Check Yourself

One of the more useful but lesser-known sources of legal information is the checklist. Checklists break down complex tasks into the individual steps that all need to be completed to finish the task effectively.
In his “Checklists for Checklists,” Atul  Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto, states that “A checklist is NOT a teaching tool or an algorithm.” Rather, checklists are designed to prevent mistakes in performing complex tasks, like surgery or flying an airplane. Many services that lawyers provide for clients also fall under the category of complex tasks.
Indeed, checklists should not be mistaken for a guide on being a lawyer. First of all, many of the individual items on a checklist require skill to complete on their own. More importantly, you need to understand why you are doing what you are doing. Without understanding the steps, you will not know if you have really successfully completed them.
So where do you find legal checklists?
Both Westlaw and Lexis have checklists scattered throughout the secondary sources on their websites. There are too many to just search across all secondary sources for “checklist.” If you are searching in a particular source, like the Massachusetts Practice volumes on Family Law, you will find around eight checklists, although one is really more of a template or form. Topical practice guides are the best places to find checklists, because those resources are aimed at attorneys with specific practice needs.
The most comprehensive collection of checklists in print is the aptly named Legal Checklists from Thomson/West. This three-volume set contains hundreds of checklists, including checklists on substantive areas of law, procedure, and running a law practice.
Some of the checklists in this resource are really more like legal outlines of an issue than a true “checklist.” This makes sense, because in law one is often just as concerned with “did you consider x” than “did you do x.”
This also means that a checklist is something you need to find when you begin a project. If you wait and check at the end, you may find you forgot to consider an issue at a point that would have greatly changed all of your subsequent actions. In addition, while checklists are not supposed to be used to learn how to do something for the first time, they can be used to learn the scope of a project.
A checklist book geared toward law students is Austen L. Parrish and Dennis T. Yokoyama’s Effective Lawyering: A Checklist Approach to Legal Writing & Oral Argument. Their focus on students leads them to occasionally blur the line between a checklist and proscriptive directions on how to accomplish a task. Even so, the book forces students to consider every choice they make while writing, and even experienced writers will benefit from seeing all of the steps that go into effective communication presented so explicitly.
No checklist can turn someone who has never learned to fly a plane into a master pilot. Similarly, no checklist can turn someone who is unfamiliar with law into the next Matlock. However, as you learn about legal writing, argument, and client representation, it can be difficult to remember every step to successfully completing a project. Checklists can be a valuable tool in providing excellent service to your clients.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Filling up your "cart"

If you've used Wildpac in the past, have you ever noticed the "Add to cart" icon and wondered what was the point of this small add on? Try typing in Animal Rights in "Search Now". Once you have done a search in "Search Now", you will have a list of titles from the catalog. If you click on the small shopping cart icon under the library location, you will be adding  that title to your shopping cart.

You can add any title that you see in the list whether it's a treatise, microform, or electronic resource. When you have finished loading your cart you can look to the top of the your browser screen and see how many titles you have in your cart.

If you click on the My Cart, you will have some options. One of your options is to email the list of titles to yourself.

If you do this, then when your email arrives at your desktop, you will have the titles with hotlinks back into the catalog. Remember you can add electronic titles as well, so you could simply follow the link back to the online version of the title. As an alternative, you could also click on the icon to "Save to list".

If you do this, you will be presented a screen asking for your name, barcode number, and PIN which will then log you into to your "My Wildpac" account where you can build a list of all the titles that you would like to save for a future bibliography of the paper you are working on. The Log-In page looks like this:

Because you have the link to the record in the catalog, you will find all the information you need to compete your bibliography. In your "My Wildpac" account, you can create any number of lists that you would like to keep the various papers that you are writing separated. Just remember though, if you don't save your items in the cart in some way, you will lose everything in it when you leave Wildpac.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


When I began law school (…back in the 1990s) it was expected that a law student would purchase a legal dictionary to be used when reading cases. There were always those terms you needed to look up when reading cases….legalese, Latin, obscure, and just plain old-fashioned terminology. It is still true that law students need to locate these definitions to fully understand their case law reading. However, there are so many easier options today than carting around a print volume and fumbling through the pages to understand what in the world res ipsa loquitur” means.

One free source to use is Wex, a collaboratively-edited legal dictionary sponsored and hosted by the Legal Information Institute (LII) at the Cornell Law School. Wex entries are created and edited by legal experts, specifically for “law novices.” Back in 2010, LII made a decision to partner with Nolo and made Wex even more comprehensive and easy to understand, including Nolo’s Plain-English Legal Dictionary definitions in each Wex entry. Nolo is an advocate for easy accessibility to the law for all; so this seems like a great match.  Notice, for example, the entry for “in loco parentis”; you’ll see Wex’s community-gathered definition listed first, followed by Nolo’s. Not a bad idea to hear the term explain in more than one way, right?

Most students will find the Wex “all pages” the easiest to use as you don't need to be concerned with variant spellings. There is also a search function you can use if you know the exact spelling of your term.

One caveat – Wex is not a substitute for using Black’s Law Dictionary when you are doing research, however.  Black’s is the most widely used and most definitive legal dictionary in the United States, and has been cited as a secondary legal authority in several U.S. Supreme Court cases. That being said, Wex is a great resource when studying/reading cases. 

If you are logged on to, of course, you may want to go directly to Black’s Law Dictionary, which gives you the entire contents of the 9th edition online.

For the law student on the go, perhaps you might want to consider one of these mobile apps for Black's:

So, entering law students: before you go out and buy a print legal dictionary before your first year, consider your options.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tweeting Law

Legal research with Twitter? What? Twitter is a medium confined to text messages of 140 characters at a time. What of value to a legal researcher could possibly fit into that space?

That is a fair question, but if Twitter was ever about "what I had for lunch," it is no longer. Now, legal scholars write there frequently, the legal media uses it as another broadcast platform, and governments use it to post information for the public. Overall, it can be a useful source for staying abreast of hot legal issues, including issues that might be a good starting point for a Law Review Note.

There are many law professors using Twitter now. Recently, the media organization WorldWideLearn compiled a list of the “top 50” law professors on Twitter. I cannot vouch for WorldWideLearn that these are in fact the best 50 professors to follow, but it is a good place to start looking for professors on any legal topic.  

As for legal media, The American Lawyer and ABA Journal both tweet daily. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly also tweets its top stories at @masslw.

Researchers can also use Twitter to have new court opinions and government information pushed directly to their computers. If you follow @USSupremeCourt, they will tweet links to new opinions the day they are released. The Law Library of Congress sponsors two Twitter acocunts: @THOMASdotgov, for legislative information, particularly video of current Congressional hearings; and @LawLibCongress, with updates on services from the library. Many government agencies have twitter feeds. The White House has created a list of 56 of them at!/whitehouse/usg.

So, with all of this information being pushed to Twitter, how does one organize it? Unfortunately, Twitter's own search capabilities do not go back very far in time. There are other services, like Topsy, which lets one search further back on the public Twitter feed, and SnapBird, which searches older tweets on an individual's feed. Using Twitter's API and some coding know-how, it is possible for researchers to build their own tweet harvester. Luckily, at some point, the Library of Congress, which has the complete Twitter archive, will facilitate researching old tweets. Unfortunately, that day is still years away.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What's Not To Love?

I love a well written reference source and this post is about one of my favorites – the Federal Regulatory Directory (“Directory”), now in its 15th edition. Administrative law can be intimidating for someone who doesn’t research in that area regularly. But the Directory helps take some of the sting out of that process. Why is this resource so valuable? Glad you asked.

First of all, the Directory provides a broad well written history of regulations in the United States as well as a summary of recent regulatory developments. For example, the Preface to the 15th edition discusses the recent creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as the two agencies that were spawned by the BP Oil Spill: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE); and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue. All of these agencies are again discussed in more depth later in the volume.

The Introduction presents a well written synopsis of the history of regulations in the United States, including a description of the ebbing and flowing of regulatory popularity with the coming and going of various administrations, the rulemaking procedure, implementation techniques, and dispute resolution. There are also sections on the people chosen to direct the agencies, the nominating and confirming processes, accountability, oversight and presidential influence. Finally, for us history buffs, many of the individual sections on an agency or department start with its history. Does one need all of this information to find out who is running the show? No of course not, but perhaps this information helps create a more literate and resourceful researcher.

The value of the Directory also lies in the legislative information provided. Dean Dan Rodriguez of Boalt Hall Law School reported there were three secrets to performing good administrative law research: "1. Look to the underlying legislation. 2. Look to the underlying legislation. 3. Look to the underlying legislation.”[i] For this purpose alone, the Directory is invaluable. Each description of an agency has a section entitled “legislation,” which details the originating legislation, and the legislation for which the agency is responsible. Be sure to also consult the “Powers and Authority” section to see what executive orders the entity might also be charged with administering.

Each entry for an agency also includes biographical sketches of higher-level personnel, an organizational chart, and telephone contact information, inter alia. Finding aids in the volume include a table of contents, a thematic table of contents (grouping all agencies having anything to do with disasters, or agriculture, or banking, etc.,), a subject index and a name index. There is a really good section on how to use the Federal Register and the CFR, a reproduction of the Administrative Procedures Act, and important executive orders affecting the regulatory process.

What’s not to love? 

[i] Robert Berring & Elizabeth Edinger, Finding the Law 230 (12th ed. West 2005). Reserve KF240 .C5382 2005.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

50 State Surveys

50 state surveys compile citations to statutes and regulations of more than one state on a particular subject. In the past, compiling 50 state surveys was a very time-consuming task. Before the widespread use of online legal resources, researchers had to examine each state print resource and locate the appropriate statutory language. Complicating this laborious task was the fact that many states refer to the same legal concept with different legal terminology. For example, while some states use the term "Statute of Limitations" to refer to the law that bars claims after a specified period, other states use "Nonclaim Statute" or "Limitations Period." Although a little easier online, this issue of terminology still presented difficulties.

Thanks to competition among various online resource providers, there are now a multitude of sources that have done the tedious work for you. Many of these resources include helpful state-by-state analysis tables. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that there has been a compilation on your specific topic, but it's worthwhile to check these sources first. One additional caveat is that the fee-based sources can be cost prohibitive if you do not have an academic subscription.



The SURVEYS database contains a variety of topical surveys providing references to applicable state laws. Tables in PDF format, where provided, include summaries and legal analysis for important subtopics with related statutory provisions. You may be able to search narrower databases by subject, such as family law, depending on your subscription. 

Searching in SURVEYS, I found numerous results for same-sex marriage, including a Table of Defense of Marriage Statutes and Constitutional Provisions. 

You can image how long it would take to compile this table from scratch.

Lexis has a few sources that compile state laws, which means you may have to look in more than one source.

  • 50 State Surveys of Statutes and Regulations presents general statutory and regulatory provisions covering the designated topics. Each survey contains links to relevant codes and regulations on a particular topic.
  • Multi-Jurisdictional Surveys with Analysis are compilations of key information about important legal issues in banking, business, commercial (UCC), corporate, environmental, family, insurance, international, labor & employment, litigation practice & procedure, real estate, tax, and torts. Each survey includes the citation reference and a summary of the rule or regulation, with practice insights as available. 
  •  Legal Research Center Surveys are compilations of key information about important legal issues across all fifty states provided by Legal Research Center, Inc.  They give the researcher the ability to compare the rules and regulations across jurisdictions.

Subject Compilations of State Laws (1960-2012) helps researchers locate records for items of significance for state statutory research. If the item is available on HeinOnline, there will be a direct link.


This database contains the full text of every bill in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Congress for the current session. You can pick from a selection of available 50 state surveys.

Wex provides an outline of topics that covers the broad array of state statutes available on the internet.


Although you may be tempted to stop researching once you find a 50 state survey, remember that you MUST update the sources to be sure there were no legislative changes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Terms and Connectors Searching

Last time, I talked about the “mystery” of putting words into a search box, and the database returning documents that it thought you would want.

There is a way to override this algorithm, and in effect supply your own algorithm for finding documents. This is called "terms and connectors" searching. Describe the characteristics you are looking for in a document, and the database will return every matching document, no questions asked.


The “terms” are the words or phrases for which you are searching. These can be a mix of legal concepts and facts related to your fact pattern. Usually a database will give you a way to specify a phrase, like “dead cat bounce,” which has a much different meaning as a phrase than as three individual words.

Another way to manipulate terms is to use wildcards and root expanders. For instance, if you are looking for cases involving drunk driving, you might search for cases that mention someone being intoxicated. You would also want cases that mention intoxicating beverages. Don’t forget cases that refer to a level of intoxication. You could run different searches for each of those words, but many systems, including Westlaw and Lexis, will allow you to use a root expander and search for “intoxicat!” with the exclamation mark representing any number of letters after the phrase. Thus, it would include words like intoxicate, intoxicated, and intoxicatesque. (No, that is not a real word, but it doesn’t matter! If it were ever used in an opinion, the database would find it for you.)


George Boole, of "Boolean logic" fame
Rarely will you ever search for just one term.  Consider a fact pattern with an intoxicated bicyclist. Searching for either just “bicycl!” or “intoxicat!” is going to return many cases that aren’t really on point with what you need. How can you create a search using multiple search terms? Connectors! Databases use Boolean logic to assess your query. The most common connectors are AND, OR, and NOT. Note that while these concepts are constant across databases, the actual syntax used to make the query, like using an ampersand in place of the word AND, can vary.


If you want cases that are about intoxicated bicyclists, you probably want cases that use both terms. Connecting them with a simple AND will return only those documents with both terms appearing at least once.


“Intoxicat!” is a good way to find variants of the word “intoxicated,” but it still won’t find the word “drunk.” A case may use either word to refer to a bicyclist’s state of inebriation, so you would want to find cases with either. For this, use the OR connector, and the database will return anything with either term. This is a typical way to search for terms with common synonyms. Connecting terms with OR almost always returns more results than connecting terms with AND, and it never returns fewer results.


Occasionally, one term will be strongly associated with several other terms, like "helmet" with both "bicycle" and "football." If you find yourself getting too many cases about football helmets when you search for “helmet,” you can specify the results NOT to return cases with the word “football.” In this case, that would probably not eliminate any useful cases, but be mindful of unintended consequences when using NOT.

Proximity (within same sentence, paragraph, one word before the other, etc.)

Some databases, including Westlaw and Lexis, allow you to search for cases by the relative positioning of two terms. For instance, you can search for cases where “bicycl!” is in the same sentence as “intoxicat!” That would indicate that the document is more likely to be about an intoxicated bicyclist than one that mentions intoxication once and then a bicyclist twenty pages later.

How to do a Boolean Search

With newer systems, like WestlawNext and Lexis Advance, it can be hard to find exactly where to do a Boolean search. WestlawNext now considers it an "advanced" search. The search format is different than in traditional Westlaw too. (see below)

You can also use all of WestlawNext's "Connectors and Expanders" by starting a search in the Universal Search box (the search box at the top of every screen) with "advanced:" and then your search in parentheses.

In Lexis Advance, you can put Boolean terms directly into the search box, and the search will be treated as a terms and connectors search. Look at the search tips for the proper syntax.

The list of documents returned for any of these searches may be chronological or it may be alphabetical by something like a party name or section title. WestlawNext defaults to ranking the list by relevance using its own algorithm, but you can change that default.

Wrap up

With experience, both the natural language and "terms and connectors" methods of searching will become second nature. Law school is the best time to gain this experience, when you have such economical access to legal databases. And no matter how the syntax and algorithms behind searching changes, or varies between databases, knowing the fundamental principles behind retrieving information from legal databases will serve you well throughout your career. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Browsing the virtual library shelves

When you're doing research at home, or you just don't feel like getting up to see what else the library might have on the shelves, and yet you want to see what else might be available in the library you can always do a quick keyword search in Wildpac under "Search now." But if you have a book from the library with a call number you could also do a Call Number search to find what might be sitting on the shelves right next to where you're original work came from. To see this in action click on the "Call No." link to the right on the Wildpac page:

Just add the base of the Call Number that you can find on the spine of the book. Try searching KF4819 for a book on immigration.

 The resulting list will be all the 89 titles that start with that base call number:

 Of course some of these titles are in the D'Amour Library, but they are all available to you. Some may even have their "Table of Contents" pages available where you can get a good idea about what is really in that particular title. A similar search on KF750 will bring up 171 titles on estate planning; a search on KF4754.5 will bring up 92 titles on gay rights. Another benefit of doing this is that you get to see everything in that range, whether or not it is in the third floor collection, reserve, or even reference. And since the Law Library classifies nearly everything into the law classification area, more materials will show up in these specific areas than in most other libraries, and you don't have to leave wherever you are jsut to browse the shelves.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Researching Legal Ethics

Law students do not always learn the process of researching issues in legal ethics. This is an important skill for students to develop, as it is a complex process and requires legal resources beyond the more traditional sources, such as cases and statutes. The authority in ethical issues are the rules that govern the conduct of attorneys and judges. States adopt these rules based on model rules adopted by the ABA; the latest version of these standards is the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) and the Code of Judicial Conduct. Additionally, state and national bar associations have systems in place to enforce their rules through disciplinary proceedings and through bar interpretations in the form of opinion letters. There are both formal and informal opinions: formal opinions are those the ABA considers pertinent to a majority of attorneys, while informal opinions are issued when the ABA feels there will not be general interest.

Familiarizing yourself with the following resources will inevitably be useful to you throughout your entire legal career.

One Hundred Years of Ethics

The ABA adopted the original Canon of Professional Ethics in 1908, which was replaced by the Model Code of Professional Responsibility in 1969. This Code was then replaced by the MRPC in 1983, adopting the current arrangement of eight subject areas subdivided into many individual rules. Following each of the MRPC's Rules is a comment that analyzes the Rule.

Current Rules and Opinions

The ABA's Center for Professional Responsibility provides free access to the MRPC. Also included at this site is a listing reporting on state adoption of the Rules and links to state ethics rules and opinions. Commentary, legislative history, and a comparison of the Rules to the Restatement of the Law Third - The Law Governing Lawyers (the American Law Institute's first endeavor to sythesize ethics law).

LII's American Legal Ethics Library also provides free access to state Rules or Codes, Ethics Opinions, and Judicial Conduct Codes and other legal ethics material.

Of course, Westlaw and LexisNexis also provide access to the text of the MRPC, although Westlaw also includes the more useful annotated version.
Bloomberg BNA's ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conduct is another excellent source, providing the full text of ABA formal and informal opinions and synopses of state bar ethics opinions, along with recent developments of note.

Note that state ethics rules are traditionally enacted as part of the state's statutes or the state's court rules, and can be located in these customary legal resources. Be cognizant of rule sections where the state has adopted a modification from the Model Rules.

Disciplinary Proceedings

Violating ethics rules can land an attorney in a disciplinary proceeding. Some states digest hearing results in their state bar journal; others have no formal publication process for these decisions. Analysis of ethics violations is mainly found only in appellate court opinions. The ABA/BNA Lawyer's Manual on Profressional Conduct, occasionally reports rulings from state disciplinary hearings, in its Current Reports section.

Staying Current


It is important to keep up to date on this topic by checking state bar websites for any proposed rule changes, following legal ethics blogs, such as and Legal Ethics Forum, and monitoring law journals, such as Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics and Journal of the Legal Profession.