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.