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 Amazon.com .















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.

Calendar


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.

Briefs


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.

Hearings


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.

Opinions


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.