Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quick Tip: MCLE Tables of Contents on WestlawNext

Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) publications are go-to resources when I am researching questions of Massachusetts law. They are accessible electronically through WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law.

In WestlawNext, the MCLE publications come without a table of contents feature. With most treatises on WestlawNext, selecting the title opens a table of contents created by Westlaw. 


But selecting an MCLE title opens an advanced search form. No table of contents is to be seen.

The table of contents feature may be missing from WestlawNext's MCLE publications, but the table of contents itself is not. The MCLEs still have the tables of contents with which they were published. But how to access those tables of contents?

The answer lies in knowing that the table of contents is there. The table of contents is contained in the text of the publication itself. On WestlawNext, each chapter of an MCLE publication is stored as a separate document. Westlaw treats the table of contents like a chapter and stores it as a document with the title "Table of Contents." So to access the table of contents for an MCLE publication, all you have to do is search that publication for "table of contents." The table of contents will show up at the top of the search results.




Monday, January 27, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #9: LawBox

LawBox is an entry in the "free" code library app category. These apps are ereaders that provide access to a proprietary collections of state and federal statutes and rules (the electronic versions are proprietary, not the statutes and rules themselves). The apps are free to download, but most of the ebooks are only available with payment of an in-app fee.

LawBox shows up on multiple iPad apps for lawyers lists, so I decided to give it a try.

When you first open it, LawBox offers an empty digital bookcase. To get started, you click on the plus symbol in the upper left. This button opens the download library. LawBox offers the United States Code and code sets for Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. Individual titles from within each code are available to download for $4.99 each, or you can download an entire code set for $24.99. LawBox also offers the complete set of federal rules and the U.S. Constitution for download at no cost. In keep with my credo of using free apps, I downloaded only the Constitution and federal rules.

Once you download ebooks, they show up in the Index pane. Select an ebook to open its table of contents. From the table of contents, you can select a section of the ebook to open in the Navigator pane.

In the Navigator pane, you can move between sections of the ebook either by swiping left and right or using the select arrows in the upper right. The content within each section is presented as one page that you scroll up and down to view. The use of scrolling in an ebook seems odd. But LawBox's design maintains the distinction between sections of the ebook, which is useful when reading statutes and rules, where knowing which section you're in is important.

LawBox offers several options for interacting with ebook. A double-tap in the Navigation pane opens a toolbar that lets you add a note, email or print the section you're viewing, bookmark the section, or set the table of contents to the current section.

The note button opens a text box into which you can add annotations to go with the current section of the ebook. The source button in the note returns you to the section you were annotating.

After you add a note to a section, you can return to it by pressing the note button with that section open (you can only add one note to a section; multiple notes must all go in the same text box), or by returning to your bookshelf in the Index pane and pressing the star button. The star button opens the bookmark/notes screen. To view your bookmarks, select Statutes. I have no idea why the button is labeled Statutes. Perhaps the developers repurposed the button without relabeling it. In any event, Statutes when you want your LawBox bookmarks.

To view your notes, select the correctly labeled Notes button. LawBox displays your notes arranged by ebook along with a heading that indicates the section to which the note is attached.

The note feature is a manageable means of annotating the ebooks, but I am disappointed that LawBox does not provide the ability to add annotations that appear on top of the text when you return to a section, or the ability to highlight text. Such functionality is relatively common in general purpose ereaders. Since LawBox controls the ebooks as well as the reader, I would expect it to deliver greater functionality to interact with the content, not less.

Another useful function missing from LawBox is a search tool. A review for an earlier version of the app reported the existence of a search tool, but I could not find one in the current LawBox app. I can live without search in an ebook reader, but it would be useful to have with reference books like the federal court rules, where I might want to find every rule that mentions service of process, for instance.

The most interesting feature in LawBox is its Annotations tool. Once you open a section of an ebook, you can access "annotations" through Google Scholar. LawBox has not actually annotated any of its books. The Annotations tool opens a browser in the Navigation pane and runs a search for the title of the ebook section in Google Scholar.

The in-app browser appears to be fully functional except for the absence of an address bar.You can access any of the Google Scholar search results, run new searches, switch to other Google search products, and more. You cannot navigate to websites directly, but you can do most everything else a standard browser allows.

Overall, LawBox works well for what it is--a proprietary ereader. Its biggest drawback is its fundamental nature. As a proprietary reader, it forces you to marry the content with the functionality. You cannot purchase a code from LawBox and use it in another ereader, and you cannot bring your own content into LawBox to take advantage if its functionality and design.

Still, if you're looking for a quick way to access the federal rules of evidence formatted for the iPad, LawBox is worth the minute it takes to download from the App Store and initialize. The clean, simple interface provides an enjoyable way to browse court rules, though the lack of search means that LawBox will never replace accessing the federal rules through platforms such as Lexis or Westlaw or through website like Cornell's Legal Information Institute.

If you're looking for federal and state codes, you should comparison shop for the best prices before giving any money to LawBox. There are several apps similar to LawBox, and one of them may offer a better deal. Or better yet, you may find an ebook version that works with a general purpose ebook reader. Then you'll have the legal content you need and the freedom to choose the ereader functionality and interface design you want.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Entitlements. Entitlements! Entitlements?

Have you ever typed a word or term into Wildpac, or any search engine, and received an unexpected result because you did not anticipate the many meanings to the word or term? Or perhaps the problem was created by the life cycle of words as they age, that is, how they change in meaning over time. Catalogers are often left with a word or term that once was neutral in meaning when created, but has changed due to circumstances, often politics.

For instance, take the word entitlement.  From the Washington Post, “Until the 1980s, entitlement wasn’t part of everyday language. Ronald Reagan was apparently the first president to use the term extensively. He may have 'tired of getting beaten up every time he mentioned Social Security, and wanted a broader and more neutral term,' political scientist Norman Ornstein has suggested.” But quoting from the Jacobin: A Magazine of Culture and Polemic: “The word entitlement is widely held in disrepute. Ronald Reagan, political acumen never in doubt, was the first major politician to cast the popular programs as 'entitlements', in an effort to malign them.” So Reagan, the great communicator, was the one of the first to start using this word to describe Social Security and Medicare, implying that they were freebies.

As a cataloger I use the Library of Congress Subject Headings to create subjects headings in records for materials added to the Wildpac online catalog. The subject headings list is an authority file of over 330,000 records. LC Subject Headings are all created to be as neutral as possible, but still be as descriptive of the material they are describing. Often times, it takes years for LC to establish a new subject heading precisely because they want it to be politically neutral. Long established headings like "Entitlement Attitudes" and "Entitlement Spending" are the only ones that actually use the word entitlement. The word "Entitlement" itself will probably never make it as a LC Subject heading.

In referring to Social Security, which is now considered one of those entitlements that is in danger of draining the budget, the term “Federal Retirement Benefits” could possibly be the more neutral term, but is not a possible choice since that is still not a valid term according to LC. Again quoting in a letter to the editor, in response to an editorial in the New York Times, “I agree that the term entitlement has become a pejorative, and that's unfortunate, since the majority of retired workers are, in fact 'entitled', meaning 'owed.' After all, they paid into the system their entire working lives.”

As a 64 year old librarian who is looking at retirement in the not too distant future, I too, would have to agree, since I have been adding my own money into the system for well over 40 years and do expect that I should be getting something out after all that effort. After all, I’ve also been saving money in a retirement account over nearly as long a period, and I doubt that anyone would deny that I am owed that money. But since the government has been using that money all along to balance its’ budget, there is no actual fund.

 David Leonhardt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning economics expert says that the average person does come much closer to paying for his or her Social Security benefits, although he believes the same is not true for Medicare, another entitlement. “Two married 66-year-olds with roughly average earnings over their lives will end up paying about $110,000 in dedicated Medicare taxes through the payroll tax, including the portion their employers pay. They can expect to receive about $340,000 in benefits. Two average-earning 56-year-olds will pay about $140,000 and get back about $430,000 in benefits.”

But the same can be said for Social Security. In actual dollars, a recipient will, on average, take out more than he or she puts in. But one does have to look at what inflation has done to that money over time. My first full-time job after graduating from Western New England in 1971 paid $2.25 per hour, but even at that rate taxes were being taken out to cover Social Security and Medicare. Doesn’t one have to adjust the dollars from 1971 to the present value in 2014?

So where does that leave an aging word? Perhaps in time, some other term will become more used to express exactly how people feel about paying taxes for services, current and in the future, and the term "entitlement" will become less pejorative. Until then, LC limits what I can use.

Type entitlement into Wildpac and you will see about 125 uses of the word going back to 1955. One of the oldest is a report of the subcommittee on Housing on Veteran’s Affairs that is part of a general inquiry being conducted into illegal use of veterans’ entitlements of VA guaranteed home loans on the part of inspectors and compliance appraisers, with a full text of the original document.

And here’s another word that has aged badly, "pension". Type that into Wildpac and you will get over 43,000 records.

LC Subject Headings: Entitlement attitudes, Entitlement Spending, Pensions, Social Security, Social Security Individual Investment Accounts.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure

Every research librarian has a favorite resource, a treatise or journal that he or she loves to use or recommend. Mine is the Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure.

While I was in law school, I spent a semester interning with Judge Joseph Laplante at the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire. For my first assignment, Judge Laplante gave me a criminal case. The defendant had filed a motion to dismiss, and Judge Laplante asked me to write a memo assessing the motion's merits.

Along with the case file, Judge Laplante handed me a thick volume from his chambers library. "I trust that you know how to research and write, so I won't tell you how should do this project," he said. "But here is the book I always use when I start researching a criminal issue. You'll find it useful."

The book he gave me was the current volume of the Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure. And I found it more than useful. It was a wealth of information. The Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure provides a survey of federal criminal procedure updated through the year of the volume. The Annual Review is divided into sections based on topics, with subsections for each discrete issue under a topic. The discussion of each issue is brief; the Annual Review attempts little beyond a statement of law regarding the issue, or a summary of the different views if the law is unsettled. Because of its brevity, the text is not of much value. The value of the Annual Review is in the footnotes that accompany the text. For each statement of law, the Annual Review includes footnotes with citations to cases that establish the law or identify and explain different sides of the issue. The footnotes include Supreme Court cases and cases from the courts of appeals for each circuit.

For my assignment from Judge Laplante, I was able to turn to the section in the Annual Review that addressed my issue and look to the footnotes for a list of relevant First Circuit cases. After five minutes with the Annual Review, the majority of my research was finished. The cases I found in the Annual Review provided the information and support that I needed to write the memo Judge Laplante requested.

Since my internship at the federal court, I have always turned to the Annual Review when I have a research project involving criminal procedure. It doesn't provide an answer every time, but I always find it useful, just as Judge Laplante said I would.

The Law Library has the Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure in print and online through WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. To access the Annual Review through Westlaw, go to the Georgetown Law Journal, run a search, and narrow the results by publication name to the Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure. To access the Annual Review through Lexis, go to Browse Sources, search for the Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure, and add the source to your search.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #8: HeinOnline

I approached the HeinOnline app with some skepticism. The main reason I use HeinOnline is its PDF page images of law review articles and other print legal resources. HeinOnline offers a powerful search, but I view it primarily as a digital archive, not a legal research platform. I go to HeinOnline when I want to see a reproduction of an article as it appeared in print or when I want to read an article that predates the collections in other legal research products. The thought of HeinOnline on a mobile device gave me pause. In my experience, tablets and smartphones do not handle PDF documents well. So I expected the HeinOnline app to perform poorly on the one aspect of the platform I care most about: the document reproductions.

The app surprised me. Its focus is on the documents themselves, and it does a great job of presenting the PDF page images in a readable and easily navigable form. The app does not deliver the full HeinOnline platform's search capabilities, but it surpasses the full platform as a means of browsing and reading the document reproductions.

I tested the HeinOnline app on an iPad. The app is also available for the iPhone. The functionality is the same on both devices, but the iPhone's smaller screen may detract from the experience of reading articles through the app.

The first step in using the app is gaining access. The app is available for free download in the App Store, but access requires a HeinOnline subscription. Here at Western New England University, access to HeinOnline is via IP authentication. In order to use HeinOnline, students must either be on campus and connected to the university network, or they must log into our proxy server. The app works the same way: you can log into the app while on campus by tapping the "IP Authentication" button. But the app does allow you to enter proxy server information. That means that if you are off campus, you cannot log into the app using Western New England University's HeinOnline subscription. Log in on campus, and the app will save your credentials for 30 days, allowing you to use the app off campus during that time. Otherwise, off-campus access to the app is not an option.

Once I was on campus and able to access the app, I found it simple and easy to use. This app offers very little in the way of bells and whistles. It opens to a list of the available collections. Selecting a collection, such as the Law Journal Library, takes you to a title list. You can scroll through the title list or search for particular title. If you select a title, the app displays a list of available volumes. You then select a volume to open a PDF page image of the volume's contents, starting from the first page of the volume.

The search feature is extremely stripped down from the full HeinOnline platform. Two types of searches are available: a keyword search and a citation search. The citation search takes a title, volume, and page number in Bluebook style and returns an article.

The keyword search operates via a simple search box. The app does not provide any sort of advance search, though the basic keyword search does support Boolean terms and connectors (AND, OR, proximity operators, etc.).

The search results page is equally bare bones. The app does not offer any of the result filtering options of the full HeinOnline platform, such as the ability to limit a search to a specific year or range of years. The app's results page displays nothing but the search box and a list of articles returned by the search. The app does not even display the total number of results; you must scroll through all of the results to determine how many there are.

Select an article from the search results, and the app takes you to the PDF page image reproduction of the article.

The document view is the star of this app. The app displays each page of the PDF document as a separate page in the app. To move between pages, you swipe left and right just as you would to navigate through an ebook in standard ereader. By default, pages are displayed so that the entire page fits on the screen with a small amount of space for margins. But you can zoom in or out depending on the text size and your reading preferences.

The app does not offer any highlighting or annotation tools. The only tools accessible in the document view are a PDF button to save the document, an email button, and a table of contents button. Using the table of contents, you can jump to other articles in the same title and volume as the article you are viewing.

The HeinOnline app is designed for reading, not studying or researching. Every aspect of the app serves to get users into a document quickly and let them read that document without distraction. If I needed to search for articles on a topic, I would not turn to this app. The functionality that I depend on for efficient and effective research just isn't available. But if I wanted to read an article from a legal journal on my iPad, I would choose the HeinOnline app over any other app I have tried.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Crowdsourcing Legal Research

Crowdsourcing has become an increasingly popular (and effective) way to raise funds for projects. Wikipedia's explanation of crowdsourcing (and they should know) suggests it can be used to divide labor for tedious tasks, which describes most legal research projects.The concept of collaborating on research is not a new idea; as a librarian I do it all the time. It's the principle behind crowdsourcing that is unique when applied to legal research. "Crowd" usually implies the funding, information, etc., is coming from a vast community of users, most likely unknown to you.

According to a recent ABA Journal article, crowdsourcing may be gaining popularity in the legal research arena. One crowdsourcing hopeful, Casetext, allows you to "search a database of millions of judicial opinions, statutes, and regulations and learn insights from the annotations of practicing attorneys, professors, and other experts." This approach reminds me of using the notes in the margins in used textbooks. Casetext encourages contributors to use their real identities, so unlike in the used textbook scenario, you can determine for yourself the expertise level of the contributor. Multiple annotations for a passage are arranged by users' up or down votes. There is a chat feature for asking questions, but the annotations seem to be the main focus of that site.

The other legal research crowdsourcing site is Mootus, where users can either submit issues or argue issues. Arguing issues involves "citing law and voting other cites as 'on point' or 'off base.'" One drawback to this site is that user profiles are defaulted to "private," so you may not know who's answering your question. According to the site, there are two ways to submit issues. If you want to post an issue directly to the community, there is a "small fee ($100)." The other (free) option is to propose an issue and let the Mootus team decide if it should be posted. The focus of this site seems to be a way for law students and newer lawyers to strengthen their research skills.

I randomly searched for Randall v. K-Mart Corp., 150 F.3d 210 (2d Cir. 1998) in Casetext. Unfortunately, there were no annotations. I browsed through the "Active Issues" in Mootus and was surprised at the number of issues that had at least one answer. Still, there were many issues waiting for answers, which is not ideal for time-sensitive issues.

This is a good reminder that you may still have to go solo with your legal research, or better yet, try your nearest law librarian!