Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Summer Break

We're taking a break to enjoy the summer. We'll be back in the fall with more weekly posts on legal research.

If you're looking for something to read during the break, check out some of our favorite blogs:
Have a great summer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Don't Reinvent the Research Wheel!



Today’s post is written with law students everywhere in mind.  Many of you are facing your first summer legal jobs, or perhaps you are getting ready to join the workforce. In all events – congratulations!

We wanted to bring to your attention (and to remind others of) three resources published as part of the American Jurisprudence series: (1) Proof of Facts; (2) Trials; and (3) Pleadings and Practice Forms Annotated.  The purpose of all three of these resources is to prevent lawyers from “recreating the wheel” – a poor practice that results in lost time and unhappy supervisors.

American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts (“POF”), now in its third series, helps the litigator to ferret out the facts that are essential to winning or defending a case, and explains how to prove those facts. All types of litigation are described, including personal injury, various types of employment matters such as discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination, real estate litigation, to name just a few. The publisher (Thomson Reuters) states that the articles are written by “judges, attorneys and experts in technical, scientific and medical fields.”

 
To find an entry on your topic, use the 5-volume print index. Let’s take a look at one entry – “Establishing Elements for Disregarding Corporate Entity and Piercing Entity’s Veil,” 114 Am. Jur. POF 3d 403. Each entry starts with an Introduction outlining the scope of the article, and providing a grounding in the particular area of law. The one for this subject includes a useful section on tests for applying the piercing doctrine. The next major section is about establishing the elements for disregarding an entity’s veil. Other sections go on to describe pleading requirements, burdens of proof, and examples of how to prove the elements. You might not think of POF as a place to look for sample discovery, but it is – all entries have sample discovery requests as well as sample examinations and cross examinations. 

Two unusual volumes come with this series – an Attorney’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, and the Fact Book. Chapter 1 of the Fact Book consists of medical illustrations; Chapter 2 has product liability facts; Chapter 3 has statistical information; Chapter 4 has information on how to obtain birth, death and divorce records; and Chapter 5 provides information about various engineering, legal and medical associations, all included with the aim of aiding the practitioner in bringing or defending various types of lawsuits.

                                                                                                                  
American Jurisprudence Trials contains articles on successful techniques and strategies used in actual cases. As is POF, Trials is written by prominent trial attorneys, judges, and legal experts. The set consists of more than 100 volumes, and guides researchers through every step of litigation from preliminary considerations to motions for costs. It even covers aspects of trial often overlooked by novice litigators, such as the section dealing with body language for trial lawyers. This chapter gives practical advice on how to move from a sitting to a standing position. Readers are reminded:  “your movement from one area of the courtroom to another radiates dozens of different messages to jurors and judge, ranging from ineptitude to confidence, from amateurism to professionalism, from fear to courage.” The chapter also explains how to read the cues coming from the judge and jurors, so you can adjust your actions based on how you are being perceived by your audience. 

One of the best features of Trials is the illustrative forms, or examples.  One of the most frequently-asked questions that we get here at the Law Library from our students is: “I need an example of __________."  Trials  is full of examples of complaints, depositions, interrogatories, and all types of motions. There’s a good chance that researchers will find exactly what they need. Most topics also have checklists for trial preparation. Trials comes with a multi-volume index and some volumes contain an individual index in the back of the volume.

The last resource we want to bring to your attention is American Jurisprudence Pleading and Practice Forms Annotated (State and Federal) (“PPF”). PPF describes itself as “a comprehensive … collection of pleading and practice forms, including jury instructions and checklists, … designed to provide dependable forms for all types of pleading and procedural steps...” 

                                                                                                                    
Here is an example of how this resource can be useful. Say you have a client who wants to contest a will because the client believes the testator was the victim of undue influence. Find the volume covering Wills, and by going to the table of contents for that volume you will discover a number of petitions in opposition to probate due to various kinds of undue influence. Now, we would not normally suggest that you start your research by consulting a table of contents, but in this instance, the Index is poor, despite being multiple volumes. For example, we were unable to find material on “undue influence” in the Will context using the Index but could find that material by going through the Table of Contents in the Will volume. We would be happy to have someone double check us and prove us wrong about the Index, but at this point, we think it is lacking. Even the index in the back of the Will volume did not have entries for duress.

All three of these resources are available online at WestlawNext. We hope you find this post useful. Good luck with your summer jobs!

Nicole and Renee

Monday, April 21, 2014

Study Aid App Roundup

The end of the semester is upon us, the time when a law student's mind turns to finals. In preparation for the coming days of nonstop studying, I've put together a brief list of mobile apps that may help you ace your exams.

Paper Chase Apps

Paper Chase offers apps to help law students practice their knowledge of legal rules and their ability to apply
those rules to new fact patterns. Paper Chase has apps on four subjects: contracts, property, criminal law, and torts. Each app consists of multiple choice questions from 6-7 subtopics within a subject.

The apps are free to download and come with questions from one subtopic. To unlock the other subtopics, you have to pay $2.99. The free subtopic gives you a chance to try out Paper Chase's questions before committing any cash. Available for iOS

 

 

Law Dogo

Law Dogo is a less serious approach to studying. You control a ninja at the law dojo. Answer multiple choice questions to earn points. Use the points to train you ninja by increasing the ninja's energy, strength, and IQ and make your ninja into the world's greatest legal force.

The app is free to download and comes with three sets of questions: Open Dogo, a mix of questions on doctrine, cases, vocabulary, and miscellanea; Know Your Rights, questions on criminal procedure and related rights; and Supreme Dogo, questions about famous Supreme Court cases. You can purchase additional questions sets on subjects such as criminal law, evidence, and income tax for $2.99 each. Available for iOS and Android.


 

Lexis Q&A

The Lexis Q&A app is an e-reader for the Lexis Question and Answer series of study books. Thirty-two Q&A
titles are available for download through the app. The App displays the table of contents and a preview of 10 questions for each title for free. You can download the full books for $19.99 each. Available for iOS and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CrunchTime Apps

The CrunchTime Apps provide audio versions of the popular Emanuel CrunchTime study books. The apps allows you to add notes as you listen and review those note later, so you can quickly and easily mark material for further study. Each app is a stand-alone copy of a CrunchTime book and costs $12.99 to download. Available for iOS.

 

 

 

Law in a Flash Apps

The Law in a Flash apps are collections of digital flashcards. As with regular flashcards, a Law in a Flash app
displays a question or hypothetical as one side of a card. Tap the card to turn it over and see the answer. The apps allow you to mark flashcards for further review so that you can limit the cards you see to ones you haven't memorized yet. The apps also let you add personal study notes to the cards.

Each Law in a Flash app covers a set of course subjects: first year courses, second year courses, and electives. You can download and preview the apps for free; the full sets of flashcards are available for $19.99 per subject on iOS ($9.99 on Android). Available for iOS and Android.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Must Have App for Massachusetts Practitioners! - New Mass Courts App




This app provides full text of all of rules needed by most Massachusetts practitioners, local rules for all Massachusetts federal courts, PACER, and the Board of Bar Overseers website.

Disclaimer: This app was designed by KosInteractive LLC and is not affiliated with, or endorsed by, the Massachusetts Courts.





Unlike many of the apps reviewed on this blog, this app comes at a charge of $2.99.
The Massachusetts Courts App is available for Android, iPhone, and iPad.


Access all of the following:



Massachusetts Procedure:Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure; Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure; Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure; and Massachusetts Rules of Supreme Judicial Conduct


Federal Procedure: Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure; Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure; Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

Federal Rules of Evidence


Local district and bankruptcy rules








Need directions? Mass Courts App provides the names and addresses of every Massachusetts courthouse; using an interactive map and GPS allows you to generate driving directions from your current location. FYI, according to the designer, KosInteractive, due to technical limitations of Android, the courthouse location features is only available on Apple devices.




Monday, April 14, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #17: Nolo's Plain English Law Dictionary

A dictionary is an important legal research tool. When you research an unfamiliar area of law, you may encounter terms that are new to you. If you do, the best course of action is to turn to a dictionary.

The gold standard for legal dictionaries is Black's Law Dictionary. It is the most definitive law dictionary published and has been cited by numerous courts, include the United States Supreme Court. The most recent edition of Black's is available as an app for iOS devices. Unfortunately, the app is not inexpensive; it's current price on iTunes is $54.99. Fifty dollars may not be a bad price for such a high quality resource, but I review free and low-cost (mostly free) apps, so I will not comment on the quality of the Black's Law Dictionary app.

With Black's beyond my price range, I went searching for an alternative. The result of my search is Nolo's Plain English Law Dictionary. Nolo's Plain English Law Dictionary is the best of a meager field of alternatives to Black's. Librarians at the UCLA School of Law Library deem Nolo's "a great--and FREE--alternative to the Black's Law Dictionary mobile application." In terms of the app itself, I find Nolo's a great dictionary to use. But when it comes to content, Nolo's  is a poor substitute for Black's.

Nolo's strives to deliver legal information in simple, straight-forward language accessible to the layman. This ethos carries through into the design of the Nolo's app. The app offers a simple interface: a search box and a browsable list of legal terms divided by subject.


Within each subject, the terms are arranged alphabetically, as they should be in a dictionary. Select a term from your search results or the browse list, and the app displays the definition.


The app is no frills--find a word, read the definition. The dictionary portion offers no other options. The app does claim to include encyclopedia entries, but selecting the encyclopedia button merely opens the subject page on the Nolo website that most closely matches the subject of the term you're viewing.


A button for Lawyer Directory at the bottom of the screen opens the Nolo website homepage, and a Nolo button beside it opens the Nolo website product page.


Neither of these options add much to the app, but they don't detract from it either. The app is a dictionary and nothing but.

The settings page lets you chose between three themes for the app: modern, which features lots of white space; classic, with a leather and parchment appearance (this is the theme in my screenshots); and orange, which is...well...orange. The settings page also reveals a fun feature of the app: if you shake the iPad with the app open, a random word and definition pops up.

I like the utilitarian design of the app. I can easily get to the definitions, and I am not distracted by superfluous information and features. As a dictionary app, Nolo's excels. But as a dictionary, it falls short. Black's Law Dictionary contains more than 45,000 definitions. Nolo's Plain English Law Dictionary contains approximately 4,000. For the legal researcher, the difference is monumental.

The gap is more pronounced because Nolo's is a dictionary written for laymen. Its 4,000 definitions are made up of common legal terms. When I turn to a legal dictionary, I go to look up unfamiliar terms, and the terms are usually unfamiliar because they are uncommon. In those instances, Nolo's offers no help. It is not comprehensive enough to be a reasonable alternative to Black's. When it comes to legal dictionary's, Black's remains my first and last choice.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New at the Library: Microsoft Word Tech Tip Videos

How important is technology to a lawyer's career? Three federal judges think it is vital. In the recent ABA Journal article "Catch Up with Tech or Lose Your Career, Judges Warn Lawyers," three federal judges shared their thoughts about the need for lawyers to understand technology. According to U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola of the District of Columbia, lawyers need technology skills to even get their career's started.


In the article, Judge Facciola asks, "Why hire a lawyer who doesn't even have the technological competence to complete simple, everyday tasks like converting a Microsoft Word document into a PDF? . . . The absence of technical knowledge is a distinct competitive disadvantage."

I read the article with great interest because part of my job here at Western New England School of Law is to help students use technology effectively. In response to the observations of Judge Facciola and others, such as Casey Flaherty, I created a series of tech tip videos. The videos cover advanced features and functionality in Microsoft Word, such as creating a table of contents, inserting cross-references into a contract, and even converting a Word document into a PDF.

I know law students are busy (I was recently one myself), so I tried to keep the videos short. They ended up 4-12 minutes each. You can watch the videos whenever it's convenient for you. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection.

The ABA Journal article concludes with an admonition from Judge Facciola: "Lawyers better get crackin'. There's an awful lot to know."

The Law Library's Microsoft tech tip videos are a good place to start.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #16: BriefCase

Briefing cases consumed a fair amount of my first semester of law school. My study group tried all sorts of approaches to briefing. We wrote margin notes. We typed up summaries. And we highlighted. We had colors for rules, facts, issues, reasoning, and more. One of my friends even created The Briefinator, an amalgamation of seven highlighters, to cope with all the highlighting we did for our briefs.

David Lutz, a student at The University of Michigan Law School must have had an experience similar to mine. By his third year, he was fed up with the cumbersome, time-consuming process of briefing, so he created an iPad app to simplify case briefs. The app, BriefCase, lets you annotate PDFS with notes and six different colors of highlighters, and then it automatically generates briefs from your annotations. This video from the BriefCase website explains the goals of the app.




BriefCase. - Automatically Brief Your Legal Cases from BriefCase. on Vimeo.

BriefCase is available for free, but access to advanced features requires a 12-month subscription for $9.99.

To use the app, you have to first load in a PDF. If you have the 12-month subscription, you can email the PDF to a special address and the app will load the PDF automatically. In the free version, you have to email the PDF to yourself, open the email on your iPad, and send the PDF to BriefCase with the export button.

After you load the PDF into BriefCase, the app asks you for the case information--case name, citation, date, whether the case is good law, and a case synopsis. BriefCase uses this information for the heading of your brief.

To start annotating the PDF, select a block of and choose either highlight or underline . Tap the highlighted/underlined text to bring up a menu that lets you change highlighter color, add a note, or delete the annotation.

 
Each color in BriefCase is linked to a traditional brief section: facts, procedural history, issues, holding, reasoning, and dissent. From the menu, you can access the highlighter settings and change the color linked to each section.



Once you have finished annotating the PDF, select the Brief button in the upper right to generate your brief. BriefCase will automatically create your brief by pulling in all of the highlighted text and dividing it based on colors/sections. Within each section, the app breaks the text into bullet points, with one bullet for each annotation.



If you are using the free version of the app, you can look at the brief in the app but can't do anything else. If you have the 12-month subscription, you can export the brief to Dropbox or Google Drive, email the brief, or print it.

BriefCase is a good idea, but I think it still has a ways to go. The app's usability issues make briefing a case in BriefCase more of a hassle than just sticking with The Briefinator.

The app's greatest problem is how it approaches text selection. The app uses the iPad's built-in text selection feature. This feature requires pinpoint accuracy; I often have to try five or six times to successfully select a block of text. The thought of highlighting an entire judicial opinion one or two sentences at a time using that feature is untenable. I would never try it if pen and paper were an option. The app needs a customized selection tool that makes highlighting text more natural.

Another issue with BriefCase is how it orders information within the sections of its brief. It puts the information in order based on its location on the page; information higher on the paging comes before information lower on the page. This approach makes sense until you annotate a PDF with columns. BriefCase pays no attention to columns; information from the top of column two is placed before information from the bottom of column one because the column two information is higher on the page. You can rearrange the bullet points in the finished brief, but that undermines the purpose of the app. It is supposed to build the brief for you, not make you build it yourself.

If David Lutz can fix the two major usability issues, BriefCase will be a great tool for organizing case law. Until then, BriefCase is little more than a law student novelty. It is certainly no Briefinator.