"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.
N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Grand Jury


The United States grand jury system is receiving national attention in the wake of two controversial grand juries’ decisions that have prompted popular protests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the chokehold death of Eric Garner.  For persons interested in learning about grand juries in order to better follow the national debate, the following resource links may be of use:

The grand jury was established in the United States by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, and Title III, Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure governs its operations in federal court.  A grand jury practitioner’s resource guide is offered by the Department of Justice. 

The Fifth Amendment does not apply to state courts; the states themselves have the authority to chose whether or not to employ grand juries.  The following links lead to the relevant constitutional provisions, statutes or criminal code sections empowering grand juries in the various states and the District of Columbia:
  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Arkansas
  5. California
  6. Colorado
  7. Connecticut
  8. Delaware
  9. District of Columbia
  10. Florida
  11. Georgia
  12. Hawaii
  13. Idaho (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  14. Illinois
  15. Indiana
  16. Iowa
  17. Kansas
  18. Kentucky (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  19. Louisiana
  20. Maine
  21. Maryland
  22. Massachusetts
  23. Michigan
  24. Minnesota
  25. Mississippi
  26. Missouri
  27. Montana
  28. Nebraska
  29. Nevada
  30. New Hampshire
  31. New Jersey
  32. New Mexico
  33. New York
  34. North Carolina
  35. North Dakota (1, 2)
  36. Ohio
  37. Oklahoma
  38. Oregon
  39. Pennsylvania
  40. Rhode Island (1, 2)
  41. South Carolina
  42. South Dakota
  43. Tennessee
  44. Texas (1, 2)
  45. Utah
  46. Vermont (1, 2)
  47. Virginia
  48. Washington
  49. West Virginia
  50. Wisconsin
  51. Wyoming
Finally, while the Brown and Garner decisions were made in Missouri and New York, the question of bias in grand jury deliberations is not a new subject of concern in the Houston area.  Local scholars interested in learning more about grand juries have the opportunity to consult the following resources, all available from the University of Houston library system:

Friday, December 5, 2014

New Amendments to Federal Rules


Several amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Practice and Procedure became effective on Monday. The Federal Rules govern the process of litigation in the federal courts. Amendments are proposed by the Judicial Conference of the United States and promulgated by the Supreme Court as authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 331. The latest amendments affect the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Bankruptcy Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Civil Procedure, and Evidence. The amendments, as well as the complete text of the rules, can be found at the United States Courts website.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Congress Publishes Collection of CRS Reports


Back in March, “Nota Bene” featured a post about finding Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports online. Last month, a new collection of CRS reports was published as a committee print by Congress. This new publication is noteworthy because, as we pointed out in our earlier post, CRS reports are typically made available only to members of Congress and their staffs, who rely on them for background information when considering new bills. While a handful of libraries and other institutions have made a limited number of CRS reports available online, the government has yet to provide free public access to the reports, even though they are not classified or protected by copyright.

The new collection of reports is called “The Evolving Congress,” and it was produced to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the CRS. As the title implies, the collection focuses on the ways in which Congress has evolved over time. Part I provides an overview of the history of Congress in the modern era. Part II, “The Members of Congress,” looks at various aspects of the members’ lives, including their use of social media, their election campaigns, and changing demographics among the members themselves. Part III examines changes in the legislative process, and Part IV is devoted to a number of case studies in policymaking, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Congressional responses to financial crises.    

For more information about the CRS, see the Library of Congress website or revisit our earlier post.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Crowdfunding Lawsuits

Has the popularity of crowdfunding reached the litigation realm? With the appearance of companies like LexShares, it appears so. Crowdfunding, or funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, typically via the internet, has grown tremendously in popularity over the last five years. In a typical crowdfunding endeavor, the person with the idea or project seeks funding from individuals who are interested in benefiting from, or being related to a funded project, through a third-party platform that brings the groups together. Kickstarter and GoFundMe are among the popular crowdfunding platforms that have been used successfully to fund filmmaking, video games, technology products, and even Super PACs for political campaigns.

Just as it is expensive to finance the making of a film or the development of new technology, funding litigation can be equally costly. Though, for example, a small business may have a claim that is likely to lead to a large verdict or settlement, the costs of initiating the litigation and pretrial proceedings may be prohibitive. While plaintiff’s attorneys have long recognized this reality and have negotiated contingency agreements to bring cases that plaintiffs could not otherwise afford, crowdfunding allows for a few or many unrelated investors to share in the risk. LexShares is one of the first companies to do this- the company selects from its applicants commercial claims determined by its team of experts  to have strong merit. Then, the claims are offered to accredited investors through a registered broker-dealer. Investors must be accredited, as defined by the SEC, and meet certain financial and net worth requirements. If enough accredited investors decide to fund the litigation that the fundraising goal is met, LexShares receives a portion of the fund for its fee, and the balance goes to the commercial plaintiff to fund the suit. Should the plaintiff prevail, the investors receive a return based proportionally to their investment. If the claim fails, the plaintiff does not have to repay the investors.

The company hopes that this will be a way for smaller companies to gain leverage against larger companies who may have stolen ideas, but have almost limitless litigation resources. Though this David vs. Goliath concept is appealing for many, the success of this new style of litigation financing will likely depend on the size of investors’ returns in a market that is far from certain.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HeinOnline Law Reviews & Journals Access for Texas Bar Members

This summer, members of the Texas bar were introduced to Fastcase, a legal research database that allows users to search case law, statutes, administrative materials, and other aspects of law at no additional cost. Fastcase is now available in addition to Casemaker, making Texas the first and only state to offer free access to both popular systems.  

In 2013, Fastcase partnered with HeinOnline to share their many resources. Under the agreement, Hein will provide federal and state case law to HeinOnline subscribers via inline hyperlinks powered by Fastcase. In addition, Fastcase now completely integrates HeinOnline’s extensive law review collection in search results. For many years, one of the biggest disadvantages to using these low-cost legal research systems has been the lack of reliable secondary sources. With this partnership, when a case law search is performed in Fastcase, suggested results from HeinOnline journals appear in a sidebar. The journals may also be searched individually, or as a group.

Though Fastcase is completely free for members of the Texas bar, accessing HeinOnline journal articles does come at an additional cost. Users will see article titles and brief snippets in suggested results, but will need a HeinOnline subscription in order to access the full PDF of the article. If you are a HeinOnline subscriber through your law school or firm, there’s no additional cost to access the articles through Fastcase. But, users who are not subscribers will need to subscribe (or search for the suggested articles elsewhere) in order to view the full-text. Subscriptions have no ongoing commitment and are priced at $59 per month for an individual user, and $595 per year. Subscriptions are also available for small and midsize firms. Fastcase intends to offer more of HeinOnline’s vast resources in future updates and it will be interesting to see how this innovative partnership develops.

If you're a Texas bar membe interested in using Fastcase and Casemaker, visit texasbar.com or texasbarcle.com. Both systems are worth a look and are easy to navigate for users familiar with other commercial legal research systems.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Legal eBooks from the Texas State Law Library


Earlier this year, I blogged about a new program at the Texas State Law Library that allows Texas residents to access some of the library’s legal databases remotely.  Now the Texas State Law Library is providing Texas residents with access to a number of Matthew Bender ebooks.  The ebooks cover a variety of legal topics such as family law, criminal law, civil procedure, contracts, estate planning, and oil and gas, many of which are specific to Texas law.  For a list of all titles, see the collection’s website.

There are two important limitations to keep in mind.  The ebooks can only be checked out for three days and, due to licensing restrictions, the library cannot provide remote access to four of its ebooks: the Texas Litigation Guide, the Texas Transaction Guide, Collier on Bankruptcy, and Moore's Federal Practice.

As with the library’s electronic databases, to gain access to these resources, you must have a library account.  You can set up an account in person in Austin or you can set up an account online.  However, accounts set up online need to be renewed every three months.  For more information about library accounts, see the Texas State Law Library website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Under Pressure, NTIS Provides Free Access to Technical Reports


Recently, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) announced that it will now provide a free online database of federal science and technology reports.  Previously, this agency charged a fee for electronic copies of these reports, a practice that has caused some controversy in recent years given that these are government reports, many of which are available for free through other agency websites. 

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office released a report recommending that Congress “reassess the appropriateness and viability of the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates.”  And earlier this year, the “Let Me Google That For You” bill was introduced to abolish the NTIS.  However, NTIS supporters point out that this agency still provides a valuable service.  For instance, some reports are available via Google precisely because NTIS collects and distributes them; the NTIS provides permanent access to reports, which is not guaranteed on other, ever-changing government websites; and some reports held by NTIS are from agencies that no longer exist.  

Now, NTIS has announced that they will provide access to a free searchable database of over 3 million reports through the Public Access National Technical Reports Library.  Currently, the library contains over 800,000 full-text reports that can be downloaded in PDF format.  Reports not available for download (usually published before 1995) can be requested for a fee.  If a report is requested and digitized for one user, the report will be added to the free database.  

To access reports, users must create a free account, which will allow for basic searching and 10 downloads per session.  There is also a subscription version with advanced features.  For more information, visit the National Technical Reports Library website.