"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, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Bar Exam: Some History & Comparison

It's that time of year again...time for two to three days of squeezing out all the material that hopeful lawyers have been pounding into their heads over several months - the bar exam. To mark the occasion, here is a brief history of the exam itself, as well as a taste of what is required to become an attorney elsewhere.

Prior to the mid-1800s, there were no written bar exams. Instead, the path to becoming a lawyer led hopefuls through "apprenticeships, self-directed reading, and oral examinations." The next phase made use of a diploma privilege, which remained until the ABA began requiring exams in the 1920s. (A diploma privilege does still exist in Wisconsin, however.) The first state to employ a written version of the bar exam was Massachusetts, in 1855. (See Riebe, A Bar Review for Law Schools: Getting Students on Board to Pass Their Bar Exams, 45 Brandeis L. J. 269 (2007) for quoted material and historical information.)

Bar exams consisted only of essays until the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) was developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The MBE resulted from "a universal concern among bar examiners regarding the mounting burden of preparing and grading papers in the light of the...increase in law school enrollment" during the 1960s. (Eckler, The Multistate Bar Examination: Its Origins and Objectives, reprinted in the February 1996 issue of The Bar Examiner, at page 15.) It was added to the bar exam in February 1972 as a way to both increase efficiency of grading and aid in ensuring as much fairness as possible. The Multistate Performance Test (MPT), which requires analysis of a "closed-world" legal problem, was added in 1997.

In Texas, the bar exam spans three days, with Texas material tested on days 1 and 3 (through Procedure & Evidence questions on day 1, and essays on day 3), and the MBE on day 2. There are some variations in the composition of the bar exam between states, but regardless of where a person takes it, it is universally considered to be a very difficult test.

But take heart, everyone! It's not the hardest route you could travel to reach Attorneyville. As a point of comparison, I asked Visiting Foreign & International Law Librarian Saskia Mehlhorn about what is required to become a lawyer in Germany. The German process has three steps. Step one is the First State Exam (8 written exams taken throughout law school, a thesis that is a minimum of 40-50 pages long, and then defending the thesis in front of a commission). If you pass, then you move on to step two, which is a two year apprenticeship. Finally, step three is the Second State Exam (8 written exams spread over 2 weeks that are 5 hours each, then another 2-3 weeks developing a judicial opinion or brief from a 60-80 page case file, a presentation of your opinion or brief to a commission, and then an oral exam consisting of 4 sessions in 1 day). You only become an attorney if you pass the Second State Exam, and if you fail either the First or Second State Exam, you only have one chance to retake the exam.

Monday, July 26, 2010

National Presence of O'Quinn Librarians

The 103rd American Association of Law Libraries saw the UH flag displayed in a big way: three librarians from the O'Quinn Law Library gave three different presentations separately.

Dan Baker presented his paper, “Citations to Wikipedia in Law Reviews” during a program called “The Librarian as Author: AALL/LexisNexis® Call for Papers” on July 12 in Denver. His paper won the award for the New Member Division and has also been accepted for publication in I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. We now have the solid proof that Dan not only writes well but also speaks well.

As the sole speaker of her session, Lauren Schroeder delivered a talk on researching oil and gas law at the AALL Annual Meeting in Denver on July 13, with Dan moderating the session. Although her session was scheduled at the end of the annual meeting, Lauren entertained a very sizable audience.

Last and most, Spencer Simons spoke for a lengthy 75 minutes on accounting and budgeting in the various environments in which law librarians work at the AALL Annual Meeting in Denver on July 12. Mon Yin Lung served as his coordinator and moderator. Spencer also drew a big audience and had people lining up to talk to him after the program.

Many thanks to Dan Baker, Chris Dykes and Emily Woolard, who took care of the handouts and general crowd control for Lauren and Spencer. Thanks to Helen Boyce, Yuxin Li, and Saskia Mehlhorn, who showed our flag in many other sessions. We are a great team.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Study on “Top Secret America” Released

This week the Washington Post released the results of a two-year investigative study on the U.S. national security program. The information comes from hundreds of thousands of public records from both government organizations and the private sector. The newspaper identified 45 government organizations, with 1,271 sub-units, that engage in top-secret work. It also identified another 1,931 companies engaging in top-secret work for the government.

From this data, they compiled a Top Secret America database, which aims to depict the scope and complexity of the national security program and provides descriptions of the organizations and companies involved. More information about this project and the data collected can be found at the Top Secret America website.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Federal Register 2.0 Coming This Month

The Office of the Federal Register recently announced the launch of a Web 2.0 version of the daily Federal Register. This new website will be released on July 26, 2010, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act.

The new FR 2.0 website will provide news sections organized by broad topics such as Environment and Health & Public Welfare as well as agency pages listing recent agency activity and a calendar of events for rules, public meetings and comment dates. It will also provide links directly to the Regulations.gov docket for comments, RSS feeds, and the official PDF versions of the Federal Register for authentication.

For more information about this new resource, see the FR 2.0 handout.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

National Archives and Records Administration

When the National Archives celebrated their 75 anniversary last year, they unlocked quite a few remarkable records. The Archive, which is the nation’s record keeper, assures that documents that are deemed invaluable for legal and historical reasons are kept forever and they continue to expand their collection.
As not all the information is available online, one has to scan the checklist on the web site to determine, in what format the desired documents are accessible. Among others Bankruptcy files for the years 1940 to 1998 are available from all states, and Congressional Records, and the 9/11 Commission Records are retrievable.