"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



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The English Legal Process, 13th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011

Oxford University Press has recently published the 13th edition of The English Legal Process. English Law is a subject area that is difficult for most in the legal profession, but like foreign and international law in general, is becoming more important even for attorneys whose practices focus on U.S. domestic law. This ten chapter book authored by Terence Ingram begins with an overview of the English court system, and covers courts with special jurisdiction and tribunals with administrative powers. An entire chapter is devoted to the legislative process, including interpretation of statutes by judges. Judicial precedent (including a discussion of the House of Lords and the new British Supreme Court), jury trials, appeals and miscarriage of justice, contempt of court, and remedies for public and private proceedings are among other topics that are covered in detail. This item is currently in the law library's stacks (KD7111.I53 2011).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Conflict of Interest on the Supreme Court

I seldom recommend radio programs in this blog but have to make an exception for this morning's Diane Rehm Show on NPR. The topic--whether Justices Kagan and Thomas should recuse themselves from hearing case(s) on the federal health care reform laws--definitely merits attention from legal scholar and law students. But the discussion/debating skill demonstrated by the guests (Prof. Sherrilyn Ifill of U. of Maryland Law School, Prof. Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington Law School, and Jeffrey Toobin of New Yorker) are remarkable. It is an intellectual treat to listen to this program.

The Source of Law

Throughout the millenia, philosophers and jurists have pondered the question: From whence cometh Law? I'm not talking about "where did this statute/case/regulation come from?"; I'm talking about the metaphysical concept of "law". Does it emanate from a Supreme Diety (or a pantheon of dieties)? Does it flow from Nature? Does it derive from the caprice of the sovereign or the consent of the governed or the will of the majority? Does it issue from Man's desire for Order, or from his lust for Control? Does it proceed from Reason or Power or Fear or Mercy?

My favorite account comes from the great American wit Ambrose Bierce:
Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. "There is one favor that I should like to ask," said he.

"Name it."

"Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws."

"What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul—you ask for the right to make his laws?"

"Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself."

It was so ordered.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary 139-40 (1911) (definition of "Satan").

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Legal Research Skill Refreshers

Each semester the O'Quinn Law Library provides five sessions of research skill refresher. Presented by our lawyer-librarians, sessions include advance databases search skill, legislative history, administrative law, and several subject specialties. Each session is about forty-five minutes long. Most of them come with handouts. Please click here for information of this semester's offering. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

American Justice: Now and Then

Tomorrow (Aug. 24), the University of Houston Law Center will be celebrating the publication of a new book entitled American Justice in the Age of Innocence: Understanding the Causes of Wrongful Convictions and How to Prevent Them. This book, co-edited by one of our faculty, Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson (a leading criminal justice scholar), with two of her top students, Jennifer L. Hopgood and Hillary K. Valderrama, "explores the circumstances surrounding wrongful convictions" and "examines the most common causes behind breakdowns in the legal system."

Interestingly (at least to me), today (Aug. 23) happens to be the 84th anniversary of the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti. Whether one believes they were innocent or guilty, it hardly can be denied that the controversy surrounding the Sacco and Vanzetti case provided the foundation for the modern innocence projects movement. Then Harvard professor, and future Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Felix Frankfurter authored a famous article excoriating the trial proceedings, especially the use of eyewitness testimony. Criticism of the reliability of eyewitnesses remains a focal point of exoneration attempts to this day.

Douglas Linder, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, has put together an excellent website devoted to the Sacco and Vanzetti case. For those who are tired of Casey Anthony, I strongly encourage you to check out Prof. Linder's website. And then, grab a copy of American Justice in the Age of Innocence.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The 19th Amendment Turns 91

Today is the 91st anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, granting the right to vote to all U.S. citizens, regardless of sex. The movement for women's suffrage largely originated in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, where the right to vote was described as an "inalienable right." Suffragists employed several different methods to meet their objectives on the federal, state, and local levels, including demonstrating, lobbying elected officials to pass state legislation granting suffrage, giving speeches, and going on hunger strikes.

They also tried to get laws that limited voting to male citizens overturned in court, but that strategy was unsuccessful. In 1878, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Minor v. Happersett (21 Wallace 162) that the 14th amendment did not include the right for women to vote as one of its privileges and immunities to citizens. It was also the first year in which an amendment was proposed in Congress that would extend the franchise to women nationwide.

Throughout the late 19th century, the women's rights movement slowly increased its appeal, and the role women played during World War I finally convinced President Wilson to back an amendment to the Constitution in 1918. The 19th amendment was passed in the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and the Senate followed suit shortly afterward. Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to reach the three-fourths of states needed to agree, with a very close vote of 50 to 49 in its House of Representatives on August 18th, 1920. The ratification was officially certified 8 days later.

Sources:
Deborah L. Rhode, Nineteenth Amendment, in Encyclopedia of the American Constitution 1808-1809 (Leonard W. Levy & Kenneth L. Karst eds., 2000).

National Archives & Records Administration, Featured Documents: The Constitution and the 19th Amendment.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Cert Pool - a new Supreme Court tracking website

Currently in beta mode, this website, created by Don Cruse (who also created DocketDB, which is focused on tracking Texas Supreme Court cases), covers current U.S. Supreme Court activities. It tracks the Court's docket, organizing cases by: the circuit or state in which they originated, cases with Calls for the View of the Solicitor General (CVSG), amicus filers at cert level or overall, and direct appeals from three judge courts. There is also a Quick Link option, which takes you directly to cases that originated in your state, with a link to the corresponding federal circuit.

Within each category, cases are listed at their current stage, including: if there has been a petition filed, if certiorari has been granted, or if a case has been argued or decided. When you click on a particular case name, The Cert Pool provides the docket entries for that case, along with the names of the parties and counsel. If you click on the counsel's name, it will tell you how many times that counsel has appeared before the Court since 2008, and which party he or she represented. There is also the option to track updates to cases of interest via RSS feeds.

Because The Cert Pool is still in beta, there are no links to briefs or case opinions, though there are plans to add them later, along with additional information such as Justice voting patterns or news articles. If you are interested in what the Supreme Court is up to, or if there are particular cases you want to follow, this website is worth checking out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Scholarly Writing

Law school is not a barber college (although it may be trending in that direction). A legal education is a graduate education which entails reading and writing about important issues in a scholarly manner. Reading and writing is required, but true mastery comes with reading something, analyzing it, thinking about it, and then putting those thoughts into writing. This process is called the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and is the basis of a classical education. Students have several opportunities not only to write, but to engage in the scholarly writing process; to explore an issue at its deepest level and demonstrate their knowledge. This process enables students to sharpen their analytical and writing skills, add a great line on their resume, and learn what it’s like to be a law professor for a short time.

Writing anything for publication is not an easy or simple process. A lot of time and effort goes into the research and writing process, not to mention the thinking about what topic to write on. On top of all this you have to live with a topic for an extended period of time and get to know it intimately. Your topic is like a spouse; they may start out sexy and attractive, but after some amount of time love is what keeps you together.

The above is not intended to discourage anyone from writing something for publication. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with seeing ones name in print (or in pixels depending upon the journal) is well worth the blood, sweat, toil, and tears that research and writing entails. In order to encourage you to embark on this journey I have listed below some useful resources for helping the would-be scholar chose a topic and write.

Sources:

William J. Bridge, Legal Writing After the First Year of Law School, 5 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 411 (1978).

Christian C. Day, In Search of the Read Footnote: Techniques for Writing Legal Scholarship and Having It Published. 6 Legal Writing 229-54. (2000).

Richard Delgado, How to Write a Law Review Article, 20 U. San Francisco L. Rev. 445 (1986).

Fajans, Elizabeth and Falk, Mary. Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes and Law Review Competition Papers. 2nd ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 2005. KF250 .F35 2005

Elizabeth Fajans and Mary Falk, Comments Worth Making: Supervising Scholarly Writing in Law School, 46 J. Legal Educ. 342 (1996)

Kevin Hopkins, Cultivating Our Emerging Voices: The Road to Scholarship, 20 B.C. Third World L.J. (2000).

Jerold H. Israel, The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Scholar, 102 Mich. L. Rev. 1701 (2004).

Debra Kaufman, Writing Research Results for Publication, 84 L. Libr. J. 617 (1992).

David B. McGinty, Writing for a Student-Edited U.S. Law Review: A Guide for Non-U.S. and ESL Legal Scholars, 7 N.Y. City L. Rev. 39 (2004).

Heather Meeker, Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers, 1996 Utah L. Rev. 917 (1996).

Ruthann Robson, Law Students as Legal Scholars: An Essay/Review of Scholarly Writing for Law Students and Academic Legal Writing, 7 N.Y. City L. Rev. 195 (2004).

Pamela Samuelson, Good Legal Writing: Of Orwell and Window Panes. 46 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 149 (1984).

Eugene Volokh, Writing a Student Article, 48 J. Legal Educ. 247 (1998).

Eugene Volokh, Test Suites: A Tool for Improving Student Articles, 52 J. Legal Educ. 440 (2002).

Volokh, Eugene, Academic legal writing: law review articles, student notes, seminar papers, and getting on law review. New York, N.Y. : Foundation Press, 2010. KF250 .V65 2010 (Earlier editions available). The book evolved from the author's article, Writing a Student Article, referenced above.

Three major legal publishers also have contributions to assist prospective student scholars:

BNA, Finding a Topic/Case on Which to Write
This is a PowerPoint presentation from BNA on using their materials to find topics.

LexisNexis, Starting Your Law Review Note
This web-based tutorial takes you through using Search Advisor, preemption checking,
Mealy’s topical newsletters, and updating your research.

Westlaw, Guide to Law Review Research
This 33-page guide provides help with selecting a topic, conducting a preemption search, developing a topic, checking citations, and related subjects all with the use of the Westlaw system.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Main Library Can Help —Useful databases available through the M.D. Anderson Library

As followers of dame Law we tend to get locked into a narrow universe of legal research sources -- Lexis, Westlaw, Hein, and perhaps a specialty source that applies to our specific area of expertise or study (e.g., Kluwer Arbitration). You would think that given how encompassing law as a subject has become that our research tools would be equally broad. They aren’t and we rarely think beyond those services we are comfortable with. One of the greatest enjoyments of being a law librarian is introducing an unfamiliar database to a student or faculty member and seeing them light up (like the veritable kid on Christmas morning) when they realize how much easier their lives will be once they begin using this new database. Invariably these databases are those that the library subscribes to through the University’s main library – the M.D. Anderson Library.

The often overlooked, but always helpful, complimentary databases Reader’s Guide and Reader’s Guide Retrospective from H.W. Wilson are guaranteed to make a researcher smile. These databases are based upon the venerable Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Reader’s Guide and Retrospective index articles that have appeared in general interest, special interest, and scholarly publications. Reader’s Guide Full Text has full-text articles published from 1983 to date. The Retrospective has citations to articles published from 1890 to 1982. Think about that for a moment-- these products allow you to find out what popular magazines were writing about since the 19th Century (and back to the Reagan era in full-text!). Together these indexes represent very powerful resources for historical research, and present the opportunity to see how historical issues were treated in both the scholarly and popular press. If you are a student on one of the law school’s journals, you will find these indexes very helpful in the cite-checking process.

A wealth of informational goodness is at your fingertips if you just take the opportunity to check out the databases the M.D. Anderson Library makes available to you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

CourtListener

If you are looking for a free way to stay on top of recent federal court opinions, then you should take a look at CourtListener. This website, created in 2010 by a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information, is an alert tool for opinions issued by the 13 federal circuit courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. The website is updated daily, which means that all of the opinions of the day from these courts will be posted to the site by 5:10pm PST. You can browse by jurisdiction or conduct an advanced search for opinions, and you can download a copy of the original document as provided by the court.

If you choose to register with the website, you can also create custom alerts that will notify you daily, weekly, or monthly when new cases are added that match your search.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mobile Apps From USA.gov

The federal government has been developing more and more apps and mobile websites that allow you to access useful government information on mobile devices. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service, the Small Business Administration, and the White House all have apps now. Other government apps provide access to information on a wide range of topics such as travel, consumer safety, and federal jobs. Mobile websites are also available from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and the National Institutes of Health.

All of the apps and mobile websites are free and have been developed for platforms such as iPhone, Android, and Blackberry, although not all apps are available for every platform. The USA.gov Mobile Apps page has a list of the currently available apps and mobile sites. If you have an idea for a useful app, you can send suggestions to the USA.gov staff.