"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, January 31, 2012

Sharia Incorporated

One of the newest additions to the O'Quinn Law Library is a very informative work entitled Sharia Incorporated: A Comparative Overview of the Legal Systems of Twelve Muslim Countries in Past and Present. Edited by Jan Michiel Otto, Professor of Law and Governance in Developing Countries at Leiden University and Director of the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance, and Development, this book examines how sharia law has been incorporated into the national legal systems of twelve Muslim nations.

Outside of an introductory chapter that establishes the groundwork for the analyses to follow and a final chapter that offers some preliminary conclusions, each chapter, written by scholars from around the world, focuses on one Muslim nation. The chapter provides a historical overview of the development of that nation's legal system before examining how sharia law manifests itself in various legal contexts, such as constitutional law, criminal law, family law, commercial law, and international treaty and human rights obligations. Each chapter also includes a respectable bibliography. In addition, the book provides a few tables that compare the twelve nations and their legal systems on specific issues as well as a very helpful glossary that provides definitions for many relevant (transliterated) Arabic words.

Although it is a comparative text at heart, it's value as a resource is immense. Want a quick glance at the legal system in Saudi Arabia? This book is for you. Want quick information on inheritance rights in Turkey? This book's for you. Want to get a sense of how Pakistan and Morroco compare on the recognition of human rights? This book's for you. Just want to get a better understanding of what exactly "sharia law" is anyway? This book's for you.

Unfortunately, this work was completed and published in 2010, so it does not take into account the revolutionary events of the Arab Spring. Still, it contains a mountain of information in easy-to-digest chunks. It's definitely worth a look.

Friday, January 27, 2012

3 Quick Tips

If you don’t know how to cite something and the Bluebook doesn’t seem to provide an answer (which it doesn’t always do) a good resource is using Westlaw or Lexis’ journal database. Search the journal databases for the item you are having trouble citing to and see how someone else cited it. While this is not fool-proof, after all the Bluebook changes over the years, this is a good way to get started, and perhaps the examples provided will make those in the Bluebook make more sense.

As a law student I recall being told that once I found a “golden case,” a case very nearly right on point, that other relevant cases would flow from that one. When looking for books, rather than cases, the library’s catalog can help find other books on your topic. When your catalog search has yielded a gem; a book that is right on point, don’t stop. Go ahead and click on the item’s title which will take you to a screen that provides additional information, including a heading of “Subject Hdng” which stands for Subject Heading. Click one of the subjects which are covered by this book, and you be taken to a screen indicating other items that share this subject heading. By using the subject heading feature you can save yourself the time and effort when looking for similar items.

There is one song that all law librarians sing, the title is “Use Secondary Sources,” and the chorus is, “they make your life easier.” I am here to join the chorus and let you know that librarians are not the only ones singing this tune. I recently met with a group of attorneys, not associates, real partners, who echoed the refrain. Secondary sources were written by people who know what they are doing, who have done it a million times before, and are bestowing their knowledge on you. Don't try to re-invent the wheel, its easier to use one that has already been invented.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Main Library Can Help -- JSTOR

When you have exhausted the Lexis and Westlaw databases, but still can’t find a helpful article try JSTOR. JSTOR has law review articles, but it has so much more. If you are doing inter-disciplinary research and need something on Economics, History, Political Science, or something else non-law, you should try JSTOR.

JSTOR is about scholarly journals in a variety of academic disciplines. You won’t find Time, Newsweek, or the Economist there. I counted 54 subjects covered. Some subjects have only one journal in their collection while others have hundreds, the total number of journals is over 1,400. JSTOR’s stock and trade are historic journals; they will have entire runs of a particular journal from the first issue published in the 19th century to more recent, but not current, issues.

JSTOR’s is a database of “historic” journals with very limited current (meaning the current year) content. This is a result of JSTOR’s “moving wall”. The idea of the “moving wall” is that publishers provide content to the site from their earliest issue to issues 3-5 years from their current issue. For example a current journal with a moving wall of 3 years may have all of its issues available from its first in 1910 up to issues published in 2008. In 2012 they will make available issues from 2009, and so on updating each year, but never making available the most recent three years. Starting in 2011 JSTOR began the process of phasing in current journals and have loaded approximately 150 of them.

The multi-disciplinary aspect of JSTOR is it’s great strength. Its holdings in fields such as History, Law, and Political Science make it an attractive database for providing background and context to scholarly articles in the legal field. If you can get past the fact that it does not contain the most up-to-date material and focus on its historic coverage (often back to the first issue of a journal) you will come to appreciate its value.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Legal Language Explorer

Michigan State University School of Law and Emory University School of Law have teamed up with the Computational Legal Studies Blog to host the Legal Language Explorer. This database, especially for law and language enthusiasts, allows users to search and graph the history of phrases used in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court over time. For instance, you could use this tool to view a graphical representation of the Supreme Court’s usage of phrases such as “right to privacy” or “intermediate scrutiny.”

Currently, it will allow users to input phrases of up to 4 words long. However, multiple phrases can be shown on the graph simultaneously. The default search, for example, is “interstate commerce, railroad, deed,” which shows the usage of all three phrases over time. The database contains Supreme Court decisions from 1791 to 2005, but they hope to expand it to include decisions from other courts such as the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

The developers have written a paper about the database and created a helpful tutorial.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Federal Government Releases New Apps

Yesterday the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office announced a new iPad app that provides access to the daily edition of the Congressional Record for free. The app will allow users to keep up to date about the daily happenings on the floor of the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives as well as access historical issues of the publication back to 1995. Users can browse the daily editions or search within a particular issue. The app also allows you to save files in PDF format or share files via email.

This is actually the second app created with GPO content in the last few months, as GPO appears to be making plans to release more apps. In November 2011, the office announced its first app, the Mobile Member Guide, which provides information about members of the 112th Congress including a pictorial directory and short profiles. Users can browse by last name, state, chamber, or party, or they can search by first and last name. This free app is available on iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices.

More information about the Congressional Record App can be found in the press release issued by the Library of Congress. For more information about the Mobile Member Guide App, visit the GPO Mobile website.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Law Library Brown Bag Series

Each semester the law library presents a series of presentations on legal research topics. These presentations are held at 12 noon Tuesdays and Wednesdays. During the 2012 Spring Semester, we will be offering the following sessions:

1. Researching Texas Administrative Law
Tuesday, 2/7, Wednesday, 2/8, 12:00-12:45 P.M.
Matt Mantel, Reference and Research Librarian

2. Researching Foreign and International Law
Tuesday, 2/14, Wednesday, 2/15, 12:00-12:45 P.M.
Dan Baker, International and Foreign Law Librarian

3. Texas Legislative History Research
Tuesday, 2/21, Wednesday, 2/22, 12:00-12:45 P.M.
Matt Mantel, Reference and Research Librarian

4. Researching Oil & Gas Law
Tuesday, 2/28, Wednesday, 2/29, 12:00-12:45 P.M.
Chris Dykes, Reference and Research Librarian

5. Effective Use of WestlawNext and Lexis Advance
Tuesday, 3/6, Wednesday, 3/7, 12:00-12:45 P.M.
Emily Lawson, Reference and Research Librarian

Session descriptions and room location will be posted soon on the law library's website.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Courts and Terrorism: Nine Nations Balance Rights and Security

Cambridge University Press has published Courts and Terrorism: Nine Nations Balance Rights and Security (Edited by Mary L. Vocansek and John F. Stack, Jr.), which focuses on weighing the rights of individuals against the prevention of terrorist attacks. The first three essays, after the introduction, focus on this important issue from the U.S. standpoint with the first essay investigating how the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on cases where national emergencies have been handled at the expense of individual liberties. Protecting state secrets and the rights of detainees labeled "enemy combatants" are also discussed in the next two essays respectively. The remaining chapters focus on how the struggle between national security and protecting individual liberties is dealt with outside of the United States including the approaches taken by Australia, Colombia, European Court of Human Rights, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, and Spain. This title is now on the new titles shelf in the law library.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Second Look: Lexis Advance Revisited (Part 2)

I am re-examining Lexis Advance in light of its latest release to see how many of my concerns have been addressed. In Part 1 of this second look, I applauded LexisNexis for some of the changes they have made to Lexis Advance. In this continuation, I will address a few other changes I would still like to see and issue a call to action.

In Part 2 of my original critique of Lexis Advance for Law Schools BETA, I complained that many of the features and tools that make lexis.com a great tool for legal researchers were not available in the Beta version of Lexis Advance. Unfortunately, on this front, nothing has changed yet.

However, all is not lost. Lexis Advance does not currently allow for pre-search source selection, but I strongly believe that this will change. Sure, it provides those three pre-search filters that are surprisingly clunky and unwieldy, but even the newest legal researcher would like to be able to search in a specific source when they know that is where the document they need resides -- and sometimes, even the combination of pre- and post-search filters won't get you there. For example, let's say you're looking for a specific law review article you've seen before, and you can't remember the title or author, but you think you remember which law review published the article. You can use the pre-search filters to limit the search to Analytical Materials and then use the Content Type post-search filter to limit the results to just Law Reviews and Journals. Can you limit it further? Well, if you remembered in which state the law review was published, you could use the Jurisdiction filter to further limit the results, but sooner or later, your only choice will be to rely on the Source filter. Oh, but there's a problem with that: The Source filter only lists the titles of the law reviews with the 20 largest numbers of articles in your results set. So, if the law review you need is number 21 (or worse), you're out of luck! Your only option will then be to scan the entire results list for articles from that law review!!

Here's another example of how unwieldy the filters can be. Let's say you need a case from the US District Court for the Western District of New York. The pre-search filters will allow you to narrow the search to Federal, but it doesn't let you limit it to just federal district courts, let alone the WDNY court specifically. So you run your search, and retrieve thousands (if not millions) of results. "No problem," you think (just as LexisNexis hopes you will), "I'll use the post-search filter labeled Court." Perusing the list of "Courts", you don't see individual federal district courts listed, but you do see District Court (although you may have had to click the More link to get the full list). Yes, that will reduce the number of cases in your results list, but the new results list doesn't give you any information regarding which cases are in which district courts, which, of course, means you'll have to click into each case to determine its issuing court (and, thereby, incur a separate charge for each one). At this point (or instead of using the Court filter, if possible), you could use the Source filter and select 2nd Circuit - US District Court Cases, but, again, the individual district courts are not identified on the results list. Counter-intuitively (at least to me), the way to get to just the WDNY decisions is to use the Court filter but select 2nd Circuit; then, the Court filter will allow you to further limit the results to New York Western District Court.

Accordingly, it's difficult to believe that LexisNexis would bend to such minor complaints as the available Connectors or universal characters without working on getting pre-search source selection into the product. For similar reasons, I have to believe that segment searching capabilities are on the horizon as well. Otherwise, why would they make the W/SEG Connector available in Lexis Advance?

Unfortunately, despite all my hopes, I currently do not have the same optimism that the old Commands will receive the same treatment. Since Lexis Advance was first announced, every person I have spoken with about this issue has consistently informed me that there are no plans to include Commands or their equivalents (i.e., ATLn or some other frequency capability, CAPS/ALLCAPS/NOCAPS or some kind of forced capitalization commands, and PLUR/SING, or any kind of forced pluralization control) in Lexis Advance. In my opinion, this demonstrates that the people driving the development of this product are not the people at LexisNexis who actually deal with the customers.

So let's make them.

A Call to Action

In the past, I have also complained about the syntactical problems associated with the Lexis Advance search box and its Word Wheel (see Unnecessary Change #3 in Part 2 of my original critique and Part 3 of my original critique), as well as the abhorrent and deplorable decision to alter the pricing paradigm (see Part 3 of my original critique). These issues remain, and I have little hope that LexisNexis will correct these flaws.

And yet, I am hopeful. Clearly, LexisNexis is listening. Although they made a huge mistake unleashing Lexis Advance before it was ready (considering it's still not where it needs to be), it is obvious that LexisNexis is paying attention. How else can you explain the complete flip-flop on the Connectors issue? And, not to toot my own horn, but I know of no one else who would have even noticed the change in universal characters let alone found it sufficiently important to complain about, and yet LexisNexis did make that seemingly insignificant change.

And so I have hope. And you should too. But to turn that "hope" into "change", you have to let LexisNexis know. You have to tell them that you don't like the new pricing scheme. You have to tell them you want to be able to limit your search to specific sources or to specific segments. You have to tell them you want a term frequency tool.

And you have to tell everyone. Tell your LexisNexis reps, all of them. Tell LexisNexis Customer Support (call either 1-800-543-6862 or 1-800-45-LEXIS, either one's fine); call them up if for no other reason than to give them your feedback on Lexis Advance (tell 'em Dan says Hi!). Send letters to the corporate offices. Write blogs; send tweets; post comments to their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LexisCommunities)! And do it repeatedly!! The more significant the change demanded, the more significant the number and quality of the demands required to effect that change. Sure, they may change the Connectors available because a blogger and a couple of law library directors complained about it, but that's not enough to change the pricing; that's not enough to have them rewrite the search syntax; that's not enough to force them to make Lexis Advance at least as good as lexis.com.

We are the consumers. This is our chance. If you are that one person who is not a LexisNexis employee and yet thinks Lexis Advance is the bee's knees as it currently is, then let them know that as well. But if you're like me and don't want to be forced into the clutches of Westlaw by a deficient product, then you need to let LexisNexis know what changes you would like to see in Lexis Advance. Representatives are standing by.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Second Look: Lexis Advance Revisited (Part 1)

About seven months ago, I offered some first thoughts on what was then branded Lexis Advance for Law Schools BETA (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). In those postings, I listed quite a few complaints I had about the product. Now that it has been released from Beta (and rebranded as simply Lexis Advance), I will re-examine the product to see whether any of my complaints have been addressed.

First, the Good News

In Part 1 of my original critique, I bemoaned the fact that, at that time, one could not perform a Focus search within a results set, a staple of not only legal research, but instruction as well. This feature has finally been added to Lexis Advance (and is now called Search within results).

In Part 2 of my original critique, I lambasted LexisNexis for claiming to have created a product specifically for law schools although that product contained no administrative materials and little secondary sources that law schools would actually use, but instead offered a grand selection of Briefs, Pleadings and Motions, Jury Instructions, Jury Verdicts and Settlements, Expert Witness Analysis, and Dockets (i.e., materials that few law professors and even fewer law students would need access to). Although I believe that the general gist of that complaint is still valid, I am pleased to report that most of the law school-needed materials have finally been added, and more is on the way. Content currently available through lexis.com but not yet available through Lexis Advance will continue to be added throughout 2012 (and possibly into 2013) until it is all available through Lexis Advance or the world ends, whichever comes first.

Also in Part 2, I denounced LexisNexis's decision to do away with most of the Connectors available in lexis.com. And let me make this clear: Some may claim that, since Lexis Advance was still in Beta, they were just testing out the new set of Connectors, but the fact is that their marketing materials clearly stated that, with Lexis Advance, they had already made the decision to do away with all Connectors except AND, OR, NOT, and W/n (inexplicably renamed NEAR/n), as these were "the new web standard" (see Faculty FAQs Q8). Thankfully, LexisNexis has done an about-face and made most (if not all) of the old lexis.com Connectors (including W/n) available in Lexis Advance. And if anyone actually grew fond of the NEAR/n Connector, it is still available along with a new Connector, ONEAR/n, which is functionally equivalent to my favorite Connector, PRE/n. These changes address what I previously identified as Unnecessary Change #1.

In Unnecessary Change #2, I discussed the change to what would be recognized as "universal characters". To summarize, the exclamation point (!) is the root expander and the asterisk (*) is the placeholder in lexis.com, but in the initial Beta of Lexis Advance, the asterisk was the root expander and the question mark (?) was the placeholder. Now that Lexis Advance is out of Beta, they have made a change. If one clicks on the Search Tips link in Lexis Advance and then clicks on Connectors and scrolls down to the bottom, the screen explains that the exclamation point has been retained as the root expander (just as in lexis.com), but that the question mark is the placeholder (just as in the Beta version of Lexis Advance). Anyone who made it through all three of my original postings might expect me to go nuts on this right now, but I'm actually okay with the current state, provided it remains this way. You see, the developers kept the Lexis Advance Beta universal characters, but also added back in the lexis.com universal characters! So now, the asterisk can be used as either a placeholder in the middle of a term or as a root expander if placed at the end!! In other words, as long as it stays this way, you only need the asterisk; it is truly a "universal" universal character!

In Part 2 of my second look at Lexis Advance, I will examine the status of my other original Lexis Advance-specific complaints and issue a call for action.