"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, March 27, 2012

Lexis Advance "Certification"?

Over spring break, I received an email from my school's Account Executive, as did all of my colleagues and, presumably, all of the students. This email discussed how a person could easily become "certified" on Lexis Advance over spring break, because, clearly, law school students don't have anything better to do at this time of the year. [By the way, this post should not be considered a criticism of the Account Executives; I recognize that they are just doing their jobs, which, unfortunately, includes sending out these emails. They are not responsible for the content of the email nor the linked videos.]

According to the email, the process for "certification" is easy and the rewards potentially great. To become "certified", all one has to do is watch six short videos on the LexisNexis Law Schools channel on Youtube, completing short quizzes after each one, and then ask one's Account Executive for "the link to the Lexis Advance national online Certification exam." If you pass the exam, "your name will be added to the national registry of certified students and you can note on your resume that you have attained Lexis Advance Certification." The "certification" is meant to signify to "potential employers that you are proficient in legal research."

Sounds great! With all the employers complaining that students are graduating law school without the requisite research skills, surely such "certification" would be a boost to any student's résumé, right?

As the great(?) . . . uh, famous(?) . . . well, still living Lee Corso would say: Not so fast, my friend!

Let's take a look at the first video, How to Run an Efficient Search with Lexis Advance™. What would you expect the point of this video to be? Surely, the title would suggest that this video would show us how to run an efficient search on Lexis Advance. Yet, if that is the case, why, after telling us we need to find out about lemon laws in New York, does it fail to recommend using the pre-search Jurisdiction filter to limit our search to New York? Similarly, why does it suggest choosing the words lemon law from the Word Wheel rather than entering the phrase "lemon law" (quotation marks required in Lexis Advance)? (See "Problem with Word Wheel" in Some First Thoughts on LALS (Part 3) for the significance of this distinction.)

If the intent of this video was to demonstrate efficient searching, this video failed miserably. However, if the intent was to have law students build false "confidence in [their] abilities" and to bamboozle employers into thinking that a "certified" graduate is "proficient in legal research", then LexisNexis (or at least whichever department is responsible for these videos) has succeeded with flying colors! Of course, these are just two of the many problems I have with this and the other videos.

(By the way, not to sound too petty, but what is up with LexisNexis's obsession with Lexis Advance's folders?! I mean, really! Each and every video includes a 30-second explanation of how to create folders in Lexis Advance! So, it's impossible to run an efficient search, Shepardize® a case, or perform any research in secondary sources, caselaw, statutes, or regulations without first creating a folder?! You've GOT to be kidding me!)

Considering all the changes that LexisNexis has told us are coming, these videos are completely worthless. . . . No, wait . . . Even if those changes never come, these videos are completely worthless. And considering you need to sit through these worthless videos to get "certified", at this time, "certification" on Lexis Advance must be worthless too.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm just a bill. . .

Sadly for those of us who do legislative history not all bills become laws. Bills that become laws are memorialized in books with copious annotations and references to their histories which make them easy to locate. That is not the fate of most bills. Most bills simply die and accumulate very little if any legislative baggage. Bills that do not become laws die and are forgotten and their burial places are hard to find.

Finding bills online can be easy as in the case of recently filed bills. The Library of Congress’ website THOMAS has full text of all bills filed back to the 101st Congress (1989-1990). There are multiple ways to search for these bills, including by sponsor, number, and keyword. The harder bills to find are those that died before the invention of THOMAS. Trying to find the full text of older bills in electronic format is more difficult and the researcher must get creative.

If you are looking for really old bills the Library of Congress has a website for you. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website has links to House Bills and Resolutions from the 6th thru 42nd Congresses and Senate Bills and Resolutions for the 16th thru the 42 Congresses. Both these websites provide excellent images of the bills, and coincidentally both stop in 1873; the year the Congressional Record began publication.

The next place to look is the Congressional Record. If you have the bill number of the bill you are looking for it might have been read into the Congressional Record. The final volume of the Congressional Record for each session of Congress contains a history of bills and resolutions for each chamber of Congress. These histories provide page numbers for each reference to a particular bill and what action is taken on each page. Not only can you track down the text of a historic bill, but you can also follow its path through the law making process.

Another place is the text of Committee Reports. These are available through the Serial Set found on ProQuest Congressional. While not comprehensive, you might just get lucky if the bill is associated with an important piece of legislation.

The other alternative is to travel. That travel may be to a regional depository library or to Washington D.C. to visit the Library of Congress or the Senate Library. If you can afford it this method is very reliable.

The Law Librarian’s Society of D.C provides an excellent guide for finding full-text bills here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Farewell to GPO Access

On Friday, March 16, 2012 GPO Access passed away, off to meet its maker in whatever spot in Internet Heaven that is reserved for federal government websites.

GPO Access was born on June 8, 1993 when President Clinton signed Public Law 103-40, the “Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993” and went live on June 8, 1993. GPO Access’ mission was to maintain a directory of electronic information, provide online access to the Congressional Record, the Federal Register and other publications, and operate an electronic storage facility for electronic government information. GPO Access completed its mission gloriously and can now rest.

GPO Access was the gateway to federal information in electronic format, and often time that format was PDF. While we take it for granted now, GPO Access used to charge subscription fees! The fees were eliminated on December 1, 1995 and usage shot up. At the time of the 1997 biennial report searches were up 1187% and retrievals were up 319% from the time when fees were charged.

What got the most use? The Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations. What got the least use? I would guess the material on Congressional rules and procedures. Using the Congressional rules and procedures material is, however, the basis for my fondest memory of GPO Access. I found out about this material through a political science course that I took. This material, consisting of the rules of the House and the Senate along with procedural precedents for both chambers is amazing and unappreciated material and lead me to write my first published article. I may be the only person who appreciated GPO Access. I thank you.

GPO’s new Federal Digital System (FDSys) seems ready, willing, and able to fill the online shoes that GPO Access leaves behind. Best of luck to you FDsys; researchers looking for reliable and free government information are relying on you. GPO Access will probably soon be interred in the CyberCemetary

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made through the Internal Revenue Service on or before April 17, 2012.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

OpenCourt Project

OpenCourt is a pilot project that broadcasts the proceedings of the Quincy District Court in Massachusetts via the internet. The project is run by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, in cooperation with the Quincy District Court and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Video can be streamed live or accessed through the daily archive. The goals of the project are to increase public awareness of how the courts function and to serve as an example to courts around the country who may want to adopt this technology. The Quincy District Court, one of the busiest courtrooms in the state, handles both criminal and civil cases.

More information about OpenCourt can be found on the project’s FAQ page. To view the proceedings, go to the OpenCourt Live page or view the Livestream Schedule.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


For those of you researching in the area of health law, it is often necessary to search in medical literature for information related to your topic. One great source to consult for this is PubMed. PubMed is a free resource from the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine that contains over 21 million citations to journal articles and books related to medicine, health care, and similar topics. In some instances, PubMed may also provide a link to the full-text of an article. Citations in PubMed generally span from 1946 to the present.

Each article in the database is assigned Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) such as “health care reform” or “genetic testing” depending on the topics covered in the article. These MeSH terms can be used to search for highly relevant articles on your specific topic. For more information about how to conduct searches in PubMed, including subject searches using the MeSH terms, see the PubMed Online Training website. More information about PubMed can also be found in the PubMed Fact Sheet.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

There's a GAO App for That

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), formerly known as the General Accounting Office, is the independent, nonpartisan congressional agency that under the authority of the Comptroller General is charged with auditing agencies to ensure public funds are spent properly and investigating illegal or improper activity by the agencies. According to a recent press release, the agency has now released an app for the iPhone and iPad that will provide access to the GAO reports and congressional testimony along with videos and podcasts. A similar Android app is expected to be launched in a few months.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tax Amnesties

The law library has recently acquired Tax Amnesties published by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business deals with an emerging topic in the international taxation field. Tax amnesty is granted by countries to lift the tax liability on individuals in exchange for the disclosure of the offender's hidden assets whether it be in the form of real property, bank accounts, or investments in foreign corporations, and pay the tax owed. The conditions and benefits vary ranging from allowing the taxpayer to avoid criminal prosecution to lifting penalties or lowering the tax liability.

Tax Amnesties looks at this issue from an international standpoint investigating what tax amnesty entails. First, it begins with the collapse of secrecy by the banks that historically allowed taxpayers to hide assets from their home countries and then provides a thorough survey of approaches taken by select nations throughout the globe. The legal impact of tax amnesties and their compatibility with international agreements are also discussed as well as an evaluation of such amnesties altogether. The appendices contain amnesty tax laws for thirteen select nations. This title is located on the news titles shelf across from the circulation desk in the law library.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Legal Oxymoron of the Week for March 3d, 2012

This week's Legal Oxymoron of the Week is:

Intellectual Property

See, e.g., John Lienhard, Reflections on Information, Biology, and Community, 32 HOUS. L. REV. 303, 314(1995).