"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, September 30, 2015

Texas Attorney Population Increased by 28% from 2004-2014

The number of actively practicing attorneys in Texas has increased from 67,764 in 2004 to 86,494 in 2014, according to a report issued by the Texas State Bar, which has been reported by the Wall Street Journal Blog and the Dallas Morning News. This is an increase 28% of attorneys while the population of Texas increased by 20% for that same period. In the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area, the number of attorneys increased from 21,492 in 2004 to 27,827 in 2014 (a 29% increase). In the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area, the number of attorneys increased from 20,378 in 2004 to 26,364 in 2014 (also a 29% increase). Despite the growth, the article in the Wall Street Journal blog points out that Texas still lags behind other states with respect to the number of attorneys per person (there is one attorney for every 250 people in Texas according to the article). See the 2014 Attorney Populations Density by Metropolitan Statistical Area 2014-15 by the State Bar of Texas Department of Research & Analysis for more details.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Law Behind the Volkswagen Scandal


This past Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency accused German automaker Volkswagen of cheating on emissions tests.  Several studies determined that Volkswagen had programmed its cars to detect when a government-mandated emissions test was occurring and to reduce their nitrogen oxide output during the test.  Volkswagen has acknowledged that the actions behind this scandal may result in criminal prosecutions.  But which laws have been broken?

In the United States where this scandal broke, the Clean Air Act of 1970 is the primary law governing air pollution emissions standards.  The Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 to add several new items, including rules for particulate emissions from diesel engines.  These standards are required under 42 U.S.C. § 7521 and tested as per 42 U.S.C. § 7525; Volkswagen is accused of installing its cars with software created specifically to cheat this test, which is specifically illegal under 42 U.S.C. § 7522(a)(3)(B).

Volkswagen will be facing possible criminal and congressional investigations in the United States, and may soon be facing legal difficulties in other countries as well; legal researchers interested in this scandal should keep an eye out for the many new judicial and legislative materials that may become available soon.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Finding and Understanding Materials from the American Law Institute

For nearly 100 years, the American Law Institute (ALI) has sought to ameliorate the uncertainty and complexity of modern American law. After its founding in 1923, the American Law Institute initiated its initial Restatement projects for Agency, Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Judgments, Property, Restitution, Security, Torts, and Trusts. These projects were completed in 1944, and work on Restatements Second and Third began in the years 1952 and 1987, respectively. Recent  projects have led to the addition of Restatements for Foreign Relations Law of the United States, The Law Governing Lawyers, Suretyship and Guaranty, and Unfair Competition.

In addition, the Institute publishes its Principles of Laws on a number of topics, which result from “intensive examination and analysis of legal areas thought to need reform.” Some of the areas studied have included Aggregate Litigation, Family Dissolution, Software Contracts, and Transnational Civil Procedure.

The American Law Institute’s members are nominated by their peers and then vetted through a rigorous selection process. The Institute’s membership is capped at 3,000 leading legal experts, including numerous UHLC faculty members.                
   
The Restatements are authored by committees who analyze cases on a topic to derive a clearly and concisely stated rule. They can be thought of as a codification of common law principles that have While some courts may later adopt a Restatement rule as the law of its jurisdiction, it is otherwise a secondary source.

There are numerous resources for finding ALI materials in the library, including our print collection, and through LexisNexis, Westlaw. HeinOnline’s American Law Institute Library has the most extensive collection available to library users online, with current Restatements and Principles, along with current pocket parts and complete text and drafts of the Uniform Commercial Code.

Note that Restatements and Principles are not revised until a new edition is complete. Later volumes of a Restatement are labeled as Appendixes (supplemented by pocket parts), and contain citations to case law citing Restatement provisions. Restatements and Principles, including their notes and illustrations, are a wonderful tool for understanding common law rules on a variety of topics.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Happy Constitution Day!

Today is Constitution Day, the day we commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787. Since 2004, September 17 has also been the celebration of Citizenship Day, which  “recognize[s] all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.” In fact, when Senator Robert Bryd shepherded the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (Pub. L. No. 108-447) into law, he added additional requirements to encourage citizens to learn more about their Constitution. Now the head of every federal agency must provide each employee with educational and training materials concerning the Constitution on September 17 and any educational institution which receives Federal funds shall hold a program on the U.S. Constitution for students on this day.

Beyond reading the Constitution, you may wish to celebrate more thoroughly by studying the Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and InterpretationThis work, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, provides an annotated analysis of the Constitution and its amendments with cases decided by the Supreme Court which “bear significantly upon the analysis and interpretation of the Constitution.”

For those who could use a refresher on the history of the Constitution, try this quiz from the Washington Post. A great supply of cocktail party-ready facts and anecdotes about the Constitution can be found at the National Archives, and you can embrace your inner Madison or Hamilton with this quiz to determine which founding father you most resemble (ideologically, that is).


No matter how you celebrate, today is a great day to reflect on the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the nation’s citizens by the Constitution. Take time today to consider both on the past struggles to achieve these liberties, and the enduring work needed from current and future generations to preserve them. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

FDA Releases New Food Safety Rules


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 48 million people per year get sick from foodborne diseases and it seems like every day we hear about another disease outbreak caused by contaminated food.  Now, recent activity from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aimed at preventing these illnesses.  On September 10, the FDA released long-anticipated new rules regarding food safety.  The rules are in response to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), passed in 2011, which was the most extensive reform of food safety laws in over 70 years.  According to the FDA website, this law “aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.”  

The two final rules released this week are the first of seven major rules the FDA is planning to release in order to implement the FSMA.  The new rules include the Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food: Final Rule and the Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals: Final Rule.  Both rules require covered facilities to implement a food safety system and set requirements for written food safety plans.  The rules will be phased in over the next few years with compliance dates depending on the size of the business.  

For more information about the implementation of the FSMA, see the FDA website.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trial Presentation Apps

 These days more and more attorneys are using technology in the courtroom and some apps have been created to help them with organizing information and presenting it at trial.  The following apps have been created specifically to help attorneys with trial presentations:
  • TrialDirector – This free app is currently available for the iPad.  Users can import PDF documents, images, and videos through Dropbox, iTunes, and other programs, markup and annotate documents, and present and annotate two exhibits side-by-side.  More features are available for those who subscribe to the desktop TrialDirector software. 
  • ExhibitView – This iPad app costs $89.99 and allows users to import PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and image documents through iTunes or Dropbox.  Audio and video files are also supported.  You can also markup and annotate files as well as print documents. Those who subscribe to the PC version of ExhibitView can also create presentations on their PCs and save them to their iPads. 
  • TrialPad – This app, available for iPad, costs $129.99.  It allows users to import PDF, TXT, and image files through Dropbox, iTunes, and other online file systems.  Users can also edit and show video clips, markup and annotate documents, and create side-by-side document comparisons.  This app does not have a desktop version of its software.  
For more information about these apps and all of their features, see the links provided for each one above. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

New Features Added to World Population Clock

According to a recent press release, the U.S. Census Bureau has added a number of new features to its World Population Clock web tool. These include national profiles with trade, population, and demographic data, as well as national population projections. You can access this information by clicking on a country in the interactive map. And for those of you keeping score at home, the world’s population is now 7.27 billion and counting.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

FCC Announces Platform for Sign Language Communication With Federal Agencies


 FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently announced that the agency will introduce a video access platform to allow speech- and hearing-impaired people to communicate with federal agencies using American Sign Language (ASL). Users will be able to download open source applications to their smartphones or computers that will allow video calling to agency representatives fluent in ASL. The beta version of the program will be introduced later this year, with a final release scheduled for spring of 2016. The open source accessibility platform will also allow other public institutions and private businesses to offer similar services in the future. To read more about the platform, see this announcement on the FCC website.