"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



Friday, March 31, 2017

Images with Impact: Design and Use of Winning Trial Visuals

The American Bar Association has recently published Images with Impact: Design and use of Winning Trial Visuals by Kerri L. Ruttenberg. This title is now available in the law library (KF8915.R88 2017) on the new titles shelf across from the reference desk. This book, ideal for both the trial lawyer and law student, focuses on turning themes into visuals to communicate effectively with the jury. The author begins with a discussion of the importance of visual communication and then covers tools such as charts, maps, diagrams, graphs, tables, outlines, photos, and timelines. Those who are not familiar with the basics of graphic design will also find the chapters in Part III to be very helpful. Tips on spotting misleading visuals, practical tips for creating and using visuals at trial, and an overview of the law on demonstrative evidence are among the other topics addressed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Legal Research AI Gains Venture Capital


The legal research company Casetext has announced that it has acquired $12 million in venture capital to expand on its CARA ("Case Analysis Research Assistant") AI software, a virtual research assistant currently capable of scanning a legal brief and retrieving cases relevant to but not cited in the brief.

CARA is not alone in the world of legal AIs.  When it was created last year, it joined the ranks of AIs including ROSS, an IBM Watson-based legal research AI, DoNotPay, a website founded in 2015 to automate the preparation of parking ticket appeals, and an amateur AI judge capable of predicting European Court of Human Rights decisions with 79% accuracy.
 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Database of Registered Foreign Agents


The Center for Responsive Politics recently launched a new research tool called Foreign Lobby Watch. It provides a searchable database of organizations and individuals registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), a federal law enacted in 1938 in response to German propaganda efforts in the United States. You may have read about this law in the news recently: President Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was required to register as a foreign agent for his consulting firm’s work on behalf of a company with ties to the Turkish government.

The database is made up of FARA forms filed with the Department of Justice. The registration forms include information on the organization serving as a foreign agent, details of the business arrangement, and political donations made by the organization. The database also contains short forms (filed by individuals), and supplemental forms, filed every six months, that provide detailed information on work performed for the client. You can search the full text of the documents, or search by registrant name, name of foreign principal, or location. You can also restrict your search to a given date range.

For more information on what’s in the database, see the site’s methodology page.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Paywalls Catch Up to Some Perma.cc Records

Perma.cc solves the problem of link rot for law schools, courts, and universities.  Link rot occurs when the hyperlinks cited in scholarly papers and court opinions no longer lead to the webpages they’re meant to reference. Perma.cc creates a permanent, archived version of a website and assigns a permanent URL to that version. The archived version of the cited content will then be permanently available—even if the website modifies, moves, or deletes the page’s originally cited content.

Perma.cc was developed by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, and its founding supporters included more than sixty law-school libraries, along with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Internet Archive, the Legal Information Preservation Alliance, and the Digital Public Library of America. Here at the University of Houston Law Center, our law review and journals have been creating Perma links since the summer of 2016, and all are very satisfied with the user experience and results. Collectively, the Law Center’s Perma.cc users have preserved more than 1300 webpages in the less than year for readers to reference, even as URLs change and content disappears.

This month the excellent Editor in Chief of the Houston Law Review’s 54th board, Jennifer Robichaux, came to me with a question about archived pages that were now marked as “private” and not available for view. In particular, this affected links from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Curious, I began to check the footnotes of other law review and journal articles that had Perma links to articles from these sites. The result was the same: many Perma links to New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, all marked as private. Here’s what the result image looks like:



It still contains a link to the originally captured page, allowing for verification of the record, but not complete access unless you are a subscriber.


How does this happen? The magic is in the page’s source file. According to Perma’s User Guide:

 “Some Perma Records become private automatically upon creation, and their status cannot be changed. This applies to pages with a “noarchive” metatag or a Perma-specific exclusion in the site's robots.txt file. Each of these Perma Records is preserved in a dark archive and is accessible only to the individual account, organization and registrar responsible for the Perma Record.”

Learning this I went to the New York Times and checked the source code for an article published today. Sure enough a quick search found this: <meta name="robots" content="noarchive" />. Mystery solved. 

Archival services like Perma.cc weren’t created to subvert copyright, but to preserve the record. Since the actual creating organization may still view the archived page, it remains useful for the organization’s source files. But adding the Perma link to footnotes in these situations is of little help to the reader.  

Journals, law reviews, and others who publish Perma links to give readers access to online materials should be aware of this practice, and check what their Perma links display before publication and adjust citations accordingly. Librarians managing Perma accounts for their institution can assist by noting this in their communications with incoming editorial boards this spring and summer.