Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Law Librarians Who (Know) Code

At a recent talk, it was recommended that law librarians learn enough about coding to understand how coding intersects with the organization and retrieval of information. To ensure that our systems function properly, we should all, at minimum, know what a programming language is, how to talk about it, and what coding can and cannot do.

We must understand what coding is, how it relates to libraries, what can reasonably be asked of code, and the threshold concepts that are required to work alongside those who actually write the code.

Law librarians understand how the end user interacts with the various retrieval systems. We understand the intersectionality of cases, statutes, and regulations, etc.... As well as best practices for accessibility and the practical search skills of our prospective or practicing lawyers. For a retrieval system to work well, it must be coded with all of these considerations in mind. A programmer, working alone, may not have this wholistic view.

Now that we are fully in the digital era, with many law libraries going effectively print free, we need to understand this skill more than ever. It's a law librarian's expertise, coupled with a programmer's understanding of code, that will allow us to create systems that transform information retrieval.

To that end, law librarians might consider attending a coding camp to learn this necessary skill.


Switchup recently released a list of the top 31 coding schools along with rankings and reviews. A friend of mine who attended a coding camp and is now a successful programmer recommended Bloc for a self-paced experience.

Another option is to find a Coursera coding course (or other available MOOC).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Excuse Me, Can I Have a Turn?" Female SCOTUS Justices Heavily Interrupted

The Harvard Business Review recently released the results of an enlightening new study about the speech patterns during SCOTUS oral arguments.

According to the article, a new empirical study shows that the male justices interrupt the female justices approximately three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral arguments. 

HBR examined the transcripts of 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments, finding that women do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices. Many male justices are now interrupting female justices at double-digit rates per term, but the reverse is almost never true. In the last 12 years, during which women made up, on average, 24% of the bench, 32% of interruptions were of the female justices, but only 4% were by the female justices.

And there is a consistently gendered pattern: In 1990, with one woman on the bench (former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), 35.7% of interruptions were directed at her; in 2002, 45.3% were directed at the two female justices (O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg); in 2015, 65.9% of all interruptions on the court were directed at the three female justices on the bench (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan). With more women on the court, the situation only seems to be getting worse.

Not only do the fellow male justices interrupt the female justices, so too do the male advocates on the other side of the bench. Despite strict rules mandating that advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking, interruptions by male advocates account for approximately 10% of all interruptions that occur in court. In contrast, interruptions by female advocates account for approximately 0%. 

While the female justices are being interrupted at far higher rates, at least they are learning to stop using polite prefatory words. Early in their tenure, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. 

HBR ultimately found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four of the female justices have reduced their tendency to use this polite phrasing. Justice Sotomayor adjusted within just a few months. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg gradually became less and less polite over decades on the court, eventually using the polite phrases approximately one-third as much as they did initially. Justice Kagan is still learning: She uses polite language more than twice as often as the average man, although half as often as she did in 2010.

Not surprisingly, HBR did not see a similar trend with the men, because male justices rarely use these polite speech patterns, even when they first enter the court. It is the women who adapt their speech patterns to match those of the men.
If it's this bad for arguably some of the most powerful women in the world, imagine what it's like for other women in the legal profession. We need to do better. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Problem with Impact Factor in Law

While working as a Faculty Services & Scholarly Communications Librarian, I presume I am not alone in being asked to create an impact factor for which to judge the scholarly work of faculty.

In fact, Gary Lucas at Texas A&M was recently asked a similar question:
Texas A&M University assesses its colleges and departments based partly on scholarly impact and using quantitative metrics. The law school’s dean has assigned me the task of identifying scholarly impact metrics for use in assessing the performance of our law faculty collectively and individually. This essay discusses the major issues that arise in measuring the impact of legal scholarship. It also explains important scholarly impact metrics, including the Leiter score and Google Scholar h-index, and the major sources of information regarding scholarly impact, including Google Scholar, Westlaw, Hein Online, SSRN, and bepress.

Ultimately, Lucas proposes ranking scholarship by Google Scholar citation count to provide a much-needed supplement to existing rankings schemes, including ranking schools based on U.S. News peer reputation score.

Lucas has made a noble effort toward impact in law. But creating an impact factor from scratch and getting other law schools on board to use it is a magnum-opus type work that other brave souls have attempted before to no avail.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that Google Scholar will be adopted to widespread use. The metadata created by Google Scholar is neither reliable nor reproducible, and it distorts the metric indicators at the individual and journal levels, as noted by other authors. Additionally, when broaching the topic of using impact in promotion and tenure decisions, law faculty will inevitably analyze the impact factors to death.

Because of the inherent difficulty and extensive resources that it would take to create an impact factor from scratch that faculty feel is a reliable indicator of their work, we're left without a metric that all schools will adopt and use consistently to make individual impact viable in law.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Law Libraries Supporting ABA Standards

While the very specific requirements of a law library collection have loosened under the ABA Standards, it should not signal that law libraries are any less important. The loosening of the Standards allows us to tailor our resources to truly support the law school and create practice-ready grads. Law libraries still heavily support the ABA Standards and should be seen as a valuable resource as law schools try to meet the new standards. The following standards are (or should be) directly affected by law library support:

1. Experiential LearningThe ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. To qualify as experiential under Standard 303(a)(3), “a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must (i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302,” one of which is legal research. The course must also “(ii) developing the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught; (iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and (iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.” In addition, experiential courses must be a simulation, a law clinic, or a field placement. Law librarians have focused on creating skills courses for years. We know how to create the simulation courses that fall under this standard. And many of us have even developed for-credit skills courses that help students meet their experiential learning requirement.

2. Formative & Summative Assessment: Legal research is specifically mentioned as a core competency in a law school's learning outcomes. In addition, law libraries have been doing formative and summative assessment for years. Law librarians teach a valuable skill. And we assess comprehension during the instruction (formative), as well as at the culmination of instruction (summative). If you want to see these assessment methods in practice, look no further than your law library where your law librarians have gained meaningful insight to share with the rest of the faculty.

3. The Upper Level Writing Requirement: To satisfy the ABA upper class writing requirement, a law student's writing should come with significant faculty oversight. Law librarians can support this requirement, in part, through implementing and supporting a strong scholarly writing program.

Law schools would be remiss not to use their law libraries to support these standards. Law schools are one unit that should use all of the available resources to create practice-ready graduates. In practice, attorneys spend over 35% of their time doing legal research. And legal research is the foundation of creating connections and building legal analytical skills.

For a more in-depth discussion of law libraries supporting the various standards, see Alyson Drake's wonderful articles on point.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Law Libraries Under Cardiac Arrest

The most recent edition of The Law Library Journal was released this week, and there's an interesting article by Ursula Gorham & Paul Jaeger called The Law School Library or the Library at the Law School? How Lessons from Other Types of Libraries Can Inform the Evolution of the Academic Law Library in the Digital Age.

The authors note that [f]or much of their history, law school libraries were routinely characterized as the heart of their law schools. “The law library has always been a core part of the law school with the primary mission to serve the legal research needs of law school faculty and students.”

Within the last 60 years, however, we've seen a huge transition from a focus on our print collections to, more recently, a focus on our services. The importance of the academic law library has long been reflected by its prominent mention within the ABA’s Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The 1960s marked the beginning of the golden age for academic law libraries, with the ABA standards at that time dictating collections’ minimum number of volumes and titles of required publications. Over the next three decades, extensive collection development was the norm for law libraries, with “the number of titles and number of volumes . . . almost the sole criteria for judging the quality of a library.” Recently, however, there's been much less import given to collecting data on our print collections, which signals a dramatic shift in the criteria for judging the quality of the library.

With this transition, we've seen the long-standing claim of "law libraries as the heart of the law
school" challenged in significant ways. Even as modern law libraries have moved beyond the print collection to a greater focus on creative, effective legal research regardless of format, we are still married to the print in most people's minds.

This, coupled with the perceived benefits of the library being further obscured by libraries not counting as factors in law school rankings makes for a recipe of irrelevance.

The articles goes on to mention ways that law libraries can continue to show relevance. [I]t is argued that while librarians are experts in legal research, they have not done enough to claim it as their territory—it is often incorporated into legal writing classes and/or taught by database vendors. By failing to do so, they have made it easier for others to argue for their increasing irrelevance. As experts, law librarians are in the best position to teach effective legal research.

Legal research is too important of a foundational skill to be given short shrift in a legal writing course because using a legal database and using it well are two different thingsA wonderful way to create a legal research curriculum outside of the legal writing courses is through a law library administered legal research program.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arthur Miller Articulates the Importance of Legal Research

When we are in the midst of being bombarded with the various microagressions that are commonplace as a law librarian in the law school hierarchy, we might lose sight of why we do this.

Especially considering this:
The ABA has been “over” law libraries for years now. After completing the last accreditation inspection team visit I went on, I swore I would never do another one. Back in the day, the librarian member of those teams mattered because the ABA’s Standards on law libraries had some teeth. Now, after years of watering down those Standards, law schools often tilt toward US News rankings as the end all/be all and as we know, library matters have an infinitesimal impact on USN’s calculations. I think the fact that no one (outside of our own professional association) is mentioning libraries as a part of the future of legal education is (sadly) not accidental. - Steve D. Hinckley

But we know, innately, that legal research is the foundation. It's complex and creative and helps build connections to form legal minds and make effective legal arguments.

Here's the great Arthur Miller to remind us of why it's important:

Part I: 


Part II: 


Amen, Sir!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Database of Law Related Movies

We all love a good law movie, right? Well, we're all in luck because lawyer and law librarian Ted Tjaden created a database of Law-Related Movies.

The 172 law-related movies on this site have been arbitrarily limited to those that contain one or more of the following features: interesting courtroom scenes, portrayal of lawyers, themes of justice or liberty, or discussion of substantive legal issues. 

The pages have been divided into the following topics:
These movies are great for entertainment purposes or may be useful for instruction, particularly the "movies organized by substantive law subject."

Law libraries might also use these titles to host movie nights. Or, like some of my wonderful colleagues at Texas Tech, to create a movie series at a local theater that hosts a panel discussion after the show.

Thanks to Ted for creating this wonderful list!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Combating Link Rot in SCOTUS Decisions

We know that link rot is a large problem in modern Supreme Court decisions.

According to a ... study, 49 percent of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions no longer work. The problem is that those citations allow lawyers and scholars to find, understand and assess the court’s evidence and reasoning. For most of the Supreme Court’s history, its citations have been to static, permanent sources, typically books. Since 1996 justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times, the study found. Those citations are very often ephemeral.

As noted in 2013 by the NYTimes, the Supreme Court has taken modest steps to address the matter. Its opinions note the date each site was last visited, and its clerk keeps a hard copy of those materials.

SCOTUS needs to do better and find a reliable electronic archival tool that will capture screenshots of the web resources and host them for easy access in perpetuity. We have Perma.cc, but the very busy Justices haven't taken the time to archive their own cited internet sources.

In steps the UC Berkeley School of Law Library and web application developer Philip Ardery to address this problem by hosting U.S. Supreme Court Web Citations. This service captures snapshots of any web resource cited by the United States Supreme Court immediately after their opinions are issued. The goal of the service is to leverage current web and archiving technologies to minimize the link rot that complicates research as websites change or become unavailable over time.

You can subscribe to receive updates. Contact Michael Lindsey, UC Berkeley Law Library's Directory of Library Web Development for additional information

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Law Libraries Respond to Changes in ABA Reporting

In the seven years that I've been a law librarian, ABA reporting for law libraries has made a fairly dramatic shift from measuring inputs to measuring outputs.

Chapter 6 of the Standards, along with most of the Standards, now places an emphasis on outcomes instead of inputs. For libraries, that means an analysis of how well the patrons of a library are being served rather than how much we spend for various activities, and much of the information now required comes from the sabbatical site visits rather than from annual information on expenditures or staff.

One of my colleagues recently pointed out that during an ABA site visit, law libraries must highlight how our patrons are being served. As the physical collections shrink, we need to focus more on customer service.  

This same colleague opined that, on the horizon, law school administrator's will look at this [measuring outputs only] as another opportunity to slash library budgets particularly in regard to print. Outside of state-specific needs, this will effectively kill print collections. The library of the future will be vested in digital collections accessible anywhere for the convenience of our patrons, a smaller footprint on the campus due to decreased need for stacks ,and the need to create more modular space as needed to accommodate different sized study groups, for example. We will also need to offer the latest technologies to draw users into our space. High speed internet, movable digital white boards, etc.  The need for expert librarians that know how to navigate and manage the digital collections is where library administrators will need to vest their political capital within the law school. Even this will come under pressure as IBM's Watson grows more proficient. It is a rapidly changing environment.

For a fairly prescient discussion of law libraries in the digital age, see this article on The Virtual Academic Law Library. Of particular interest is the SWOT analysis near the end.  

With this perfect storm brewing, it is time to start analyzing our law libraries' own strengths and weaknesses in our brave new world.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Call for Full Citizenship of All Law Faculty

The clustering of women in legal writing, in clinics, in academic support, and in librarian positions means that a disproportionate number of women law teachers in the United States hold jobs with significantly lower pay, with more limited voting rights at faculty meetings, and with less support for many things that tenure-line faculty take for granted (sabbaticals, support for scholarship, travel, etc.).

Starting today (International Women’s Day) and continuing until April 4th (Equal Pay Day), the Legal Writing Institute is collecting signatures on a statement advocating for all law professors to enjoy equal status – or “full citizenship” – on their faculties, regardless of the subject matter they teach.

LWI Policy Statement on Full Citizenship for Law Faculty (Adopted March 2015):

The LWI Board has adopted a policy statement on principles of equality for law faculty that will guide its future planning and decisions. This statement explicitly signals our commitment to the policy of full citizenship for all law professors, and it is designed to communicate that commitment to our members as well as others in the legal academy and the legal profession. The policy statement also has been adopted by the ALWD Board of Directors and the SALT Board of Directors: 

The Legal Writing Institute is committed to a policy of full citizenship for all law faculty. No justification exists for subordinating one group of law faculty to another based on the nature of the course, the subject matter, or the teaching method. All full-time law faculty should have the opportunity to achieve full citizenship at their institutions, including academic freedom, security of position, and governance rights. Those rights are necessary to ensure that law students and the legal profession benefit from the myriad perspectives and expertise that all faculty bring to the mission of legal education.

If it strikes you as odd, unfair, and perhaps even illegal that a historically-discriminated-against class of Americans are treated this way simply based on the subject matter they teach, please click here and sign on.