Art Imitating Law, Comic Style

Now if this isn’t a mash-up of two of my interests, I don’t know what is! There is a new Exhibition entitled “Superheros in Court: Lawyers, Law and Comic Books” now showing at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School. Leave it to Mark Zaid, a lawyer, comic book collector, and the organizer of the exhibition, to know his heroes from his villains – he regularly represents employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The images are all covers and depict scenes showing superhero in law-related contexts. You can check out a great showing of Mr. Zaid’s collection here on his web site, Esquire Comics.

Hat tip to ABA Journal and New York times ArtsBeat. Complete lists of items shown are here.

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Hot Damn! My Own iPhone App!

By George, I think I have finally done it! After splitting time between my Windows and Mac machines and iPhone, I finally got an Ad Hoc version of my very own, personal, AdvantageAdvocates iPhone app working like a charm! The app, created with the web tool AppMakr (link here) and aptly called Advocate, brings together all of my content streams in one nicely-designed package. If you enjoy Studio tech posts, Advocate tech article shares, my tech tweets and mobile app reviews, then this App’s for you! And it’s going to cost my favorite number: free.

I went through this process in order to complete the exercise of completing an app design, rather than to make a developer name for myself. When I ran into snags (and there were a few), I used AppMakr’s support forums and kept them apprised of glitches. To their credit, they responded beautifully, fixing issues and clearing the way for Luddites such as myself to finish the product.

Wanna see some screen shots? Here is the icon on the page:

Here is the splash screen:

Here is The Studio blog feed:

If you click on a link in that view, this is what you will see:

The little arrow above the image is the actual audio link to the NPR broadcast, preserved from my blog post! Click and the audio plays! (can you tell I am all excited?)

This is my Studio Tweets screen:

There are sharing links from each individual entry in all screens. This is the sharing link from a Tweet:

Studio Web includes my shares from Google Reader. I have a huge Reader library and like to share the great stuff I find in there. It is always articles with a legal, tech and/or professional bent. It’s like having your own personal tech / pro research assistant reading and pulling the cool stuff so you don’t have to.

An individual share entry looks like this:

The Studio apps button has all of my mobile app reviews from MobileAppOfTheDay. Here is the individual app entry for today (you would scroll down on the app screen to get all of the images and review):

It works flawlessly and really looks pretty darn great. I used my own artwork for the header image, icon image and splash screen, but AppMakr allows you to browse the Web or your own hard drive for images to use, with helpful tips on how to size them properly.

No one can say that creating an app for a mobile device is a quick and simple process. But I have to say that it can’t be that bad – if I can do it, anyone can do it with a little tenacity. AppMakr certainly makes the job a whole lot easier.

Stay tuned to the Studio for information on when the App goes live in the App Store. Next stop: Android App Creator!

Bringing Granular Search to Scholar

Cool new functionality available now in Google Scholar – you can  search within citations to an article! This is particularly helpful for sorting and sifting through the citations to particularly popular piece, like the example in the Google Scholar Blog article announcing the feature: Einstein’s famous paper Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?. When you see the “Cited By ##”  in the search results in your Scholar search, click on it and you will get a new search box:

This allows you to actually search within the articles listed in the citation results so that you can get to the subsequent treatment you are looking for.

What does this mean for lawyers? After pulling up the U.S. Supreme Court Opinion in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB  v. Vinson (link here), I searched within the citations to find “same gender discrimination” and cut my list of citations from 7,258 to 30.

Take THAT, Westlaw and Lexis! Read more on this awesome research tool at the Google Scholar Blog (link here).

Typography for Lawyers

Image of Matthew Butterick from Typography for Lawyers

Do you know your typography? What is typography? Typography is visual text, the aesthetics of the written word. Your typography affects your message. For lawyers, typography can actually be quite rigid and subject to formal rules of court. But in those grey areas in which the court hath not spake (spoken), there is Typography for Lawyers.

Attorney Matthew Butterick is a typographical nut with a legal bent. He has a background in digital font creation and ran a website development studio. He has created an online “book” using WordPress on typography for lawyers (link here). Besides being an incredibly clever use of the WordPress platform, the “book” provides some very helpful advice and information for lawyers concerned with the physical appearance of their written words.

I found his book very easy to read, interesting and informative. I hope you do too.

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WestlawNext Preview: The Recap

So, how about WestlawNext? That new evolution in legal research? Is there really something to be excited about here?

As regular readers know, I attended the Preview breakfast today. The Preview consisted of an opportunity to watch various Westlaw rep put the product through its paces at stations and a keynote speech by a West VP of Sales. The speech was accompanied by a slide deck with moving graphics and screenshots.

Ever the geeky researcher, I took copious notes. I asked some questions during the individual previews, which were answered to varying degrees of completeness. There were no meaningful opportunities to ask questions during the presentation. So I figured I would share both my notes and my questions here.

Remembering that West intends to charge an undisclosed premium for this next evolution, this Preview was an attempt by West to argue why such a charge makes sense. There were three main talking points to this end: major search improvements improved organization and visual display; and, new work flow tools.

I was particularly interested in the search. The individual reps were unable to give me a satisfactory answer as to how the new “plain” language search is an improvement over the old “natural” language search. The main presenter highlighted West’s search goals: to improve search by accessing a broader array of databases automatically; to bring deep, relevant results higher in the list and bring them faster; to do the analytical evaluation encompassed within KeyCite, Results Plus and other tools behind the scenes automatically; and, to crowdsource the results of other professional searchers.

The new search language has no constraints with respect to format. The new algorithm takes into account 57 different points. In pursuit of relevancy, it accesses the more than 40,000 West databases without manual selection (although you can identify preferred databases). It examines terms used in key numbers associated with point of law suggested by the search. It will look countrywide for relevant related cases and common threads, and then employ concepts gleaned from this analysis within your specified jurisdiction. The same treatment is applied to Key Cite results – citing cases are examined for common threads, which are then run back through the selected databases. Finally, West taps into the searches run by other professional (not student) legal researchers – more than 500,000 transactions per day – to determine the documents yielded by searches employing the same terms and whether the researchers engaged in “meaningful transactions” with respect to those documents. In other words, did they print, Key Cite, email or copy with citation. Then the algorithm goes one step further and pulls other documents that are most frequently related to the documents treated by other researchers. The results are shown, by default in order of decreasing relevance.

Interestingly, there were little to no examples comparing a traditional Westlaw search with a WestlawNext search. Just a few conclusory statements that the WestlawNext search would yield a better result faster. Boolean is not gone, but one of the reps advised that WestlawNext is working behind the scenes on the broader connectors, so it is not a completely Boolean application.

New organizational tools include a foldering system that is fully searchable and automatically updated via Key Cite. The look is cleaner and more modern, with more white space and the ability to control formatting to optimize your viewing experience. When you click on a particular case, other Related Topics from the case are displayed in paragraph form along the right margin – you can access other results on those topics via clickable links. KeyCite is tabbed on the cases, and the results are filter-able.Results also can be filtered by relevancy, recency and other facets.

Workflow is improved as well. Docs can be downloaded, sent via email and, most recently added, sent to your Kindle. You can establish favorite databases. I am not sure whether these favorites affect the relevancy measure within results. There is also a link for “KM” – it accesses the firm’s own documents. an eyeglass symbol on a document means that the document had been previously viewed within the last 30 days for the same client ID. A folder icon on a case shows that the case has already been read and saved in a folder. You can access foldered documents without charge. Search history is now saved for a year (previously 14 days).

Editing tools allow the researcher to notate, highlight and save sections of cases with citations, with these edits saved online indefinitely. Coming soon: the ability to export folders of research content, with annotations, to others on the research team.

For what it is worth, as an experienced researcher delving regularly into similar areas of law, I know how to formulate both a boolean and natural language search and I am well aware of the databases I need. It is a rare occasion that I am plumbing an entirely new area of law. Furthermore, I already have adopted workarounds for the new foldering and annotating system – I save my downloaded docs in topic-specific folders and use my word processor to highlight and mark comments in the margins.

While I still have little questions, the big question for me is price. I was directed to my sales rep. The email I sent to her following the preview in which I indicated I had price questions remains unanswered. I know enough from my reading that there is a premium for WestlawNext, but no one seems to have a firm grasp on the amount of that premium. I imagine there are different premiums depending upon the size and nature of the existing contract and type of client. Hardly seems fair.

I know I am not the first commenter to say this, but I think that West is well off the track and making a huge marketing mistake. In my early days as a law student and lawyer, the only meaningful choice in legal research was Westlaw or Lexis. The Internet had not broken into the mainstream. Early web search was clumsy compared to West’s access to its own curated content. It made sense to pay extra for the service and we all paid dearly for it.

Now, internet search has met and exceeded Westlaw’s current search methodology. In a time when major corporations, the likes of Google and Microsoft, and other minor web developers are regularly trotting out amazing search feats and features and charging absolutely nothing for these marvelous wonders, Westlaw deigns to bring its product in many respects up to modern “free” standards and charge an undisclosed premium for it. Unfortunately, West has not properly read its audience – lawyers are becoming more tech savvy and are getting quite accustomed to receiving new and better tools for free. I know I am.

While I can comprehend paying extra for a vastly improved search algorithm (I don’t know this for sure as I have not yet had a hands-on), I find it difficult to “buy” an improvement such as better site organization, more “white space” and formatting controls. Shouldn’t such “improvements” be par for the course in a product’s development? Barring inflationary increases, car manufacturers regularly change the visual design of their products to keep them modern and add options without charging for these changes. Is West so out of touch with its customers that it believes they feel bringing the site’s look up to modern standards justify a price hike?

When a free product is measured against a pricey one, the reviewer cannot help but consider compromising on features in favor of cost wherever possible. As the free tools improve, WestlawNext is going to be perceived as the poorer option when all factors are examined.

While West touts its upcoming iPhone version, I have been accessing the free Fastcase service on my phone for weeks. This is not charge-worthy innovation.

Oh, and for the record, I overheard a Westlaw rep tell an attendee today that Westlaw.com will be phased out. Thus, the WestlawNext premium will become the new standard (increased) price point for West’s products.

I am sure I will have more on the subject after I activate my free access password (I will get a whopping three days) and after I get some clarification on my outstanding questions from my rep. For now, I have said it before and I will say it again – the jury is still out deliberating.

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Adding Statute Links Where There Were None

Great tip from RIPS Law Librarian blog  on a tool for pulling the text of statutes from a web page that fails to include the hypertext link (link here). The tool is called LII Citer (link here) and it is offered by the Cornell Legal Information Institute. The tool works by adding the Citer to your favorites (in any browser). Simply highlight the law on the web page, then go to the Citer link in your Favorites and you will see the text of the highlighted statute. It currently accesses federal law only, see the list below:

  • U.S. Code, e.g. 12 U.S.C. 1749bbb-10c, or 7 U.S.C. 136a(c)(3), which links to the paragraph level, using the LII internal USC resolver.
  • United States Supreme Court, e.g. 457 U.S. 800, using the LII resolver that tries to find an LII-local copy, and failing that, gives the user the option of choosing another source.
  • Federal Circuit Court System, e.g. 875 F.2d 1059, “resolved” by constructing a direct link to the resource.org data set as hosted by lawlibrary.rutgers.edu
  • Code of Federal Regulations, e.g. 40 C.F.R. Part 164 Subpart D, tries to resolve section references with the get-cfr.cgi file at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov; if no section number is cited, then a resolver at ecfr.gpoaccess.gov is used.
  • US Statutes at Large, e.g. 118 Stat. 919, resolution currently very speculative, using get-cfr.cgi at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov
  • US Public Law, e.g. Pub. L. 110-116, fairly stable, using get-cfr.cgi at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov
  • Federal Register, e.g. 72 Fed. Reg. 37771, uses the getpage.cgi at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov

Even without state statutes, it is still a handy tool for speeding up your web-based research process. Thanks Cornell and RIPS!

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The Entire U.S. Code. On Your Phone

Do you have some spare memory sitting around on your iPhone and you don’t know what to do with it? How about loading it up with the entire United States Code? The drawback is the space investment, but the very real benefit is access to the Code whether or not you have a live internet connection. Very handy in those rural District courts.

U.S. Code is the creation of Assistant Professor Shawn Bayern, currently teaching at Florida State University College of Law. Professor Bayern graduated from Yale University in 1999 and the University of California at Berkeley in 2006. Not suprisingly, before his legal career, he worked in computing research, served on groups responsible for developing programming languages, and wrote several books and articles about computer programming. Professor Bayern relates that he helped design JSP and some other Java-related languages, but then dropped that effort to go to law school.  He always knew he wanted to teach, but not in the computer science field.

Professor Bayern has married his interests in computers and law by creating an application of unique interest to lawyers and researchers. The app is free and, as Professor Bayern explains, designed to be useful.

Professor Bayern contacted me last week about his app and I have now had a chance to try it out. It took quite some time to download and searches are not lightning-fast, but are not intolerably slow either. The simple interface permits searching by keywords (with auto-complete) or citation. You also can browse by title, section and subsection. When you enter a particular section, you can navigate back and forth between sections via arrows, bookmark a favorite section and email it to someone or somewhere for printing. You can view either in portrait or landscape mode. Search terms are highlighted. Entries include the language of the section and codification and amendment information.

There is nothing more than what is absolutely needed to find a Code section. There is a caveat, however, to keep in mind when using the app (link here). U.S. Code  includes the latest “official” Code sections, but does not include the most recent updates via public laws. Those most recent updates can be found in the traditional, paid resources. U.S. Code might certainly is a handy “in-hand” resource, but it should not be considered the last and final word on the law, particularly if your research results will be showing up in court papers, pleadings or motions.

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Cornell-Curated Collection of Legal Research/Writing Guides

Cornell University seal
Image via Wikipedia

If you are looking for some writings on legal research and writing, hit the jump to the Cornell Law Library’s list of legal research and writing guides (link here). The categories break down as follows:

  1. GENERAL WORKS ON LEGAL WRITING AND LEGAL STYLE
  2. GENERAL STYLE MANUALS
  3. CITATION GUIDES
  4. WORKS ON BRIEF WRITING AND ORAL ADVOCACY
  5. WORKS ON INSTRUMENT DRAFTING
  6. WORKS ON LEGAL RESEARCH

The categories above are links to the actual sections. While it is a “selected” and not a “comprehensive” list, there is more than enough to fill your office bookshelf!

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Advanced Social Media Presentation Materials

Doug Cornelius (Compliance Building) and I had a most excellent time presenting our lunch seminar on Beyond LinkedIn: Advanced Social Media for Lawyers yesterday at the Boston Bar Association. If you were unable to attend, you can still check out our presentation materials. Here are our presentation slides:

You also can view our handout collecting web tools and resources (link here).

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Fastcase: An iPhone Lawyer's Fast Friend

Last week I mentioned it, this week I review it. I have downloaded and have been playing with Fastcase’s new, FREE, iPhone application that offers a portal to a database of caselaw and statutes at your iPhone-bearing fingertips. New to Fastcase? From their site:

Fastcase is a next-generation, Web-based legal research service, that puts the complete national law library on your desktop anywhere you have Internet access.  Fastcase’s smarter searching, sorting, and visualization tools help you find the best answers fast – and help you find documents you might have otherwise missed.

Fastcase reaches back to volume 1, page 1 of the major federal reporters and also includes primary caselaw from the 50 states and statutes as well as other materials  via its Web interface. Fastcase had already positioned itself as the affordable, legal research option, free to many via bar memberships. Fastcase is sure to blow that particular part of the field wide open with its free legal research iPhone application, the first of its kind to hit the App Store.

The iPhone application uses the same process as Fastcase’s web-based application – a natural language and relevancy weighted search function. But Boolean search works too. What’s more, there is a citation analysis tool integrated into the search results. No need for an existing Fastcase account: I quickly filled out a form within the app, providing my name, company, job title, and log-in information and achieved full access immediately. In their welcoming email, they include an offer for a free trial of their web product (aaahhh, THERE’s the marketing hook.)

Fastcase lists the features of its app as follows:

  • Free, searchable library of American cases and statutes
  • Keyword (Boolean), natural language, and citation search
  • Browse or search statutes
  • Most relevant results first
  • Customizable search results that you can sort five different ways
  • Search results automatically display number of citing cases
  • Jump right to most relevant paragraph of any case or statute
  • Integrated research history
  • Save favorite documents for use later
  • Case law is updated regularly

Not bad for a free application.

Of course, I have opened and closed the doors and hood, kicked the tires a couple of times and have run a few searches. In a word, it delivers.

I entered my search query:

set my jurisdiction and date parameters,

and let it run. Thirty seconds later, my results showed up.

The relevancy-weighted algorithm assigns a relevance score to the case from 1 (not relevant) to 100 (right on point). Authority check shows via an orange button indicating how many times the case has been cited overall and how many times it has been cited by other cases in the search results. You get more details on the citing cases when you press the button.

When you click on a particular case, it brings up the header with both the official and West Reporter citations (cool!), docket number, court, parties and officiating judges. There are arrow buttons to scroll through the results list, a save button to save a particular case (which you can also copy, paste and email to yourself if you want to print 😉 ) and a “most relevant” button which brings you to your search terms. The case text is easy to read and it hypertext-links you to other cases cited within the text.  Footnotes are displayed at the end of the case.

A burning question in my mind is how quickly Fastcase gets decisions loaded into its database. I haven’t queried Fastcase themselves and my research did not disclose a clear answer.

Another potential drawback for frequent users of the Big Two premium legal research products is the lack of the editorial treatment in these cases – no headnotes, keynumbers of introductory paragraph summarizing the case posture and holding. This editorial treatment is the value-add the Big Two lean heavily upon in keeping their prices at the top of the range. The lack of these features in Fastcase and, consequently, their app, may dissuade some from using this tool for more than the occasional quick look-up while on the go. But I do have to commend Fastcase’s relevancy algorithm – in an area of law that I am VERY familiar with, Fastcase quickly showed some of the key cases right at the top of the results list. Impressive showing for the first, free, legal research app for a mobile platform.

I give Fastcase’s app a hearty two-thumbs up for both effective implementation and the surefire “kick-in-the-pants” this free tool will bring to this somewhat archaic, top-heavy industry.

Run. Don’t walk.

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