Monthly Archives: August 2016

Digitization of Harvard Case Law Library Will Show Court Patterns and Trends

Digitization of Harvard Case Law Library Will Show Court Patterns and Trends by Senior Writer for the ABA Journal, Stephanie Francis Ward

The Harvard Law School library has approximately 40 million pages of case law, which is currently being digitized and scanned so the public can view it for free.

It’s the second-largest collection in the country, following the one at the Library of Congress. It includes civil and criminal case law decisions from every state and federal court, WBURreports.

“We want the law, as expressed in court decisions, to be as widely distributed and as available as possible online to promote access to justice by means of access to legal information,” Adam Ziegler, managing director of the school’s Library Innovation Lab, told the Boston’s National Public Radio station. He leads the lab’s Caselaw Access Project.

The project is funded by Ravel Law, a legal search, analytics and visualization platform. Harvard agreed to give Ravel Law exclusive access to the digitized cases, WBUR reports, and the company will make the information available to the public for free, according to the project’s website. Costs for the project “are in the millions,” Ziegler told the ABA Journal.

Daniel Lewis, the company’s CEO, told WBUR that the digitized information can show legal trends and track bias among judges.

“So you have this raw case that’s now digital, and then what we can do is add machine learning on top of that. And by adding all these extra pieces of information we make it more possible to sift through millions and millions of documents to find exactly what you want,” Lewis said.

The process to digitize the information is somewhat more antiquated. Books to be scanned are shipped to the lab from a Worcester County storage facility, and physically unbound by digitization specialists. Then the pages are scanned, and metadata about the cases’ names, judges, court locations and dates is applied. Next the pages are hermetically sealed in plastic with their original bindings, and sent to storage at a limestone cave in Kentucky.

Read the entire article here.


Feel Confident that Your Legal Research is Complete

Feel Confident that Your Legal Research is Complete by Family Law and Estate Planning attorney, Jeremy Byellin

One of the worst experiences as an attorney is realizing that a vital authority is missing from your legal argument.  Your case appears weaker and incomplete as a result, and – worst of all – the omission may directly lead to an adverse result in the matter.

Given the peril associated with incomplete legal research, it’s clearly important to ensure that your research is as comprehensive as possible.  But how can you do that?

Although different circumstances may warrant their own appropriate strategy, the vast majority of the time, you can ensure that your legal research is sufficiently thorough by asking yourself four questions during your research endeavors.

Are my authorities up-to-date?

This question is listed first because it is arguably the most important one.  After all, the newest cases and laws are the ones you’re most likely to have missed during your research.

How can you tell whether you have found the most current authorities?  There are a few different places in Westlaw to check.

First, and perhaps most obviously, you may sort all of your searches to display the most recent cases at the top of your results.  This allows you to parse through the newest cases first and work chronologically backwards from there.

Next, the latest cases can be found by navigating to the “Cases” content from the Westlaw homepage and then selecting the jurisdiction or jurisdictions most relevant to your case.  The ten most recent cases will be listed first, and you may further search for specific terms within this jurisdiction (also with the option to display the most recent decisions first in the search results).

Third, you may likely be able to discover whether any of your primary sources have received any negative treatment from other such sources by checking on whether the sources has any KeyCite status flags.  These flags may sometimes relate to issues that aren’t relevant to your specific case, but more often, you can usually find valuable additional authorities by exploring these flags – specifically those authorities that have impacted the ones you’ve already researched.

Finally, Westlaw Bulletins & Topical Highlights provides an excellent resource for finding the newest cases on a variety of topics – the only downside being that only a limited number of jurisdictions are covered.

Are there any relevant secondary sources?

Most of the time, you shouldn’t cite to secondary sources as being authoritative in your legal arguments.  That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t a phenomenal resource for helping to locate and process pertinent primary sources.

And Westlaw certainly has no shortage of quality secondary sources that cover both general knowledge to get you up to speed and also go deep into a specific question. Law reviews and journals can be useful for delving deeper into a specific issue. American Law Reports and Restatements of Law help not only in understanding the basics of a particular subject, but also pointing to important cases on the topic related to your specific jurisdiction.  And 50 State Surveys may provide effective insight into where your jurisdiction stands in relation to others on a particular matter.  And of course, let’s not forget state practice guides and handbooks too for researching state-specific questions of law.

The full extent of secondary sources available on Westlaw can’t be fully discussed in the limited space here, but they are definitely something to look to in the course of your research endeavors.

Read the entire article here.

Five Fascinating Books for Lawyers and Law Students

Five Fascinating Books for Lawyers and Law Students by Nashville personal injury attorney and founder and lead attorney of Keith Williams Law Group, Keith Williams

If you’re like a lot of lawyers I speak to, you’re constantly watching out for good books that might lead you to rethink the way you run your practice and/or the services you render to your clients.

I’m just like you. The truth is, my computer bookmarks are full of links to books that I intend to read.

A few months back, I was telling someone about a few of the fascinating books I have already read, and he mentioned I should share them with other attorneys. It seemed like a great idea.

But, I have read literally hundreds of books. And the reality is, not all of them are all that notable.

So this is what I decided to do – I spent almost a month going through all of the books that I have read. I put together a list of books, then deleted anything that I thought would not add value to your legal practice, or your professional life as an attorney. I also eliminate any book that I thought was simply mediocre. And when I was all done, I had what I believe to be five of the most fascinating books ever written for, or about, lawyers.

In my opinion, these are the best of the best, so I am sure you’ll appreciate them as well. Read on…

1. End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services by Richard Susskind

An insightful analysis of the ways in which emerging technologies are transforming the landscape of the legal profession. As the world becomes more connected, and information shared more easily, there is increasingly more pressure to reassess the way legal services are provided and to make them more efficient and less costly. Susskind brilliantly argues that the current market can no longer bear the weight of expensive attorneys billing for tasks that a paralegal can and should perform at much lower rates and that this will lead to the obsolescence of traditional lawyers who fulfill these roles today. Furthermore, the author provides a variety of tools and tips to assist lawyers in planning for the future. Although this book has been superseded by a variety of more recent books on the topic, it is still a highly recommended read.

2. Storytelling for Lawyers by Philip Meyer

Sometimes, good attorneys make good raconteurs, and this book explains how the best attorneys can transform a simple set of factual circumstances into a fascinating and believable narrative that has the ability to capture the heart and the minds of everyone in the courtroom. This book provides a new perspective on the role of evidence in the courtroom. The simple yet elegant manner in which Philip Meyer illustrates this anecdotal structure makes it a must-read for anyone associated with the law. This book can benefit law professors and students alike, as well as, the most accomplished lawyers, and should be kept on hand at all times.

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

To many, Bleak House is Dickens’s greatest novel; it is surely one of the writer’s most compelling and entertaining. It deals with the themes of loss, law, social class, secrecy, and inheritance, as well as, the effect the process of law has on clients and their businesses. Although throughout the book the legal cases it deals with seem like mere backdrops to the central plot, all of the main characters are connected to these cases in one way or another and suffer tragically as a result.Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, the central case in the novel, has become synonymous with cases that border on the absurd and for which there is no real resolution. Dickens interweaves the serious with the comical in ways that make this 19th-century creation an utter masterpiece and relevant to us even today.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

While it is common knowledge that lawyers are considered by some to be selfish, cagey and of questionable integrity, this novel contrasts this image with one of a lawyer, Atticus Finch, whose integrity is unwavering. Although the book deals with the disturbing issues of rape and racism, it is both tender and hilarious. The main character’s stand against racial prejudice, at a time and place where this was far from the norm, serves to remind us all of an obligation than should not be ignored–to ply our craft with both moral and ethical integrity. A classic for all time.

5. Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman

Written as if it were a long blog post, Anonymous Lawyer recounts the experiences of a dynamic lawyer who endeavors to become chairman of his firm. His lust for power has no boundaries and there is no price we won’t pay to achieve his goals. However, there are several obstacles that he must overcome on his way to ultimate success, including a bitter rival and a wife who spends his money as fast as he earns it. Not only is this book is easy to read and entertaining, it comes across as a rare glimpse of the inner workings of some the biggest law firms in the nation.

Read the full article here.