Monthly Archives: September 2011

PACER Increases Electronic Access Fees

Accessing federal court cases via the federal court’s online document system, called PACER for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is going to cost you a couple more pretty pennies.  Two pennies per page, to be exact; the new fee is 10 cents per page, up from 8 cents.  Some good news for penny-pinching researchers, however, is the fact that users who incur less than $15 in charges in any quarterly cycle will not be charged a fee – that is up to 150 pages free per quarter!  You can’t beat free, and as they say, a penny saved is a penny earned.  Currently, users who incur less than $10 a quarter do not have to pay.

Another piece of good news came with the fee increase announcement – a new policy discouraging federal courts from sealing entire civil case files.  Under this policy, judges should seal an entire case only when it is “required by statute or rule or justified by a showing of extraordinary circumstances,” according to the Judicial Conference of the United States in its statement approving the price increase.  Additionally, an order sealing an entire case “should contain findings justifying the sealing, and the seal should be lifted when the reason for sealing has ended.”

Never utilized PACER?  It is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts.  Are you a fan of PACER?  Why so?  I offer a penny for your thoughts. . .

Shoe Suits

Today the Federal Trade Commission put its foot down on unsubstantiated claims that toning shoes strengthen and tone muscles:

Reebok to Pay $25 Million in Customer Refunds To Settle FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising

There’s further trouble for toning shoes with a class action suit brewing against New Balance for similar reasons, and a lawsuit against Sketchers Shape-Ups where a customer claims wearing the shoes caused hip fractures.

As the saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  So we’re not cancelling our gym memberships just yet.

But sometimes news-worthy lawsuits make us library-folk kick up our heels and do some research, and that burns a few calories. You can bet your boots the courts have seen their share of shoe suits.

For example, high-end shoe designer Christian Louboutin sued competitor Yves St. Laurent, for producing shoes with red soles, which Louboutin claims is his signature design. And Vibram, makers of the creepy-looking FiveFingers, is suing Fila over patent infringement for their similar product, Skeletoes.

Should you find yourself knee-deep in loafer litigation, here are a couple resources to get you started:

Highlighting new books at the Law Library, part 2

This week’s installment of the new books series features a guide to appellate brief writing.  Moot court participants and second-semester 1L students will likely find the information contained in this book extremely applicable for their brief-writing and oral argument preparations.

A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy
By Mary Beth Beazley
Law Study Skills Collection KF251 .B41 2010

A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy by Mary Beth Beazley is a student-focused guide to writing appellate briefs.  The text offers direction for every step of the writing process, from pre-writing planning and what to do when facing a blank page, to drafting an argument, using case authority effectively, and following format rules.  It also addresses how to craft issue statements, statements of the case, and point headings. 

Beazley’s book emphasizes how to make your writing both reader-friendly and user-friendly, and highlights opportunities for using persuasion throughout your brief.  The text also includes four sample briefs with annotations that identify strengths of the brief and explain why the writer chose a particular technique.

American Law Reports: a.k.a ALR, a.k.a. “Already Done Legal Research”

American Law Reports (ALR) is an attorney written, multi-series publication with objective, in-depth analysis of your specific legal issue, together with a complete list of cases – in every available jurisdiction – that discusses that issue.

  • Quickly get up to speed in an unfamiliar area of law – every article delivers an impartial, in-depth analysis of your specific legal issue
  • Locate relevant caselaw in one easy step – at the end of every ALR article, you’ll find an exhaustive, comprehensive list of cases that discuss the topic; cases are organized by state, so you can pinpoint local authority fast. 
  • Determine which cases are controlling and understand why
  • Save yourself a great deal of time. You could have a case on point in New York and if there is an ALR article that cites to that case you will find cases, statutes and discussions in other jurisdictions- maybe even the one you need!

How are ALRs Organized?
A typical ALR annotation starts with the text of an entire appellate case and is followed by a discussion of the legal trend or doctrine that that case represents. It will have an article outline, table of cases, statutes, regulations and rules, and research references.

ALRs are published in multiple series set:  ALR 1st, ALR 2nd, ALR 3rd, ALR 4th, ALR 5th, ALR 6th

And the federal series:  ALR Fed 1st  & ALR fed 2nd

How do you Research in the ALRs?
Research using the ALR should begin with the index, (there is a set at the end of the series, with updates).  You may also find an ALR article as an annotation to a statute, regulation or case.  Each ALR article will have a summary of what is included in the article and a list of related ALR articles.  Make sure you review this to see if there is another article that may help your research.  You can also conduct a word search in ALR on Lexis and Westlaw.

How do you update the ALR section?
Since ALRs are updated frequently with the most current legal issues it is important to make sure that the section you are looking at is up to date.

In the books you can check the pocket part to see if the section has been superseded. There is also a “History Table” in the back of the ALR Index that will give you a list of updated annotations.

Online, Westlaw will give you a KeyCite flag letting you know if there is history or if it has been superseded. Lexis will give you the superseding section numbers but it will not give you the text of the superseded article.

You can also listen to or read a transcript of CALI”s LibTour on the ALR.


Blogging for Law Students

Many lawyers maintain blogs for marketing purposes – to share their expertise and build their practices.  But is blogging useful for law students? A recent article titled To Blog or Not: That is the Question in the American Bar Association’s Student Lawyer magazine explored this question.  The article featured the story of Simon Borys, whose blog Simon Says: The Blog of Simon Borys, has logged 40,000 hits in the first year.  Whether the blog will help or hurt, or simply be a non-issue, as Borys searches for a job next year is yet to be seen.  Another law student blogger, Brett McKay of the Frugal Law Student blog, thinks that every law student should blog.  Read his thoughts here.

If you do blog, here are some tips from the Student Lawyer article:

  • Focus on your strengths – what do you offer that is unique?
  • Learn from the pros – find good to advice to follow
  • Do not be a know-it-all
  • Take the time to do it right
  • Do not plagiarize
  • Get a second opinion – vet your blog content with someone you respect

Interested in other law student blogs?  Check out this list.  Do you blog?  If so, is your blog a private endeavor or a public forum? Do you blog about legal issues, or like this practicing attorney, do you prefer to blog about your interests outside of the law?

Happy Birthday, Bilbo Baggins!

74 years ago today, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was first published.

We wondered if we might be able to find some Tolkien references in the courts. 

Well, as it says in The Hobbit, “there is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.” (Tolkien must have been a librarian at heart!) So off to Westlaw we went… 

Not suprisingly, we found a case with Tolkien Enterprises alledging tradmark infringement of the name “Hobbit”  (Saul Zaentz Co. v. Wozniak Travel, Inc.).

We also spotted a couple chuckle-worthy Tolkien references in decisions.

Medical Assur. Co., Inc. v. Hellman begins:

“Dr. Mark Weinberger maintained a prosperous ear, nose, and throat practice (commonly called “ENT” by people whose first loyalty is not to J.R.R. Tolkien)…” 

And this nugget was spotted in U.S. v. Schilling:

“With nearly as much trepidation as Frodo must have felt when he embarked on his journey to Morodor [sic], this federal court begins its ascension up a similarly foreboding, albeit “legal,” summit arising out of a land dispute between the United States and its Agency…”

We would have loved to see reference to “overly litigious hobbitses,” but sadly that search turned up empty.

We’ve got a while before The Hobbit movies come out, but did you know that New Zealand Parliament passed legislation to keep production of the movies in their country? You can read about it here.

Highlighting new books at the Law Library, part 1

For the next few weeks we will be highlighting new books at the Law Library which may prove useful to you.  Today’s focus is on a superb guide to legal composition. 

Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review
By Eugene Volokh
New York, NY: Foundation Press, 2010
Law Study Skills Collection KF250 .V65 2010

Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review by Eugene Volokh is written for law students doing scholarly writing, and provides detailed instructions for every aspect of the writing process.  Major sections in the book cover seminar term papers, researching, writing, using evidence correctly, cite-checking others’ articles, publishing and publicizing, entering writing competitions, and getting on law review.  This edition also includes examples drawn from student notes, and detailed explanations of the examples – what worked, what didn’t, and how they can be improved.  It has three useful appendixes as well: clumsy words and phrases, answers to exercises, and sample cover letters (for such things as sending your article to law reviews). 

This new edition of Academic Legal Writing has gotten rave reader reviews.  One reviewer had these words of praise for the book:   “Unlike many how-to books in any field, Academic Legal Writing doesn’t waste time recycling conventional wisdom or dabbling too much in abstract talk of standards. It is full of fresh insights and eminently practical advice about the whole process of academic legal writing, from thesis selection to publication. An under-praised but no less valuable advantage of Volokh’s book is that it channels a genuine enthusiasm for legal scholarship that I found completely contagious. Writing a law review article is a grueling, difficult, and sometimes tedious process. I can be sure that the quality of my article improved drastically simply because Academic Legal Writing kept me motivated by holding up the image of a superb article and its value to the writer and to the scholarly community.”

If you are currently working on your seminar writing requirement, graduation writing requirement, or law journal note, Academic Legal Writing will be an excellent resource for you.  Also consider reading it if you are a 1L interested in joining one of the law journals on campus, as it offers information about write-on competitions, including what you should do before the competition starts and where to focus your energy once you begin writing.

Court Case Asks if “Big Brother” Is Spelled GPS

In November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, characterized by Adam Liptak in a New York Times* article as the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade.  In fact, judges have been asking is George Orwell’s 1984 here!  Do changes in technology that can track our every move require changes to existing Fourth Amendment privacy doctrine?  At issue, which the lower courts are divided on, is whether police need a warrant to attach a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to a suspect’s car. 

*Initially published on Saturday, September 10, but republished on front page of the Sunday, September 11th NYT.

Scalia and Kagan are doing it – how about you?

In a recent C-SPAN interview, Justice Elena Kagan mentioned that she uses a Kindle to read briefs.  Justice Antonin Scalia has stated that he uses an iPad for the same purpose.  It’s not only Supreme Court justices who are using tablets, however; lawyers are also increasingly using e-readers and iPads in their legal practice.  An Arizona Republic article from July profiles two Phoenix attorneys who are employing iPads to better communicate with clients, and discusses how attorneys are utilizing tablets during court appearances.  Attorney Josh Barrett has even published a blog titled Tablet Legal, which discusses “use of Apple’s iPad by lawyers and in the legal profession.” 

It seems that tablet use has really caught on in the legal community, and has the potential to influence the way members of the community work.  How will this effect law schools and their students, however?  Perhaps casebooks will be available in digital versions?  Some publishers are already working towards this.  Aspen Publishers currently offers its CrunchTime series and Casenote Legal Briefs as eBooks.  West Publishing also allows West publications available via WestlawNext to be delivered to the Kindle.   The American Bar Association has also embraced the digital revolution and released a free iPad application for the ABA Journal. 

We will see what the future holds for the role of tablets in legal practice, and in schools preparing future legal practitioners.  How has a tablet been useful, if at all, to you as a student?  Or perhaps you have utilized one in an externship or summer job?  Would you like having casebooks and supplements available to you digitally?


The West Digest System

One of the most often asked questions this time of year is about digests and how to use them. The digest system is designed by West Publishing. West organizes the law into over 400 subjects and assigns those subjects “topic numbers.” Within those topics are subtopics which West has assigned key numbers. It is organized like an outline, with points and sub-points. It is no more complicated than that other than how many key numbers the editors manage to include! The idea is that once you have a topic number and a key number you can access another west digest and find cases regarding the same legal subject. 

To use the digest in print, start with the “Descriptive Word Index” volumes located at the tail end of the volumes. Remember to think of keywords and synonyms. Note any topics and key numbers and then look them up in the main volumes. The main volumes are arranged alphabetically by subject and the subject alphabetical ranges (not all subjects) are on the spine of each volume. Also, remember to check the pocket parts for any updates.

The digest is also available on Westlaw. Select the “KEY NUMBERS” link on the top of any page to go directly to the key number search page.  You have 3 options. First, you can enter keywords to search for related topics and key numbers. Second, you can browse the entire outline of topics and key numbers by clicking on the “West Key Number Digest Outline”. Clicking on a key number results in a list of headnotes including KeyCite indicators with links to cases. Third, you can launch a key search. You can also easily change jurisdictions searched by using the pop-up menu on the page.Thomson-West has more information about its key number system at

You can also listen to or read a transcript of CALI”s LibTour on West’s Digests.