Monthly Archives: September 2021

Speedy and Thorough: Research Tips for Time-Squeezed 1Ls

The best legal research is that which you can do fast and do well (the first time!). Like you, our JD reference librarians first sharpened their legal research skills in their 1L legal research and writing class, and have learned a lot since then through years of practical research on the job. Here are their top tips for conducting efficient and comprehensive legal research:

Seek secondary sources: Secondary sources on your legal issue can quickly set you on the right path for your research. Not only can they provide a quick explanation of the law and an overview of the factors courts consider in deciding on those legal issues, but they list primary law that you will want to analyze. It’s tempting to want to “save time” by diving into the statutes and case law directly, but a little advance reading can make research a lot faster, easier, and more complete.

For statutes, start by looking at the statute, and find Notes of Decisions as well as secondary sources from there: Underneath the statutory text, Lexis will break apart the statute into the key legal issues it addresses. If you find one of the issues that your memo is intended to address, you get a quick, one-line summary of a judicial interpretation of the statute, along with a link to a case that could be super-relevant. In Westlaw, you can find similar information in the Notes of Decisions tab at the top of the page. The Notes of Decisions are summaries of important cases that discuss the statute or regulation in question and are organized by topic. You can also navigate in Westlaw to helpful secondary sources that will collect relevant case law, such as the ALR Library, underneath the Context & Analysis tab.

For relevant case law, use headnotes and KeyCite rather than trying to “Google” everything: Attorney editors at Lexis and Westlaw have analyzed cases and the legal issues they contain and have grouped together related authority to help legal researchers perform faster, more thorough research than keyword searching alone. In Westlaw, KeyCites will arrange the legal areas and issues that a headnote addresses, from general to specific. Click on the KeyCite codes for more relevant authority. In Lexis, when you find your legal issue, you can click “Shepardize – Narrow by this Headnote” to find more relevant authority.

Look for ambiguities: A lot of the most interesting discussions in law come in the gray areas—where the law and the facts are not entirely settled or clear. This “it depends” territory can create interesting analytical puzzles for you to solve in your memo: you will want to show that you can see both sides to an argument, and you will want to demonstrate the critical reasoning skills to form a solid conclusion.

CREAC tips: When you’re explaining a precedent case, it may not be enough to list the facts the court considered and tell the reader how the court ruled. You want to analyze why the court ruled the way it did on a variety of factors. Contrasting and comparing the facts in your writing prompt will then much more clearly indicate to the reader whether or not a particular ruling will further the legal principle at issue.

We are here to help. Meet with a Librarian today!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Chained Books

Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, an English judge, published a compilation of English cases in 1516, seeking to reconcile medieval common law with a rapidly changing society. The Ross-Blakley Law Library owns a 1577 copy of this book, titled La Graunde Abridgement; a digitized version of the book is also available on HeinOnline.

One of the many interesting features of the Law Library’s copy of La Graunde Abridgement are the holes in the front and back cover.  These holes allowed the book to be secured within an English medieval “chained library”; through the holes, a metal clip was riveted to an iron chain and ring, which in turn was attached to an iron rod secured to a bookshelf or reading desk by a hasp and padlock. 79 Scientific American 122 (1898). The books were chained
upright with inward-facing spines so that they could be pulled from the shelves and consulted at a nearby table, without having the chain removed. Dymphna Byrne, 37 History Today 5 (1987).

Books were chained at this point in time due to their rarity and value; it was not until the mid-eighteenth century, as book-printing became less expensive and more common, that religious and academic libraries in England stopped chaining their books. Id. at 6. One of the oldest chained libraries in England, and one of the few still in existence, is the Hereford Cathedral chained library, pictured below.

https://www.herefordcathedral.org/chained-library

A video about the Hereford Cathedral chained library, narrated by Cathedral Librarian Dr. Rosemary Firman, can be viewed on the YouTube page of History West Midlands. In addition, a short New York Times article from 1931 provides fascinating information about the 1920s restoration of the Hereford Cathedral chained library – the article is accessible via ASURITE here.

Finally, we cannot leave this look at our 1577 law book without remarking upon the marginalia within it – it seems that the practice of making notes in the margins of law books dates back at least to the sixteenth century!

Making the Most of Midterms

Midterm season is just around the corner. Midterms are your crystal ball showing your future exam-taking self and a window to the essence of your learning style. They can be incredibly helpful to inform and adjust your study habits to achieve your academic apotheosis in December. Some students take them without much extra study just to see how well they can do on regular, daily reading. But if you want to do some additional preparation for midterms, we have some tips to help you excel.

  1. Study aids for exam practice. The book Getting to Maybe has helped many budding lawyers learn to thrive in a field laden with slippery “it depends” answers instead of familiar, concrete facts. Crunch Time on Wolters Kluwer provides flow charts, multiple choice, short answer, and essay exam questions. West Academic provides Exam Pro practice questions for multiple-choice and essay exam practice, and Mastering the Exam for tips that will help you throughout law school. CALI offers podcasts featuring panels of experts on outlining, time management, exam prep, and the grading process.

  2. Take past exams to prepare. Thinking like a lawyer involves more than just repeating memorized knowledge. Unexpected scenarios will test your ability to apply and analyze the law. The Law Library’s Past Exams collection can help; even if it’s not from your professor, authentic issue-spotting exams from Sandra day O’Connor College of Law faculty offer invaluable practice in 1L and upper-level classes. 

  3. Refine your outline. Making an outline is probably the best way to study legal doctrine and make the connections between the rule of law and the court’s reasoning. ASU’s past outlines are most useful to check your own work as you process your notes and readings. Your class teaching assistant is a great resource for resolving discrepancies.

  4. Meet with a Law Librarian. Meeting with a librarian about your open memo can buy yourself valuable study time for other classes. We can help you navigate Westlaw and Lexis to find all relevant law efficiently and thoroughly.

  5. Breathe. Remember that no one exam will make or break your professional dreams, not even the ones you’ll take in December. Good luck!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Feeling the Rush? How the Law Library Can Help Save You Time

When you’re fighting against the clock and calendar, the Ross-Blakley Law Library can back you up. The JD reference librarians have been through the whole law school experience and know the best methods for conducting research efficiently and effectively, and they want to share those skills with you! Make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian and get help with any of the following tasks:

  • Midterm prep. We can tailor advice on study aids for your particular classes, whether you are a 1L looking for help with Criminal Law and Property or a 3L trying to master the Federal Rules of Evidence. And we have a bevy of materials to cater to every learning style. The Exam Pro series on West Academic puts learners to the test with challenging multiple choice or essay  questions and explanations of right and wrong answers. The Crunchtime series on Wolters Kluwer provides practice questions as well as flowcharts to help you visualize, for example, the intricacies of whether statements fall in the scope of hearsay and whether exceptions will enable them to be admitted in court. Our study aids subscriptions also include both audio and video resources for auditory and visual learners.

  • Research projects. If you are a 1L, we can offer feedback on your research process if you’re feeling stuck. If you’re in a seminar or writing an independent study paper or journal note, we can help you narrow down a topic and navigate the rich array of ASU Library research resources.

  • Job search. We can help you use cutting edge analytics tools and other efficient research strategies to help you crush your interviews for an externship or law firm placement.

  • Citation mastery. We know the Bluebook and can help you polish your citations to improve your grades or your publication chances.

Reference librarian meetings typically last about 30 minutes and can save you hours of research time, as well as help you approach your projects with more confidence and preparation.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Mindfulness and Mental Wellness in Law School

In the midst of a busy semester it may seem like you have no time for anything other than schoolwork, but it can be good for both body and soul to take a moment to clear your mind. The Ross-Blakley Law Library’s guide on Mindfulness and Mental Wellness in Law School is focused on resources that can help Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law students find mindfulness resources to relieve stress, focus their attention, and stay in control in difficult situations. It offers information about fully secular meditation practices, with resources to explain how and why it works, and how to incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine.

Regular meditation practice can reshape your mind in many ways, improving concentration, awareness, and compassion while reducing stress and anxiety. Even if you’re not regularly practicing, taking a break to breathe can help you manage in times of increased pressure. Here are instructions to get you started, adapted from The Anxious Lawyer co-author Jeena Cho on Above the Law:

  1. Sit on the floor or a cushion with your legs crossed in front of you, upright with your spine straight. Your arms should be relaxed with your hands resting on your knees. (Palms may face downward or upward depending on your preference.) Alternatively, you may sit in a chair with your legs uncrossed and your feet firmly on the floor. You can also meditate lying down if that is most comfortable.

  2. Close your eyes or allow their focus to soften, and take a deep breath or two. Feel your body make contact with your surroundings, and feel the tension in your shoulders relax as you exhale deeply.

  3. Pay attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of the air.

  4. Your mind will likely wander. Don’t fret or mentally reprimand yourself; visualize the thought dissipating and return your focus to your breath. Our brains are made to produce thoughts, and law students will have a lot on their minds, particularly around finals.

  5. Alternative methods of focusing the brain include mentally expressing gratitude, repeating a word or phrase, or focusing attention on sensations throughout the body.

  6. You can set a goal to meditation for 5 to 10 minutes or more, but even short, calming breaks can provide rest and peace.

For stress-relieving help with research related to your studies, memos, papers, or employment, make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Warming Up to Cold Calls: The Socratic Method

As a law student you experience the Socratic Method instructional model, which is based on the asking and answering of questions in class with the goal of stimulating critical thinking. 

The Law School Academic Support Blog has advice on turning the Socratic Method into a positive experience:

  • Predict: Think about the answers to questions you hear frequently in class while you are doing your class preparation.
  • Contextualize: Consider the case not only on its own, but in the context of other cases you’ve read and the development of legal doctrines.
  • Pause: A deep breath can be the difference between a well thought out answer and a blurted out mistake.
  • Relax: Your classmates are not judging you because they are busy taking notes, feeling relieved they are not on the spot, or preparing to answer next.

Here are more tips from the reference librarians at the Ross-Blakley Law Library.

  • Find your study aid: The law library offers a variety of guides so you can find a study strategy for your particular learning style and understand the cases before you go to class. Study aids may include more information than your professor’s syllabus covers, so don’t sweat the irrelevant stuff. Learn more about study aids hereNew Student Resource Guide: Study Materials and here How Do I Know Which Study Guides are Right for Me?
  • Case briefing: Whether you are highlighting, book briefing by marking the areas of text containing issue statements or the controlling rule, or composing marginalia as you study and write your case brief, focus on identifying the most important facts, rules, and the reasons for the court’s decision. Are you highlighting all the facts, or zeroing in on the key details? It’s a skill you can learn, and CALI provides a lesson on effective case briefing.
  • Active listening: Try to imagine how you would answer if you were on the hot seat when a classmate is talking. If you pay attention to what the professor tests your classmates on, you can give yourself an edge for finals week. Learn more about active listening here, Active Listening and here, Listening Skills in the Law School Classroom.
  • Meet with a Librarian: With JDs and experience instructing students, the reference librarians can help you find study aids and research strategies that will help you succeed in doctrinal and writing courses, even though they cannot help you interpret your cases. Make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian or contact us with questions: Ask a Law Librarian.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Research with Conviction: New Criminal Law Research Guide

United States criminal law is a complex beast, with variations among all states and the federal government. Researchers and advocates challenge criminal convictions at several stages of the criminal process. And heated criminal justice policy controversies pervade scholarly and popular literature.

The Ross-Blakley Law Library’s new Criminal Law Library Research Guide helps students, practitioners, and scholars navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system and the vast array of resources that explain and critique it.

To find primary law, researchers should turn to the Federal and National Criminal Law & Procedure and  Arizona Criminal Law guides. Treatises explain the effect of these criminal provisions in courts and synthesize the constitutional provisions and cases establishing the law of criminal procedure. Statistics and data on crime can assist scholars considering particular crimes and criminal issues.

For practitioners in Arizona and elsewhere, our Criminal Law and Postconviction Practice gathers resources including in-depth practice guides to explain how to handle various cases, as well as research databases providing law, courts’ rules, and legal news.

More focused, subject specific pages will be useful to researchers of particular aspects of the justice system. For example, anyone interested in how criminal victims can influence court proceedings will find information on victims’ rights, specialized legal services organizations, and policy debates in our Victims in Criminal Procedure guide.

Whether you are an intern seeking guidance on a criminal motion or an academic researcher delving into criminal justice policy, the J.D. holding reference librarians have the expertise to critique and guide your research. Click on Meet with a Librarian to set up a one on one session with a research expert.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian