Monthly Archives: February 2022

New library guide helps researchers track changes in the legal landscape

Have you ever noticed small bells, envelopes, or concentric semicircular lines when performing legal research? Those symbols can help you make sure that you’re up to date, and our new library guide, Keeping Current, makes it even easier to navigate the many ways databases and websites help you track developments.

The law is not a static creature, quietly collecting dust like an ancient tome on a shelf. It’s a hyperdynamic beast constantly reinventing itself as judges rule, lawmakers legislate, and scholars publish.

The Keeping Current guide provides instructions, including video tutorials, on how to make sure the law is not running away from you as you research.

The cases tab highlights many of the most familiar resources to legal researchers, including Westlaw and Lexis. What may be less familiar to researchers are the tools for keeping track of new developments in courtrooms across the country. In Lexis, for example, all it takes is ringing a bell icon and following prompts to have peace of mind that you’ll be informed of new developments that may change the legal landscape of your topic. Bloomberg Law provides a robust dockets database in which researchers can track cases working their way through the legal system. Signing up for alerts can inform researchers of new filings and ensure they don’t overlook bombshell developments.

Many of these same tools are useful for tracking statutes, but our Statutes and Regulations tab also includes government resources that help researchers stay on top of any bills that may be under consideration that could upend the legal status quo. Congress.gov helps researchers with federal developments, while researchers with more locally oriented tasks will find similar bill tracking power through the Arizona State Legislature’s website.

The Scholarship tab goes far beyond traditional legal sources, providing ways to track new articles as they’re published in academic journals and new interdisciplinary resources as they enter the conversation in fields outside the law.

Finally, the RSS Feeds tab helps readers make use of the powerful alerting tool that requires an RSS reader but automatically delivers a bevy of useful information.

Keeping track of changes and thoroughly researching everything in one’s field is hard work, and sometimes a helping hand can come in handy. The Law Librarians are happy to discuss setting alerts, choosing topics to explore, and research strategies. Meet with a Librarian for expert advice from a JD holding reference librarian.

Slippery When Wet: New Library Books Examine the Always Smoldering Tensions of Water and the Law’s Efforts to Douse Them

Western Water Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court, James H. Davenport

Western Water Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court notes that in the early years of the twentieth century, the Western United States was a very different place. Water was scarce and battles over who could access it were fierce. The Supreme Court was the only forum weighty enough to take on questions about Western water rights, including a key question bubbling under the Laramie River between Colorado and Wyoming: do states have sovereign authority over the waters in their territories, or does the legal doctrine of prior appropriation, in which senior water appropriators outrank and can displace junior water appropriators of their claims, hold true in the West? This book takes a look at the historical backdrop of Western expansion and how access to water defined it in the decades before the turn of the twentieth century. It introduces important water law doctrines of the era, including prior appropriation, equitable apportionment, and interstate water compacts. It profiles the main Supreme Court Justice responsible for the consequential Wyoming v. Colorado case. Then it delves into the fight itself, the yearslong dispute over the Laramie River, and its momentous impact on water law for decades to come.

Fresh Water in International Law, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes

The types of disputes of that formed the basis of Western Water Rights are greatly magnified globally, where waterways may be shared by as many as seventeen countries. Fresh Water in International Law notes that fresh water is a shining example of human interdependence—water flows from jurisdiction to jurisdiction through a variety of natural phenomena, and some cooperation is necessary to prevent waste and spoilage and ensure that those who need it have access to enough fresh, clean, and alarmingly scarce water. In addition to the challenge of disputed uses, the book identifies threats such as climate change and overexploitation by modern society as threats to water security in areas around the globe. The book introduces the international and national governance mechanisms that govern water sources around the world. It explores the economic and environmental aspects of water as well as human needs, which leads some observers to call for a human right to water. The book closes on a note of conflict, which is common in matters of water: sharing such an essential resource is a difficult proposition, especially for countries increasingly straining to provide for their own citizens.

New Books Shine Critical Light on Plea Bargaining and Forensic Evidence

Plea Bargaining Made Real, Steven P. Grossman

This academic work by a law professor asks whether plea bargaining, which lacks many of the protections of a trial, adequately preserves the interests of justice. The author emphasizes that plea bargaining is a human process and that all of the actors—the prosecution, the defense, and the judge—have their own motivations for pleading out cases out before trial. Although the vast majority of criminal cases are settled in this way, most of the public’s interest is on criminal trials, not plea bargaining. And the author notes one major difference between trials and plea deals: whereas in trials the opposing sides will contest each other’s moves in almost every way, in plea bargaining the sides as well as the judge must necessarily agree on the final outcome, which can put defendants at risk. The book dismantles arguments for why a defendant should be punished more for pursuing the right to a trial rather than taking the typically more lenient sentence of a plea bargain. It examines the quasi contractual nature of a deal and what that means for the defendant, and it explores the ongoing problem of racial disparity, which is as prevalent in plea bargaining as elsewhere in the criminal justice system. To solve the problems, the author suggests that all three sides to a plea bargain reform their practices: The prosecutor should behave more fairly, the defense should advocate more zealously, and the judge should be more involved in negotiations.

Autopsy of a Crime Lab, Brandon L. Garrett

Although some evidence has long been treated as unquestionably certain, such as fingerprints, little scientific data has been shown to prove that evidence other than DNA—not even fingerprints—deserves this level of deference. Some recent cases have even shown that false accusations or even convictions flow from overreliance on the reliability of forensic evidence. We simply do not know how reliable many of these forensic techniques are, and questioning voices have gone largely unheard. Errors or even fraudulently conducted tests have happened across the country. The book examines suspect evidence, such as bite marks, used to accuse defendants, as well as the many ways evidence could be made unreliable, such as contamination by police at the crime scene or faulty techniques in laboratories. The stakes for such errors are high because most people are in government databases to which law enforcement compares forensic evidence, and we could wind up falsely accused. The book suggests ways to make forensics more reliable to diminish those risks, including disclosure of forensics error rates, quality control in laboratories, and scientific supervision of police crime scene work. It also suggests requiring judges to provide full disclosure of forensics facts and limitations to prosecutors and defense attorneys, particularly in the sensitive plea bargaining process, to prevent potential miscarriages of justice based on misconstrued forensic evidence.

For more controversies surrounding our criminal justice system, check out our research guide on Criminal Law. And for assistance with research projects, whether or not they involve criminal law, Meet with a Librarian for one on one advice from a JD holding reference librarian.

Making the Most of Midterms

Midterm season is just around the corner. Too soon, you say? They’re here to help you!

Midterms are your crystal ball showing your future exam taking self, and a window to the essence of your learning style. They may be more important in informing and adjusting your study habits to achieve your academic apotheosis in May than their nudge to your final grade. Some students have taken them without much extra study just to see how well they can do on just regular, daily reading. But, of course, many law students are type-A achievers, so here are some tips from the Ross-Blakley Law Library 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 Aspen 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. Meet with a Librarian about your open memo to buy yourself valuable study time for other classes: We can help you navigate Westlaw and Lexis to find all relevant good law efficiently and thoroughly.
  3. 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 library’s Past Exams archive can help; even if it’s not from your professor, authentic issue-spotting exams offer invaluable practice in Civ ProTortsContracts, and upper-level classes. (Of course, when you come across questions that might be clearly outside the scope of your class, don’t sweat them and move on!)
  4. 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 classes’ teaching assistants can help you resolve discrepancies.
  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!

Black History Month: New Library Books Examine History and Ongoing Issues for African Americans in Democracy

Two new books just added to the Ross-Blakley Law Library collection detail the struggle for improved equality for Black Americans in the American democratic system. One takes a historical look at the development of constitutional principles over the centuries since the U.S. Constitution’s enactment. The other posits that ongoing problems are preventing equality from flourishing in American society as some voices remain unheard in democratic decision-making. Both provide vital context for current social issues.

Donald G. Nieman, Promises to Keep (2020)

This revised edition is dedicated to constitutional and civil rights law begins with the origins of the United States and the problems with founding documents in establishing equality. The revolutionary ideals behind the movement for independence did not extend to African Americans, and the Constitution originally included a decidedly pro-slavery stance. Questions swirled over the citizenship status of Black Americans generally. Promises to Keep also examines the growth of equality principles that Black Americans helped enact as the Constitution developed over the decades leading to the American Civil War. Black Americans were key in ending slavery and producing the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, which promote civil rights and improve voting fairness throughout the United States. The book then turns to the resistance by Black Americans of subsequent Jim Crow measures designed to reduce the social standing of African Americans, as well as the efforts to keep people separated based on skin color until well into the twentieth century. Although Black Americans in the civil rights movement created large gains in the 1960s, ongoing problems included de facto segregation, discrimination, exclusion in privileged positions of society, and lack of voting access. Voting rights, mass incarceration, affirmative action, and police remain hot button issues yet to be solved that keep the dream of equality elusive into the era of Black Lives Matter.

Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (2002)

This academic work on democratic theory examines the machinery for progress (and hindrance) of racial equity: the true nature of democracy as it is practiced. Throughout, it incorporates the principles of critical theory, explaining how people are placed within structures in society and what that means for them, including segregation of not only race but class. The book develops a theme of inclusion and how to incorporate it within democratic systems that have not always been geared toward fully voicing the concerns of everyone in society. Alongside calls for greater integration of voices into the pollical sphere locally and nationally, it explores objections to prevailing notions of inclusivity and social justice, seeking a variety of viewpoints in the call for racial justice rather than an all encompassing dogma. It seeks to foster inclusive political communication and rebuild a politics that recognizes the importance of social difference and inequality.

Don’t overlook the MPRE: It’s your professional obligation to pass

While the MPRE, or Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, is the smaller and less grueling of the two exams required for admission to the bar in Arizona and most other states, failure to respect its significance can cost you valuable time.

The MPRE is administered only three times per year, in spring, summer, and fall, so students who miss the minimum 85 score required to pass in Arizona could face a long wait to retake it. And the spring and fall exams can become a burden in the middle of a law school semester. To help you avoid this potential speedbump, the Ross-Blakley Law Library has a Bar Exam and MPRE Resources Library Guide that highlights MPRE study resources and exam preparation courses.  

In addition to valuable resources in the print Study Skills collection on the third floor in front of the circulation desk, the library subscribes to online study resources to help you master legal ethics. Aspen offers Strategies and Tactics for the MPRE, which provides tips and dozens of practice questions to help you prepare for the two-hour MPRE, which includes sixty multiple choice questions. West Academic, for its part, offers an efficient resource for last minute MPRE preppers, The Weekend MPRE, which includes two full length practice exams.

For students seeking more depth in their knowledge pool of professional responsibility, CALI offers a series of lessons highlighting specific issues arising under the law governing lawyers. Aspen, in addition, provides detailed guidance in solving legal ethical problems in Examples & Explanations: Professional Responsibility.

For perhaps a preview of the bar exam preparation course to follow, a number of exam preparation companies offer free MPRE preparation courses (see box at top right). Finally, we have compiled Web resources including the full texts of the rules and commentary governing attorney and judicial conduct, as well as resources offering valuable advice on study and exam taking skills.

For additional help choosing materials to prepare for the MPRE, the bar exam, or law school exams or research projects in general, please Meet with a Librarian.

Hit the Books (and Databases) to Win Library Research Contest

The Ross-Blakley Law Library Award for Exemplary Student Research is not just any writing competition. As research experts, the librarians are looking for the best examples of effective gathering and synthesis of resources, in print or online.

Current 2Ls, 3Ls, MLS students, and LLM students are eligible to submit their entries. The top prize is $500 and a Certificate of Recognition, and second place receives $250 and a Certificate of Recognition. Winners also may publish their papers in the Ross-Blakely Faculty Scholarship Repository and gain exposure in the academic legal world.

Students must submit a minimum 3,750-word scholarly paper with citations in Bluebook format, written June 2021-March 2022. Entries must not be prepared for moot court, employment, or an Advanced Legal Research course, but they may be prepared for other course assignments, journal assignments, or graduate writing requirements. Students also must submit a 250- to 500-word description of their research process, which can include reasons for writing the paper, selection and execution of research methods, and lessons learned during the process. The abstract should not summarize the paper.

The selection criteria include sophistication, creativity and depth in the selection and use of research materials, innovation in research strategy, and skillful synthesis of research into a scholarly paper.

Applications must be submitted electronically via the online Submission Form. Submissions will be accepted on an ongoing basis until Monday, March 28, 2022 at 9:00 am.

Looking to get a leg up on the competition? Meet with a Librarian to get expert advice that can take your research game to the next level.

Black History Month: Law Library’s Racial Justice Guide Supports Researchers and Activists

The Ross-Blakley Law Library is no stranger to the movement for racial justice still progressing across the country. Librarians have compiled resources for researchers as well as information for demonstrators in our Racial Justice research guide.

We have compiled national as well as local organizations dedicated to the pursuit of racial justice. These organizations advocate for change either for particular demographic groups or for justice more generally. They include the national Black Lives Matter, which states that its mission is to “build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” The Black Youth Project, another national organization, mobilizes people ages 18-35 to create a more just world for all Black people. The NAACP is a coalition with a broad mission to improve economic and social equality and fight discrimination. All groups provide detailed information on their efforts and their goals, helping researchers find the most pressing matters in the fight for racial justice.

For those who take to the streets, we have handy guides to the rights of protesters and how to stay within the legal limits in their demonstrations. The state of Arizona imposes further regulations on protesters gathering at the state Capitol.

Along with more familiar research resources, including racial justice books and databases, the guide presents federal government resources on understanding and discussing racial issues.

And, for personal, one-on-one research advice dedicated to improving your particular project, schedule an appointment to Meet with a Librarian. We can help with topic selection, initial research, research troubleshooting, and even citation formatting.