Legal Research & Research Skills • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

New Research Guide: Critical Legal Studies

My new research guide on Critical Legal Studies was published today. It is available at
https://guides.library.harvard.edu/critical-legal-studies.

The guide features selected books and other resources, along with pre-populated HOLLIS library catalog searches using relevant subject and general keywords, for each of the following topics:

  • Critical Race Theory
  • Latina/o/x Critical Theory
  • Asian Critical Theory
  • Critical Indigenous Studies
  • Critical Whiteness Studies
  • Feminist Legal Theory
  • Queer Legal Theory
  • Critical Disability Theory
  • Intersectionality
  • Critical Discourse Analysis

I spent several months creating this guide, and it was an enlightening and worthwhile project. Of course, I learned a lot about critical legal studies itself, never having taken a class that falls under this discipline. However, perhaps more importantly, I also discovered much about my own biases and pre-conceptions. My work on this guide compelled me to think critically and carefully about the language we use to describe these concepts in law, and how that language, while it may be helpful in finding materials in a library catalog, might be offensive or othering to researchers.

I hope that people will find this guide to be a helpful introduction to research in this vitally important field of study. I also hope that it provides a useful gateway to the enormous amount of critical studies resources, including books, journals, articles, and other items, in the Harvard Law Library’s collection and those of the other libraries here at Harvard.

Today at HLS: Prepare to Practice Conference – Keynote Speech by Professor Daniel Coquillette

Taking place at Harvard Law School today is the 2019 Inaugural Prepare to Practice Conference, a joint initiative between the HLS Library and four other local law schools (Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, and Suffolk). This conference is designed to provide Boston-area law students with legal research instruction oriented toward their future roles as practicing attorneys.

The conference featured an excellent keynote speech by Professor Daniel Coquillette, the J. Donald Monan, S.J. University Professor at Boston College and the Charles Warren Visiting Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School. Professor Coquillette began his remarks by recognizing and thanking the law librarians who have helped him throughout his career as an attorney, law professor, and researcher. He characterized law librarians as “your very best friend and the ones who will see you through to the end.”

Professor Coquillette then provided a brief history of legal research, beginning with the observation that, since Gutenberg invented movable print in 1455, it has been possible to print absolutely accurate law books, which has transformed how law is studied and practiced. In particular, this facilitated several important developments in modern legal systems, primary among which is “precedent justice.”

He then noted that, until about 20 years ago, legal research happened exclusively in the law library, where all of the important primary and secondary legal sources lived and from which they could not be borrowed. Historically, law students wrote research notes by hand, and then, when he was a law student, using a portable typewriter. In addition, in order to find materials in the library, researchers had to use the card catalog, which featured an indexing system that many library users were unable to navigate and use without the help of a librarian.

All of this changed with the invention of online legal research. Today, he noted, Westlaw and Lexis provide essentially intuitive access to all of the primary and secondary sources that legal researchers would need, with automated, hyperlink-equipped citators that make the pain of having to use books to Shepardize cases a distant memory.

Professor Coquillete contended that, while on the surface this appears to have made legal research easier, it has also presented a new set of challenges. Today, if you want the legal information equivalent of a glass of water, you go to what is essentially a fire hydrant to fill that glass, and a lot of what is coming out of that fire hydrant lacks quality. Quality, of course, is expensive — ask any law librarian whose responsibilities include managing a library budget. Furthermore, information that has not been screened to determine its quality may, in fact, be as good as useless. This is a major problem of what he calls the modern “disinformation age,” and why the continued work of law libraries is so important to legal practice and scholarship.

According to Professor Coquillette, even if legal researchers have quality information, they also need two important skills to process it. The first is critical judgment, which is a skill that can be learned, both through experience and one-on-one mentorship. Without critical judgment, which allows a person to see the essence of a problem and craft a reasonable response to it, even quality information can be dangerous. The second is wisdom, which can also be characterized as perspective and seeing the big picture. This is stored in the culture of our systems of law and democracy, and is passed on through both people and books.

According to Professor Coquillette, it is easier than ever to lose sight of the big picture in our digital world of instant knowledge and instant gratification. One way in which people can regain it, however, is to read: not only legal materials, but also classic novels. As a conclusion to his remarks, Professor Coquillette recommended three books in particular that provide guidance on how we can critically view some of the largest problems of our time.

The first of these problems is climate. Professor Coquillette suggested reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville. In your reading, imagine that the ship (the Pequot) is human government and at the helm is Captain Ahab, a crazy megalomaniac who, despite all reasonable warnings not to, decides to take on the natural world as symbolized by a great white whale. Spoiler alert: the Pequot is destroyed, and Captain Ahab dies.

Racism is another great problem of our age, and Professor Coquillette recommended reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to gain a bigger picture of that problem. The story presents, in code, a true picture of racism’s destructive impact on people and societies.

Problem number three is that of living and working in what he called “coercive environments.” This problem, in particular, comes with the territory in the legal profession. Professor Coquillette proposed reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison for guidance on contemplating this problem in a big-picture way. The theme of this book is that, if you get to the point where people see you for what they assume you should be, they see right through you and you become invisible and disappear, a phenomenon characterized by Professor Coquillette as a “moral sickness” of our age.

Professor Coquillette is a very engaging speaker, and his keynote was a perfect way to kick off this conference. Not only did it remind attendees of the value of law libraries and librarians as partners in the legal research process, but it also encouraged students to incorporate critical judgment as they work toward becoming attorneys who are charged with addressing and solving large- and small-scale societal problems.

Upcoming Event at the Harvard Law School Library: Prepare to Practice Inaugural Legal Research Conference 2019

We are looking forward to hosting our first Prepare to Practice Legal Research Conference for law students next Tuesday, May 21, 8:30am – 4:30pm. We are teaming up to four other Boston-area law schools (Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern and Suffolk) to offer this full-day event, which focuses on getting students up to speed on research methods for fact-finding, corporate law, immigration, and many other topics.

The conference will feature speakers from firms, courts, non-profits, and law schools. Student attendees will also also have the chance to speak with legal database providers about some of their latest and greatest services!

A complimentary continental breakfast and lunch will be provided. The conference will conclude with a networking reception in the ​Harvard Law School Library.

Are you a Boston-area law student who is interested in attending? Attendee spots are still available, and we would love to have you join us! To register, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/prepare-to-practice-inaugural-legal-research-conference-2019-tickets-57800959225.

Law Library Adds the Mueller Report to the Collection

U.S. politics has been abuzz since the recent release of a report by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which details findings of a two-year investigation into possible Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have made the entire Mueller Report available online.  It can also be downloaded from the Special Counsel’s page on the Department of Justice’s website (archived at https://perma.cc/C24U-HCME).

The internet can be great for accessing documents, and terrible for reading and processing them.  Have you tried, and given up, reading the Mueller Report on your computer or, worse yet, on your phone?  Is your printing account credit too low to print the 400+ pages of the report yourself?  If you are a Harvard Law School affiliate, you’re in luck. You can check out a copy of the Mueller Report, printed and bound by the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, from the law library’s reserve collection

Further Research: Trump Administration

Perhaps, after perusing the Mueller Report, you would like to read more about Trump and his presidency?  If so, you may find this Harvard Library catalog (HOLLIS) search useful:

HOLLIS Search: Subject = “Trump, Donald, — 1946-“

There is also a helpful HOLLIS search for materials on the US government in general since Trump’s election:

HOLLIS Search: Subject = “United States — Politics and Government — 2017-“

Further Research: Investigations by the Justice Department’s Special Counsel’s Office

The office that issued the 2019 Mueller Report is the U.S. Justice Department’s Special Counsel’s Office. Its historical precursor, the Office of the Independent Counsel, was established under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-521). In the late 1990s, under the auspices of this office, Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr investigated potential misconduct by President Bill Clinton. That investigation led to Clinton’s impeachment, and ultimate acquittal.

In 1999, the law that governed the Office of the Independent Counsel expired. However, under Department of Justice regulations that went into effect on July 1, 1999 (64 Fed. Reg. 37038; codified at 28 C.F.R. §§ 600.1-600.10), the Attorney General gained the authorization to appoint a Special Counsel to conduct a similar type of investigation that the Independent Counsel used to perform. According to the regulations, the Special Counsel is required to “investigate and, when appropriate, to prosecute matters when the Attorney General concludes that extraordinary circumstances exist such that the public interested would be served by removing a large degree of responsibility for a matter from the Department of Justice.”

Important Note:
The Justice Department’s Special Counsel Office is not the same as the federal government’s
Office of the Special Counsel.  Under 5 U.S.C. §§ 1211-1219, the Office of the Special Counsel is part of a federal government oversight regime, which also includes the Merit Systems Protection Board, established under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-454).

For more information about the history of the special/independent counsel, there is an excellent description on the PBS Frontline website, A Brief History of the Independent Counsel Law. For a more in-depth treatment of the topic, the Congressional Research Service has published a thorough, well-annotated report that was updated in March 2019 — Special Counsel Investigations: History, Authority, Appointment, and Removal.

Interested in finding additional books and articles about the history of investigations into misconduct by U.S. politicians? Below are some HOLLIS searches to get you started.

New Research Guide: Law and Society

As I suspect is the case with many academic research librarians, I have several research guides that are “in progress.” Therefore, it is always exciting to finish one!  My latest guide, published today, is on Law and Society research (https://guides.library.harvard.edu/law-and-society).

I really enjoyed working on this guide, because, to me, multidisciplinary research is the ultimate exercise in language and semantics.  Legal scholars and sociology scholars may use completely different vocabulary to refer to and describe what may, in essence, be very similar concepts.  As a librarian, I have to figure out how to bridge those two vocabularies together so that searches for library materials are optimized for relevance.

Librarians spend a lot of time in the social science literature in library school; however, practicing academic law librarians rarely get a chance to look at much beyond legal periodicals and treatises.  This is too bad, because the literature in anthropology, sociology, linguistics, political science, history, philosophy, economics, and other areas can really help a researcher gain an understanding of law in a broader sense.  These disciplines can provide a framework for legal scholars to craft difficult, yet important, questions about law.  How does society benefit from law?  How does law contribute to the development of a community?  How should and do our understandings of history and ethics inform the development of a legal system?  In a societal sense, what does “justice” or “rule of law” mean, both theoretically and practically? What is the linguistic and social significance of legal terms of art?

If you are curious about the ways in which such questions can be addressed, I hope this new research guide can help direct you to library resources that are interesting and informative.  As always, I welcome your feedback.

New Research Guide: Researching “Civil Law” Topics at the HLS Library

Over the last several months, I have been working on a research guide that, hopefully, will help bridge one of the gaps that researchers from civil law jurisdictions face when they do legal research in the United States.  The guide, Researching “Civil Law” Subjects at the Harvard Law School Library, was published today, and can be found at https://guides.library.harvard.edu/civil-law.

I designed this resource to provide suggested searches for topics that are normally covered in the civil code in a civil law jurisdiction:

  • Picture of a paperback copy of the German civil code that features many colorful tabs on the pages on the side.Legal Obligations under Contract and Tort
  • Family Law
  • Property Law
  • Law of Succession
  • Remedies

While I was working on this project, I really tried to channel my civil-law self, and my heavily-used copy of the German Civil Code (pictured at right) came in very handy during this process.

The guide provides links to pre-populated searches, by subject, of the Harvard Library HOLLIS catalog.  Searching by subject keyword is a great way to make sure that you are finding materials across multiple languages during your search.

The challenge, of course, is that there is not one single, all-encompassing controlled vocabulary for subject keywords across all types of materials.

What does that mean?  When cataloging books, our library catalogers generally use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) controlled vocabulary.  However, library catalogers do not catalog individual periodical articles too, of course.  Unfortunately, there is not a similar controlled vocabulary for all periodical articles across all journals and databases — at least not one that I’ve found.  So “subject” keywords can technically be assigned by anyone — authors, editors, database administrators, etc., which means that multiple subject keywords may be used to represent the same concept.

So what’s the big deal about that?  Since, as of a few years ago, HOLLIS can be used to search for both books AND periodical articles, it can be hard to feel assured that you’ve found everything that is relevant to your research when searching by subject.  This is why I have included both LCSH and non-LCSH subject keyword searches — as many as I could think of that are relevant.  I readily admit that the guide is still a work in progress, and that I will likely find and add many additional subject searches as I discover them.

I hope civil law researchers find the guide to be helpful, and welcome any comments and feedback.

Administrative Law Research: The Department of Education’s Proposed Title IX Rule

On November 16, 2018, a press release was issued by the U.S. Department of Education announcing a proposed new rule related to Title IX.  The press release includes links to the proposed rule in its entirety, as well as a one-page summary and a section-by-section summary.

Title IX is a federal law under which sex-based discrimination is prohibited in educational institutions that receive federal funding.  This law is codified under 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688.  Any federal agency that “extend(s) Federal financial assistance to any education program or activity” is authorized to promulgate rues and regulations related to Title IX enforcement (20 U.S.C. § 1682).

The new rule has been crafted to incorporate what the Department of Education views as additional due process and fairness protections for parties who are involved in Title IX complaints in schools.  These include the introduction of hearings in which people who testify can be subject to cross-examination.  It also seeks to clarify the definition of sexual harassment in a Title IX context, and to specify when a school is and is not required to investigate alleged incidents of sexual harassment.

The federal Administrative Procedure Act requires, with certain exceptions, that federal agencies use a notice and comment rulemaking process when creating new federal rules and regulations.  This section of that federal statute has been codified at 5 U.S.C. § 553.  In accordance with this requirement, the Department of Education issued a notice in the Federal Register of its intent to promulgate its new Title IX rule, and invited the public to make comments on it.  This notice was published on November 29, 2018, and can be found at 83 Fed. Reg. 61432.

The online venue for submitting public comments for many federal regulations is the government’s regulations.gov website.  Since this proposed rule was posted to this site, under the document number ED-2018-OCR-0064-0001, there have been nearly 100,000 comments submitted.  Today, on the final day of the comment period, three members of the Harvard Law School faculty, Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen, Judge Nancy Gertner, and Professor Janet Halley added their voices to this conversation, and submitted a detailed comment on the proposed rule.  They have made this comment available for public view at https://perma.cc/3F9K-PZSB.

In their comment, these faculty members, “who have researched, taught, and written, on Title IX, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and feminist legal reform,” outline the aspects of the proposed rule with which they agree and those with which they disagree.  Among their concerns are the proposed cross-examination mechanism for Title IX hearings.  They also object the proposed rule’s definition of the “deliberate indifference” standard used to determine a school’s legal obligation to respond to sexual harassment.  Additionally, they believe that the rule should mandate that sexual harassment claim inquiries focus on the “threat of harm” and consider the interests of both complainants and respondents.

As they mentioned, all three authors of this comment have written on the topic before.  Professor Halley published a 2015 article about Title IX in the Harvard Law Review Forum, Trading the Megaphone for the Gavel in Title IX EnforcementProfessor Suk Gersen published “Betsy DeVos, Title IX, and the ‘Both Sides’ Approach to Sexual Assault”  in the New Yorker in 2017.  A piece by Judge Gertner, “Sex, Lies and Justice: Can We Reconcile the Belated Attention to Rape on Campus with Due Process?” appeared in the American Prospect in 2015.

The collections of the Harvard Library include a number of books and journals about topics related to Title IX, such gender discrimination in educational settings (HOLLIS library catalog search) and sexual harassment in educational settings (HOLLIS library catalog search).  For more information about the notice and comment rulemaking process, run this HOLLIS library catalog search to view a list of books that discuss the Administrative Procedure Act.

Researching Dockets and Court Filings

Happy new year!  I hope you had some wonderful, relaxing time off for the holidays and are getting ready to hit the ground running in 2019.

As many legal researchers know, researching court dockets to find criminal complaints and other filings can be frustrating and time-consuming.  While the subscription database BloombergLaw (https://www.bloomberglaw.com/) and its comprehensive docket database (including dockets for many state courts) has made docket research much easier than it used to be, it is always helpful to find a resource where this work has been done on the topic you are interested in already.  After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

I recently found a great example of this.  The George Washington University Program on Extremism (https://extremism.gwu.edu) has created an online database of “criminal complaints, indictments, affidavits, and courtroom transcripts detailing Islamic State-related legal proceedings.” The database is available at https://extremism.gwu.edu/cases.

This is a very helpful resource for researching U.S. judicial proceedings in which criminal charges have been filed against suspected terrorists.  This database is organized alphabetically by defendant name, and, as of this writing, it includes entries for 168 cases.  Access to the database and its materials is freely available online.  The browsing interface is very clean and straightforward, and the PDFs of the scanned documents are of good quality and highly legible.

Looking for more information in general about researching court filings?  Check out our Records, Briefs, and Court Filings Research Guide at https://guides.library.harvard.edu/recordsandbriefs.

Also, the Yale Law Library has an excellent Docket Research Guide at https://library.law.yale.edu/guides/docket-research.

 

Spotlight on Research: Looking Up Legal Terms of Art

Picture of a pile of legal dictionaries and encyclopediasLaw is full of legal terms of art that are used to express a specific thing or idea in a legal context.  While some may dismiss legal language as “legalese,” the words that lawyers and legal scholars use when talking about law are important because they communicate specific legal concepts, rather than general ideas.

Take, for example, a word like fraud.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fraud is an “intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right” or, more generally, “an act of deceiving or misrepresenting.”

A person can also be a fraud (suggested synonym: impostor).

If you look up the word “fraud” in a legal dictionary, the basic definition is largely the same.  However, that is not the end of the story.

The definition of “fraud” in the Bouvier Law Dictionary that sits on my desk is quite a bit longer than the Merriam-Webster definition.  According to Bouvier, a fraud can be “actual” (“affirmative statement of misrepresentation”) or “constructive” (when the actor, knowing that it will be relied upon by someone to his or her detriment, “conceals a fact or is silent regarding it”).  Fraud can be a criminal action, and it can also void a contract.

That said, not everything that people may think is “fraud” actually is.  According to Bouvier, “a statement that is too outlandish to be reasonably believed, one that requires illegal conduct in order to rely upon it, or one that is too general to be the basis for specific reliance may not be fraudulent.”

So, before a (good, responsible) lawyer tosses around a term like “fraud” or “fraudulent” to describe an action or a person, he or she should probably double-check its legal definition, especially since the use of that word may have legal implications in both civil and criminal contexts.  Because language is important to lawyers and legal scholars, we should know where to look up legal terms of art to make sure that we understand and are using them correctly.  The law library has a lot of resources for this type of research.

Legal dictionaries like the Bouvier Law Dictionary described above provide legal definitions of words and phrases.  Both the Westlaw and Lexis Advance subscription databases include legal dictionaries in their collections.  One of the most well-known American legal dictionaries, Black’s Law Dictionary, is available through Westlaw.  To access it, in the Westlaw home screen’s search box, start typing “Black’s Law Dictionary” and select it from the drop-down menu that appears below the search box.

Harvard’s libraries have more than 600 titles that are classified as legal dictionaries that were published in 2000 or later.  To view a list of them, run this HOLLIS search: subject = law AND dictionaries; date limit = 2000-2018; location limit = in library.

You will see, when you run this search, that many of the dictionaries are not in English.  Some of them are exclusively in another language, while others are multilingual legal dictionaries, which provide translations of legal terms.

Tip: Even if you were a  ______ (language) major in college, you might not know what a __________ word means when it is used in a legal context.  It is also not a good idea to blindly trust Google Translate to get it right.  If you want to be sure of its legal meaning, take the time to look it up in a legal dictionary.

While legal dictionaries are great for basic definitions, what if you need just a little bit more information — maybe not as long as a book or an article, but just a few more paragraphs to provide additional context?  This is the role that legal encyclopedias were created to fill.

Two well-known American legal encyclopedias are American Jurisprudence and Corpus Juris Secundum.  The law library has both of these encyclopedia sets in print in the main reading room; however, they have not been updated in a few years.  Fully updated versions of both are available electronically through Westlaw.

Legal encyclopedias can focus on a narrow area of law, or be quite broad.  They are published in many jurisdictions and languages.  Some are multidisciplinary, such as the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law, which is available in the Harvard Divinity School Library’s reference collection.

To view a list of the more than 200 legal encyclopedias in the Harvard libraries’ collections that have been published since 2000, run this HOLLIS search: subject = law AND encyclopedias, date limit = 2000-2018; location limit = in library.

Finally, a little story.  Right before I quit my former job to go to law school, the lawyer I worked for gave me a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary as a gift.  I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.  Now, however, I see the thoughtfulness of that choice.  He knew how important words are to lawyers, and that we must have the tools we need to make sure we’re using those words correctly.

Research at the Law Library

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Right now, it is exam period at the law school, and the law library is filled to capacity with studying law students.  During this time, with very limited exceptions, the law library is only open to current HLS affiliates and an HLS ID card must be shown to gain admission.  For more information, inquire at the circulation desk.  The telephone number is (617) 495-3455.

I recently gave a library tour to a group of conference attendees here at the law school.  Like many visitors of this nature, they asked me about opportunities to come and research at the law library.  So I thought I’d do a quick blog post about it, with links to the relevant websites that provide more information.

For general information about the law library’s admission policy, visit the Admission to the Library page on our website.  This page includes a link to the form that anyone who is not a Harvard student or a member of the Harvard staff or faculty must fill out to be admitted to the library, including HLS alumni.  The form requires you to indicate your affiliation information, and provides information about admission fees, if they are applicable to your situation.

If you have an academic affiliation, and are wondering whether you can access our library for research and how much, if anything, it would cost, this form will likely answer that question for you.  However, if you would like more more information, you may send an email to access@law.harvard.edu.

The HLS Graduate Program has a Visiting Scholar / Visiting Researcher Program, for which admission is competitive and which has admitted law professors and graduate students from all over the world to conduct research related to specified scholarly projects.  Participants in this program are in residence at the law school, which provides them admission to the law library, for either a semester or an academic year.

Finally, in each of the last several years, the law library’s Library Innovation Lab has sponsored a summer fellows program, during which fellows work on their own projects and on other projects in collaboration with Lab members.  The website does not have information yet about the 2019 summer fellows program, but stay tuned!

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