Local • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

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.

NEW EXHIBIT! Creating Community: Harvard Law School and the Bauhaus

2019 marks the centennial of the Bauhaus, and Harvard is celebrating! The Bauhaus, considered the twentieth century’s most influential school of art and design, has deep connections to Harvard, including the Harvard Law School. Did you know that Harvard’s first example of modern architecture is on the HLS campus and was designed by Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus? Or that Gropius commissioned Bauhaus pioneers to create site-specific artwork for the buildings? Come explore HLS’s connection to the Bauhaus and its role in shaping campus life.


Harvard Graduate Schools Alumni Day Luncheon on Jarvis Field, with Graduate Center and World Tree Sculpture in Background. Walter R. Fleischer, Harvard University News Office, June 1951, Photographs of Alumni Groups, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections

Harvard Graduate Schools Alumni Day Luncheon on Jarvis Field, with Graduate Center and World Tree Sculpture in background. Walter R. Fleischer, Harvard University News Office, June 1951, Photographs of Alumni Groups, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections


This exhibit was curated by Karen Beck and Lesley Schoenfeld, Historical & Special Collections. It is on view daily 9 to 5 from February 4 – July 31, 2019 in the HLS Library’s Caspersen Room, Langdell Hall. A sampling of the exhibit is available online.

Be sure to visit all of Harvard’s Bauhaus-related exhibits, tours, and events happening in 2019!   #bauhausatHLS; #bauhaus100


Harvard Law School Students at an Orientation Party on Jarvis Field with Caspersen Center in background, 26 August 2016, Martha Stewart, photographer, HLS Communications

Harvard Law School Students at an Orientation Party on Jarvis Field with Caspersen Student Center in background, 26 August 2016, Martha Stewart, photographer, HLS Communications


Need a Study Break? We’ve Got a Guide For That

As the end of the semester approaches and you begin prepping for exams, don’t forget to also take time for the occasional study break! If you can’t decide what to do or you aren’t familiar with the area, we have a helpful guide that includes free activities around Boston, suggestions for fun movies and books, and even tips on health and wellness on campus. Whether you want to go for a bike ride or start meditating, we’ve got you covered! And, check back often because we’ll be adding new ideas all the time.

Halloween and the Law: A Round Up of Links


Photo by Just Us 3

In honor of Halloween, many lawyers, librarians and bloggers have been considering the legal implications of Halloween-related topics. Here are some of our favorites:

For those interested in the actual laws surrounding Halloween and the Paranormal, check out these sources:

Hopefully these sources will give you a fun insight into how law and Halloween intersect. Feel free to post any examples we may have missed in the comments!

Qualtrics Survey Tool

Qualtrics, introduced to campus by our own HLS faculty, is a user-friendly survey tool that allows for a wide variety of question and answer types. Qualtrics provides

  • Professionally designed templates
  • A wide range of question types
  • Skip/branch logic
  • Distribution to select panels of e-mail recipients or via anonymous links
  • Custom reports updated as new responses are received
  • Response data in several formats, including CSV, HTML, XML, and SPSS

Log in to begin your survey or poll at http://surveytools.harvard.edu

For questions, contact the Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Solutions group attlc@lists.law.harvard.edu, or contact the Qualtrics 24/7 support directly at support@qualtrics.com or call 800-340-9194 (9am–8pm EST).


The Fine Art of Being a Lawyer

There’s an art to being a good lawyer, but did you know that lawyering could also be art?

In the late 1980s, choreographer Ann Carlson worked with four young lawyers from New York to create the dance  Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore.

Still from Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore

Image courtesy Boston MFA (www.mfa.org)


According to a 1989 New York Times review,

The nine-minute dance places the four men in a small confining square where they bend, tilt and perform typical lawyers’ gestures and other autobiographical gestures, spoken phrases and even screams suggested by the events and emotions in their own lives and in the life of Ms. Carlson. –Read More


Twenty years later, Carlson collaborated with artist Mary Ellen Strom to turn the dance into a video art work.

In a video produced by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mary Ellen Strom describes Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore as both  a “very serious and deep investigation into these four men and our realtionship to the juridical system” and “hilarious”. – Watch the full video of Mary Ellen Strom.


Take a break from your studies and see Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore and other seriously hilarious, hilariously serious, and otherwise inspiring art in the new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art at the MFA ( free with your Harvard ID).


OpenCourt Streams Quincy District Court Proceedings

Starting earlier this week, court proceedings from Quincy District Court have been streaming live over the internet thanks to OpenCourt, a new pilot program being run by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station with funding from the Knight News Challenge.  The goal of the project is to increase openness and transparency of courts and to serve as a model for other courts that are hoping to modernize.  While not all proceedings will be broadcast (among others, juvenile sessions and restraining order hearings won’t be broadcast), this will provide a window into a number of different kinds of court proceedings.  And, even if you aren’t interested in watching the court proceedings, the OpenCourt Guidelines and FAQ provide some very interesting background on the types of issues they encountered starting this project and the difficult decisions they had to make along the way.

In addition to the streaming video of court proceedings, the OpenCourt website also includes a blog and a resources page.  You can also sign up for their email newsletter or  follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Support the Massachusetts State Library!

When you are doing serious legislative history on Massachusetts law, or need an obscure Massachusetts government document, there is one place to go: the State Library of Massachusetts. Since 1826, the State Library has collected a wide variety of legal and historical documents, and holds the most world’s comprehensive collection of Massachusetts government documents. Yes, even better than Harvard’s! The library is an invaluable resource not just to lawyers, but to historians, scholars, and citizens as well.

This is why it was worrying to read that Governor Patrick last week included the possibility of closing the State Library in his attempt to close the state’s budget gap.

If you agree that closing the State Library is a bad idea, please sign the petition to support keeping it open. For even more impact, take a few minutes to contact Governor Patrick directly to remind him what an important resource the library is.

A Little Local History: Cambridge Site Selected

Cambridge seal Today marks the 378th anniversary of the site selection for the city of Cambridge. At the time, it was named Newtowne, and would be the colony capital for a total of six years. In 1638, the General Court moved permanently to Boston, but, according to state history website Mass Moments, the General Court gave Newtowne a “consolation prize”: the colony’s first college. Not bad, as far as consolation prizes go! Newtowne was renamed for the alma mater of many of its English clergymen in May of 1638.

Here’s a contemporary description of Cambridge written by William Wood in a 1634 report to inform English puritans at home about New England:

This is one of the neatest and best compacted towns in New England, having many fair structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants, most of them, are very rich and well stored with cattle of all sorts, having many hundred acres of ground paled in with one general fence which is about a mile and a half long, which secures all their weaker cattle from the wild beasts.

A few things have changed since then. I haven’t seen any cattle–though being fairly new to the area, it’s possible they’re hiding somewhere–and the only creatures I’d qualify as wild beasts are the fat squirrels in Holmes Field!

For more local history, check out Mass Moments, a project of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. Courtesy of Google Books, you can also read William Wood’s complete account of the area, New England’s Prospect, described as “a true, lively, and experimental description of that part of American, commonly called New England; discovering the state of that Countrie, both as it stands to our new-come English Planters; and to the old Native Inhabitants. Laying downe that which may both enrich the knowledge of the mind-travelling Reader, or benefit the future Voyager.”

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