legal research • 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 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.

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.

 

Welcome LL.M. Students!

Welcome to the nearly 200 LL.M. students who will be attending Harvard Law School this academic year!

Please visit the law library’s research services homepage to learn about all of the services the library’s research services team offers to the Harvard Law School community.

We are providing special library tours for LL.M. students over the next two weeks, and you can sign up for a tour on this page as well (under Upcoming Events).

Highlighting New Comparative Law Books in the Law Library’s Collection

Research librarians here in the law library spend a lot of time talking to LL.M. students about their paper topics every year.  Because so many students decide to write their LL.M. papers on comparative law topics, I like to write posts for our library blog about comparative law titles that I find in our collection that might be of interest to them.

In this post, I am highlighting one of our newest books on comparative company law.

International Handbook on Shareholders’ Agreements: Regulation, Practice, and Comparative Analysis
Editors: Sebastian Mock, Kristian Csach, and Bohnmil Havel
Published by DeGruyter, 2018
ISBN 9783110501568
View this book’s record in Harvard’s HOLLIS library catalog

According to the editors of this volume, shareholder agreements are “an integral part of company law and especially its legal practice.”  They are “traditionally dominated by contract law and not by company law”; however, it is sometimes the case that contract law lacks the depth to provide sufficient legal regulation of what can be complex legal situations and relationships, especially “in the case of cross-border shareholders’ agreements including shareholders from several jurisdictions.”

This volume attempts to fill that gap.  It begins with introductory chapters covering the differences between contract law and corporate law when it comes to shareholders’ agreements, the impact of shareholders’ agreements on how a company is managed, and as issues related to conflict of laws (private international law), corporate insolvency, and competition law.

The bulk of the book, however, is dedicated to reports on the relevant legal framework for shareholders’ agreements in the following jurisdictions: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, England/Wales, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States.  Some of these country reports include English-language excerpts of applicable statutory provisions.

Harvard Library Collection

This book is part of the DeGruyter Handbook series.  Almost all of the other titles in this series that are in the Harvard Library collection are in German (DeGruyter is a German publishing company), and cover legal topics.

However, Harvard does have one other English-language title from this series.  It is held by the Widener Library, Harvard’s flagship library.  All LL.M. students have access and borrowing privileges at Widener, along with the other libraries at Harvard.

This other book actually has nothing to do with law at all:

Sign Languages of the World: A Comparative Handbook
Edited by Julie Bakken Jepsen, Goedele De Clerck, Sam Lutalo-Kiingi, William B. McGregor
Published by De Gruyter, 2015
ISBN 9781614517962
View this book’s record in Harvard’s HOLLIS library catalog

I am a member of the law library’s Accessibility Design team, so one of my interests is learning more about how we can make the library accessible and accommodating to people with all kinds of disabilities.  So I am actually really interested in having a look at this book sometime!

Using HeinOnline for Accessing Legal Journals

I am curious to learn more about how the various sign languages around the world have developed their legal terminology throughout history.  In fact, just thinking about that led me to wonder about how issues related to deafness have been explored in the legal literature.

One of the best options for this kind of research is our  HeinOnline subscription legal database.  HeinOnline contains a very comprehensive collections of U.S. and foreign legal journals.  I find this database to be an invaluable part of any legal research project that I am working on.

So I decided to try a proximity search in HeinOnline for articles about sign language and legal terms.  Here is the search query I used:

“sign language legal terms”~50

This search query uses HeinOnline’s unique syntax for finding those four words within 50 words of each other.

When I did that search and limited the search results to articles from HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library, I got 77 results, covering various topics such as professional challenges faced by deaf lawyers, the representation of deaf clients in legal matters, the fitness of deaf defendants for trial, accommodating law faculty with disabilities, and more.

Perhaps one day an LL.M. student will write on deafness and law as well.  Whatever our newest LL.M.s decide to write about this year, the law library’s research services team is eager to help them navigate our resources and research their papers.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in the law library!

Thoughts on Legal Citation

My relationship with the Bluebook goes back to when I was a first-year law student in 2004. There have been moments of love and moments of hate, but mostly, as someone who appreciates order, structure, and rules, love.

As a legal reference librarian, my interest in legal citation is more research-focused than anything.  There are few things that make my heart soar more than a work of legal scholarship that includes carefully drafted and correct citations to the sources referenced so that readers can find those sources with minimum pain and maximum efficiency.

However, legal citation has several purposes beyond just making it easier for researchers to find stuff.  “Citation Literacy” is a fascinating new article in the Arkansas Law Review by Professor Alexa Z. Chew of UNC Law School.  In the article, Professor Chew discusses four “communicative purposes” of legal citation: “(1) to locate the cited source … , (2) to communicate information to the reader about the weight of the cited authority … , (3) to demonstrate the writer’s credibility … and (4) to avoid plagiarism through proper attribution.” (pages 879-880)

Professor Chew also discusses what she calls the “untaught skill of reading citations.”  (page 890)  By removing citation information from cases in casebooks read by U.S. law students, she argues, the “dominant message sent by the first-year law school curriculum about legal citation” is that providing support for statements of law is either unimportant, optional, or both.  (pages 891-892)

Additionally, Professor Chew contends that, when law students read cases that do not include citations, they are not learning the skill of reading cases holistically.  This is not ideal, according to Professor Chew, because “understanding a case’s citations and how the information they encode informs the surrounding text is an essential part of reading a case in the first place.”  (page 895)

I was glad that Professor Chew also discussed the impact of learning legal citation on foreign-trained lawyers who are studying the U.S. legal system.  This part of the article made me re-think this issue myself.  When I taught substantive U.S. law classes in Germany last year, I gave them versions of cases that I had edited myself.  I also, for the sake of brevity, removed citations from those cases.

Looking back, I wish I had done more with Bluebook and legal citation with my German students.  I believe it would have helped them understand our legal system better, and it also would have helped them with their future forays into the world of U.S. legal research.

Speaking of teaching legal citation to non-U.S. law students, I maintain our library’s Bluebook Citation Guide for LL.M. Students.  After reading Professor Chew’s article, this guide seems, perhaps, overly procedural in nature.  I am now considering adding a section about why citation is important, and citing Professor Chew’s article in it.

My own experience as a foreign student contributes to my thinking on this issue as well.  Germany does not have an equivalent to the Bluebook citation system, or really any standardized system of legal citation at all as far as I know.  When I was writing my LL.M. thesis in Germany earlier this year, I was given a 4-page handout by my faculty supervisor, with examples about how to cite sources in the footnotes and in the bibliography (Literaturverzeichnis).  I did my best to follow the protocol, but I’m still not sure if I got everything right.

Below is a picture of footnotes 49-52 from my German LL.M. thesis:

The sources cited here are, in order: an article from the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz), a Federal Constitutional Court decision, a scholarly commentary on the Basic Law, and a U.S. law review article.

(Of course I did not notice until this very moment that footnote 49 should end in a period and not a semi-colon.  I guess I know now for sure that I did not get everything right.)

In these and all the footnotes in my thesis, author-written works are basically cited in a shortened format because full-length citations are provided in the bibliography.

I was told by people who read my thesis that my use of footnotes and citation was, perhaps, more extensive than is the norm in German legal scholarship.  But they knew that I am trained in U.S. law, and that I have spent years reading U.S. law review articles, which are heavily annotated compared to German legal periodicals, so it was understandable.

Anyway, I am very pleased to have seen an article in the legal literature about citation, and I hope this is a trend that continues.  I agree with Professor Chew that this is an important area of legal education that, perhaps, should be considered in a different light than it has been in the past.

Finally, I would like to briefly mention a new citation guide that we recently received in the HLS Library collection:

Global Arbitration Review’s UCIA – Universal Citation in International Arbitration
General Editor, Stephen Anway ; Assistant Editors, Alexis Martinez and Jonathan Allen
Published in 2018 by Law Business Research Ltd.
ISBN 9781912377299
Hollis Catalog Record

This is a guide to the developing convention on style and citation that is used by practitioners in the field of international arbitration.  It is “intended for use in all writings related to international arbitration – from memorials to awards, from scholarly articles to student briefs.”  (Editor’s Preface)  And, mercifully, it is much shorter than the Bluebook.

 

 

 

 

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