Book Review: Levitt & Davis: “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers”

Book Review: Levitt & Davis: “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers”

  • Would you like a clear description of 3 free online versions of the U.S. Code?
  • Would you like useful tutorials on Fastcase and Casemaker?
  • Would you like to know about free and low-cost legal websites, legal research apps, and case law databases? How about cite-checking, dockets, federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal law, foreign, international, and comparative law free and low-cost research resource tips?

You will find those and more in “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers,” by Carole A. Levitt and Judy K. Davis, ABA Law Practice Division, 2014.

It takes brave authors to write a book about online legal research. If badly executed, it will sink quietly to the bottom of the recycle bin. If done well, it will remain within close reach of the researcher. I keep this book nearby and I’ve already pressed it into the hands of other legal researchers.

What this book is not: This is not a book about how to search public records or to perform background checks or skip-tracing. (There are other books on those subjects: see, e.g. Note 1, below.)

What this book is and for whom:

New and experienced researchers will find tips and instructions that can save time, money, and frustration when using the free and low-cost online legal research resources described.

I reviewed the book through the lens of a public law librarian who teaches lawyers and other legal researchers on limited budgets how to research the law. I wanted a quick reference book for myself, to lend to a researcher looking at a new research site or tool, and for our motivated self-represented litigants who need free or low-cost legal research tools.

This book will be useful to lawyers, law library employees, paralegals, judicial assistants, public librarians, and self-represented litigants. It will also be a useful legal research text for students of all stripes, paralegal, library school, and law school.

It can be read from cover to cover, but it is well organized, with a useful table of contents and a good index, so the specific guidance you seek can be found without wasting time.

It includes chapters on researching legal forms, court rules, cases, dockets, citators, and much more, all with excellent advice (and caveats) regarding the strengths and limits of the reviewed resources.

The research and website evaluation tips will be familiar to law librarians and will improve the research skills of those we serve – or at least reinforce the lessons we try to teach the researchers in our midst:

  • Read the whole screen.
  • Understand the database’s (or website’s) strengths and limits.
  • Make no assumptions about database searching protocols. (They change faster than the latest secret to a long life nutrition fad: Quinoa! Kale! Pomegranate! Bacon?)

This book presents those lessons painlessly and gives readers a roadmap for exploring and evaluating all online legal research resources.

Standouts: Tips are practical and the book is highly readable with appropriate warnings about data quality and database reliability. One, among other, standout examples is the section comparing 3 U.S.C. websites (pp. 163-177).

You will want to mark up this book. That is a good thing. It is not good when after reading a legal research guide all you have to show for the effort are a couple of sticky notes that could just as well fall out, with no regret or loss.

I added lots of sticky notes for tips to try out myself and recommend to co-workers. I featured this book in a recent legal research class, where I will recommend this book among my other favorite legal research guides.

The book was well organized. I would like to have been a fly on the wall when the authors and editors met to decide which legal research resources to include in the book and how to organize them – and which ones to leave out (the toughest cuts of all). Not all of the taxonomy, legal research, and UX knowledge in the world could have made that task easy.

Index: The index is very good – and I’m not unappreciative of the fact that there is an index at all, a rare value-added feature nowadays. I did wish there was a Legislative History index term; it is a subject frequently researched. Also, you need to look under both Briefs and Legal Briefs to find all the Briefs index entries, and … no, I quibble. I was able to find just about everything I needed in the index.

Wish list: I wished for more coverage of state and local resources, however, the selection of high quality, publicly accessible state and local online legal research resources varies widely from one jurisdiction to another, so the authors didn’t leave out anything over which they had any control. Many of the state and local research resources we need just don’t exist in digital format – and state legislative history documents often top that list.

Bottom line: This book is Highly Recommended, for law libraries, public libraries, legal research instructors, paralegals, and lawyers.

Notes:

1) “The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet: Conducting Effective Investigative & Legal Research on the Internet,” by Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S. & Mark E. Rosch, is in its 12th edition as of today.

2) You can purchase today’s reviewed book, Levitt & Davis: “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers” from:

Internet for Lawyers (Net for Lawyers)
Also: Internet Legal Research on a Budget
ABA Bookstore

 

Riskless, Larcenous, and Legal: Dark Pools and HFTs for the Literary Thrillseeker

Art major Michael Lewis, as trustworthy as Diogenes (but with a better sense of humor), hits another home run (don’t forget Moneyball) with “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt”

It is of the “financial thriller” genre, and no less riveting than Harry Markopolos’s “No one would listen” (about Bernie Madoff and, also, the [insert your own appropriate adjective here] SEC).

Note: HFT = High Frequency Trader

Note 2: See reference to “... riskless, larcenous, and legal” in Flash Boys, chapter 4, “Tracking the Predator,” on pg. 124 of the first hardcover edition, 2014.

Ursula Le Guin Sounds the Alarm: A tribute, and call to arms, to writers and readers

If you haven’t heard or read the eloquent Ursula Le Guin speech, that brought the audience to their feet, upon accepting the distinguished contribution to American letters award at the 65th annual National Book Awards ceremony in New York this week – you must:

View the speech at NPR: “Book News: Ursula K. Le Guin Steals The Show At The National Book Awards,” November 20, 2014

Read the speech at various websites, including:

The Guardian: “Ursula K Le Guin’s speech at National Book Awards: ‘Books aren’t just commodities'”

New Yorker, “We Will Need Writers Who Can Remember Freedom”: Ursula Le Guin and Last Night’s N.B.A.s,” by Rachel Arons.

Full text from the Guardian:

“To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.

How Do You Know You’re a Librarian? (Free book download)

You are willing to read books like this one! “The LCSH Century: One Hundred Years with the Library of Congress Subject Headings System.” [This is a link to a free download of the book. Librarians are founding members of the “sharing economy.” We educate, inform, and entertain.]

Or, support your local book-buying economy and get a bound copy suitable for gift-giving:

Stone, Alva T, ed. “The LCSH Century: One Hundred Years with the Library of Congress Subject Headings System.” New York: Routledge, 2013. 025.49 LCSH ISBN 978-0789011695
“The LCSH Century traces the 100-year history of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, from its beginning with the implementation of a dictionary catalog in 1898 to the present day. You will explore the most significant changes in LCSH policies and practices, including a summary of other contributions celebrating the centennial of the world’s most popular library subject heading language.”

Educating Homeless Children: Legal Requirements (ABA Report)

Gallagher Blogs, July 2, 2014, post: Educating Homeless Kids:

“Nearly a quarter of homeless people are children.* Over a million children were homeless at the start of the 2010-2011 school year. And being homeless can make it tough to get an education. To address some of the problems, the McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Act (1987) set up the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program.

The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty just published “Educating Children Without Housing: A Primer on Legal Requirements and Implementation Strategies for Educators, Advocates and Policymakers” …. [Link to full Gallagher Blogs post.]

That direct link to the book at the ABA Store works now, but if it ceases to work, visit the ABA Store and look for this title: “Educating Children Without Housing: A Primer on Legal Requirements and Implementation Strategies for Educators, Advocates and Policymakers,” 4th Edition, 2014.

Summer Reading: Law and Non-law Fiction for Attorneys

The Oregon State Bar’s Ian Pisarcik, Legal Publications Attorney Editor, gives us a list of intriguing books for our reading pleasure:

As an attorney, two things are reasonably certain to occur in your lifetime: Sallie Mae will deduct an astronomically high student loan payment from your checking account and someone, somewhere will ask you if you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird and if you were aware that John Grisham used to be a real honest-to-God practicing attorney. It is at this point that you will calmly try to explain that you read more than just legal thrillers...” Link to Ian’s blog post and current list of recommendations.

Death by Failure to Research: Could You Pass a Legal Research Competency Test?

David Lankes tells a familiar “Death by Failure to Research” story in his free eBook, “Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World:

…. In 2001 Ellen Roche, a 24-year-old lab technician, entered into a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins University’s Asthma and Allergy Center. The trial was investigating how the lungs responded to chemical irritants. Researchers had Roche inhale hexamethonium. Roche was the third volunteer to do so in the study. The first volunteer had developed a slight cough that lasted a week. The second volunteer had shown no adverse reactions. Roche developed a slight cough that got worse and worse. Five days after inhaling the chemical, Roche was admitted to intensive care. Less than a month later, she was dead. What makes this story all the more tragic is that Roche’s death could have been avoided. As part of the funded clinical trial, the researcher did a literature search. He searched a database that indexed studies from 1960 to the present day. He found nothing on hexamethonium. However, had he not restricted himself to the Internet-accessible version of the database he would have found studies from the 1950’s linking hexamethonium to significant lung problems. Because of Roche’s death, all drug studies at Hopkins must now include a consultation with a librarian and pharmacist….” [Lankes, p. 80 [PDF p. 87] Link to free online versions of David Lankes’ latest book: “Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World.”  The digital version of this book is free to download and distribute. It is in PDF, EPUB, MOBI, and iBook formats.]

Read more about “Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competency.”

 

OSB Publication Wins National Award: “Oregon Constitutional Law”

The Association for Continuing Legal Education (ACLEA) has selectedOregon Constitutional Law” as the winner of its ACLEA’s Best Award of Outstanding Achievement in Publications.

Oregon was a pioneer of the movement to interpret state constitutions independently of the U.S. Constitution. Not only does the Oregon Constitution address many of the rights protected by the federal Constitution, but it also defines many of the powers that the federal Constitution reserved for the states. Attorneys practicing in Oregon should be familiar with the provisions of the Oregon Constitution and the appellate courts’ interpretations of those provisions…” [Read the full post.]