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8/24/2012 2:41:53 PM
Highlights from July 2012 ALLUNY Newsletter
The July 2012 issue of the ALLUNY Newsletter, publication of the Association of Law Libraries of Upstate New York, has been published. I want to highlight two items. First, on page 2 Everett Wiggins has a concise but thought-provoking piece on next-generation legal databases and how their search engines affect how lawyers think through their work. Wiggins suggests these new products encourage lawyers to think less precisely and impedes them from gaining the subject expertise they need. The piece only took me a few minutes to read, but reminded me to caution my students that these databases cannot replace sound legal analysis.
Second, on page 4 Ruth Balkin suggests private law librarians assemble a list of ten non-legal research queries they have answered. Keeping such a list can help document the value librarians provide to lawyers. I am an academic librarian, but I am going to start keeping better track of some of the research questions I receive. Records like this can give me a more long-term view of my work with professors and students.
Posted By 8/24/2012 2:41:53 PM
8/22/2012 9:23:41 AM
Book Review: Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please.
Joseph Kimble. Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please. Carolina Academic Press, 2012. 184 p. Hardcover, $23. ISBN 978-1-61163-191-3.
Scholars have been wrangling over “plain language” for decades, debating the merits of simpler style versus more traditional legal writing with its unique vocabulary and seeming redundancy. Joseph Kimble has long been an advocate of plain language, and he recently led the work of redrafting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence. In this slim volume, he cuts through the layers of debate to reach the simple conclusion that plain language – when understood holistically rather than as a mere formula or defined vocabulary – works.
Following a personal anecdote in Part One, the substance of Kimble’s new book begins in Part Two where he offers guidelines for plain language. In just a few pages, Kimble hammers the essentials of clean writing – general considerations of audience, design, organization, sentence structure, and word choice. These bare guidelines seem straightforward, but, as he states later, writing for understanding is an intellectual undertaking that demands time, effort, and attention.
To my mind, the heart of Kimble’s book lies in Part Three. Here, he responds to ten criticisms of plain language, attempting once and for all to put the kibosh on the naysayers. With a refreshingly honest tone, Kimble explains that plain language is not simplistic or formulaic but rather is fresh, sensible, and to the point. He emphasizes that the purpose of plain language is to reach the reader at his or her level of understanding. The reader’s understanding varies across situations and circumstances, and plain language adjusts accordingly. Kimble thus refutes the idea that plain language is strictly bound by rules. As he explains, “the guidelines for plain language are not narrowly circumscribed but instead range over planning, design, organization, sentences, words, and … testing.” (p. 22)
In some instances, the criticisms to which Kimble is responding are more complex than he indicates, and a reader new to the debate may wonder what the fuss is all about. For instance, in his response to the notion that the idea of plain language is too vague to be useful, Kimble refers to formulae for plain language but does not explain until much later in the book how they work (e.g., a ratio of syllables to words) or why these formulae have been hotly debated (e.g., the formula can result in ridiculous outcomes that lack meaning and clarity). Kimble’s brevity assumes a certain familiarity with the issues surrounding the plain language movement. Fortunately, he presents his arguments with such nimbleness that it is easy to grasp the larger point: plain language is a robust concept that focuses on usability rather than compliance.
In Part Four, Kimble provides a historical review of major contributions to the plain language literature along with events, projects, and organizations from several different countries. Kimble’s work culminates in Part Five with an evaluation of fifty different plain language success stories. These accounts prove his point that plain language not only promotes understanding on the part of the user but also demands expertise on the part of the writer – a demand that lawyers find reassuring. All in all, Kimble presents such compelling arguments and evidence that plain language is the only sensible choice for any legal document that I am left wondering why anyone would ever choose language that obfuscates, befuddles, or otherwise complicates the meaning therein.
Susan David deMaine is a Research and Instruction Librarian at the Ruth Lilly Law Library, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
Posted By 8/22/2012 9:23:41 AM
8/20/2012 5:18:51 PM
Book Review: Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge
Frederic Block, Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge, West Publishing, 2012, 445 pages, inclusive of endnotes & index of names, Hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-314-60662-4
Frederic Block has been a United States District Court judge in the Eastern District of New York for almost 20 years. He worked in private practice for 34 years prior to being appointed to the bench. This book would be an excellent addition to any law library as it offers a tremendous insight into the federal judiciary. Judge Block divided his book into three parts: Part I: Getting There; Part II: Being There; and Part III: The Big Three.
Part I sets the tone for the rest of the book. It is a great introduction to Judge Block, the man, and his road to the judicial bench. Judge Block provides readers an insightful, often humorous, view of his journey to the bench. He starts with his childhood, through college, law school and judicial clerkship. He discusses his decision to go into private practice and how his rather unconventional practice, with all its political landmines, led to his appointment to the judicial bench. Part II talks about being a new judge and how he found his place on the bench. He speaks of his judicial colleagues, often with humor but always with respect. He explains how he came to run his courtroom and how he handles the lawyers, the juries, and the parties who appear before him. Part III of his book provides insider information to some of the more sensational cases of his career on the bench, including the race riots in Crown Heights, the Peter Gotti trial and his brush with more recent terrorism cases and many more.
Judge Block wrote in the introduction he was unaware of any book written by a federal judge for the general public “that is at once informative, provocative, and engaging” and he hoped that [Disrobed] is that book. He succeeded on all counts. Disrobed is a must have for any law library.
Posted By 8/20/2012 5:18:51 PM