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The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
8/19/2015 12:47:45 PM

Book Review: A Documentary History of the American Civil War Era: Volume 4, Judicial Decisions 1867-1896.

Editor's Note: This review was written by: Douglas Lind, Law Library Director and Professor of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law. dlind@siu.edu

Mackey, Thomas C. A Documentary History of the American Civil War Era: Volume 4, Judicial Decisions 1867-1896. Univ. Tennessee Press, 642 pages. 70.00 (Cloth). ISBN 978-1621900405

It’s an ambitious undertaking to create a documentary collection of the entire Civil War Era. The myriad political, social, and economic crosscurrents make it a daunting task to select the most important documents which define the tumultuous middle part of the nineteenth century and then arrange them a manageable and comprehensive manner.  Nevertheless, Mackey does an admirable job of doing just this in only four volumes.  Judicial Decisions, 1867-1896 is the final title in A Documentary History of the American Civil War Era, and is preceded by other volumes which serve to provide a snapshot of significant aspects of the Civil War Era through primary sources.  Other titles in the series include Legislative Achievements, Political Arguments, and Judicial Decisions, 1857-1866.

Volume four, Judicial Decisions, 1867-1896, covers the period of Reconstruction in the post-Civil War Era and gives a glimpse into the public policy concerns facing America via federal and state court decisions. Whereas the preceding volume covered judicial decisions from a nine year period, albeit covering the constitutional issues created by the war itself, this volume takes on a huge swath of time which saw many political, social and economic changes, and spans the terms of six presidents; Andrew Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Cleveland.  As a part of the Voices of the Civil War series, it is not surprising that the decisions in this volume are bookended by the federal circuit court case, In re Turner (1867), upholding the constitutionality of the 13th Amendment, and the “separate but equal” ruling upholding racial segregation in the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).  The remainder of the volume presents a chronological journey of how the judicial branch wrestled with post-Civil War social issues.

It should be noted that this title is more than a document collection. The cases chosen for inclusion all serve to illustrate touchstones in judicial constitutional interpretation. Some are well-known foundational decisions, while some are lesser known but no less important in understanding the contemporary issues facing the country after the Civil War. Mackey’s brief introductory essays for each decision provides the researcher with the larger historical context in which the case fits. Although cross references to other volumes in the series are not provided, this title can be easily be used in conjunction with others in the series to understand the parallel contemporary discussions in the executive and legislative branches. For example, the cases take us through Reconstruction, but researchers unfamiliar with the terrain might need to know more about the political aspects of Grant’s two terms and the lingering effects of Rutherford B. Hayes’ term. One can find documents regarding these men in volume two of this series, Political Arguments

For those who actually read front matter and introductory materials, as one should when delving into any documentary collection, this volume includes both an introduction to the volume as well as an introduction to the multivolume series. The back matter contains a bibliography of selected readings for deeper analysis of the topic as well as a name index to the volume.  A minor complaint is that the Chronology listing those major Civil War Era events is hidden in the back of the volume.  Because it provides such necessary context to the researcher wishing to delve into the intricacies of the Civil War Era, placing it at the front of the volume would allow the passive reader a better chance to obtain a broad overview of the era.

Because this volume lies within a larger setting, the series should be purchased in its entirety. A review of the other volumes shows that A Documentary History of the American Civil War Era is essential for academic and public libraries and will find niche markets law schools that have curricular offerings in social or political aspects of legal history.

Book review written by: Douglas Lind, Law Library Director and Professor of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law. dlind@siu.edu

Posted By Catherine Lemmer at 8/19/2015 12:47:45 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: book review,
8/12/2015 4:47:14 PM

A Review of "Lawyers at Work" by Herbert M. Kritzer

In Lawyers at Work, Herbert M. Kritzer, Marvin J. Sonosky Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota Law School, presents updated versions of over three decades of law review articles and book chapters relating to the practice of law.  The book is divided into four distinct parts: (1) Theory and Method in the Study of Legal Practice, (2) Lawyers at Work, (3) The Impact of How Lawyers Are Paid, and (4) Lawyers’ Legal Practice in the 21st Century.  Each part features three to five chapters, the majority of which present relevant empirical research on the topic.  Lawyers at Work is a worthy addition to academic law library collections and will appeal to a wide audience.

Law library patrons interested in empirical research will find Lawyers at Work particularly interesting.  Chapter two, for example, compares two methods of studying attorneys’ behavior: observation and interviews.  Mr. Kritzer conducted a study of contingency fee practice in Wisconsin in which he observed the daily behavior of lawyers at three different firms and then interviewed similarly situated lawyers about their daily routines.  Unsurprisingly, he found that the observational method of study produced a more nuanced portrait of daily practice.  Meanwhile, in chapter eight, Kritzer details a survey he administered in which attorneys from eleven different federal districts were queried about their encounters with Rule 11 sanctions.  In the end, substantial differences were observed amongst the districts.  For those interested in empirical research, these and other chapters will provide guidelines and models for their work.

Additionally, patrons interested in learning more about the day-to-day work of lawyers, as well as where the legal profession is headed, will find this book very useful.  For example, in chapter four, Kritzer identifies three dimensions of lawyer-client relations (professionalism, business, and social), and provides excerpts from interviews which provide evidence of each dimension.  Similarly, in chapter six, he provides a detailed breakdown of the various components of insurance defense practice, including fee arrangements, marketing, bill auditing, and working with adjusters.  For those who are less interested in theory and more curious as to what daily practice truly entails, these and other chapters will be beneficial.  Additionally, in the final part of the book, Kritzer addresses legal practice in the 21st century.  In chapter 15, for example, he draws on the work of Richard Susskind to envision and describe new roles in the delivery of legal services, including that of legal information engineer, legal consultant, and legal processor.

Being a compilation of 15 law review articles and book chapters, Lawyers at Work is extremely well-researched, featuring 37 pages of references.  A close look at these sources, however, reveals a potential shortcoming of the book.  Indeed, only 45 of the sources, or roughly 6%, are dated 2008 or later.  Considering the legal market was hit extremely hard by the 2008 recession, it is reasonable to question the efficacy of some of the assertions and anecdotes included in the text.  Moreover, the impact of technology in recent years may not be fully captured by the book.  For example, in chapter five, discussing the work of contingency fee lawyers, Kritzer includes a section on managing client behavior.  When discussing how workers’ compensation clients can jeopardize their claims by exhibiting behavior inconsistent with their claimed injuries, he makes no mention of warning clients about posting on social media.

Despite this potential weakness, Lawyers at Work is an excellent book.  Mr. Kritzer is an expert in the field and this compilation showcases his prolific body of work.  It is highly recommended for academic law library collections.

Reviewed by: Jesse Bowman, 2015.  Electronic Research, Technology, and Instructional Services Librarian, Pritzker Legal Research Center, Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, Illinois.  jesse.bowman@law.northwestern.edu

Posted By Jesse Bowman at 8/12/2015 4:47:14 PM  0 Comments
7/19/2015 3:53:00 AM

When Legal Research is Like Amazon Prime Day

Editorial Note: This blog post is authored by: Scott Frey, Reference Librarian, Western State College of Law (sfrey@wsulaw.edu). 

July 15, 2015.  Amazon Prime Day.  Amazon promised more deals than Black Friday, if you had paid the yearly Prime subscription (or had the 30 day free trial).  They teased a bunch of deals, to give people a sense of how good and wide-ranging the savings would be. 

The big day arrived, and…  indeed, there were many deals.  Some deals were great, as advertised.  The best (a 32-inch TV for $75!) were 100% claimed within minutes.   Maybe you were one of the lucky ones.  Or maybe you eventually got the deal off a waitlist.

Meanwhile, many other deals were … not as great, at least for most people.  The giant shoehorn.  The "beard growther."  The 55-gallon drum of lubricant.  You had to wade through the claimed and unwanted deals to find a deal you wanted.  Or you gave up in frustration.

What do Amazon Prime Day and legal research have in common?

Let's start with the entrance fee.  Only Prime members could participate in Amazon's festivities.  Likewise, only subscribers have access to services such as Lexis Advance and WestlawNext.   There may be exceptions – e.g., a free trial, a patron access terminal – but for the most part, it's pay to play.  Nonsubscribers have alternatives – in the case of legal research, free services such as Google Scholar, FDsys, or a non-subscription law library.

The marketing of Prime Day was like the marketing of legal research systems and library discovery tools.  With Prime Day, you'll get better deals than ever!  With this new, improved research system, you'll get more useful results than ever!  The marketing might be hype, reality, or – most likely – a bit of both.

So you get to Prime Day or start doing legal research.  You might claim a good deal; you might get relevant legal material.  Or you might not.  The 100% claimed deals on Prime Day are like checked-out print materials or e-books, or resources you can't access because they're not in your subscription plan or otherwise available.  (Going on the Prime Day waitlist is perhaps like doing extra research – sometimes persistence pays off.)

Moreover, to get to the good deal or the useful result, you might have to wade through all the stuff you didn't want.  On Prime Day, most items – Kindle Fire tablets, giant shoehorns, and any random items in between – were in a long list that you had to scroll or click through.  You could filter by category; but you could not search.

If the first few results at least were good and available, then I imagine most users would be satisfied.  With Prime Day, whether you wanted a particular camera, home improvement items, or deals in general, you got the same initial results, which were often either uninteresting or unavailable.

While the homepage of many library catalogs and legal research systems is likewise the same for everyone, at least you can browse or search to get (hopefully) relevant results.  This is like the normal experience on Amazon's site.   (Moreover, like Amazon, some legal research systems have homepages that reflect your history or preferences on the site.)

The search algorithm on Amazon is good, as are the options for filtering and sorting the results.  Sites like Amazon and Google – with precision in top results and recall for those who want more – are what sites like WestlawNext and Lexis Advance are trying to emulate.  Contrast those results with the list of items selected for Prime Day or the results on an inferior search engine – most of little or no value to you.  (Does anyone remember Cuil?)  Filtering or sorting a mediocre pile of results might help, but probably not enough.

The marketing of Prime Day was especially successful because of prior satisfaction with Amazon.  But goodwill and high expectations can quickly turn into disappointment if promises aren't delivered. 

Of course, some people liked Prime Day and got deals.  The experience of Prime Day, like of libraries and databases, wasn't uniform.  (Personally, I didn't mind the unwanted results much, because I'm used to and have a high tolerance for them.  But many people, understandably, want the wheat and don't have time or patience for the chaff.)  No legal research system will satisfy everyone all the time.  Some people will prefer one system or another; or learn to like the one they have; or switch to another service if and when they can.

Does a legal research system or a law library need to provide everything under the sun, like Amazon and Google do?  I think that's a question libraries are struggling with now, especially as to physical collections in a time of shrinking budgets, space, and staff.  Morever, most law libraries and law offices can't subscribe to every law database.  And if they do subscribe to several databases, most users can't use all those resources (even on one database) optimally.  So law libraries do more stringent collection development, even though there are more legal resources than ever, and provide training and assistance in research to the extent we can.

On Prime Day, some sites – e.g., Kinja Deals – had pages or Twitter feeds that highlighted good deals (and advised when they were no longer available).  Reference librarians can likewise guide researchers to useful resources and ways of getting useful results.

So, a cheery thought to end on: libraries can make a difference by providing the best possible resources and guidance in how to use them.  Knowing how to find good results – like good deals on Prime Day – can change a frustrating experience into a satisfying one.  (Now if I only could find that $75 TV on Amazon right now….)

By: Scott Frey, Reference Librarian, Western State College of Law (sfrey@wsulaw.edu)

Posted By Catherine Lemmer at 7/19/2015 3:53:00 AM  0 Comments