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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
8/14/2012 3:07:03 PM

Book Review: When International Law Works: Realistic Idealism After 9/11 and the Global Recession

Cheng, Tai-Heng. When International Law Works: Realistic Idealism After 9/11 and the Global Recession. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 341p. Hardcover, $65. ISBN 978-0-19-537017-1. 

One of the ongoing questions about international law is whether or not it is law at all. Rather than offer another response to this question, Tai-Heng Cheng asks his own question: how should those in the international arena make their decisions? Should they be guided by past examples? Their own moral compass? Or by some other mechanism? When International Law Works: Realistic Idealism After 9/11 and the Global Recession is Cheng’s attempt to answer this question. His “[…] goal is not to provide algorithms for elites to decide what to do, or to nullify their discretion in making decisions,” he writes, but rather “it is, more modestly, to provide a framework to guide their analysis of problems and their exercise of their judgment and discretion” (p. 16). This book offers a fresh, practical look at an area of law that can often seem bogged down by theory.

Cheng does not simply drop readers into his new approach. Rather, the book begins with an examination of prior theories about international law, focusing especially on the role politics can play in these ongoing debates amongst jurists and scholars. Next, Cheng begins to lay out his own “justificatory theory of international law” (p. 73). The reader is given a careful analysis of how decisionmakers must balance a general desire for “optimum world order” (p. 119) with the individual needs of their own citizens. Once the framework for this theory is presented, the next several chapters focus on how this theory might play out for judges, arbitrators, regulators, legal advisors, and officials. Each chapter gives specific examples, from the recent economic crisis to waterboarding and the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia. The book then concludes with a reminder of its purpose: not to provide “controlling instructions” (p. 301) but to offer guidance for the future based on a careful analysis of past actions and theory.

When International Law Works is written in an extremely forthright and meticulous way. Cheng is always careful to provide the reader with a roadmap: each chapter begins with a straight-forward description of where it will go and concludes with a straight-forward recap of how it got there. The reader is not left guessing about the author’s stance, but is rather guided with respect and attention – a style much appreciated for an otherwise dense topic.

This attention to detail is also reflected in the careful footnoting and the extensive bibliography and index. Cheng does not just look at cases or articles, but examines parliamentary debates, draft resolutions, senate testimonies, and keynote addresses, among others. The index also provides useful hints to readers, such as by listing when significant voices comment on a given topic (e.g. “George W. Bush on waterboarding”).

With When International Law Works: Realistic Idealism After 9/11 and the Global Recession, Cheng offers a significant new look at international legal theory. It is clearly written, well-researched, and a balanced look at this area of law. Highly recommended for academic law libraries.

Deborah Schander is a Reference/Student Services Librarian at Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta.

Posted By Deborah Schander at 8/14/2012 3:07:03 PM  0 Comments
8/7/2012 9:52:00 PM

Program Review: Growing Beyond the Four Walls of Your Library into Strategic Knowledge Management

E6: Growing Beyond the Four Walls of Your Library into Strategic Knowledge Management

Level: Intermediate, 60 min

Presenters:

Steven A. Lastres, Director of Library and Knowledge Management, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

Alirio Gomez, Director of Library & Information, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP

This program is intended for law library directors and managers looking to extend the scope of responsibilities to enterprise knowledge management (KM). However, I highly recommend it to anyone in this profession who wants to learn about new opportunities and emerging roles of law librarians in the 21st century law firm. This intense, information packed program, squeezed into a 60-min slot, is worth hours of instruction - it provides great advice and guidance for law firm librarians.

Both presenters manage KM projects at international 500+ attorneys law firms and have a vast knowledge of the subject. Such KM projects include developing and maintaining of practice-related intranet content, management of virtual libraries, and development of global law firms’ research portals.

Steven Lastres defined knowledge management as the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. He described the types of knowledge that law firms use and how knowledge management fits into the new business model of law firms. Law librarians should rethink the library’s value proposition given the new trends in the legal market. Librarians with their advanced research and computer skills, substantive knowledge and understanding of the organization can become KM leaders and bring value to the firm by supporting the business of law, not just practice of law (i.e., a “new mission critical model”).  

Steven Lastres outlined several KM projects that require librarian competencies, including Intranet/Portal content development, creation of expertise databases, taxonomy, Legal Project Management (LPM), statistical analysis, and search engine optimization. The presentation was illustrated with informative screenshots of the actual law firm’s Intranet pages to give you an idea what KM looks like within the law firm. These screenshots, which are included in the program handout, captured various KM components - research portal, web 2.0 implementations (blogs, Wikis, RSS feeds and social tagging), library catalog, electronic delivery and distribution, and rating materials.

Alirio Gomez in his presentation focused on the project of developing a portal-based virtual library. He talked about technical, organizational and economic aspects critical for successful implementation of such project. A list of important characteristics was provided for the following categories of portal software: 1) information gathering, 2) information organization and classification, 3) information access, presentation and distribution, 4) collaboration, and 5) customization.

Project governance requires a coordinated effort between Steering Committee, Content Managers, Site Owners, IT/Library Team, Insight User Team, and Professional Development.  Alirio Gomez explained how to build cost management propositions for the project and provided advice on the best approach to start a KM Project. Law firms will want to see good long-term value for their shareholders before making an investment. Therefore, Gomez’s advice: don’t label it as a KM project – select a project that achieves a defined business goal, develop a business case with ROI analysis that clearly states the value. The program handout contains twenty pages with useful checklists, outlines and illustrations.   

The fact that this program is based on the KM project experience of the two large law firms with KM Partners, KM Counsel, and libraries staffed with dozens librarians and information specialists, should not discourage law librarians working at small and midsize law firms from starting a KM initiative. These two KM case studies provide a valuable insight in the new technologies that transform modern practice and business of law and help law firms become more efficient, productive and competitive in local and global markets. It’s also an insight in the success story of law librarians who take the lead in the proposal of the knowledge management strategy.

The skill-set required for KM projects is impressive and acquiring it may seem intimidating: you will need competencies in information technologies, project management, cost analysis and law firm economics. In reality, law librarians already perform many tasks that are part of these competencies. Just check out the YouTube clip “Helicopter rescue” from The Matrix that was shown at the end of the program (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTfubgRfP7s). The Future of KM is in your hands. LET’S GO.    

Posted By Anna Irvin at 8/7/2012 9:52:00 PM  0 Comments
8/7/2012 3:36:42 PM

Book Review: Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law

Alexander Gillespie, Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law (2011). Edward Elgar Publishing (EE). ISBN: 0857935151; Hardcover $225.00, 624 pages (inclusive of the index).

According to the author, a prominent international scholar and professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, this is a book about “law”; however, it is also a book about “science,” “philosophy” and “policy.”  After negotiating this behemoth of a text, it is safe to say that it does deal with all of these topics (to a greater or lesser extent), but what this work is actually about is international environmental history.  While extremely valuable in its own right, this text should probably be avoided by any but the most enthusiastic aficionados of environmental law.

As an environmental law librarian, I am constantly confronted with students experiencing “enviro-overload” – a term I use to describe that pained look on their faces when they are attempting not to drown in the green regulatory haze that is environmental law.  Gillespie’s work will contribute to that pained expression primarily because of the author’s dense prose and the book’s somewhat redundant organization.  Nonetheless, Gillespie does a masterful job of contextualizing the issues characteristic of international conservation law, and his foundational chapters in particular clearly highlight the inherent difficulties of the subject.      

Gillespie’s work is organized (along the lines of a textbook) into four distinct parts.  Part One (chapters 2 through 4) sets forth the basics of the field, including species identification, threat classifications and their perceptions in law, politics and science.  Part Two (chapters 5 and 6) surveys the tangible and intangible benefits of biodiversity from both an anthropocentric and biocentric point of view.  Part Three (chapters 7 through 13) constitutes the bulk of this text, and examines in detail threats to species and protected areas, continuing with a discussion of current conservation efforts.  Part Four concludes with a brief discussion about the ‘tools’ that are in place to effectuate the conservation goals of the international community.

The following features should be of particular use to researchers: footnotes at the bottom of each page; a chronological list of international conservation treaties dating back to 1858; a fairly comprehensive index; and a list of commonly used international abbreviations.  Gillespie’s text would have been enhanced by an appendix of excerpted international primary source materials or an online companion website.

Taryn L. Rucinski, Environmental Law Librarian, Pace Law School

Posted By Taryn Rucinski at 8/7/2012 3:36:42 PM  0 Comments