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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.

The AALL Spectrum blog is no longer published. Previous posts are archived on this page.
4/13/2016 1:20:36 PM

Book Review: National Survey of State Laws, 7th Edition

Richard A. Leiter; National Survey of State Laws, 7 edition; William S. Hein & Co., Getzville, NY, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-8377-4026, $225.00 (hbd.; incl. online access, single location) /$295.00 (hbd.; incl. online access, multiple locations) /$85.00 add’l. print copies

One of the things that separates law librarian book reviews from, say, The New York Review of Books is that we review titles for their practical value first. After all, we pride ourselves on our research skills and value those resources that make us look great by providing fast, reliable answers.  The better resources, the ones we evangelize to our patrons and colleagues, have staying power. They go through multiple editions; they become, for lack of a better term, traditional. We judge these products as much by their evolution from prior iterations as we do their individual quality. Often, our resources will have digital components ranking from the merely complementary to the absolutely essential, and therefore are also judged on their own merits.

One of these perennial resources is the National Survey of State Laws (NSSL), a mercifully-handy nutshell of the state of the law in all 50 U.S. states on a variety of often-consulted topics. The first edition of NSSL was published by Gale Research in 1993, and reissued roughly every three years until 2008. According to editor Richard Leiter, throughout this period Gale went through a number of organizational changes, including sales to Information Access, Thomson, and then Cengage Learning, a holding company. By 2003, when the book was in its fourth edition, Gale was only barely conscious of NSSL’s existence. The sixth and most-recent prior edition, published in 2008, was part of a catalog attached to Cengage’s business publishing division. Shortly thereafter, Gale dropped the title.

Prof. Leiter reacquired the rights to NSSL in 2013 and reached a deal with Hein, resulting in the publication of the seventh edition in 2015. The base price for the seventh edition includes the digital version with different pricing schemes for single- and multiple-location access. It is also included as part of HeinOnline subscription plans. For reasons which will shortly become clearer, I am reviewing the print and digital offerings as a package.

The purpose of NSSL is to provide a series of 50-state surveys of laws in several broad subject areas—Business and Consumer, Criminal, Education, Employment, Family, General Civil, Real Estate, and Tax. Long-time users will likely be relieved to discover that the coverage is almost identical to that of the sixth edition. Changes include the addition of charts relating to Interest Rates and Defense of Marriage Acts, the shift of the Marijuana chart out of the Illegal Drugs heading and into its own heading (likely a reflection of recent legalization efforts), and the removal of the Topic Cross Reference Table and the Medical Records section. The net result is a roughly twenty-page increase. The removals don't appear too substantial, while the DOMA addition is particularly welcome.

The charts themselves are sometimes extremely detailed, with text descriptions of, for instance, the scope of animal abuse statutes in Vermont proving exhaustive and loaded with inline citations. The topics are easy to locate within the volume, and the categories covered within each seem both appropriate and useful. The time a product like this saves is potentially huge—having to do something like this on your own would quickly prove both tedious and expensive. At typical paralegal billing rates, saving three or four hours of research time would pay for the title. It is hard to imagine a resource that provides more bang for the buck.

It is important to remember that, however useful the print edition is, it is prone, like all print materials, to staleness. As I write this, the laws in the print volume are current only as of June 30, 2015. As if anticipating this concern, Hein bundled the print edition in with the digital product.  According to Hein, they foresee occasional major updates to the digital NSSL as needed, with new print editions appearing roughly every three years. The first update appears to be forthcoming as of this writing.

The digital product is offered in two parts:  a database and a searchable image archive. The database provides instant access to the fifth through seventh editions (2005, 2008, 2015), allowing easy comparison among them. The image archive, meanwhile, provides PDFs of all seven editions. Both greatly increase the utility of the NSSL, and, provided Hein follows through on its pledge to provide major updates throughout the life of the product, there is no reason you should not find this package indispensable to your collection.

David E. Matchen, Jr.

Circulation/Reference Librarian at the University of Baltimore Law Library

* He is trying hard not to jinx a Cubs-Orioles World Series this year.

Posted By David Matchen at 4/13/2016 1:20:36 PM  0 Comments
3/17/2016 1:28:00 PM

DIGITAL EXTRA "AALL Legal Research Competencies 20-Question Self-Assessment Survey" | AALL Spectrum | March/April 2016 | Volume 20, Number 4

Legal Research Competency Self-Assessment
Created by Gail A. Partin

1. Differentiates between primary and secondary sources, recognizing how their use and importance vary depending upon the legal problem or issue.

2. Identifies and uses secondary sources to obtain background information to gain familiarity with terms of art, and to put primary sources in context.

3. Recognizes differences in the weight of authority among various types of secondary sources and applies that knowledge to the matter in which the information is utilized.

4. Understands the benefits and detriments of various resources and utilizes that understanding to make informed research decisions to change formats or search strategies as needed.

5. Understands the processes and the interrelationships between the branches of government on all levels: federal, state, and local.

6. Knows what legal information is produced, organized, and disseminated at all levels and for all branches of government and can identify appropriate resources to locate such information.

7. Understands and distinguishes between different types of primary law sources and the weight, reliability, and binding or persuasive authority of each source.

8. Recognizes basic similarities, differences, and interrelationships among and between the various types of legal regimes: international law, foreign law, and United States law. 

9. Recognizes that legal information is produced, organized, and disseminated differently within various legal systems and knows how to discover jurisdiction-specific legal information. 

10. Identifies and analyzes legal issues, knowing which primary or secondary sources contain appropriate and current content to facilitate research.

11. Knows how to validate the completeness, currency, and appropriateness of selected sources. 

12. Differentiates and effectively utilizes various types of access points and search strategies such as tables of contents, indexes, headnotes, finding aids, Boolean operators, and search engines.

13. Understands the costs associated with legal research, regardless of type, publisher, or format and is cognizant of the intersection of cost and efficiency in the selection of information format, exercising professional judgment in choosing the outcome that best serves the research parameters.

14. Knows the relative costs of choosing to search one database over another and is aware of free and low-cost alternative sources.

15. Documents research strategies and results by recording all pertinent information to facilitate research and writing.

16. Understands how to apply evaluation criteria to specific legal and non-legal sources of information to determine whether they are authoritative, authentic, and credible.  

17. Reflects on the successes or failures of prior strategies for integrating new information into the analysis and utilizes prior research experiences to continue the research process.

18.   Recognizes when sufficient research has been done to adequately address the legal issue or information need.

19. Demonstrates understanding of how courts or other legal decision makers have applied materials from other disciplines in the past, and determines when material from these disciplines might be persuasive in resolving a particular issue.

20. Where appropriate, locates background or supplemental information to help answer a legal issue or need. 

Posted By Heather Haemker at 3/17/2016 1:28:00 PM  0 Comments