Thursday 30 April 2009

Russian law blog

Bob Ambrogi over at Legal Blog Watch points to a new Russian law blog by Dmitry Medvedev, who besides being a lawyer is also president of the Russian Federation. He has both a Live Journal blog, Dmitry Medvedev's Blog, and a video blog, Dmitry Medvedev's Videoblog. Since I don't read Russian, alas, I am using the imperfect Google Translator to check out the blog which is titled "Блог Дмитрия Медведева Обращения Президента России и комментарии "or, translated to English by Google, "Blog by Dmitry Medvedev President of Russia and commentary". The nice thing about Google translate is that you can suggest improvements to the translation.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Felon teaches CLE

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that local lawyers earned CLE credits for attending a local seminar featuring a convicted felon posing as an expert on criminal sentencing. Howard O. Kieffer was brought in by Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin to talk to local lawyers about the ins and outs of state and federal criminal prison sentences. According to information from the Milwaukee seminar, Kieffer was one of five speakers at a three-hour conference entitled "Sentence Computation Issues: State v. Federal Custody and Service of Multiple Sentences." In the brochure, he was identified as a graduate of Antioch Law School. He wasn't. Apparently Mr. Kieffer had made a living for a number of years going around the country teaching CLEs. "To the extent that Mr. Kieffer hoodwinked Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin, we are one of many," said Daniel Stiller, executive director of the agency.

Federal CIO calls for "context driven" government.

Washington Technology reports that Vivek Kundra, President Obama's federal chief information officer, wants a “context-driven government” with services accessible through people's regular daily activities that involve information technology. He cited the Human Genome Project and the Global Positioning System technologies as examples of how government data has led to innovation.

Monday 27 April 2009

swine flu resources

The biggest story in today's newspapers is the growing fear that the world may be entering a global pandemic as U.S. officials declared a public health emergency relating to the swine flu that has been detected in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a website with information and links. The World Health Organization also has a website on the international incidence of swine flu. There are maps on Google and MSN tracking confirmed and suspected cases. If you Twitter, you can follow Healthmap's #swineflu to receive swine flu alerts.

ULS database trial: Encyclopedia of China

From ULS: We currently have a trial of Encyclopedia of China Online from Brill available through May 24. Please feel free to test this resource and send any comments to both Haihui Zhang (the East Asian collection librarian) at and Dennis Smith at
The URL for the Encyclopedia of China:
Username: pittsburw
Password: launqp
Information about using the encyclpedia can be found on the "preliminaries" page.

Friday 24 April 2009

US News law school rankings

They're out, and you can read all about it in the online ABA Journal.

Does "renting" textbook violate copyright?

Afterdawn News reports that TTVK, a Finnish national copyright lobby, is threatening a book rental service called Bookabooka for allegedly running a 'Pirate Bay for Books'. No, Bookabooka doesn't host any e-books on its site, or provide online access to books. What it does is offer a service where students can "rent" their (traditional) textbooks to their peers. Renting is done through the mail and it is mandatory that the textbooks are originals (not xeroxed copies). Bookabooka acts as an intermediary, connecting the students - it doesn't handle the shipping or returns of the textbooks. Nevertheless, the Finnish book publishers' association (Suomen Kustannusyhdistys) is convinced the service is breaching copyright laws and threatening their business. TTVK has given Bookabooka until Friday to cease operations or face a lawsuit. Bookabooka's founders have vowed to keep the service online and ignore the threat.

hat tip: Slashdot

Law Library of Congress adds articles

The Law Library of Congress has announced that they've added Constitutional Interpretation and War Powers Resolution Sections to their U.S. Constitution Website with two new articles focusing on U.S. constitutional issues. The two articles are available in their entirety in PDF , which includes one book, twenty-four articles, and six statements to Congress.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

New online law magazine aggregates best legal scholarship

Robert Ambrogi over at Legal Blog Watch reports that, in what they are calling an unprecedented online collaboration, seven of the most influential U.S. law reviews are collaborating to launch The Legal Workshop, an online magazine featuring plain-English articles based on scholarly counterparts published in traditional law journals. Here is how they describe it:
The Legal Workshop features “op-ed” versions of the articles published by the member journals. These concise and lively pieces are written for a generalist audience, combining the best elements of print and online publication. Each Legal Workshop Editorial undergoes the same rigorous editorial treatment and quality screening as the journals’ print content, but readers are able to offer comments and esteemed academics have the option of submitting response pieces, which are checked for citations and substance.
By aggregating the work of multiple law reviews, The Legal Workshop is able to provide frequently updated content. New article-based content is posted every Monday and most Wednesdays and Fridays. The Legal Workshop provides a one-stop forum for readers wishing to stay abreast of contemporary legal scholarship.

The seven participating law reviews are Stanford Law Review, New York University Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal, Northwestern Law Review and University of Chicago Law Review.

Earth Day and Earth Week

Green Patent Blog is hosting blawg review all week. Blawg Review is the oldest established permanent floating rundown of legal blog posts in cyberspace. Green Patent Blog operates at the intersection of IP law and all things green, clean, or renewable. Since it's Earth Week this week and Earth Day today they are putting a special emphasis on "the green and earthy".

Congressional Research Service reports

The Law Librarians' Society of Washington D.C. (llsdc) has announced that its Legislative Source Book site, "Selected Congressional Research Service Reports on Congress and Its Procedures", has been expanded so that it alphabetically lists 250 CRS Reports by title and links each one to its corresponding site on The few reports that are not on are marked with an asterisk before the title and are generally linked to a previously scanned report that was downloaded to the LLSDC site. The enhanced site listing CRS reports on Congress also provides links to most all other sites on the Internet containing a substantial amount of CRS reports.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

TurnItIn archiving of student papers is ruled "fair use"

ZDNet reports that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the Northern District Court of Virginia's summary judgement that's use of the student papers was fair use and not copyright infringement. TurnItInis a service marketed to high schools and colleges in which student papers are entered into a database and then pattern-checked for signs of plagiarism. Several students in Northern Virginia had filed a lawsuit against them claiming copyright infringement.

Pitt's Westlaw rep provides Write-On Competition tips

You may remember that last May the Write-On Competition created chaos in the computer lab as most of the 250 1L's tried to print 1000 pages of caselaw at the same time. In order to try to prevent a recurrence our Westlaw rep Ryan Vandegrift has scheduled several Write-On training sessions for students and is also providing handouts with Tips for the write-on competition. The main points that his handout makes are:

  • On May 8, 2009, the Westlaw printers at Pittsburgh will be pooled into a single "Student Printer Pool". This pool will include both printers on the 4th floor and the printer on the 3rd floor.
  • The printers will be pooled for at least one week or until the printer volume returns to normal.
  • Print jobs are routed in sequential order ... not volume. So, shorter print jobs may get "stuck" behind longer print jobs.
  • E-mail / Download will not be affected.
  • Using is the best option to ensure all print jobs are sent together.

Help for law students

An article in the Chronicle of Education today reports that some law schools are trying to find new ways to support graduating students, including offering extended health insurance or new academic programs to ease their bumpy transition into the legal profession. Graduating law students are facing a difficult time as law firms defer the start dates for their new hires because of the economy, leaving some graduating law students with delays of up to a year or more before they can begin their jobs.

Monday 20 April 2009

free v expensive legal information

Tom Bruce from the Cornell Law Library and the Legal Information Institute has a very thoughtful and interesting blogpost called "What are we about?" in which he discusses the motivation and purpose behind proprietary databases like Westlaw and free legal information sites like LII. He is proud that the LII has contributed substantially to breaking the intellectual and engineering stranglehold that West and Lexis had on legal information twenty years ago. And while admittedly West is "winning the Grand Prix", there is a place for LII and similar sites that are just trying to help a lot of people get to work; because West and the LIIs are thinking about very different kinds of research consumers.West imagines — as most law-school instruction in legal research seems to — that the aim of research is to support argument in high-stakes litigation, or in some other setting where potential hazard justifies the expense of a high-end service. LII, on the other hand, serves a different type of legal research - it provides legal information for everyone, something like a legal version of WebMD.

Thursday 16 April 2009

The future of the FDLP

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has published a whitepaper called "Strategic Directions for the Federal Depository Library Program". The paper discusses how to plan for the future of the FDLP in light of both its mission and technological advances. It concludes that "The reframing of the FDLP presents the opportunity to create a new service model that will substantially increase and enhance access to and discovery of government information. The framework for the future will be based on access, discovery, management of the resources and tools, and delivery of these resources to users. Emerging social software, digital technologies, and broadband networks offer GPO, participating depository libraries, and other partners new ways to cooperate as they seek to build, sustain, and provide access to the digital collections of the future while preserving the print resources of historic importance. It will be essential that, in repositioning the FDLP to a sustainable, flexible system that is not geographically defined, the best elements of the traditional print-based approaches to government documents management and access are merged with the capacities of networked services and resources. "

Wednesday 15 April 2009

And speaking of audio...

The Federal Courts have announced that their pilot project to make digital audio recordings of courtroom proceedings publicly available online has been expanded from 5 federal courts to 9 through the end of 2009. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims and three bankruptcy courts — in the Middle District of Florida, Eastern District of New York, and Rhode Island — have been added to the project. Rhode Island already is offering the recordings online, and the other three courts are moving toward implementation. They join the 5 original pilot courts — U.S. District Courts in Nebraska and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in the Eastern District of North Carolina, Northern District of Alabama, and Maine. The audio files are accessible through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. Digital audio recording has been an authorized method of making an official record of court proceedings since 1999, when it was approved by the policy-making Judicial Conference of the United States. Digital audio recording is used in most bankruptcy and district courts (where magistrate judges account for most of the usage). In courts with digital audio recording, CDs of hearings have been available for the authorized fee of $26, but prospective purchasers have had to make the trip to the clerk of court’s office. During the pilot project, Internet access to the same content at the nine pilot courts will cost a minimum of 16 cents — eight cents for accessing the docket sheet and another eight cents for selecting the audio file on PACER.

CD Collections now available for studying

The Law Library recently added to the collection several audio sets from West Group’s Sum & Substance CD series. Each multi-disc set reviews fundamental concepts of a particular area of the law, with lectures from well-recognized law professors. Currently available topics are: Constitutional law, Family law, Contracts, Sale and lease of goods, Criminal procedure, Criminal law, Civil procedure, Property, Torts, Evidence, and Professional responsibility. The sets are available for 3-day loan at the Law Library Circulation Desk. You can also locate them in PITTCat by doing a Call no. search “CD Collection”, or title search “Sum & Substance CD series”.

hat tip: Sallie Smith

GPO summary

There's a nice article in this month's Internet Connection (Westlaw password required) that describes the Government Printing Office, where it is, what it does, and the resources and databases that it provides.

Monday 13 April 2009

Amazon: giltch?

Slashdot reports that firestorm broke out on the internet yesterday when blogger Mark Probst noted that Amazon instituted an overnight policy that removes books that may be deemed offensive from their search system. He found that Amazon had deleted the sales ranking from two newly-released gay romance books as well as hundreds of other gay and lesbian themed books. Information Week tells how the story quickly became the hottest topic on Twitter and made its way to major online news outlets; by late evening the Associated Press was reporting that an Amazon spokesman said a "glitch" in the Amazon system had caused the problem and was being fixed. However, this does not jibe with the reply that Mr. Probst had received from Amazon: "In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature."

Friday 10 April 2009

Using social media tools

The Technology Review blog has an interesting post about social media. The author was surprised to find out that research has shown that people remembered less about an online article when they typed in "tags" to help remember key concepts than if they simply read the online article; in other words, social media doesn't always enhance experience. However, the same researcher investigated a tagging system called, which lets users click words in an article to create tags, rather than typing them in at the end. The idea was that would help users engage more with an article, but at a lower cost. She found that didn't reduce recall, and it enhanced a user's ability to recognize particular sentences.
The blogpost concludes that for social media to work for us, we need to enhance what it does right and reduce what it does wrong. It can be an amazing way to navigate an interconnecting Web of concepts and people. On the other hand, it can be horribly distracting.

Changes in West key number system

West has announced significant changes in their headnote system in several areas, resulting in the reclassification of more than 300,000 headnotes. The changes include the following:
Two new digest topics: The topic Privileged Communications and Confidentiality encompasses privilege issues arising in discovery and at trial and contains expanded classifications covering attorney-client privilege, physician-patient privilege, and executive privilege. The topic Protection of Endangered Persons covers such areas as restraining orders and other protection from domestic violence, harassment, and stalking; guardian ad litem appointments; agency investigations and liabilities; and criminal and civil liability.
Complete revision of four topics: The topics Convicts and Prisons were completely revised, with many lines afforded to concepts increasingly important in modern cases, e.g., boot camps. The topic Disorderly Conduct was greatly expanded to include breach of the peace (a similar offense recognized in most state jurisdictions). In the Products Liability topic, many points of law are classified once under the product type and again under the legal concept or procedure.
Minor improvements in many topics: You'll see many changes in topics such as Counties, Criminal Law, Indians, Infants, Negligence, and Process.
Deletion of one topic: The topic Breach of the Peace has been deleted. It is now part of the topic Disorderly Conduct.
Tentative plans for 2010 include the addition of a Water Law topic and substantial revisions in such topics as War and National Emergency, Weapons, Workers' Compensation, and Zoning and Planning.

Thursday 9 April 2009

A critique of PACER

Ars technica has a lengthy article about PACER titled "The case against PACER: tearing down the courts' paywall". The author provides a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of the PACER system. While acknowledging the good aspects of PACER, he also points out that the "paywall" (requiring registration, a credit card, and charing 8 cents a page) is a major deterrent to members of the general public who access court records only occasionally and are likely to be intimidated by the system's clumsy search tools. The paywall also makes it difficult for academics to perform comparative research on large numbers of court cases, and it makes it prohibitively expensive for third parties to improve access to the documents.

SSRN unavailable this weekend

SSRN (the Social Science Research Network) has announced that the SSRN website will be unavailable from approximately 6:00 p.m. EDT Friday, April 10 to 7:00 a.m. EDT on Monday, April 13 in order to upgrade the database to allow for broader international content. If you have any questions, they ask that you please email

Wednesday 8 April 2009

New history wiki launched by U. of Richmond

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story about a new wiki begun by historians at the University of Richmond. Called the History Engine , the wiki is meant to help students around the country work together on a shared tool to make sense of history documents online. Students generate brief essays on American history, and the History Engine aggregates the essays and makes them navigable by tags. The content is moderated by professors and History Engine uses mapping technology to organize scholarship by time period, geographic location, and themes. According to Prof. Andrew J. Torget, director of the digital scholarship lab at the University of Richmond, there is an oversupply of information and the current model for teaching and learning is based on a relative scarcity of research and writing, not an excess. “When you’ve got too much information to be able to process it all, you’re not sure how to find meaningful patterns within it,” Mr. Torget told The Chronicle. “The idea is to build a digital microscope that allows students to focus in on what’s most useful and relevant for the question they’re asking.”

Moldovan students use Twitter to organize demonstration

The UK Telegraph reports that students used Twitter to organize a protest and stormed parliament and presidential buildings in the ex-Soviet state of Moldova. The students were reacting to allegedly fraudulent election procedures two days after a parliamentary election handed victory to the ruling Communists of President Vladimir Voronin. Up to 10,000 demonstrators carrying Moldovan and European flags and shouting anti-Communist slogans gathered outside the government building and made their way down Chisinau's main boulevard to the president's office.
"The election was controlled by the Communists, they bought everyone off," said one student. "We will have no future under the Communists because they just think of themselves."

Book Groups Launch New Effort to Amend Patriot Act

The Campaign for Reader Privacy has issued a press release stating that organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers, and writers have launched the latest phase in a five-year campaign to restore reader privacy safeguards that were stripped away by the USA Patriot Act. Over the past 5 years the Department of Justice has used its expanded power under the Patriot Act to issue more than 200 secret search orders under Section 215 and more than 190,000 National Security Letters (NSLs). The FBI can search any records it believes are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, including the records of people who are not suspected of criminal conduct.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. However, congressmen have introduced H.R. 1467, the Safe and Secure America Act of 2009 extending it and two other Patriot Act provisions for another 10 years. FBI Director Robert Mueller recently called on Congress to extend the three expiring provisions.
According to the press release, the Campaign for Reader Privacy does not oppose the extension of Section 215, per se, but seeks to exempt bookstore and library records from its provisions. Without Section 215, the government would be required to seek a grand jury subpoena for such records.

LLC: Afghanistan Law Restricts Women's Rights

The Law Library of Congress reports that a law recently passed by Afghanistan's Parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai - but not yet published - re-introduces restrictions on women's rights that were in place previously under the Taliban. The provisions regulate family relations, divorce, and property rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described the new legislation as "a huge step in the wrong direction".

Tuesday 7 April 2009

WaPo: how to keep new associates

The Washington Post business advice column got a letter from "middle management" at a small law firm complaining that his firm had to part ways with two out of three new associates every year because they just can't cut it. The WaPo advises more careful work in the hiring process: "First, make sure you do an effective job of describing the work and eliminating candidates who are ill-equipped to handle it. If you do a good job explaining the nature of the position, many people who wouldn't be a good fit won't apply. You will tend to attract candidates who thrive in a high-pressure environment."

Search engine for law firms

There's a search engine called "feefiefoefirm" that lets you search the websites of all US law firms for information. It also offers the option of search law firm websites in the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Ireland and South Africa. You can use it to search for legal experts, law firm bulletins, articles, press releases etc. and you can set date limits from the past 24 hours to the past five years. For example, a quick search for "Tasers" in the "past year" got 22 results, including some interesting articles and blogposts about the legal aspects of taser use.

Hat tip: Greg Lambert over at 3Geeks and a Law Blog.

UK requires ISPs to keep customer data beginning today

IT Pro reports that an EU directive requiring Internet Service Providers to keep internet data on customers for one year officially comes into force in the UK today. The UK government has agreed to pay the 70 million dollar cost that keeping the data means to ISPs. Explaining the need for data storage, the Home Office said “Communications data is the where and when of communication and plays a vital part in a wide range of criminal investigations, and prevention of terrorists attacks as well as contributing to public safety more generally. Without communications data resolving crimes such as the Rhys Jones murder would be very difficult if not impossible.”

Monday 6 April 2009

Encarta online encyclopedia to shut down

The New York Times reports that Microsoft will "close" its Encarta online encyclopedia on October 31 everywhere except in Japan, with that service to be terminated on the last day of December. Encarta has not been able to successfully compete with Wikipedia, the giant communal online encyclopedia.

Visualizing the US Code

There's a new blog called Computational Legal Studies and it has a post about creating a visual model of the US Code - or rather, of Title 11 (Bankruptcy). The blog aims to "to disseminate legal studies that employ a computational or complex systems component. We hope this venue will serve as a coordinating device for those interested in using such techniques to consider the development of legal systems and/or implementation of more reasoned public policy." Previous posts include April as the Cruellest Month? Data on the Law Clerkship Tournament .

Wednesday 1 April 2009

PACER to list cases that have been sealed

The Judicial Conference has announced that PACER will list cases that have been sealed. The announcement says that "in its continuing efforts to ensure appropriate public access to court files, has voted to make federal court sealed cases more readily apparent."
At a March 17 meeting, they voted to have Internet lists of civil and criminal cases in district courts include a case number and generic name, such as “Sealed vs. Sealed,” for each sealed case. These lists for each of the 94 district courts are generated by the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system and are accessible through PACER. Currently, PACER lists of sequentially numbered district court cases skip the sealed cases, but a member of the public could query the missing case number directly and would see a message stating that the case “is under seal.”
The Conference in 2007 strongly encouraged district courts to change the message that PACER users receive when querying a sealed case—from “this case does not exist” to “this case is under seal.” The latest Conference action is consistent with and further implements the 2007 Conference policy by providing the public with information to confirm the existence of a sealed case. The Conference left it up to the individual district courts to determine what additional information about sealed cases, such as the initials of the assigned judge or the date of filing, should be available to the public.

Air Law

Prof. Pierre Schlag of the University of Colorado School of Law recently published an article in the Georgetown Law Review entitled Spam Jurisprudence, Air Law, and the Rank Anxiety of Nothing Happening (A Report on the State of the Art) in which he compares current legal scholarship to air guitar: "On the one hand, air guitar produced no real sound. On theother hand, no one playing air guitar ever struck a false note. The relation of air guitar to contemporary legalscholarship is relatively straightforward. "