All posts by Emma Babler

“Year of the Badger”: A Record Year for UW Law School

Law school admissions have been up almost across the board this year, but Wisconsin law schools have seen even more marked figures.

Marquette Law School has reported record numbers of female law students as well as out-of-state students.

UW Law School boasts its largest group of 1Ls since 2009- 275 students. This is almost twice the size of the 2017 incoming class (151 students).

Both law schools saw more applications this year, with UW seeing 25 percent more applications for the 2018 incoming class.

Check out this Wisconsin Law Journal article for the full scoop.

CRS Reports Now Available to the Public

By Eric Taylor, Evening & Weekend Reference Librarian

Once the exclusive province of Congress, the CRS Reports are now available to everyone.  Thoroughly researched and produced by the Congressional Research Service, the CRS Reports are nonpartisan briefing papers about current and emerging affairs of interest to members of Congress and their staffs.

The core mission of the Congressional Research Service, a legislative branch agency, is to provide “timely, objective, and authoritative research and analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate.”  Their reports support “Congress in its legislative, oversight, and representational duties.”  The wide range of topic areas for which CRS Reports have been produced include: constitutional questions, foreign affairs, agriculture and economic policy, science and technology, intelligence and national security, health care, education, immigration, transportation, and many others.

The year was 1914 when Senator Robert La Follette Sr. and Representative John M. Nelson, both of Wisconsin, championed a provision in the appropriations act establishing a special reference unit within the Library of Congress.  The new reference unit was based on Progressive Era ideas which promoted “the importance of the acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature.”  The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library, established in 1901, was built on the same concept that informed knowledge could serve the best interests of the state.

At various times in its history, reports such as the Public Affairs Bulletins (in the late 1940s) and Congressional Research Service Review (1980s) were made available to the public, but until very recently the vast majority of reports produced by the Congressional Research Service were available only to Congress.  The public, researchers, and advocates alike have long asked for these reports be made freely available.  The passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 last March did just that by directing the Library of Congress to make CRS Reports publicly available online.

“The publication directive specifically mandates that the public website is to be “updated contemporaneously, automatically, and electronically, to include each new or updated CRS report released on or after” the date on which the Library makes the website available for public access.”  The complete inventory of CRS Reports will be made available sometime in 2019.

Just click on the “Search” button to see what is available now.

CourtListener Now Offering PACER Docket Alerts

By Eric Taylor, Reference Librarian

The Free Law Project recently announced the availability of PACER Docket Alerts on CourtListener.com.  CourtListener is a free public access website tracking federal and state courts.  The Docket Alert tool will send you an email anytime there is a new court filing in a case you are following in PACER.  Access to PACER documents is provided by the website’s RECAP function.  Clicking on the RECAP Archive link allows users to search for available PACER filings.

Setting up Docket Alerts using CourtListener is simple (quoting the Free Law Project’s press release):

“The best way to get started with Docket Alerts is to just make one. Try loading a popular case like U.S. v. Manafort or The District of Columbia v. Trump. Once the case is open, just press the “Get Alerts” button near the top. Then, just wait for your first alert.”

Give it a try.  I did with U.S. v. Manafort and the Docket Alerts started flowing in the very first day the alert was set, and they just keep coming.

The primary source powering these alerts is RSS data provided by PACER websites.  However, not all courts have RSS feeds yet.  So another very important source is the docket information contributed by RECAP users.  Attorneys and others who download documents from the PACER system using their paid accounts can participate by installing the RECAP Extension to then upload these same documents to CourtListener’s RECAP Archive.  To date, 37M PACER docket entries have been uploaded to the RECAP Archive which includes 6.5M searchable PDFs.  The RECAP Archive continues to grow with the addition of over 100,000 docket entries and 2000 PDFs every day.

The value of CourtListener goes well beyond RECAP and PACER.  CourtListener also provides a free searchable archive of over 4M court opinions with more being added by the day.  They also have one of the largest collections of oral arguments available on the Internet.  Their coverage page breaks down the figures and services in greater detail.

There really is no other legal website like it.  As the courts continue to charge the public fees for access to PACER, the Free Law Project practices what they call PACER Advocacy to bring these documents out into the light for the world to see for free.

Access to free PACER Docket Alerts is not unlimited, however.  Any user can monitor five dockets for free.  Those who install the RECAP Extension will get an additional ten docket alerts.  Users who make monthly contributions to the Free Law Project can make as many alerts as they need (within a reasonable limit).  The current suggested minimum monthly donation is five dollars per month.

 

What if There Were TurboTax, but for Appellate Briefs? (Guess What- There Is!)

Formatting appellate briefs is tough- there’s no getting around it. Brief-writers, be they attorneys or pro se litigants, have to pay very close attention to specific formatting details like margins, font, citations, headings, etc. If briefs are submitted to the court of appeals clerk’s office and they do not meet the stringent requirements, they are rejected.

Luckily, the State Bar of Wisconsin Appellate Practice Section recently created a tool called the Brief Assistant to help out. The Brief Assistant is an app which “allows the user to draft a correctly formatted initial brief, response brief, or reply brief that can be downloaded, saved, edited, and then filed in an appeal.”

In order to use Brief Assistant, the user simply creates a free account, selects which type of brief to create, then answers basic questions asked by the app (similar to how TurboTax works), which populates the brief. Brief Assistant will also provide users with tips for writing the required sections of the brief.

Brief Assistant can be a useful tool for lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries, and pro se litigants- it even has two different tracks- one for legal professionals, and one for pro se litigants- the one for pro se litigants provides sample model briefs so that the user can see what the finished project should look like.

You can read more about Brief Assistant here.

News on the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau

A recent article from Madison’s local newspaper, The Isthmus, outlines some significant cuts to the staff and services of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, particularly in the LRB research and library services department.

For example, the article cites a reduction in the number of “plain language” reviews of laws or court cases from 27 in 2014 to 11 last year. The number of reports produced by the LRB has also fallen in recent years from 22 in 2014, 16 in 2015, 5 in 2016, 1 in 2017, and none so far in 2018.

See the article for more information about the cuts as well as a bit of history of the LRB in Wisconsin.

Book Review- Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes

Brand new for your reading leisure!  This delightful book takes you way behind the scenes of the Supreme Court, and spotlights the culinary traditions that have been a part of the institution since its first session in 1790.

From cover to cover readers will be rewarded with recipes, wonderful photos, and stories brimming with history.  The author Clare Cushman, who is the Supreme Court Historical Society’s publication director, chronicles a very human side of the Justices.  Admittedly, not all their recipes or dietary habits are exactly appetizing, but there’s no accounting for taste.  The First Chief Justice, John Jay (1789-1795), liked oysters for breakfast, and there’s a recipe for scrambled eggs and oysters if that’s your thing (p.97).  Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson (1941-1954) enjoyed cowslip sandwiches for lunch (p.124).  Who knew?  Now you do.

Many of the Justices brought their lunches to work.  For Samuel A. Alito Jr. (2006-) it’s leftovers from home.  Word has it his wife is a wonderful cook.  Benjamin Cardozo (1932-1938) brought a slice of cake every day for lunch, but the other Justices teased him and he stopped bringing it (p.16).

This next one is sure to bring a laugh.  There was a time in the late nineteenth century when oral arguments were heard five days a week from noon to 4:00 p.m.  With no break for lunch, it was not uncommon for one or two of the Justices to leave their seats and slip behind the bench to take a bite.  The audience could not see them, but they could distinctly hear “the rattle of knives and forks.”  One day an advocate complained to Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller (1888-1910) that there was no quorum present.  The Chief Justice reassured him: “Although you may not see them…there are two Justices present who can hear the argument, and you may proceed.”  After many complaints, a formal lunch break was instituted from 2:00-2:30 p.m. (pp.13-15).

And how about this “A dietitian, Maryan Stevens has been credited with her husband John Paul Stevens’ longevity on the bench: he sat from 1975-2010 and was the third-longest serving Justice in history when he retired at age 90” (p.106).  His preferred lunch happens to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off (p.16).

There’s an entire chapter on Birthday Traditions, and does that pineapple coconut cake ever look good!  This would be Bill’s Birthday Cake by Natalie “Nan” Cornell Rehnquist (pp.54-55).  Another delightful chapter features Justices in the Kitchen.  Thurgood Marshall’s (1967-1991) grandmother taught him to cook although he tended not to follow recipes.  Sandra Day O’Connor (1981-2006) loved to cook and entertain.  She worked hard to revive the tradition of the Justices eating lunch together which had waned over the years.

There is so much to appreciate about this book, but you must really see it for yourself to take in its full impact.  Many of the photographs look good enough to eat, while others present the Justices as regular people enjoying the company of good food and friends.  The stories and captions that go along with them make for a wonderful hearty stew.  Bon Appétit!

This book is located in our library stacks, call number KF8742. C875 2017.

This post was written by our Evening Reference Librarian, Eric Taylor.

In Memory of Margo Melli

The Wisconsin Lawyer recently published a wonderful article celebrating the life and career of UW Law School Professor Emerita Margo Melli, who passed away on January 6, 2018.

Prof. Melli graduated at the top of her UW law class in 1949, and eventually became the first female tenure-track law professor in the history of the UW Law School.

As the article states, she was a “trailblazer” for women lawyers in Wisconsin and will certainly be missed.

WI Legislature Recently Introduced Two Bills Related to CCAP

CCAP, or the Consolidated Court Automation Program, is the Wisconsin electronic circuit court case management system. Recently, several bills were introduced in the Wisconsin legislature regarding CCAP.

 

Both of these bills, Assembly Bill 723 and Senate Bill 612, list what categories of information should be provided and searchable on CCAP, including:

 

  • County where charges were filed
  • Judge assigned to the case
  • All cases adjudicated by the judge
  • The criminal charge filed
  • Whether the case resulted in a conviction
  • The penalty that was imposed, if any, in the case

 

This is certainly something we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the near future!

It’s Not Science Fiction, It’s a New Way to Search

Here in law library-land, we’re all familiar with the concept of “citation chasing”- i.e., finding one good on-point article and then mining its citations, footnotes, and citing sources for other relevant articles. But what if there were a way to let an algorithm look at the relevant article you’d already found and mine it for keywords, ultimately generating you a list of other relevant articles?

 

Sound like science fiction? It’s not- this is a basic description of JSTOR’s new tool, “Text Analyzer.”

 

This tool allows you to place large chunks of text (or even the entire text of an article!) into its search box, which will then analyze the text and return other relevant JSTOR articles. If you’ve ever used the “related articles” link on Google Scholar (another great way to citation chase), it’s a similar algorithm. EBSCO also has a similar tool.

 

However, JSTOR’s Text Analyzer does several things these tools do not. Text Analyzer will also provide a list of what it has identified as relevant keywords in the article, along with importance/prominence. After you’ve run your search, though, you can play with these keywords and elevate their importance, or add or delete keywords in order to re-run your search. Therein lies the true strength of this new tool- not assuming that the search or algorithm gives perfect results right away, but allowing the user to tweak and re-tweak in order to find what they are looking for. It’s still not perfect, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction as far as search engines go, and I’m hoping this pushes other search engines to develop similar and even better tools for searching.

UW Law Professor Emeritus Herman Goldstein Awarded the 2018 Stockholm Prize in Criminology

UW Law Professor Emeritus Herman Goldstein has been awarded the 2018 Stockholm Prize in Criminology, as announced today.

This prize recognizes Prof. Goldstein as “the world’s most influential scholar on modern police strategy.”

Goldstein’s seminal 1977 book, “Policing a Free Society” and its 1990 follow-up, “Problem-Oriented Policing,” discussed police authority and discretion as well as conduct and corruption, and posited strategies for improving police function. His strategy of “problem-oriented policing” has been adopted in various forms by a large number of police agencies in the United States and internationally.

Goldstein based much of his early work on his own experiences in the mid-1950s and early 1960s with city management and policing– he spent two years as a researcher for the American Bar Foundation Survey of the Administration of Criminal Justice, observing police operations in Wisconsin and Michigan, and then was executive assistant to O.W. Wilson, the “architect of the professional model of policing” and superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. After these experiences and subsequent writings, Goldstein received a Ford Foundation grant to continue his work within a law school setting, and he joined the Wisconsin law faculty in 1964.

See the law school’s official announcement here  for additional information, as well as this recent oral history interview with Prof. Goldstein (hosted by the UW Law Library’s Digital Repository).

Congratulations, Prof. Goldstein!