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lawlibrary

Legal Research on a Budget

In a recent issue of the Law Technology News I saw a link to an article in the Texas Lawyer entitled “Legal Research on the Cheap.”  This  article described ways to perform legal research for free.   The author talked about his inability to construct first search successful Boolean queries using Lexis or Westlaw and suggested the use of free resources to get a better handle on the legal research question.  These sources were also recommended as a way to reduce client legal research costs.

Google Scholar is recommended because of its user-friendly interface and the large coverage of the database that includes caselaw and journals.   Still, he found limitations and would not recommend using this tool instead of Westlaw or Lexis.  Using  Internet searches as a means of getting basic, general information about a research issue is another recommendation.   He cites legal blogs as good resources on legal topics.  The third recommended resource is the Cornell University Legal Information Institute as a user-friendly site with links to state and federal statutes and rules.  LexisOne Free Case Law Research is recommended as well, again with limitations.

When I read the post I was compelled to reply.  What is missing  from this list is the best free resource I know, the law library and law librarian.  Attorneys who are fortunate enough to work in a firm with a comprehensive  library and professional librarians should be aware that the librarian is expert at formulating queries for use in Lexis and Westlaw.  A librarian can also suggest resources, in print or online, that would provide the overview needed for the research to begin.  Secondary sources such as topical treatises and encyclopedias are a great way to get a handle on a new research project.

Attorneys without a firm library or librarian might be able to take advantage of the local county, court or state law library.  The website of the State, Court and County Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries contains a listing of law libraries on the web and an interactive map for locating law libraries across the country.  Links to information on Maryland law libraries can be found on the Maryland’s Peoples Law Library.

Public law libraries often provide free access to the legal research databases such as Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline and BNA as we do here in the AACPLL.  Librarians can suggest other sources and assist with query formulation.  All for free and much more personalized.  A visit to the law library can be a much more efficient use of attorney time than multiple, unsuccessful searches on Westlaw, Lexis or the Internet in general.

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lawlibrary

Mandatory CLE for Maryland Attorneys?

Paul Mark Sandler stated in his blog “The Art of Advocacy”  how important he thinks that Maryland should join most other states in requiring mandatory continuing education for  lawyers in his post: Why Maryland Needs Mandatory CLE.  Paul Mark Sandler chaired the MCLE subcommittee of Maryland’s Commission on Professionalism.

The Commission on Professionalism, created by the Court of Appeals as a permanent commission in March 2009, has recommended the adoption of rules requiring mandatory CLE.  The (Proposed) Rules of the Maryland Commission on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education would require 10 hours of mandatory continuing legal education each year.  Frequently Asked Questions Concerning the Commission on Professionalism and its Proposed Rule on Mandatory MCLE can be found on the Maryland Judiciary’s website.

Maryland law libraries should explore the opportunities such a rule would create.  Court libraries could partner with local bar associations to provide legal research programs that could range from the basics of  online legal research to the use and evaluation of Internet resources.

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lawlibrary

Updated Social Media Module on the NCSC Website

The most recent edition of the National Center for State Courts’ online newsletter, @ The Center, Volume 1, No. 8, May 2010, reported that the Social Media and the Courts: Resource Guide module had been revised.  Since we mentioned this resource here, a section on the use of cell phones and electronic devices in court was added.  The issue of cell phones in Maryland courts has recently been under discussion by the Rules Committee.

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lawlibrary

Federal Courts and Web 2.0

Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites reported on the newly designed Federal Courts webpage at uscourts.gov yesterday.   He noted the use of web 2.0 features such as RSS feeds and podcasts.

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lawlibrary

Legal Self-Help Resources Available in Anne Arundel County

The number of legal self-help resources have just recently increased.  The court has provided “legal information and forms to assist pro se (unrepresented) litigants in matters of divorce, custody/visitation, child support and name changes” for years now in the Self Help – Family Law Self Help Center.  It is located on the second floor of the courthouse and is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  They also have telephone hours everyday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.  The phone number is: 410-280-5374.

The law library sees many self represented litigants (SRLs) who need assistance with many other legal issues beyond family law.  The library has dedicated a section of the library as a self-help center to assist those seeking legal information or want to represent themselves without an attorney.  The center has a computer with printer and a collection of legal books written for the non-attorney.  Having this PC in an area away from the computer room allows library staff to provide instruction on the use of online and print materials used in legal research privately.  The online Maryland’s Peoples Law Library is a great resource and used frequently in the “center.”

Still, many who visit the library want legal advice: in the form of should I or is this the right thing to do or what should I do?  Many times they would love to have an attorney to represent them or provide them with advice but cannot afford to hire an attorney and do not qualify for legal services programs.

In response, the law library sought to institute a new service in the law library:  Ask a Lawyer in the Law Library.  Now every Wednesday a volunteer attorney is in the law library from 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. to provide limited legal advice and answer legal questions for up to twenty minutes.  The response has been great to the point where we often have many more than the six slots the two hours will allow.  Many times the attorney of the day will stay an extra hour or more to accommodate those who did get one of the six time slots.  (We now have a lottery between 10:45 and 11:00 so that time slots can be fairly assigned.)  This year four different firms have agreed to provide an attorney for the same Wednesday each month:  Bell, Ragland, Gauges and Paltell; David Simison; Council, Baradel; and Baldwin, Kagan and Gormley.  Chis Boucher and Mary Kay Canarte have  agreed to cover two of the four fifth Wednesdays in March, June, September and December.

The program has expanded to branches of  the Anne Arundel Public Library this year and hopes to find a way to continue on a regular basis as these programs can be offered in the evening and on weekends.

Luckily for Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission decided that a pilot District Court Self-Help Center be located in the Glen Burnie District Court.  The center is now up and running at 7500 Ritchie Highway in room 205 everyday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  They can provide “limited legal services”  involving such issues as landlord/tenant, small claims, and debtor/creditor.  They can assist with such tasks as completing court forms and can answer legal questions or help in preparing for court.

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lawlibrary Pro Bono Self Represented

Ask a Lawyer in the Library Travels North

Bill, Cliff and Ed

The Ask  a Lawyer in the Library program moved to North County last night.   AABA attorneys, Cliff O’Connor and Bill Trevillian, Jr., provided free legal advice at the Brooklyn Park Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library.  Attorney Ed Groh was there to help, too.  I came along as usual to provide back-up research assistance.   The afternoon began at 4:00 with clients ready at the start.  There was not a large turnout as expected but Cliff O’Connor who organized the event will try again.  Another north county location and different times will be considered.  Other avenues for advertising the event beyond the newspaper and public library bulletin boards may be needed to reach those for whom the program is designed.

Those that took advantage of the program were grateful to get help with their legal problems which included bankruptcy and employment issues.  The extra attention that the attorneys were able to give to each participant was appreciated, too.

The attorneys all agreed that they are willing to try it again.

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lawlibrary Pro Bono Self Represented

Ask a Lawyer in the Public Library Program Continues

Elizabeth, Patricia and Brian

Law Week was off to an early start with the Ask a Lawyer in the Library program returning to the Maryland City at Russett Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library on Saturday.  Elizabeth Leight, co-chair of the AABA Pro Bono Committee, enlisted  AABA attorney Brian Markovitz and  Maryland Hispanic Bar Association attorney Patricia Chiriboga-Roby to provide free legal advice in the library.  By 12:30 p.m. the attorneys had already assisted 11 clients with a total of 18  clients being seen by the end of the day.  I was on hand to provide back-up reference assistance. 

Issues for which consultations were sought included consumer contracts, immigration, child support and custody, legal malpractice, home construction disputes and employment. 

The program will be held in the Brooklyn Park branch on May 4 and continue in the Circuit Court on Wednesdays.

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lawlibrary

Social Media Use at the Library of Congress

Reading that the Library of Congress has and will archive all Tweets led me to find the  LOC on Twitter which lead me to the Library of  Congress Blog and Facebook page.

I am now following the Library of Congress on Twitter, subscribe to the blog with Google Reader and am a fan of  the LOC on Facebook.

The LOC Twitterfeed consists of announcements with links to more information such as a Press Release or Blog post such as the one concerning the archiving of all Tweets or an announcement that the Librarian of Congress would be interviewed on ABC World News.   The most recent Tweet, today, was as follows:  “First Japanese Diplomatic Mission to U.S. Is Subject of May 24 Lecture: “Samurai 150! The First Japanese Diplomati… http://bit.ly/9n3GQi”  The link will take you right to the news release page.  The Library of Congress Blog is a great site to find out about LOC events and news such as a Shakespeare birthday event scheduled for tomorrow or the announcement that Tweets will now be archived.   The LOC Facebook page most recent post was about a C-SPAN interview concerning the Twitter archive with a link to the video.  There are lots of fan comments.  (The Law Library of Congress has a Facebook  page, too.)

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lawlibrary

Library of Congress to archive all of Twitter

It was first announced yesterday, appropriately, on Twitter.  As you can imagine there is an explosion of Tweets on Twitter concerning this news.  You can read all about it on the Library of Congress Blog:

How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive

from April 14th, 2010 by Matt Raymond

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lawlibrary

Why the law library stayed open

It was impossible for the law library to provide adequate notice to those who would be using the library during the carpet installation.  We could notify the court via email and post signs for those who visit the library frequently.  However, many who use the library have never done so before and as unknown members of the public we could not contact them directly nor did we have time to publish a notice in the paper.

By remaining open, even with limited access, we were able to provide  library services to all who visited the law library.  To have turned away those who expected to use the library would have greatly inconvenienced them.  We had attorneys who needed to run child support guidelines during a trial, an attorney who needed to redo a pleading, more than one Self Represented Litigant needed information on eviction from a rental due to foreclosure,  another Self Represented Litigant needed information on  a motion to stay a foreclosure,  and another needed to find information on an administrative appeal with the deadline for filing fast approaching.  This is just a sampling of the requests we get in the library everyday and the reason we felt it important that we remain open to the best of our ability.

I am glad we were not responsible for the possibility of perhaps adding one more frustration to someone’s busy life.