Friday, April 17, 2015

Legal Milestones in Choral Music

Two upcoming choral concerts honor historic legal events.

1297 copy of Magna Carta on display
in the National Archives
(and the NationalArchives
Featured Documents web exhibit
UW Collegium Musicum presents a musical setting of a medieval poem about the events leading to the Magna Carta in 1215. Magna Carta 800: Music of the British Isles, Sat. April 18, 2015, 7:30 PM, Mary Gates Hall, $10.

Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers present 1954 in America , Sunday, May 17, 3:00 PM, First Free Methodist Church (in West Seattle). One of the works is Breathe, by Stacey Phillips:
Breathe, a work for chorus and orchestra selected as the winning entry in the 2014–2015 OSSCS Composer Competition, features lyrics drawn from the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Paul Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.” Written during the months following protests in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Breathe “raises the continuing question of how this country, founded on the principles of equality, continues to struggle with questions of social justice.”
Thanks to Patty Roberts.

National County Government Month #NCGM

"April is the cruellest month," wrote T. S. Eliot. If you're a fan of Eliot, you might be celebrating April as National Poetry Month.

National County Government Month logo
But April is also National County Government Month (declared by the National Association of Counties (NACo)), and as lawyers you're more likely to deal with county government or even be a part of it than you are to be a professional poet, so let's take a minute to think about county government.

This year's theme is "Counties Moving America Forward: The Keys are Transportation and Infrastructure."

Washington County Profiles (from the Municipal Research and Services Center) offers quick access to county websites, codes, and comprehensive plans.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Working at the IRS; Pew on Taxes

Bloomberg News has a long story looking at life inside the IRS: Devin Leonard & Richard Rubin, IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed, April 8, 2015. The headline conveys the gist of it, but read the article to learn more about budget cuts, hiring freezes, reorganizations, and other constraints that make the lives of these public servants challenging. 

screen snip showing headline from story

Think of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA, or the Department of Defense: that agency can't do its work unless the folks at the IRS do their work. 

I listed those three agencies because they get very high approval ratings (65-70% favorable) while the IRS got more unfavorable (48%) than favorable (45%) responses. That's from the Bloomberg News article, crediting Pew Research Center. For more on that survey of attitudes toward agencies, see Most View the CDC Favorably: VA's Image Slips, Pew Research Center, Jan. 22, 2015. The complete report is here.

Speaking of reports from Pew, see 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Growth of Incarceration

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014), packed with research and analysis from social scientists and policy experts, is available as a free PDF from the National Academies Press.

This animated video summarizes the findings:

And this video summarizes it without the graphics:


Other National Academies publications in Law and Justice address topics such as:
  • eyewitness identification
  • the illicit tobacco market
  • juvenile justice reform
  • sex trafficking
  • forensic evidence

Friday, April 10, 2015

Prohibition comes to Seattle!

Don't worry–you can still have your evening cocktail! MOHAI (the Museum of History & Industry) is presenting the exhibit American Spirits the Rise and Fall of Prohibition April 2 through August 23. Along with this exhibit on June 6, 2015, "MOHAI will present 21st Century Speakeasy - a chance for visitors to discover how our region has pushed boundaries and led national conversations about legislating morality, including, most recently, the legalization of marijuana in Washington State."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Poetry! Get Your Poetry!

April is National Poetry Month. Whether you like your poetry funny or serious, romantic or modern, one nice feature of most poems is that you can enjoy one or two even while keeping up with your law school reading assignments. (I know: you can't get through the Aeneid or Paradise Lost in a half hour. I said most poems.)

You can find free poetry and other resources on and (the website of the Academy of American Poets).

If you like your poetry on paper, go to the University Bookstore on Friday, April 10, when all poetry books in stock are 25% off.

University Book Store sale ad

A poetry book is a bargain!
And gives a break from legal jargon!
Get prepared for April 30, Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Help Make LEGO Legal Justice Team a Reality!

Remember the Legal Justice League: Women of the Supreme Court in LEGO??

Well, they're back, but in a slightly different form. LEGO initially rejected Maia Weinstock's original proposal, featuring actual female justices from the U.S. Supreme Court, under its policy against creating political minifigures based on real individuals. Weinstock and LEGO have now reached a compromise and a proposed set including three generic female justices has now been submitted to LEGO Ideas (LEGO's crowdsourced incubator for potential sets).



The project requires 10,000 votes before it's qualified for LEGO Review. Help show your support by voting for the project here.

You can also find more details about Maia Weinstock's chronicle of events leading to the creation of the Legal Justice Team here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

You've Been Served.. via Facebook?

Traditionally, when commencing a lawsuit a person must be served in-person, or if not in person, through alternative service such as by publication. However, recently a New York State Judge ordered that the Defendant could be served via Facebook private messenger. What do you think of this new, alternative service? Is it constitutional? Read the Court's full opinion here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tips for Better To-Do Lists

Is it still early enough in the quarter that you aren't behind? or not too far behind?

If you're always scrambling to keep track of what's going on, you might find these tips helpful: What Happened When Fast Company Staff Created Better To-Do Lists (Sept. 22, 2014).

The article is from the blog How To Be a Success at Everything: "From big ideas like balancing work and life to small, everyday choices, we discover how talented people are so effective at what they do."

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Federal Appellate Briefs to Get Shorter?

A proposed change to Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure would put appellate briefs on an enforced diet:
  • a principal brief would max out at 12,500 words (rather than the current 14,000 words)
  • a reply brief would have half that.
Because the Judicial Conference uses, you can read the comments that have been submitted.

Some of the comments are from individuals. Many are from organizations, for example
  • Seth Waxman submitted a letter on behalf of the appellate practice groups of several large law firms (including his own firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP).
  • EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Western Environmental Law Center submitted joint comments.
  • The American Academy of Appellate Lawyers also weighed in, approving changes to other rules but not Rule 32.
  • Judge Frank Easterbrook (7th Cir.) wrote supporting the current, 14,000-word limit, and also explaining its origin. 
Most of the comments are against the change, but some support it. See Mark Wilson, FRAP 32: Do Federal Appellate Briefs Need to Be Shorter?, Strategist (Feb. 17, 2015).

By the way, the corresponding rule in Washington (RAP 10.4) limits brief length in terms of pages, not words. Its limit is 50 pages for a principal brief, which might work out to be about the same as 14,000 words. Judge Easterbrook says that the old federal rule was 50 pages; to change to a word count, he calculated the number of words in 50-page briefs and found an average of just under 40,000 words.

Autism Awareness

Today is World Autism Awareness Day (see the UN General Assembly resolution and President Obama's proclamation) and April is National Autism Awareness Month.

For an essay criticizing the rhetoric of "celebrating" autism, see this essay on the Washington Post website by the mother of three adult daughters with autism.

Prof. Steve Calandrillo
To sample some of the legal issues, visit SSRN and search for "autism." When I did, the top article (in a ranking by number of downloads) was by UW Law's Prof. Steve CalandrilloVanishing Vaccinations: Why Are So Many Americans Opting Out of Vaccinating their Children?, 37 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 353 (2004). (It's been downloaded 1336 times.) Other papers address special education, criminal law, bullying, trial practice (children with autism as witnesses), and more.

Last year, the Autism CARES Act tweaked autism-related provisions of the Public Health Service Act. (The full title is a mouthful: Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2014, Pub. L. 113-157, 128 Stat. 1831.) Because autism issues are within the domains of different agencies (e.g., Health and Human Services and Education), the federal government has an Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. Among other thing, the committee provides a range of publications. For less technical, more accessible information, see HHS's Autism Information page.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Group Study Rooms to Be Remodeled

Associate Dean Hazel Pennington announced today that over spring break the law library had plumbing installed to accommodate hot tubs in three of the group study rooms rooms on L2. "I think this will increase usage of the study rooms, while improving student morale and well being."

Students enjoying a relaxing study session.

An extension of the chair yoga offered during Wellness Wednesdays, the availability of whirlpool hot tubs should contribute to the mellow vibe in the law school. "We are cooperating with a cognitive psychologist on campus who is interested in the performance enhancing effects of regular hot tubbing by law students," said Dean Pennington. "As well as making our students' lives more pleasant, we might be improving their performance. And if not, well, at least the students will be relaxed."

Dean Pennington reported that the location of the study rooms on the lowest level of the building is ideal. The increased weight from the hot tubs would unduly stress upper floors. "While we want to relieve students' stress, we don't want to increase the building's structural stress!"

Graphic: mashup by Mary Whisner of her own photo of a study room and a hot tub photo by Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung. Hot tub photo used under Creative Commons license

Friday, March 20, 2015

Let the Sunshine In: Open Meetings and Open Records in Washington State

Today is the last day of the annual Sunshine Week, a "celebration of access to public information." While you contemplate our gloomy spring weather (at least west of the Cascades), check out these Washington State sunshine laws and resources:
Interested in Federal open government resources? Check out the open government guide created by the UW Libraries and our 2014 Sunshine Week blog post on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Interested in actual sunshine? Well, we may or may not have sunbreaks this weekend, but the UW cherry trees are in bloom on the quad and worth a look no matter the weather.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Death Penalty Research Made Easy!

Researching death penalty laws and practices of a country can be a daunting task, but the Death Penalty Worldwide (DPW) website is a great starting point. Created by Professor Sandra Babcock (Cornell University Law School) in partnership with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, this website provides a multitude of death penalty statistics, research, and even legal analysis broken down by country and by issue. The DPW database focuses on countries that still retain the death penalty for ordinary offenses. Thus, over 90 countries are covered.

Death Penalty Worldwide website image
Death Penalty Worldwide Website

Big Money in Judicial Campaigns

Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb decries the effect of money on judicial campaigns: I Was Alabama's Top Judge. I'm Ashamed by What I Had to Do to Get There. Politico, March/April 2015.

Cobb cites a 2014 report by Emory law professors Joanna Shepherd and Michael S. Kang that found a strong link between campaign spending and ruling against criminal defendants: Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising and State Supreme Court Justices' Decisions in Criminal Cases.

Cobb is one of four former chief justices of Texas and Alabama who submitted an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold Florida's rule that bans direct solicitation by judicial candidates. The case is Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar (docket number 13-1499), which was argued in January. On the other side, the ACLU has an amicus brief arguing that the ban infringes free speech. For much more about the case and the arguments, see SCOTUSblog.

Brief Quality Makes a Difference

A fascinating study of briefs opposing summary judgment in a particular class of employment discrimination cases—a topic with conflicting cases within the circuit—found that a majority omitted available case law that would have countered the defendants' arguments. And it makes a difference: "while bad brief-writers lose summary judgment at a remarkably high rate (86%), good brief-writers do not (42%)."  Scott A. Moss, Bad Briefs, Bad Law, Bad Markets: Documenting the Poor Quality of Plaintiffs’ Briefs, Its Impact on the Law, and the Market Failure It Reflects, 63 Emory L.J. 59, 65 (2013).

Here's the author's abstract:
For a major field, employment discrimination suffers surprisingly low-quality plaintiffs’ lawyering. This Article details a study of several hundred summary judgment briefs, finding as follows: (1) the vast majority of plaintiffs’ briefs omit available caselaw rebutting key defense arguments, many falling far below basic professional standards with incoherent writing or no meaningful research; (2) low-quality briefs lose at over double the rate of good briefs; and (3) bad briefs skew caselaw evolution, because even controlling for win-loss rate, bad plaintiffs’ briefs far more often yield decisions crediting debatable defenses.

These findings are puzzling. In a major legal service market, how can clients persistently choose bad lawyers, lawyers persistently perform so poorly, and judicial and ethics authorities tolerate this situation? Answers include poor client information, ethics authorities’ limited ability or will to discipline bad lawyers, and two troubling lawyer behaviors: (1) overoptimistically entering the field without realizing, until suffering losses, that it requires intensive research and writing; and (2) knowingly litigating on the cheap, rather than expending briefing effort to maximize case value, because contingency-paid lawyers may profitably run “mills” and live off quick, small settlements. A survey of the worst brief-writers’ law firms hints that the problem may be a mix of the former (nonspecialists in over their heads) and the latter (knowingly litigating cheaply).

This Article offers the following reforms that, while no cure-all for a problem stemming from stubborn market forces, could help: (1) expanding educational efforts, including law school experiential learning, bar resource-sharing, and bar exam reform; (2) enhancing client access to information on lawyers by liberalizing ethics rules restricting expertise claims and public access to court files; (3) broadening the supply of competent lawyers by liberalizing rules restricting the standing to sue of discrimination “testers” and ethics rules on corporations owning law firms; and (4) toughening ethics enforcement against the worst offenders, who almost all go unpunished now.
There's lots to think about here, from many perspectives: employment discrimination law, civil procedure, access to justice, legal ethics, and (of course) legal research and writing.

Monday, March 16, 2015

LEGO Supreme Court Justices

UPDATE: A variation of this project has now been submitted to LEGO Ideas! Please see this post for more information.

Hopefully by now you've had the chance to check out Maia Weinstock's (deputy editor at MIT News) Legal Justice League: Women of the Supreme Court in LEGO:


Weinstock created the minifigures, featuring Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, in recognition of International Women's Day this year. This isn't Weinstock's first foray into creating unique LEGO minifigures--in the past she's created minifigures of female scientists, such as Temple Grandin:


Law Library Closed on Monday, March 23

When winter quarter finals end for UW School of Law students, the Law Library will operate on a reduced schedule.

March 21 - 23, Saturday - Monday: Closed
March 24 - 27, Tuesday - Friday: 8am - 5pm
March 28 & 28, Saturday & Sunday: Closed

The Reference Office will be open from 9am -12noon and 1 - 5pm March 24-27.

Regular hours resume when spring quarter classes begin on Monday, March 30.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Legal Research: Which Court is Binding?

Are you having trouble figuring out which courts’ rulings are binding for your particular legal issue? If so, check out Which Court is Binding? a guide drafted by the Writing Center at the Georgetown University Law Center. This guide is a useful tool in determining whether federal or state law applies, and then determining which court’s rulings are mandatory and which are persuasive.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

ProQuest Databases Unavailable on Saturday, Feb. 28

The UW Libraries subscribe to several useful databases from a company called ProQuest. Law students and other legal researchers might use:

These and other ProQuest databases will be unavailable on Saturday, Feb. 28, from 10pm EST until 3am EST.

Writing Competitions for Law Students

The George Washington University Law School has created a list of more than 150 legal writing competitions for students.  You can get more information and download the spreadsheet here.

Hat tip: Legal Skills Prof Blog

Friday, February 20, 2015

Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal

After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the UN set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). This historic tribunal delivered its last trial judgment in December 2012 and is now winding down its appellate work.

In 2008,  a team from Seattle—including information scientists, lawyers, and videographers—went to Tanzania (where the tribunal is) and Rwanda to interview judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, interpreters, court administrators, and others connected with the ICTR. The result is 49 video interviews, publicly available on the Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal website as well as carefully archived for the future. The project's principal investigator is Prof. Batya Friedman, from the UW Information School.

The project's vision is to "provide to the world, especially the people of Rwanda, free and open access to these interviews with personnel from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ban Laptops in the Classroom? Yes, Says Suffolk Law Professor

Suffolk University Law Professor Steven Eisenstat recently wrote an article arguing for the ban of laptops in law classes. He relies heavily on a study of UCLA & Princeton students that demonstrated that their comprehension and retention suffers when taking notes in class with a laptop, even without internet access.

The idea of banning laptops in classrooms has long been gaining momentum, and Professor Eisenstat maintains that other law professors need to cast aside the fear of students protesting a ban. In fact, Professor Eisenstat has found that while a laptop ban is at first unpopular in the courses he teaches, there is a significant rise in support of the ban by the end of the semester.

photo of class of students with laptops

It is hard to imagine grinding through a difficult property lecture without the distraction of social media or my fantasy football team. In hindsight, however, it would have been a good idea to turn off the laptop when my property professor introduced the Rule Against Perpetuities. If you choose to use a laptop during class, then you may be interested in a recent blog post by Gallagher Law Librarian Mary Whisner about tips on controlling internet distractions.

Graphic: “Mac for every student” by Luc Legay. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). Accessed February 15, 2015. <>.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Federal Courts App

A new Federal Courts app is available for Android, iPad, and iPhone.

With access to PACER, the federal rules of civil, criminal, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure, federal rules of evidence, local rules for EVERY federal court in the country, and more, the Federal Courts app is a must have for all practitioners.
The app costs $2.99.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Library Hours for Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 16

The Law Library will be open from 8am - 5pm on Monday, Feb. 16.  The Reference Office will be open from 1 - 4pm.

These hours, like the Presidents on Mount Rushmore, are carved in stone!