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

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!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Free Hi-Def Images

Are you interested in finding high-quality images to use in PowerPoint presentations, on a website, or on social media?

Consider Pixabay!

This free site offers about 300,000 photos and illustrations that may be used without attribution.

The collection is searchable, so you can find images of law, such as the classic scales of justice held by Themis, above, or an iconic image of Seattle, below.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Law Library: Closed on Saturdays

Effective this Saturday, Feb. 7, the Law Library will be closed to the public.

UW Law faculty, students, and staff will continue to have access with their Husky cards. Please exercise caution when using your Husky card to use the main elevators down to Floor L1 and when entering the Library. Do not allow strangers to join you.

Other UW students and members of the public looking for student space may want to consider any of the other University of Washington Libraries

Monday, February 2, 2015

Innocence Movement; Video Series Online

The University of Illinois Springfield offers a free online course on the Innocence Movement beginning today, Feb. 2, 2015. You can register online at: (Click on this link, then click the name of the course, The Innocence Movement, in the box on the right, then self enroll.) You can enroll in the course at any time. It will remain open and accessible indefinitely. The instructor is Prof. Gwen Johnson, from the Legal Studies Department.
This Innocence MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is a series of videos that feature exonerees, lawyers, students, and advocates from across the country describing their experiences in the Innocence Movement. It includes the stories of Kirk Bloodsworth, Brian Banks, Juan Rivera, Audrey Edmonds, Vanessa Potkin, Justin Brooks, Laura Caldwell, Senator Dick Durbin, Dr. John Plunkett, Scott Turow, and Eric Zorn, among many others.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lawyers Fighting for Children

Kids often need lawyers, too. A new book from the ABA shows the ways that lawyers make a difference. Changing Lives: Lawyers Fighting for Children (Lourdes M. Rosado ed., 2014) has chapters by lawyers from around the country about representing children in different contexts—the child welfare system, school disciplinary actions, immigration proceedings, and so on.
Changing Lives cover - architectural frieze with child holding sword and scales of justice

Each chapter portrays a real-life case of a child in crisis and describes in detail the lawyering that was brought to bear to achieve the best outcome for that child. In describing these cases, the authors also offer practice pointers. The book is in the Classified Stacks (KF337.5 .J88R67 2014).

Chapter 6, A Matter of Survival: Representing Runaway and Homeless Youth, is by Casey Trupin, UW Law grad, Columbia Legal Services attorney, one of the founders of SYLAW (Street Youth Legal Advocates of Washington), and long-time lecturer in UW Law's Legislative Advocacy Clinic. You can follow the work of the Columbia Legal Services Children & Youth Project on Twitter @columbialgl_cyp.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Add Some Drama to Your Life--Outside Law School!

The UW School of Drama trains actors, directors, set designers, and others, and it offers high-quality entertainment right here on campus at bargain rates. This quarter, you could see any of these plays:

Yellow Face,
by David Henry Hwang

Jan. 22 to Feb. 1

(Undergraduate Theater

theater poster for Yellow Face shows man in evening dress with top hat

Twelfth Night,
by William Shakespeare

Jan. 28 to Feb. 8
theater poster for Twelfth Night shows 1920s woman with mustache

The Hostage,
by Brendan Behan

March 4 to March 15
theater poster for The Hostage shows man in military uniform with black band across eyes, noose above

by Joe Masteroff,
music and lyrics
by Kander & Ebb

Feb. 26 to March 8

(Undergraduate Theater
poster for Undergraduate Theater Society 2014-2015 season with word "Cabaret"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Your Inventive Neighbors

Corporate Counsel reports that Big Blue, Not Apple, Not Google, Got the Most Patents in 2014 (Jan. 12). So IBM ("Big Blue"), founded in 1911, is still very active in the invention biz. The story drew upon a study by IFI Claims Patent Services that looked at all the thousands of utility patents last year. (The study excludes design patents and plant patents. The types are defined here.)

Three companies in the top 50 are close to Seattle, including:
#5 Microsoft (2,829 patents)
#40 Boeing (901 patents)
#50 Amazon (750 patents) 

You can search the USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database to find patents from other companies. For instance, in "advanced search," AN/Starbucks retrieves patents assigned to Starbucks. Take a look at, say, Patent 20110088560, "Machine for Brewing a Beverage Such as Coffee and Related Method."

Diagram of coffee maker from Patent 20110088560

To find patents from other local innovators. I used "advanced search" again:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Law Students: Compete to Get Published in a BNA Law Report!

The University of Washington School of Law is one of 20 law schools in the U.S. to be selected to compete in a student writing competition. 
Between January 7th and February 25th, 2015, current law students (including LL.M.s and Ph.D.s) can register to participate. After registration, participants will be asked to submit an original article between 1,000 and 1,600 words to one of five Bloomberg BNA Law Reports: 

  • Corporate Law & Accountability Report
  • Employment Discrimination Report
  • Health Law Reporter
  • Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal
  • U.S. Law Week

Submissions are due no later than March 11, 2015. 

Students with winning articles will work directly with the Executive Editors of each Law Report to get the article ready for publishing and it will be included in the first edition of that Law Report in May 2015. To top it off, each winning student will receive $5000!

For more information and to register for the competition, go here