Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Too Many Results? There Are Hacks for That!

Have you ever run a search and been overwhelmed by the results you got back?

Me too. Here are a couple of my favorite hacks for focusing research to limit the results to more items that are more likely to be useful. Let's suppose we want to find law review articles and news stories about congressional oversight hearings (how do they work? what's the history? when do committees subpoena witnesses?).

Hack 1: Require Term in the Title

In Westlaw's Law Reviews & Journals database, the search "congressional oversight" turns up 4,904 documents. That's far too many to deal with. Searching for "oversight" to be in the title should help focus. And it does! "congressional oversight" & ti(oversight) gets us just 125 articles. And those articles seem highly relevant. E.g.,

  • Former Sen. Carl Levin & Elise J. Bean, Defining Congressional Oversight and Measuring Its Effectiveness, 64 Wayne L. Rev. 1 (2018)
  • Michael A. Livermore, Political Parties and Presidential Oversight, 67 Ala. L. Rev. 45 (2015)

You can do the same thing in Lexis's Law Reviews and Journals database,  "congressional oversight" yields 4,474 articles. But congressional oversight & title(oversight) yields just 116.

Note that in news databases you use "headline" instead of "title: In Major Newspapers in Lexis, "congressional oversight" turns up 7,957 stories. "congressional oversight" and headline(oversight) turns up 277.

Hack 2: Require Term to Appear a Lot

In Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law, you can require that a term appears a certain number of times with the "atleast" operator. For example, in Lexis (staying with law reviews), we can search for "congressional oversight" & atleast7(subpoena) turns up 224 articles.

In Westlaw's journals, "congressional oversight" & atleast20(hearing) brings us 569 articles. Changing it to atleast40(hearing) reduces the harvest to 204 articles. And atleast75(hearing) cuts the list to 64—articles that presumable discuss hearings a lot.

In Bloomberg Law News, "congressional oversight" turns up 408 stories. But when I add and atleast5(trump), the list is down to just 26.

Try out some searches of your own.

  • Find law review articles about "wrongful convictions" or "exonerations." How does it affect your search results if you require "exonerat!" to be in the title? How about if you require it to appear 10 times?
  • Find news stories about Columbia River dams and salmon. How many have "salmon" in the headline? 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Law Librarian Research Hack: Congressional Research Service Reports

Hack #11: Finding CRS Reports (the CRS might as well stand for “Crazy Reliable Sources”)

Within the Library of Congress lives an agency called the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS exists for the sole purpose of providing members of Congress with "comprehensive and reliable legislative research and analysis that are timely, objective, authoritative and confidential." The idea is that in order to make informed decisions, legislators need accurate and unbiased information related to the topics on which they are proposing and passing laws.

CRS' research and analysis often comes in the form of reports, although the researchers also generate several other types of publications. The reports, which are on a wide range of topics, are well-researched and full of useful information. Given the thorough and nonpartisan nature of the CRS reports, they make an excellent starting point for any research project. Perhaps most helpfully, the reports are often heavily footnoted and can point you to other relevant sources (both primary and secondary). If you can find a CRS report (or really any CRS publication) on-point for your research topic, go out and buy a lottery ticket because it's your lucky day!

So where do you go to find these wonderfully useful resources? Well, there's a research guide for that! Specifically, the Gallagher Law Library's guide to Congressional Research Services Reports. The guide includes links to several resources, both free and UW licensed. Note that coverage and search capabilities for each resource varies.

For the most recent CRS materials, check out the relatively new Library of Congress repository available at This site was created following passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which directed the Librarian of Congress to make all non-confidential written CRS products freely available to the public online. It includes new publications and an ever-growing backfile of older publications (I was able to locate CRS reports from as far back as October 2008). It also has the added bonus of not only including CRS reports, but other types of publications generated by the CRS (Legal Sidebars, In Focus, and written testimony from CRS experts called before Congress). 

The site is keyword searchable, but you can also just browse through the latest publications on the site by clicking the “SEARCH” button without entering any terms in the search bar. Doing so gives you an idea of the variety of topics that members of Congress are interested in. For example, fourteen new publications were uploaded to the site yesterday (June 18, 2019). A sampling of the titles of those items include:
If you are looking for older CRS reports, you'll want to search one of the other available sources. in particular is easy to use and has extensive holdings (nearly 15,000 publications) dating back to the 1970s.

If you want to know more about what CRS does, there is (appropriately) a 2011 CRS report titled The Congressional Research Service and the American Legislative Process.


Imagine that a supervisor would like you to do a research project regarding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) during your summer internship. You know nothing about the FDCPA. See if you can locate a helpful publication from the CRS on this topic. How about net neutrality? Or navy ship naming? Try using both and Do you get the same results?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Railroads Need Law, Too

You hear a lot about the need for law to address issues raised by new technology like autonomous vehicles, drones, and robots. Folks in the Technology Law & Policy Clinic (UW Law) and the Tech Policy Lab (School of Law, Information School, Computer Science & Engineering, and other units on campus) are among those wrestling with those issues.

photo of steam locomotive in woods
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash
But this isn't the first time the law has had to figure out how to respond to new technology. The coming of the railroads created huge challenges. You might remember from Torts class the cases about liability for fires caused by passing trains and rules about liability for injuries to railway workers. And of course, where would Civil Procedure be without Erie Railroad v. Tompkins? Beyond that one case of a man injured in Pennsylvania suing in New York federal court, think how diversity jurisdiction is shaped by the ease of transportation. If you never traveled further than you could ride a horse, you'd usually be in your home state, dealing with businesses based right there.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of first transcontinental railroad. People noting the occasion include descendants of the Chinese workers who did a lot of the heavy lifting, as reported on NPR yesteerday. See the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association Facebook page. For more on the Chinese immigrant experience during that era, see John R. Wunder, Gold Mountain Turned to Dust: Essays on the Legal History of the Chinese in the Nineteenth-Century American West (2018).

And for more (much more!) on railroads, see our Macfarlane Transportation Collection Guide. Robert S. Macfarlane (UW Law class of 1922) spent several decades as counsel to and then president and chairman of the Northern Pacific Railway and its successor company, Burlington Northern. (That was after serving as chief deputy prosecutor for the King County Prosecutor's Office and being a judge of the King County Superior Court. Busy guy!) In his memory, his family has created a fund that has enabled the law library to buy works in transportation law.  The Macfarlane Lounge on the fourth floor is also named in his honor.

If your summer reading tastes run to railroad history or transportation policy, there's plenty to choose from!

One last bit of railroad-and-the-law trivia: When young William O. Douglas left his family home in Yakima to go to Yale Law School, he saved money by traveling by boxcar, tending 1000 sheep for part of the way and just riding the rails the rest of the way. G. Edward White, The Anti-Judge: William O. Douglas and the Ambiguities of Individuality, 74 Va. L. Rev. 17, 22–24 (1988), HeinOnline.

Law Librarian Writing Hack: Setting Tabs in Microsoft Word

Hack # 10: Set Tabs Using Ruler to Control Formatting

Set Up -- it's best to work with tabs formatting with the ruler showing and the "Show/Hide" feature toggled to "Show." Here's how to do that:

Here’s what the blank page looks like with “Show Ruler” turned off:

Here’s what the blank page looks like with “Show Ruler” turned on. Notice the ruler above and to the left side of the document outlined in red below:
If you don't already have the ruler showing in Microsoft Word, go to the "Search" feature at the top of the ribbon and type "Show Ruler" without the quotes. When the "Show Ruler" prompt appears, click on it and the ruler will appear at the top of the document and along the left side of the document, as shown in the red outlining above.
Having the ruler visible allows you to quickly format paragraph indentations, hanging indents, change the margins, and set left, right, center, and decimal-point aligned tabs which are useful in a variety of ways, including columns, creating a table of contents, and providing other formatting to your document that makes it more reader friendly. Using the ruler allows you to do these tasks without time-consuming browsing through the Tabs to find the controls you need to accomplish these tasks.

If you don't usually work with "Show" of the "Show/Hide" feature on, you'll want to turn "Show" on while working with tabs because it allows you to see that you've only tabbed once between columns which is essential for the columns to align when you set the tabs using the ruler.

To toggle between "Show" and "Hide", go to the Home tab and look for the ¶ icon in the Paragraph section of the toolbar. Click on the ¶ icon to turn on "Show" and the icon will appear highlighted. To turn off show, just click on the ¶ icon again and "Hide" will be on.

Note: The Show/Hide feature is showing or hiding the non-printing formatting marks, such as returns at the end of paragraphs, tabs in tabular materials, manual page breaks, manual line breaks, etc. Being able to see those formatting marks hastens any troubleshooting you need to do while formatting your Word document. With "hide" on you don't see the formatting marks, and for instance, couldn't see that you had inadvertently hit the tab key twice between one row of your columnar material and that's why it's not aligning to the tab you set. With "show" on, you would quickly spot the errant extra tab.

Here, for instance is how tabs and returns appear when Show is turned on:
This is a tab formatting mark  √†  and this    is the return formatting mark.

Now that you have your Ruler showing and Show turned on, we're ready to set some tabs using the Ruler. Here is a description of some of the features in the tab/indent ruler box in the upper left above the left-side vertical ruler. For today's hack, were focusing on the tab features rather than the indent features:

Tab Types:
To set the tabs you click on the tab icon to pick your tab type (left, centered, right, decimal or bar) and then point your cursor on the ruler and click where you want to set that tab. The column for that tab will align in the manner you specify by the tab in the ruler. Below is a sample of columnar material before the tabs are set. There is one tab between each column but the tabs haven't been set yet.

Day        Time      Location

Monday               8:30 AM               Room 1422
Monday               9:45 AM               Room 124
Tuesday               10:00 AM            Room 755
Wednesday        8:30 AM               Room 1422
Thursday             12:30 PM             Room 444
Friday 2:30 PM  Room 297

Use your cursor to highlight the lines of the columns above, anchoring on "Day" and highlighting through "Room 297".  Then click on the tab block (the square at the left ruler edge) until the “Center Tab” icon appears to specify that you are setting a centered tab. Then click on the ruler to insert the center tab.
The centered tab is circled in the ruler above, and you notice that the times are all centered in the column after the tab symbol in the text.
With the columns still highlighted, now click on the tab block until the “Right Tab” icon appears. Then click on the ruler to insert the right tab. Now the Room numbers are right aligned to that tab.

I want to even out the spacing between columns two (Time) and three (Location), and I want to add a bar tab between the columns two and three.

The first step evens out the spacing between columns (sliding the centered tab over on the ruler); the second step inserts the line between columns as below:

Step 1, moving the centered tab over in the ruler:
Highlight the columns and using the cursor, drag the centered tab in the Ruler you'd previously set to the right until you are satisfied with the new location of the column. Note: If you don't highlight all columns you want to move, only the rows highlighted will move.
Step 2, adding the bar tab between the columns:
With the columns still highlighted, click on the tab block at the left edge of the ruler until the “Bar Tab” icon appears. Then click on the ruler to insert the bar tab, once between column one (Day) and column two (Time) and again to insert the bar tab between column 2 (Time) and column 3 (Location).

And this is what the printed tabbed material will look like (or what it will look like if you toggle the Show/Hide icon to Hide):

Why does using set tabs matter? Setting tabs allows you easy control of what your columnar material looks like for the reader.  Word uses a default tab setting of five spaces between tabs, and people using Word who don’t know how to use tabs correctly often put multiple tabs in between columns to get the columns to line up, or they may use a combination of multiple tabs and spaces to get the alignment they want. This can lead to jumbled copy if the end-user has changed the default setting for tabs on their version of Word.

Setting the tabs with the Ruler controls the alignment despite any default settings a user might have in place and allows you to use just one tab and no spaces between columns of material. It’s faster for the writer and gives a guaranteed alignment of the tabbed material.

Practice Time:  Type three columns of material, with one tab between each column.  Include one column that has numbers with a decimal point. Use the Ruler to set tabs for each column, using the "Decimal Tab" for the column that has the numbers.

Do you have questions about features in Microsoft Word for future Law Library Writing Hacks? Send your questions to For more guidance with Microsoft Word, see the Gallagher Law Library Guide Word Tips for Legal Writers.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Proofreading Tip: Have your computer read your document to you

It’s hard to proofread your own writing because you read what you think you wrote instead of what you wrote.

One way to hear how the text sounds is to get someone to read it to you. But do you really want to bug your friends and colleagues to read all your memos back to you?

Instead, you can get a Microsoft voice to do it. This blog post explains how:
Sarah Gotschall, Harness the Melodic Robotic Voices of Our Eventual Overlords Now to Improve Your Proofreading!, RIPS Law Librarian Blog (June 6, 2019).

You can change the voice and the speed that it reads by going into Windows Settings.

Word document with superimposed cartoon of talking face

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Law Librarian Research Hack: Docket Tracking

Hack #9: Setting up alerts in Bloomberg to track new docket entries. 

Do you need to keep track of an ongoing case but don't want to waste your time looking it up every day just to discover that there have been no updates? Then consider setting up an alert with Bloomberg! By setting up an alert, the database will send you frequent updates when new docket entries have been added. You can customize your alert and track multiple cases at once! Using this "set it and forget it" technique you can take comfort in knowing that you will be notified when new entries are added. 

If you have a docket that you would like regular updates for, you first need to log into Bloomberg (subscription required) and locate that docket. Once in the docket, on the left side of "General Info" there is a "Track Docket" button. 

Pro tip: Note that there is also an "Update Docket" button. It is always wise to update any docket when you are viewing its contents. 

Picture of docket in Bloomberg with "Track Docket" highlighted

In the "Track Docket Options" box, customize how you would like to receive this alert. You can add your own personal tags*, description, search terms, pick your frequency (weekly, daily, custom), and what time in the day you would like the alert. Add your email in the "distribute to" box. You can add multiple emails so you can easily have alerts sent to your work and personal emails. You can even send them to your colleague or peers! Once you click "Accept" you are set up to receive alerts! 

Track docket box that allows users to customize their alerts.

If you need to modify or delete any of your alerts, go to the top of any Bloomberg page and click on the "My Work History" tab and select "Alerts" and click on "Manage Your Alerts." You will be able to view your alerts on the "Alerts Management" page. The edit feature is on the far right column, you can click on the pencil icon of any alert to update or change that alert. If you would like to delete an alert, select the alert and click "Delete". 

Alert management page with an alert. The edit feature is highlighted on the far right column.

*Personal tags can be added by going to the "Settings" tab on the "Alerts Management" page. 

Practice exercise! 
Log into Bloomberg and select the docket option. Type in "U.S. Supreme Court Dockets" in the "Courts" search bar. Then add docket number "17-778" (Jamar Alonzo Quarles vs. United States) and click "Search". Click into the case and follow the instructions above to create a docket tracking alert. Then go into the "Alerts Management" page to see how you can modify your alert.