New Tool Compares County Criminal Justice Statistics for Wisconsin and Other States

Earlier this week, the nonprofit Measures for Justice launched an amazing new data portal “to assess and compare the criminal justice process from arrest to post-conviction on a county-by-county basis. The data set comprises measures that address three broad categories: Fiscal Responsibility, Fair Process, and Public Safety.”

According to The Marshall Project:

The project, which has as its motto “you can’t change what you can’t see,” centers on 32 “core measures”: yardsticks to determine how well local criminal justice systems are working. How often do people plead guilty without a lawyer? How often do prosecutors dismiss charges? How long do people have to wait for a court hearing? Users can also slice the answers to these questions in different ways, using “companion measures” such as race and political affiliation.

Just six states are included so far, but fortunately for us, Wisconsin is one of them.  The others are Washington, Utah, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

The site is really incredible.  It allows you to zero in and compare data for measures including bail payments, diversion, dismissals, case resolution, type and length of sentence, and more.  Data is then presented by county with the option to further limit and compare by race/ethnicity, sex, age, offense severity, and offense type.

For example, here’s a screen shot from the tool comparing non violent felonies sentenced to prison by Wisconsin county further filtered by race/ethnicity.  Note that you can select specific counties to more deeply explore and compare data as shown below.

Kudos to Measures for Justice for creating this remarkable and easy-to-use tool.

New ABA Guidance on Protecting Client Confidentiality in E-communications

Yesterday, the American Bar Association issued new guidance on  protecting client confidentiality in electronic communications (Formal Opinion 477, Securing Communication of Protected Client Information).  This guidance updates a 1999 ABA opinion.

According to the new opinion,

A lawyer generally may transmit information relating to the representation of a client over the Internet without violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct where the lawyer has undertaken reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized access.

However, a lawyer may be required to take special security precautions to protect against the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information when required by an agreement with the client or by law, or when the nature of the information requires a higher degree of security.

Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites has an excellent run-down of the opinion and its importance to legal professionals.

Guide to Grant & Publishing Resources

Have you ever thought of applying for a grant to support your research or a special project but weren’t sure how to get started?  How about publishing an article in a professional or scholarly journal?

The American Association of Law Librarians Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section Committee on Research & Scholarship has created a very useful guide to grant and publishing resources.  It’s specifically targeted toward law librarians, but the sources that it recommends are useful much more broadly.

The grants section contains sources with tips on how to apply for grants and sources of grant funding.  The publishing sections, covering both law reviews and library journals, offers lists of potential journals in which to  seek publication and tips on getting your writing accepted for publication.

One type of publication that’s not listed in the guide but should be is state bar publications.  In Wisconsin, both the Wisconsin Lawyer and InsideTrack are excellent venues for publication for legal professionals – including law librarians.  See the submission information and writing guidelines for the Wisconsin Lawyer and InsideTrack for more information.  Full disclosure: I’m on the State Bar of Wisconsin Communications Committee which serves as the editorial board for the Wisconsin Lawyer and have authored a number of articles for that publication myself.

WI DOJ Launches Attorney General Opinion Archive

The Wisconsin Department of Justice has recently launched an archive of formal Attorney General opinions.  The opinions, in PDF, are available from the first bound volume of opinions in 1912 to the present.

Note that the bound opinion volumes were published between 1912 and 1994.  From 1900-1912, opinions were printed in the Biennial report of the Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin.  Since 1994, individual opinions have been made available on the DOJ website.

Kudos to Amy Thornton, senior librarian, DOJ Division of Legal Services for making this collection available.

UW Law Library Celebrates a Decade of Faculty & Staff READ Posters

For the last fifteen years, the University of Wisconsin Law Library has encouraged research and learning through our National Library Week celebration.  Over the years, we’ve organized numerous events, including trivia and research contests, displays, book giveaways, and reading recommendations.  But the most popular and long lived of all our National Library Week events has been our “celebrity” READ posters featuring UW Law School faculty and staff.

Since we unveiled our first READ poster in 2006, over twenty Law School faculty and staff have been featured, each holding a book that has sparked their interest or that has had an influence in their lives.  Book subjects have varied broadly, ranging from contract law to Muslim jurisprudence, from science fiction to shoes, and from mathematical proofs to metaphysical motorcycle journeys.

In commemoration of our ten years of UW Law School faculty and staff READ posters, we’ve put together a photo book featuring all seventeen posters.  See Deputy Director, Bonnie Shucha if you’d like to view or order a copy.

All of our “celebrity” posters are permanently on display throughout the UW Law Library.  You can also see them in our Pinterest READ Posters collection.

National Library Week Events at the UW Law Library

It’s National Library Week!  Check out this year’s celebrations at the University of Wisconsin Law Library.

Monday – Law Student Book Giveaway
Watch out – free books for law students!  They go pretty quickly but there may be a few good ones left.

Tuesday – Law Library Open House for Faculty and Staff
Yesterday, we welcomed about seventy Law School faculty and staff to our first NLW Open House.  This amazing cake from Lane’s Bakery really set the theme.  How many of these classic books have you read?

NLW cake

Wednesday – Trivia Contest for Law Students
Tonight Head of Reference and Trivia Master, Kris Turner will put our law students to the test.  We’ll see how they fare against our Law Library team.

Thursday – READ Posters
Tomorrow is a great day for a Make-Your-Own READ poster at the Law Library.  Grab your favorite book and say cheese!  Stop by the Circulation Desk anytime this week to have your photo taken.
While you’re here, check out our latest faculty READ poster.  This year’s “celebrity” is Professor Larry Church – five time winner of the UW Law School Teacher of the Year Award.  For our previous posters, see our Pinterest READ Posters collection.

Larry Church

Friday – Bluebooking Tips for the Write-on and Beyond
We’ll round out the week with our ever popular Bluebooking workshop for law students preparing to write-on to one of the UW Law School’s three journals – the Wisconsin Law Review, the Wisconsin International Law Journal, and the  Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society.

But Wait, There’s More! – What Are Our Faculty & Staff Reading?
Looking for some great book recommendations?  See our LibGuide of titles recommended by UW Law School faculty and staff.

Dept of Ed Rescinding Some Public Service Loan Forgiveness Certifications

Are you one of the 550,000+ people who have registered for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?  This is the federal program that forgives the remaining balance on qualifying student loans after 10 years of payments while working full-time for a qualifying public service employer.

If so, you’ll likely want to read the article in yesterday’s New York Times which reports that “thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time,” per the Department of Education.

From the article:

Four borrowers and the American Bar Association have filed a suit in United States District Court in Washington against the department.

The plaintiffs held jobs that they initially were told qualified them for debt forgiveness, only to later have that decision reversed — with no evident way to appeal, they say. The suit seeks to have their eligibility for the forgiveness program restored….

The idea that approvals can be reversed at any time, with no explanation, is chilling for borrowers. Mr. Rudert [an attorney at a non profit legal aid group and one of the plaintiffs], who graduated from law school owing nearly $135,000 on student loans, said he would have picked a different employer if he had known that his work… would not qualify.

Although no explanation was given for the denial, it appears that the questions generally center around whether certain nonprofit organizations qualify as public service employers.

Hat tip to my colleague, Kris Turner, for alerting me to this story.

Khan Academy Announces Free LSAT Test Prep

This post was authored by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian at the UW Law Library.

Coming in 2018, all those aspiring to go to law school will be able to access online LSAT test prep for free!

In partnership with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) creator of LSAT, the Khan Academy will bring unprecedented access to the testing portion of the law school admissions process.

Salman Khan, who founded the Khan Academy in 2006, says the partnership is meant to level the playing field to law school access for those who cannot afford the hundreds and even thousands of dollars it costs for professional test prep.

The planned test prep will work in graduated stages: testing basic knowledge to gauge a person’s strengths and weaknesses, suggesting practice options with quizzes, and full-blown practice exams.  Students will receive feedback at every stage along the way.  Solutions and videos will be offered to help explain items and concepts a student is having problems with.

The graphic below is from the Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice page.  It is illustrative of what the LSAT test prep landing page might look like:

Khan Academy LSAT

The Khan Academy partnered with the College Board to become the official preparation for SAT in 2015.  The goal is the same.  Access to free SAT test prep levels the playing field to college access for those who cannot afford expensive professional test prep.  More than 3 million students have used the SAT program so far.

The idea of providing opportunity to everyone by putting testing materials online is at the core of the Khan Academy’s mission.  What’s the next frontier?  Bar exam prep?  Salman Khan said, in a recent interview with the online ABA Journal, “We would absolutely be open to conversations with people who administer those exams.”

A stopgap measure for eliminating Supreme Court Link Rot

 

Link Rot is a pervasive problem in the legal community – so much so that Supreme Court opinions are sometimes riddled with cites to websites that no longer exist, which undermines the entire concept of a citation.

Many in the legal academic world are aware of Perma.CC, which is a long-term solution to link rot. Perma.CC allows authors and judges and anyone to preserve the websites they are citing by archiving the page, therefore preserving it as they were citing it.

However, Perma.CC is still in the process of being adopted, and some cites may fall through the cracks. So in the meantime, the University of California Berkeley Law School Library has created a citation program that catches the websites that are cited in Supreme Court opinions and archives them as soon as possible. With this program serving as a stop-gap and the growing adoption of Perma.CC and other web archiving programs, link rot will become extinct, or at least endangered!

Kudos to the UC Berkeley School of Law Library for a great tool.  Be sure to check out their site and review the data from cases and citations!

CourtListener Frees the Law

The following blog post was written by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian at the University of Wisconsin Law School Library

CourtListener is a powerful new free legal research website sponsored by the non-profit Free Law Project.  The Court Listener platform is composed of four searchable databases containing judicial opinions, an audio collection of oral arguments, judge profiles, and documents from the Federal PACER system.  The repository’s numbers are impressive and growing daily.

  • Almost 4 million legal opinions from federal and state courts.
  • Real-time coverage of oral arguments from SCOTUS and 11 of the 13 Federal Judicial Circuits.
  • A database of over 8500 judge profiles.
  • 2.4 million plus PACER documents.

The search engine is easy to use and offers an “Advanced Search” option to refine searches in a number of ways including citation, judge, and docket number.  Case law searches are powered by their CiteGeist Relevancy Engine to provide the most relevant and important cases at the top of the results.  CourtListener downloads opinions from many jurisdictions on an ongoing basis thereby allowing users to set up alerts using customized search and citation feeds.  RSS feeds may also be set up by jurisdiction.

The oral arguments database is also continually updated, making it the biggest such collection on the Internet.  At present, CourtListener provides oral arguments to over 1500 cases originating from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  A count of available oral arguments from SCOTUS and 11 of the 13 Federal Judicial Circuits totals over 19,000.  The judge profile search now also links up to the oral arguments database meaning when you look up the profile page for a judge, you may see a list of oral argument recordings for cases that judge has heard.

What really makes CourtListener special is the free access to PACER documents it provides through the RECAP Archive.  Users of the PACER system can contribute to the building of the archive by downloading the RECAP Extensions for Firefox and Chrome.  As you browse PACER, the RECAP extension automatically uploads docket files and PACER-downloaded PDFs to the Internet Archive for others to download later.  The net effect is kind of like paying it forward, allowing the documents (and legal benefits) to flow to everyone.  This newfound access to PACER documents is truly groundbreaking.

CourtListener joins a growing list of other free legal research sites as Google Scholar, FindLaw, Justia, Ravel Law, and Casetext.  You owe it to yourself to take the newest of these for a test drive.  CourtListener rightly joins the UW Law Library’s list of free legal resources available on our Databases and Electronic Resources page.