Confidence key to performing well in law school

The first year of law school is a wholly unique experience. Everything is new: people, textbooks and even the law itself. Law school requires you to develop a method of studying that best aids your learning, and it also requires you to take notes differently than you did in undergrad. New experiences are always exciting, but they can also be a little bit intimidating – my 1L year was no exception.

I had a different feeling this year as a 2L: lots of the same people, same heavy books and the law itself was more familiar to me. The basic confidence that you gain by successfully completing your first year of law school makes the following year a much different experience. Confidence is important in many areas of your life, but it is particularly important in law school. The more nervous your are, the more difficult it is to perform well in Socratic.

This semester I am taking Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Juvenile Law and Professional Responsibility. Although I am still enrolled in a couple of required courses, it was nice to be able to develop my own schedule. It is also neat to be able to enroll in elective classes that are of particular interest to me. I am enjoying all of my classes, but Evidence is probably my favorite so far.

Well, until next time…

Chelsea Barnett, 2L and Student Ambassador

ScotusWiki a convenient tool to preview, follow the 2009-10 Supreme Court term

Yesterday was the first Monday in October, which means it is time to start the 2009-10 Supreme Court term. So you are curious about the cases coming up, right? And you would like a place to go to where you can browse these cases and, if you want, pull the documents. Well you are in luck!, the blog of the United States Supreme Court, has a companion site called ScotusWiki.

From ScotusWiki’s About page:

"Wiki" is derived from the Hawaiian word for quick, and in that spirit we’ve launched the ScotusWiki project; we hope the site enables you to find a plethora of information about Supreme Court cases incredibly quickly. While this site is still in its early stages, we’ve created a page for each case set for argument in the October sitting, and at each case’s page, you’ll find detailed previews, recaps and analyses, as well as links to briefs and other articles of interest. Each page will be regularly updated as the case progresses, but all the information will be available in one easy-to-find place (you can also view each page in a printable view). Organizing information by case is something that we can’t do given the scrolling format of a blog, and we’re excited for the possibilities. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be expanding the case section to include all cases granted in OT07.

One-stop shopping!

A couple of cases I’ve heard a lot of buzz about are Graham v. Florida (08-7412) and Sullivan v. Florida (08-7621). The issue of each is whether the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a minor for a non-homicide violates the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments under the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments, where the freakishly rare imposition of such a sentence reflects a national consensus on the reduced criminal culpability of children. Currently available on the Wiki are links to all of the briefs and documents, including the petitions for certiori and the merit and amicus briefs. For cases that have alread been heard or that have further analysis, there are areas in the Wiki for oral argument recap, opinion analysis and links with further information.

So visit ScotusWiki and take a look at the cases scheduled to be heard. Any of them seem interesting to you? Which ones?

Blake Wilson
Instructional and Research Services Librarian

Federalist Society to bring Robert Levy, Ken Starr to KU Law

This semester has been busy for the Federalist Society, and we are just getting started.

Officers and members have been busy planning social events and getting ready for our fall lecture series. We started off with Professor Teresa Collett, from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Professor Collett was a former special Attorney General for the state of Kansas. Her event, titled “Sex, Jurisprudence and Rock and Roll,” centered on the controversy of requiring health practitioners to report statutory rape of female minors seeking abortions. KU’s own Professor Jelani Exum offered some great commentary for the 75 or more students, faculty and community members who attended the event. The free pizza was a plus, but these distinguished scholars were the real treat.

This fall will continue to be busy for the Federalist Society. We are preparing to elect a couple of 1L officers to help with our remaining events for the semester. Bringing in heavy hitters like Robert Levy, chairman of the CATO Institute, and Kenneth Starr, takes a lot of effort. Thankfully, the KU Law administration and faculty have been supportive of our events, from funding to attending.

The rest of the semester should shape up nicely. Membership this year has grown quite a bit. There are over 45 dues-paying members at KU alone. With so many events yet to come, we expect membership and attendance to keep going up!

Brandon Smith, president, KU Federalist Society

Happy Banned Books Week! Sept. 26-Oct. 3, 2009

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. The American Library Association, through their Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), gathers statistics on books which have been challenged in various jurisdictions. In 2008, 513 challenges were reported to the OIF. The top 10 most challenged books of 2008?

  1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
    The book is based on the true story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. They formed a coupling and were given an abandoned egg to raise.

    Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint and unsuited to age group

  2. “His Dark Materials” (trilogy), by Philip Pullman
    This book follows the coming-of-age of two children as they wander through a series of parallel universes against a backdrop of epic events.

    Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint and violence

  3. “TTYL;” “TTFN;” “L8R, G8R” (series), by Lauren Myracle
    This book follows three best friends throughout their high school careers. The books are told entirely in instant messages.

    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

  4. “Scary Stories” (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    The title sums it up! Just toss in some gruesome, nightmarish illustrations.

    Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint and violence

  5. “Bless Me, Ultima,” by Rudolfo Anaya
    This stort is about a Mexican boy who is torn between the Native American religion and Catholocism. All this is set upon the backdrop of World War II.

    Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit and violence

  6. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
    This story is narrated by a teenager who describes various scenes in his life in letters written to an annonymous person. It takes place during his freshman year of high school.

    Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide and unsuited to age group

  7. “Gossip Girl” (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
    Narrated by the omniscient yet unseen blogger “Gossip Girl,” the series revolves around the lives and romances of the privileged teenagers at an elite school for girls. The story follows the characters through their high school lives up through their graduation and moving on to college.

    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

  8. “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,” by Sarah S. Brannen
    Two male guinea pigs get married.

    Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

  9. “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
    The story of a young Afghan boy and his struggles through the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban.

    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

  10. “Flashcards of My Life,” by Charise Mericle Harper
    A young girls recieves flash cards as a present, which are meant to be filled out according to their topic (e.g., Friends, Kiss, Identity). This book is what is on those flashcards.

    Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

There are a ton of books out there which have been banned, many of which we now consider “classics.” Take a look around and see what you find. Which do you find to be the strangest? Let me know!

Blake Wilson

KU basketball, football feud offers cautionary tale for law students, lawyers on Facebook

If you’re a KU student or alum, you’re undoubtedly aware of the recent brouhaha pitting members of the KU football team versus members of the KU basketball team. As I read the press coverage in the Lawrence Journal-World, University Daily Kansan and (gulp), I predictably thought of lessons law students and attorneys could glean from these ugly incidents.

Let’s put aside the fisticuffs and focus on the fallout from a certain basketball team member’s Facebook postings. It seems obvious that someone who represents a university, business or other organization should never post offensive and possibly self-incriminatory statements on Facebook or other social media sites. But far too often posts are cringe-worthy and cause embarrassment or worse for the organizations the posters represent.

It also seems obvious that lawyers, schooled in the recognition of potential liability, and those training to be lawyers would grasp the dangers of social networking sites. For example, it’s common knowledge that employers search the publicly accessible Facebook, My Space and Twitter accounts of potential employees. But ask any employer in the legal profession if they’ve ever encountered information on social networking sites that made them think twice about a candidate. The answer will be yes.

The reality is that many law students and attorneys, through imprudent use of social networking, put themselves at risk of the same type of negative publicity that has befallen the basketball team. In the September 2009 edition of the KC Counselor (the magazine of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association) appears the article “J.D. Bird Street: All the Little Lawyers Go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet: Legal Ethics of the Socially Networked,” by Therese Miller of the law firm of Shook Hardy & Bacon. Ms. Miller offers many general guidelines to social networking; the following bear repeating:

  • Everything you post is discoverable and traceable.
  • Be respectful.
  • Stop and think before posting. Make sure it would be something you would be OK with if your colleagues or a judge read it.
  • Avoid personal attacks, online fights and hostile communications.
  • Do not post anything that is offensive or inflammatory.
  • Do not post anything negatively about opposing counsel, judges or other members of the profession.
  • Be honest.
  • Your profile should never contain anything that is false or misleading.

An article from the Lawyerist Web site gets more specific, offering some practical suggestions for utilizing the privacy features of Facebook.

Todd Rogers, assistant dean for career services

Legal films – even the funny ones – teach valuable lessons

Films are a wonderful way to teach the legal profession. Unlike casebook reading, they allow students to immerse themselves in the role of the lawyer, client or judge and ask the question, “How would I handle myself?” A simple search on the Internet will turn up a list of films usually including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Amistad,” “Twelve Angry Men” and so on. But there are some overlooked films out there that I believe warrant some recognition.

“Legally Blonde” is about a fashion merchandising student, Elle, who attends Harvard in an attempt to win back her boyfriend. She ends up being really good at law and even wins a case during an internship.

What can be learned from “Legally Blonde”? Elle promises her client that she won’t divulge her aliby: She was getting liposuction during the time her husband was getting murdered. Elle sticks with her promise and gets her off using her knowledge of perms.

“Rounders” is about a poker-playing prodigy law student who is trying to work his way through law school when his old partner is released from jail. To help his old partner out, he joins him in a round of poker-playing, cheating style. Bad things happen.

What can be learned? Playing the game by the rules and using your talents is how you win. This is true in poker, life and law school.

“The Devil’s Advocate” is about a small-town defense lawyer, Kevin Lomax, who is romanced by a large firm in the big city. Come to find out, the head partner, John Milton, is Lomax’s dad. And the DEVIL!

What can be learned? Regardless of the stage set, you always have free will to choose how to handle yourself, your clients and your career.

In “Liar Liar,” a boy’s wish is granted and his father, a very prosperous attorney, cannot lie. What can be learned? Family life is the highest priority, and honesty wins out over deception.

In “Miracle on 34th Street,” a man who thinks he is Santa Claus is brought before the court in a commitment hearing. Surely a guy who thinks he is Santa Claus is insane!

What can be learned? Certain kinds of disputes ought not be submitted to the court. In particular, disputes about belief should not undergo judicial scrutiny. Whether or not Santa Claus exists is a matter of personal belief, not something the courts should decide.

In “Jury Duty,” Tommy Collins, an unemployed stripper who lives at his parents’ home, is sequestered for jury duty. He decides to cause the trial to drag out as long as possible so he can live in the lap of luxury.

What can be learned? There are imperfections in the legal system. The film also delivers the message that because we are human beings and not machines, it’s natural that justice demands such a system. Note: This is an adaptation of “Twelve Angy Men” but stars Pauly Shore.

So go out, rent some movies and see what you learn. And let me know if there are any other movies you like that are law-related.

Blake Wilson

Public Interest Law Society fundraiser will benefit law students

The Public Interest Law Society at KU Law is off to a great start this year.

We just secured The Alton Ballroom at Pachamama’s as the location for our big annual fundraiser, Casino Night. It will be Oct. 1 from 7 pm to midnight. We will have roulette, poker, blackjack, prizes and all the fancy food and drink we can take. We hope the whole law school will be able to attend.

The proceeds fund all the club’s activities, including a career panel, a trip to Yale for a few delegates to the Rebellious Lawyer conference, and summer stipends for students who volunteer at a Legal Aid or other public interest organizations over the summer.

Also, KU PILS has a new Facebook page this year to keep up with our members on the site they visit most. Search KU Public Interest Law Society on Facebook and join us online!

KU Public Interest Law Society (KUPILS)

Students plan sand volleyball tourney and multicultural potluck picnic

On Sept. 24, the Phi Alpha Delta Legal Fraternity is hosting its 2nd Annual KU Law Sand Volleyball Tournament in conjunction with a Multicultural Potluck Picnic.

All law students will be invited to form volleyball teams to take on last year’s defending champion team from the Native American Law Students Association.

This event is co-sponsored with several other student organizations, and everyone is encouraged to bring along their favorite cultural dish to share with the group. Last year, 60 students attended the picnic for an afternoon of volleyball and great food, and we are looking forward to an even larger turnout this year.

Phi Alpha Delta Legal Fraternity, Green Chapter

Singing the praises of HeinOnline

I would like to introduce to you one of my favorite databases: HeinOnline.

William S. Hein & Co. Inc. started 80 years ago as a preservation publisher. This means they would take long, out-of-print legal research material and reprint it in either hard copies or microfilm/fiche format. In the early 1990s, they started using digital technology to make this process easier. Little did they realize the future of digital technology!

In the late 1990s, Hein found itself in a unique position to help legal researchers around the world. Hein already had millions of pages in digital format as well as the microfilm/fiche that could easily be converted. Working with Cornell Information Technologies (Cornell University), Hein established HeinOnline, a product that give access to historical legal publications, previously unavailable through other sources. The cool part about it is that all of the documents would be in the original page-image format (PDF), ensuring the authenticity of the original hardcopy document in an online environment.

By mid-2000, HeinOnline was already on its way to changing online research. The value of fully searchable PDFs is beyond comprehension. Today, HeinOnline’s content spans multiple library collections with more than 40 million pages of research material, much of which is only available through HeinOnline. Here are some examples of things not available anywhere else (or at least not compiled so completely):

  • English Reports, Full Reprint (1220-1867). English case law from 1220-1867. Seriously. Over 100,000 cases reprinted verbatim. 178 volumes.
  • European Center for Minority Issues. Just as the name suggests, ECMI deals with minority issues all across Europe.
  • Foreign & International Law Resources Database (FILRD). Contains more than 50 international yearbooks, U.S. Law Digests, Publications of The Hague Court of International Justice, and the Reports of International Arbitral Awards.
  • Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). Presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity and is comprised of more than 500 books. 1861 through 1975 (Lincoln through Nixon).
  • Legal Classics. Offers more than 1,400 works from some of the greatest legal minds in history, including Joseph Story, Louis Brandeis, Benjamin N. Cardozo and Edwardo Coke. In addition to many “classics”, this collection includes rare items that are found in only a handful of libraries around the world. The collection focuses on constitutional law, political science, and other classic topics.
  • National Moot Court Competition. This is a compilation of the records and briefs required for the National Moot Court Competition. The winning briefs are also available.
  • Philip C. Jessup Library. Looking to participate in the Jessup Moot Court Competition or practice international law? This database is for you! It contains Ad Rem: The Magazine of the International Law Students Association, ASILS International Law Journal, ILSA Journal of International Law, and Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition Compendium.
  • Subject Compilations of State Laws (1960-2009). Fifty-state serveys are a gathering of all of the laws on a particular subject and the bane of a first-year associate. This is a topical gathering of many 50-state serveys by topic.
  • Treaties and Agreements Library. Contains ALL of the U.S. treaties, whether currently in force, expired or not yet officially published. This library is the world’s largest and most complete online collection of U.S. treaties and agreements. This HeinOnline library features a custom Treaty Metadata Search option that allows you to quickly locate a treaty and a summary of the key treaty information.
  • U.S. Federal Legislative History Library. Really, two databases in one:

    Sources of Compiled Legislative History Database: derived from the looseleaf publication Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books by Nancy P. Johnson, Law Librarian and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law.

    U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection: a collection of full-text legislative histories on some of the most important and historically significant legislation of our time. In addition to major complete legislative histories, this collection also includes texts related to legislative histories.

  • U.S. Presidential Library. Includes such titles as Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Public Papers of the Presidents, CFR Title 3 (Presidents), Weekly Compilation of the Presidential Documents, Economic Report of the President, and other documents relating to U.S. presidents.
  • World Trials Library. This collection includes more than 2,200 trials, including complete sets of American State Trials, Howell’s State Trials and the Nuremberg Trials. Additionally, you can find famous trials from the Jenkins Law Library World Trials collection and the University of Missouri-Columbia’s trials collection. We welcome your suggestions for additional content. In addition to trial transcripts and other critical court documents, this image-based (PDF) collection includes trial-related resources such as monographs, which analyze and debate the decisions of famous trials as well as biographies of many great trial lawyers in history.

Of course, law journals and federal material are also available. Buy why on earth would you use HeinOnline to pull a journal article available through another vendor?

I am sure you are familiar with the hierarchy of citations, right? Ideally, you would like a Supreme Court case followed by an appellate court case in your jurisdiction. A statute on point would be nice, too. After that, you get into hazy territory.

Well, did you know that there is a hierarchy of documents? It’s true. You see, the hard copy is most reliable, followed by an image of the original page (PDF). If all else fails, you can then call upon the digital world. If you are relying on the exact language or if you need to cite to a specific page, you really do need to look at the hard copy. But with so much material coming out so quickly mixed with space and time restraints, digital-imaging is becoming more and more prevalent and acceptible.

So PDFs are almost as good as hard copy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an electronic database that was completely searchable with a sophisticated algorithm (you use the word “algorithm” all the time, right?) but would produce PDFs? Yes it would.

HeinOnline does.

William S. Hein & Co., Inc

Blake Wilson

E-mail etiquette for law students, lawyers

Most professionals I know, and most students in professional school for that matter, spend a good deal of time each day composing e-mails. While some of these e-mails undoubtedly address personal matters, business matters generate lots of electronic traffic.

Cover letters and resumes are the backbone of job-search correspondence, but effective use of e-mail can greatly enhance, or diminish, one’s chances of landing a quality position. The care with which you compose a business e-mail says a lot about your effectiveness as a communicator and your savvy as a professional.

Just think about a few of the reasons a law student might compose an e-mail to an attorney:

  1. to express interest in a job opening;
  2. to ask questions about the attorney’s practice;
  3. to follow up with an attorney after an interview;
  4. as a thank-you note;
  5. to negotiate the terms of a job offer;
  6. to confirm the acceptance of a job offer;
  7. to request an informational interview; and
  8. as a means of networking, such as by providing the attorney information about developments in a practice area of mutual interest.

If budding lawyers do not learn to e-ail effectively while in law school, they’re destined for a crash course in e-mail etiquette when they begin to practice. Time is, after all, money, and the inefficient and clumsy use of e-mail will frustrate coworkers and opposing counsel alike.

The following rules are taken from the excellent article “E-Mail Like a Lawyer,” by Wayne Schiess, that first appeared in the May 2007 edition of Student Lawyer.

Schiess directs the Legal Writing Program at my legal alma mater. He taught me that the flowery and complex writing I so dearly loved as an undergrad had little place in legal writing. His article makes clear that plain, well-organized thoughts are critical in e-mail communication as well.

The rules:

  1. Think. Pause. Think Again. Send.
  2. Use the subject line.
  3. Use a salutation.
  4. Write short messages.
  5. Use short paragraphs in block style.
  6. Put the question or point up front.
  7. Explain attachments.
  8. Use a sign-off.

These are great tips for law students and lawyers alike. The recipients of your e-mails will thank you.

Todd Rogers, Assistant Dean for Career Services