Law Librarians Present Travaux Préparatoires at Human Rights Conference

At the “What’s Next for Human Rights Scholarship?” conference on March 31, law librarians Ben Doherty and Loren Moulds presented the Law Library’s new searchable database of preparatory works, or travaux préparatoires,[1] of the United Nations’ core human rights agreements. More than 30 human rights scholars from North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania participated in the two-day interdisciplinary conference, which was organized by the UVA Working Group in Human Rights Research.

Ben began the presentation by explaining that, until the Law Library undertook the initiative, the travaux were only selectively available in electronic format, as excerpts in published guides to the travaux, and in hardcopy or microfiche at U.N. depository libraries. A Refdesk question from Professor Mila Versteeg led the law librarians to conclude that “it’s not available” was not an answer the Law Library was willing to give. Using the published guides and the United Nations’ UNBISNET database, the Law Library compiled fully-searchable, digital copies of as many of the travaux préparatoires as could be found. The travaux database and other recent digital initiatives, such as the Neil Gorsuch Project, a website that assembles all of Gorsuch’s written opinions and much of his other writings and speeches, are examples of how the Law Library’s content and services are driven by inquiry. Ben advised attendees that, “instead of thinking of research as simply being able to get what is already available,” a scholar can push “research methods forward by thinking about what you need for your scholarship and partnering with your associated library to create those datasets or resources.”

Loren likewise encouraged “scholars not to feel limited in our research plans, particularly when it comes to issues of access to materials, the creation of new types of digital collections, or the adoption of new analytical techniques.” His presentation included an overview of the website and a discussion of the technology used to create it, but he situated his technological discussion within the Law Library’s philosophical approach to scholarly research. Explaining that the Law Library provides ever-expanding expertise in a field that includes scholarly publishing, copyright issues, and the aggregation, management, and preservation of data, Loren stated, “We consider ourselves empathic stewards of knowledge production through collaboration with researchers, technologists, and other librarians working to develop the intellectual infrastructures necessary for new kinds of scholarship and research methods in a digital age.”

After the presentation, Ben and Loren took questions from the conferees. The conclusion of the ensuing discussion was that the travaux database is an example of modern librarianship: a specific inquiry (“What role did smaller countries play in drafting human rights treaties?”) was stymied by a specific problem (the lack of systematic, comprehensive access to the travaux préparatoires), which was resolved by the expertise residing in the Law Library.

[1] The travaux préparatoires are documents that are generated in the drafting and negotiation of a treaty. Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, treaty terms are to be interpreted according to their ordinary meaning. However, Article 32 provides that the travaux préparatoires can be used as a supplementary means of interpretation in certain instances.

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James McKinley

James McKinley, a 2005 graduate of the Law School, has been with the Law Library since 2016. He previously served as a career law clerk for United States District Judge Norman K. Moon in the Western District of Virginia. James holds a M.F.A. in creative writing from U.Va., and a M.A. in English and creative writing from Hollins University.

Gorsuch Project Launched

Hearings on the nomination of the Honorable Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled to begin March 20 and interest in the nominee’s judicial record is high. To assist researchers, we’re proud to announce the launch of the Neil Gorsuch Project, a website that assembles all of Gorsuch’s written opinions, as well as concurrences and dissents he either wrote or joined as a judge for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lists of published articles and speeches by Gorsuch are also included. 

The idea for the Gorsuch Project was born after law librarians from several universities and government offices faced a similar question from their patrons: “Find as much information about the new Supreme Court nominee as possible.” The results of that inquiry form the core of the site’s content. More about the project and its contributors can be found on the website.

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Jon Ashley

Jon Ashley has been the Business Research Librarian at the University of Virginia Law Library since 2008. Prior to coming to UVA he was a general reference librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received his M.L.S..

The Constitute Project

Tunisia, Egypt, Fiji, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan and Hungary have all produced new constitutions in the past few years. Each of these constitutions arose in different political circumstances, but how, in general, does a nation produce a new constitution? UVa law professor Mila Versteeg and co-author Benedikt Goderis argue that building a new constitution does not occur in national isolation. Constitutions, they say, are “shaped by transnational influence, or diffusion.” New constitutions are based on other countries’ constitutions and their constitutional experiences.

http://constituteproject.org
http://constituteproject.org

To make the job of drawing from or comparing the constitutions of countries around the world easier, the Comparative Constitutions Project developed the Constitute Project. Constitute contains English versions of the constitutions of “nearly every independent state in the world” along with a more limited number in Arabic. With subject tags, Constitute makes comparing the provisions of different constitutions easy. For example, you can easily pull up all of the constitutional provisions from around the world tagged as protecting equality regardless of gender. From there, you could select certain countries’ provisions to compare directly in a side-by-side screen. You can easily switch which countries to view in your comparison and pin those comparisons so that you can download them all as a document or CSV file. For users needing more targeted queries of the Constitute data, they have provided a SPARQL endpoint.

Constitute has a smooth, intuitive interface that makes comparative constitutional work easier. Since it focuses on constitutions currently in force and does not include historical constitutions, it may be of limited use for scholars seeking to trace constitutional trends over time. For many users, though, who are examining how current constitutions across the world treat particular topics, it’s a valuable (and free) resource.

– Ben Doherty 

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Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

Take a Deep Dive into Lawmaking with FiscalNote

Want to keep up with what’s happening in Congress and in state legislatures? Check out one of the Law Library’s newest database offerings – FiscalNote. FiscalNote’s team of software and public policy entrepreneurs (including a U.Va. Law alum) have developed software and a fun, user-friendly interface that puts at people’s fingertips volumes of information that would take lots of capitol insiders tons of time to compile. FiscalNote gives you not only loads of information, but also crunches that information to predict whether bills will pass. And it delivers straight to your email inbox, via alerts you customize to your interests. Part of the start-up’s mission is to “foster a transparent political and legal system,” and they’ve been attracting press (see #5 of 11) and venture capital interest. See what the buzz is about by signing up for a password.

– Kristin Glover 

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Kristin Glover

Kristin Glover is a Research Librarian at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library.

Law Librarian Jon Ashley’s Federal Suit Featured in Today’s NYT

Law librarian Jon Ashley has for the second time filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Department of Justice. The FOIA filing seeks the release of 30 prosecution agreements between the Justice Department and various organizations. With Professor Brandon Garrett, Ashley has developed the Federal Organizational Prosecution Agreements database, a repository of prosecution agreements that is freely available to researchers. Ashley's lawsuit last year prompted Justice Department officials to release a single prosecution agreement after a FOIA request for it had been denied. Today's New York Times features an article about the work of UVA Law School's First Amendment clinic students in pursuing the litigation. [Reposted with corrections. – Ed.]

 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

The Legal Research Tournament, The Championship: WestlawNext vs. Critical Thinking

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And then there were two. It has been a fun run up to the Championship, with a competitive field of teams opening the tournament a few weeks ago. Six of those teams have been eliminated from the tournament, but not before securing their spot in the One Shining Moment montage we’ll be showing at the conclusion of today’s championship match.

The Legal Research Championship features the favorite, WestlawNext, backed by West’s decades of experience in legal research, versus the surprise team, Critical Thinking, which has actually been around for much longer than West, but in these days of fancy online databases is often forgotten about as an important research tool.

The Championship will follow the traditional format for these tournaments by requiring the competitors to complete three tasks, with their performance scored by a panel of one objective judge. Without further ado, on to the competition!

Task 1: What is the penalty in Virginia for burglary?

WestlawNext: Ooh! Ooh! I’ll go first! Just type some words into my search box! Go ahead! Quick! Don’t think! Just do it!

Objective Judge: Ok, then: Penalty Burglary Virginia.

WestlawNext: Cool! Ok, filter by Statutes! Ok! Let’s see. Result number one . . . no. Result number two . . . no. Result number three! Annotated Code of Virginia § 18.2-89, “Burglary; How Punished.” Done! Bam!

Objective Judge: Great. So what does it say is the penalty?

WestlawNext: Burglary is “punishable as a Class 3 felony!” Bam!

Objective Judge: Ok, but that’s not an actual penalty.

WestlawNext: Oh! Right! Uh. . .

Objective Judge: Critical Thinking, can you do any better?

Critical Thinking: Yes. Statutes often work this way, requiring you to navigate multiple sections to figure out the law. From prior experience, I know that crimes are often grouped into categories for penalty purposes, so now I just need to find where those categories are explained. Fortunately, WestlawNext is not just a search engine. It also allows for browsing around resources. In this case, since we’re already looking at § 18.2-89, I can just open up the table of contents to Title 18.2 and go to the portion on Classification of Criminal Offenses and Punishment Therefor. In there, § 18.2-10, “Punishment for Conviction of Felony; Penalty,” explains that generally the punishment for a class 3 felony such as burglary in Virginia is 5 to 20 years in prison and a possible fine.

Objective Judge: Thank you. Task 1 goes to Critical Thinking.

Task 2: Find a good case from Virginia discussing when an employer can be held liable for an employee car accident.

WestlawNext: Me! Me! Me! I’ll go! Type! Type! Type! Type!

Objective Judge: Ok. Employer Liable Employee Car Accident.

WestlawNext: Ok! Filter to just Cases! Then filter for jurisdiction to Virginia! Bam! Done! Virginia Supreme Court case from 1903: Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Cromer’s Administratix!

Objective Judge: A case from 1903? But the car didn’t really come into common use until after the invention of the Model T in 1908.

WestlawNext: No problem! Let’s see. Let’s see. Ok! Result number 3: Virginia Supreme Court case from 1941, Barber v. Textile Machine Works!

Objective Judge: Hmm. Critical Thinking, what do you think?

Critical Thinking: That case actually looks like a pretty good one, appearing to establish how Virginia’s rules on respondeat superior might apply to an employee automobile accident. I might have started with some secondary sources, like Michie’s Jurisprudence maybe, or the ALR or a tort practice manual to get some background. Plus, I’d use this case as a starting point, using the West Headnotes or the Citing References to hyperlink to other Virginia cases on the same topic—to get a broader understanding of how these rules apply in Virginia. This Barber case is a great start though.

Objective Judge: Really? Ok, fine. WestlawNext takes the second task. On to Task 3!

Critical Thinking: Is that really necessary? Haven’t you made your point?

Objective Judge: What point? I’m not trying to make points. Just objectively judging an objective competition. No agendas here!

Critical Thinking: Uh-huh. The premise of this whole tournament was to answer the question “If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best?” I think everyone knows that in doing research we should always use our critical thinking skills, but really I’m not much use for legal research without having some kind of database or set of books with which to work. This tournament was really about evaluating those databases or books wasn’t it?

Objective Judge: Maybe. . . but this was the perfect set-up to show these newfangled databases are not much help without using them with a critical mind. I had it all thought out!

Critical Thinking: Give people some credit. They know better than to just blindly follow whatever search results WestlawNext or any database puts up without thinking about it. If we get down to it, if I had to choose, at this moment, one resource to use for a legal research project, out of those that started the tournament, it would be WestlawNext. It just works better than the others right now on the whole.

Objective Judge: [Cold stare].

Objective Judge: Fine.

                Winner and tournament champion: WestlawNext.

– Ben Doherty 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

The Legal Research Tournament, The Semifinals, Game 2: WestlawNext vs. Bloomberg Law

The Legal Research Tournament continues with the Semifinals! You can review the rules of the Tournament here, or take a look at any of the Round 1 matchups. With only four teams remaining, the favorite WestlawNext is trying to fend off challenges from Bloomberg Law, Books in the Library and Critical Thinking. We continue today with the second semifinal matchup:

(1) WestlawNext vs. (4) Bloomberg Law.

This is a more typical matchup than in our other semifinal, featuring general legal research databases—both produced by major companies trying to capture large shares of the legal research market. Unfortunately for Bloomberg Law, WestlawNext is largely able to respond to any of Bloomberg’s challenges with the classic tune Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. Bloomberg Law is essentially trying to butt in on research methods that Westlaw has been refining for years. Bloomberg is doing a good job of it and its database is improving in both content and features, but it has not yet arrived at WestlawNext’s level.

In its current form, Bloomberg Law’s bid to upset WestlawNext is like trying to beat the U.S. women’s hockey team by using only good goaltending. Bloomberg Law does certain things well. As discussed last week, its BNA practice guides and newsletters are great resources for staying on top of developments in a particular legal field. Bloomberg’s federal docket searching is a nice feature, providing more consistent access to the actual documents in the dockets than what you’ll find with WestlawNext. If you want to do basic legal research though—looking up statutes, cases, regulations, law review articles and the other basic building blocks for legal research—Bloomberg Law just does not yet have the overall game to compete with WestlawNext. Bloomberg Law offers no annotated codes, its case searching lacks the refined tools you’ll find with WestlawNext (like hyperlinked headnotes), and its law review collection does not have enough content to make it worth searching when you could search a fully stocked WestlawNext instead. It may be that in a few years Bloomberg will be able to really compete with WestlawNext, especially if Bloomberg can somehow purchase Lexis’s legal content and put it into Bloomberg’s better interface. For now though, use Bloomberg Law for its unique features like the BNA materials and the federal docket access, but use WestlawNext for your general legal research.

                Winner: WestlawNext. 

Next week: The Championships! WestlawNext vs. Critical Thinking

– Ben Doherty 

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Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

Legal Research Tournament, Round 1, Game 4: WestlawNext vs. Fastcase

Welcome to the last installment of Round 1 of the Legal Research Tournament, where 8 teams (or legal research resources) will begin the competition to answer the question: If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best? For a description of the rules of the tournament, the teams competing and the tournament seedings and bracket, please see our previous post, The Legal Research Tournament Begins!

[Opinions expressed during this completely objective competition are solely my own, and not those of the UVA Law Library, UVA Law School, or former and still champion LawDawgs softball team.]

And on to the fourth of this week’s four matchups!:

(1) WestlawNext vs. (8) Fastcase.

WestlawNext is by far the most popular choice among UVA Law students; and with good reason. WestlawNext has done a superb job transitioning to the Google-like approach to search by offering a user-friendly interface with different search options that appeal to all types of users. Like the simple Google approach of typing some terms into a box and letting the search engine do the work for you? WestlawNext’s main WestSearch box works surprisingly well, allowing users to do a broad search and then narrow the results by document type, jurisdiction or other facets. Prefer to do more precise, controlled searching? You’re in luck as well. Just browse from the main screen to one of WestlawNext’s many specific databases and click on the word “advanced” next to the search box.

That opens up a user-friendly Advanced Search screen tailored specifically to the database you have selected. There you can use their Fields template to search only selected portions of documents, and be reminded of the different term connectors WestlawNext uses for sophisticated Boolean searching.

WestlawNext’s smooth combination of basic and advanced searching works well, allowing for more powerful search techniques than just about any other database available at UVA.

Fastcase counters by offering a nice database with many of the same features as WestlawNext, but at NO COST to members of many state bars, including Virginia’s. Ok, the no cost part is no big deal to our law students because they get free access to WestlawNext while in school anyways (plus Fastcase is not actually available at the law school). However, no cost is often a BIG DEAL to practicing attorneys and Fastcase is a good database. It provides advanced case searching for all U.S. federal and state cases and easy access to all current federal and state statutes. Unfortunately for Fastcase in this tournament, WestlawNext does all that plus way more. WestlawNext offers features such as detailed case headnotes and well-edited statutory annotations that Fastcase just cannot match. Keep Fastcase in mind as a nice, no-cost alternative for practicing attorneys on a budget, but here it’s just not able to match up with WestlawNext.

                Winner: WestlawNext.

With that, four teams move on and four go home. For those teams ending on a loss: Keep your head up—just making it into our Final Eight was a big accomplishment in itself!

Stay tuned for Round 2: The Semifinals!

– Ben Doherty  

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Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

Legal Research Tournament, Round 1, Game 3: Lexis Advance vs. Critical Thinking

Welcome once again to Round 1 of the Legal Research Tournament, where 8 teams (or legal research resources) will begin the competition to answer the question: If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best? For a description of the rules of the tournament, the teams competing and the tournament seedings and bracket, please see our previous post, The Legal Research Tournament Begins!

[Opinions expressed during this completely objective competition are solely my own, and not those of the UVA Law Library, UVA Law School, or former and still champion LawDawgs softball team.]

And on to the third of this week’s four matchups!:

(2) Lexis Advance vs. (7) Critical Thinking.

Out of respect for its age, we’ll give Critical Thinking first shot in this matchup. People have been using Critical Thinking to figure things out for eons. No different with lawyers. Before the internet, before computers, lawyers have been finding precedent and critically analyzing how it should apply to their clients. Even now that sophisticated databases make finding legal information easier than ever, the need for critical analysis of what you have found is no less. Just ask some judges about the importance of being able to critically analyze cases in your research and not just find them. As a future attorney, you may not know which legal research database you’ll get to use in your practice. Armed with a focused critical mind, however, it should not matter, as you will be able to find the information you need and apply it to your client’s situation no matter the resources available to you. That’s a good tool to have.

Lexis has been competing with Westlaw for the bulk of the computerized legal research market for decades. LexisAdvance, the company’s foray into the new world of search had inauspicious beginnings. It has improved since then and, like WestlawNext, benefits from the huge breadth of legal resources Lexis is able to provide. From cases to annotated statutes to regulations to law review articles, Lexis Advance provides access to just about any information a lawyer would need, all fully searchable. The problem is it is not always easy to figure out how to do so. Unlike WestlawNext, Lexis Advance does not feel intuitive and user-friendly. It often feels like a database that has been pasted together from disparate parts: a bunch of fixes on top of fixes on top of fixes—the Millenium Falcon approach to constructing a legal database.

Granted, for basic searches, it works o.k. I can plug the term “felony murder” into the main search box and then narrow down by legislation and jurisdiction to easily pull up Virginia’s felony murder statute. Great! However, what if I want to look at LexisAdvance’s treatises on employment law? Where are they? When I click on Browse Sources I am confronted with LexisAdvance’s A-Z list of every single source it has. After regaining my orientation, I can use Narrow By to reduce my options to Secondary Sources and Treatises, but that still leaves me with an unmanageable list of hundreds of options. Now what? The only other option to Narrow By is jurisdiction, and employment law covers all jurisdictions. I suppose I could use the Search Sources option, but for what? Do I search for the word labor? Or employment? Or occupational? All three? Where am I? How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house.


Lexis Advance too often leaves me with questions. When I use Critical Thinking as a resource, I want it to generate questions: Have I uncovered everything I need for this problem? Am I using the best source for this information? What precisely have I found in my searches? Unfortunately, using Lexis Advance doesn’t allow me to answer those types of questions satisfactorily. I never feel comfortable enough with the database to know I have found all the information I need. Lexis Advance will be adding enhancements in mid-February, but that’s too late for this tournament. Maybe next year! And we have our first big upset of the tournament!

                Winner: Critical Thinking.

Tomorrow’s match-up to finish Round 1: (1) WestlawNext vs. (8) Fastcase

– Ben Doherty 

 

Published by

Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.