Selling others’ briefs

Following up on George’s post “A pair of lawyers . . . sue West and LexisNexis for reproducing their court filings,” I took a second look at a directed research paper a student did for me a couple of years ago on the subject of vending appellate briefs.  The student surveyed 17 jurisdictions — 10 that provide briefs to vendors and 7 that do not.

One of the interesting take-aways from the student’s paper is the wide variety in means by which vendors have obtained briefs.  Some states have made various arrangements with vendors; others refuse to do so.  For a very few states there is a distinct quid pro quo. Past practices will change, though, as the vendors are increasingly just pulling from posted copies; unless a court rules against such a practice it will only accelerate.

California and Pennsylvania, of the surveyed jurisdictions, both have quid pro quo arrangements.  For example, in California, the state Supreme Court used to send copies of the briefs to certain public law libraries but stopped the practice when it made a deal with Court Records Service (later acquired by West Publishing) whereby the court receives microfiche copies in return for providing the briefs.

Massachusetts has what seems like an odd arrangement whereby briefs are scanned once at the Clerk’s Office, then sent to Westlaw, where they are scanned again and later returned.

To write the paper the student called librarians, court clerks, reporters of decisions, and the vendors.  None of the surveyed court staff members reported any attorney dissatisfaction with the practice of providing briefs to the vendors.  And in one state, the Reporter of Decisions speculated that attorneys actually liked “the free advertising.”  And many clerks were surprised that this has become an issue at all since the documents are public records.

Yes, they are public records but that doesn’t mean they are in the public domain.  Yet who wins if a court rules that Westlaw and LexisNexis are infringing authors’ copyright?  My student thinks that the attorney authors are really the only winners (if they receive royalties) and most of them have already received substantial compensation for writing these briefs and all other players (the courts, the public) are losers.   I hope that in the spirit of pro bono most attorneys will continue to make their appellate briefs available to all the world and not press ownership claims (with perhaps some sort of opt-out provision for the rare instances when, for privacy or other sensitive concerns, certain briefs should not be published).   It would also be a better world if LexisNexis and Westlaw could also take responsible pro bono actions here, as suggested by Ed Connor and not profit from the work product of those in the private sector.

Here’s the cite to my student’s paper:  Bryan Jarrett, Vending Appellate Briefs: The practice, its future, and implications if found illegal.   Submitted October 30, 2010.

Abstract:

This paper analyzes the collection and sale of appellate briefs.  It presents the findings of a survey of seventeen jurisdictions.  The paper discusses how Westlaw and LexisNexis access the briefs, whether they have structured mutually beneficial agreements with the courts that provide the briefs, whether attorneys commonly object to the sale of their briefs, the likely future of the industry, and the potential policy implications of a successful legal challenge to the industry’s practices.

Becoming the “compleat lawyer” the Aldisert way

From time to time I will get a call or e-mail from a proud parent whose son or daughter has been admitted to Stanford Law School.  The parent wants my advice on a book for their accomplished child to read upon the beginning of their new-found career.  A wonderful book has just come along which fits the bill perfectly:  Judge Ruggero Aldisert’s A Judge’s Advice: 50 Years on the Bench.

This slender volume packs a lot of punch.  In less than 250 pages the judge offers answers to questions that have occupied his thoughts for decades:  : “What is the bedrock of our common law system? What are trial and appellate judges really looking for? What is the logical configuration that is absolutely necessary in any legal argument? What practical challenges do judges face when deciding a case? What is the difference between the philosophy of law and a philosophy of law? What is the difference between a judge making a decision and a judge justifying it, and why does that difference matter to me?  Precedent in the law: When do you kiss it and when do you kill it?”

The judge organizes his thoughts among the following five themes:

  • Our Common Law Tradition: Still Alive and Kicking
  • Logic and Law
  • Avoiding Assembly Line Justice?
  • The “Write Stuff”
  • How Judges Decide Cases

And within these themes are found the following chapters:

The house of the law — The role of the courts in contemporary society — Precedent : what it is and what it isn’t, when do we kiss it and when do we kill it? — Elements of legal thinking — Logic for law students : how to think like a lawyer — Formal and informal fallacies — State courts and federalism — Life in the raw in appellate courts — “The seniors” suggest a solution — Brief writing — Opinion writers and law review writers: a community and continuity of approach — Reading and evaluating an appellate opinion — Philosophy, jurisprudence and jurisprudential temperament of federal judges — Making the decision — Justifying the decision.

While I know that all law students would benefit greatly from reading this book, when I first saw it our international students immediately came to mind as no other single volume that I am aware of so neatly and clearly explains the American legal system.  This book explains stare decisis better than anything else available.

Judge Aldisert writes about his particular passion — the law — with an enthusiasm that is almost exhausting.  Through this book the law student can get a glimpse of just how enormously satisfying the next 60 or 70 years of his or her life can be.

As the judge states in his Introduction:  “. . . These pages flesh out the instruments and implements of lawyers with a far-ranging ‘view from above’ with one objective in mind: to enrich the skills of these men and women so that each may bear — to borrow from Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler — the noble title of ‘compleat lawyer.’

This book really should be required reading for all law students, lawyers and others too.  Judge Aldisert is one of my heroes, along with others who inspire me such as Roger Ebert, Vin Scully, Tony Bennett and Keiko Fukuda (Google her)  — people who, while they may have stopped buying green bananas, they have not stopped working and never will.  These are people who make no distinction between work and play and who will be carried off the job feet-first.  They know the secret.   People who I want to be like when I grow up.

Full disclosure:  I was first charmed by Judge Aldisert when I met him during my daughter’s clerkship for him.

New to the legal lexicon: dissental and concurral

A story in today’s Daily Journal reports on the usage by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals of two newly coined (by him) words: dissental and concurral.

According to the story, “Chief Judge coins new words for failed en banc calls – Alex Kozinski coined his own words to describe a common practice,” by John Roemer,

Dissental conflates the words “dissent” and “denial” while concurral combines “concurrence” with “denial.” They are intended to replace the clunkier phrases “dissent from denial of rehearing en banc” or “concurrence in denial of rehearing en banc” used by the court.

The words are used “as shorthand descriptions of judges’ widening practice of delivering often-passionate commentary on failed en banc calls.’

So, have some fun and and search for those terms in CALR databases.

Free and really good information from Justia – daily opinion summaries; weekly practice area summaries

Our friends at Justia sent an e-mail to law-lib about their new free case summary service.  Since all the world doesn’t read law-lib, I’ve pasted below Tim Stanley’s exciting  announcement.  I’ve signed up for the FREE (my favorite word) service, and it’s a terrific tool for keeping up with decisional developments both by specific court and also by subject matter.  I’m going to encourage all of my students to sign up too, especially those who want a judicial clerkship, as this is a nifty tool for students to learn about very recent decisions from the judges with whom they are interested in seeking interviews and positions.

Here’s Tim’s e-mail:

 

Hi All,

Justia would like to introduce our new Free Daily Opinion Summaries service.

We will be writing daily summaries for the Federal Appellate Courts
and selected state supreme courts (eventually we will add them all).
You can subscribe to the summary emails at:

     http://Daily.Justia.com

We will also be sending out weekly practice area summaries emails that
will include all of the summaries for all courts we wrote that week in
the legal practice area.

Here are some examples from last week:

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:    http://j.st/ost

Environmental Law Weekly Summaries:    http://j.st/osv

If you have any suggestions for layouts, additional courts or practice
areas, please let us know. The current courts and practice areas we
cover are:

DAILY COURT SUMMARIES

U.S. Federal Courts: U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal, D.C., 1st,
2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th Circuit Courts of
Appeals

U.S. State Top Courts: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri,
Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

And a few other courts like the Delaware Court of Chancery. We will be
adding more state courts in the near future. The full continuously
updated list is at http://Daily.Justia.com

WEEKLY PRACTICE AREA SUMMARIES

The weekly practice area opinion summaries, include all of the
summaries for all courts we wrote that week in the legal practice
area, are provided for the following:

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Aerospace/Defense, Agriculture Law, Animal /
Dog Law, Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Arbitration & Mediation,
Aviation, Banking, Bankruptcy, Business Law, Civil Rights, Class
Action, Commercial Law, Communications Law, Constitutional Law,
Construction Law, Consumer Law, Contracts, Copyright, Corporate
Compliance, Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Education Law, Election
Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Entertainment & Sports Law, Environmental
Law, ERISA, Family Law, Gaming Law, Government & Administrative Law,
Government Contracts, Health Law, Immigration Law, Injury Law,
Insurance Law, Intellectual Property, International Law, International
Trade, Internet Law, Juvenile Law, Labor & Employment Law, Landlord -
Tenant, Legal Ethics, Medical Malpractice, Mergers & Acquisitions,
Military Law, Native American Law, Non-Profit Corporations, Patents,
Products Liability, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, Public
Benefits, Real Estate & Property Law, Securities Law, Tax Law,
Trademark, Transportation Law, Trusts & Estates, Utilities Law, White
Collar Crime, Zoning, Planning & Land Use,

If you have other practice areas you would like us to break out, let
us know. We are not against adding some more as long as there are
enough opinions in the area and it does not nearly overlap one of the
above.

You can see the current list of courts and practice areas (in a
readable table format) at http://Daily.Justia.com

Again it is totally free :)

Peace,

Tim

————————————————————
Timothy Stanley                       . . .

Keeping up with the federal courts with CourtListener

The CourtListener.com

From the website:

The goal of the site is to create a free and competitive real time alert tool for the U.S. judicial system.

At present, the site has daily information regarding all precedential opinions issued by the 13 federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. Each day, we also have the non-precedential opinions from all of the Circuit courts except the D.C. Circuit. This means that by 5:10pm PST, the database will be updated with the opinions of the day, with custom alerts going out shortly thereafter.

This [open source] site was created by Michael Lissner as part of a masters thesis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information.

Law.gov video presentation now online!

In a January 2, 2010 op-ed in the New York Times entitled “A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers,” California Chief Justice Ronald George and New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. asked “how can we help those who are left to represent themselves in court?”

One thing we can do is make the law of the nation freely available.  Today much of the law remains behind a pay wall, often a very expensive pay wall.

There have been efforts to liberate the law — five guys at Cornell (Cornell’s Legal Information Institute), three guys at Google (Google Scholar legal opinions), and others.  The federal government has made strides too, eCFR remains a model of free, updated legal content, but as the first paragraph explains on the eCFR website disclaims, “It is not an official legal edition of the CFR.”  State government efforts are as varied as the 50 states and District of Columbia.

So what to do?

Law.gov is a campaign to identify what a national law registry should include, and to make recommendations to the policy makers on how to structure a repository of all primary legal materials (and maybe more) at all levels of government.

The Stanford Law Library hosted a Law.gov kickoff event on January 12, 2010 and the day’s events included a terrific panel discussion with Carl Malamud, Anurag Acharya (Google Scholar lead engineer) and law professor Jonathan Zittrain, moderated by Stanford Law School lecturer Roberta Morris.  We now have a streaming video link from this discussion and it’s definitely worth viewing:

http://www.law.stanford.edu/calendar/details/3717/#related_media

Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate

“Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate”

HANNAH B. MURRAY, affiliation not provided to SSRN

JASON C. MILLER, Government of the United States of America – United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Practitioners and courts are relying more and more on Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Hundreds of court opinions, including at least one from every federal circuit court, and thousands of law review articles cite Wikipedia. Some opinions have relied on Wikipedia for technical information, although others only turned to the consensus website for background information on minor points.

This practice has generated controversy, with newspapers, professors, practitioners, and judges weighing in. Wikipedia in Court examines the controversy and the history of Wikipedia in court opinions before proposing a framework to determine when it is appropriate and inappropriate to rely on Wikipedia for authority in legal writing. Given the inconsistency in the legal community’s use of Wikipedia, courts and practitioners will benefit from this framework.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Writing Vol. 4 No. 32,  12/02/2009

Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1

“Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1″

DAVID R. CLEVELAND, Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center

Adoption of the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 has had a ripple effect throughout the federal courts of appeals, but it has not brought uniformity on the issue of unpublished opinions. The federal judiciary’s practice of issuing unpublished opinions traditionally ascribed three characteristics to such opinions: unpublished, non-citeable, and non-precedential. However, local rules of the Courts of Appeals are widely varied on these characteristics. The most fundamental jurisprudential question: “what is law?” has varying answers across a supposedly uniform federal system. From the types of cases eligible for unpublication to the limits of citation of unpublished opinions to the precedential status afforded such opinions, uncertainty and ambiguity abounds.

This article, Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1, examines the federal judiciary’s desire for uniform rules on publication and citation (and its persistent avoidance of the precedent issue) regarding unpublished opinions. It then categorizes and analyzes the circuits’ local rules regarding publication, citation, and precedent in the wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1. Finding significant discrepancies between circuit local rules in each of these three categories, the article argues for truly uniform publication, citation, and precedent rules – the most direct of which would be to end the experiment with unpublished opinions and recognize the full value of all circuit court opinions.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Courts Vol. 3 No. 59,  09/07/2009

Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations

“Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations”

DAVID R. CLEVELAND, Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center

Denying precedential status to unpublished opinions muddles the already unclear law surrounding qualified immunity. Government officials may claim qualified immunity as a defense to claims that they have violated a person’s civil rights. The test is whether they have violated “clearly established law.” The federal circuits differ on whether unpublished opinions may be used in determining clearly established law. This article, Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations, argues that unpublished opinions are ideal sources for determining what law is clearly established. The article reviews the purpose of both civil rights actions against government officials and the qualified immunity defense available to such officials. It also analyzes the characteristics of unpublished opinions and finds them, by definition, to be ideal sources to help determine the clearly established law. It then examines the circuit courts’ variation in the use of unpublished opinions in their qualified immunity analyses. Finally, it proposes a resolution to this problematic circuit split through jurisprudential or rulemaking means. Opinions that are issued as unpublished are by definition clearly established law; opinions that make new law or expand or contract existing law must be published under the federal circuit rules. Denying precedential status to unpublished opinions has relegated these opinions to a second class status, which is unjustified and unconstitutional, but also obfuscates their inherent suitability to demonstrate clearly established law.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Courts Vol. 3 No. 59,  09/07/2009

2 new working papers on judicial opinions

“Judges and Their Editors”

Albany Government Law Review, Forthcoming
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-18

DOUGLAS E. ABRAMS, University of Missouri School of Law

This essay discusses the roles of personal law clerks, central staff clerks, and Reporters of Decisions in editing judges’ opinions at the drafting stage. “The overarching lesson [is] that by submerging pride of authorship during an opinion’s gestation and by weighing editorial input with an open mind, judges secure in their craft advance the interests of justice.” The essay also discusses the constraints imposed by the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct on the circle of persons a judge may consult without giving the parties advance notice. The essay is adapted from Prof. Abrams’ address to the international meeting of the Association of Reporters of Judicial Decisions in Halifax, Nova Scotia on August 7, 2009.

 

“Sports in the Courts: The Role of Sports References in Judicial Opinions”

DOUGLAS E. ABRAMS, University of Missouri School of Law
Villanova Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, Forthcoming
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-19

In cases with no claims or defenses concerning sports, the Supreme Court and lower federal and state courts frequently publish opinions that draw analogies to the rules or terminology of sports familiar to broad segments of the American people. Sports analogies can help the court explain factual or legal points because today’s generation, including the lawyers and litigants who comprise the prime audience for written opinions, grew into adulthood amid an unprecedented saturation of professional and amateur sports in the broadcast and print media, and more recently on the Internet.

This article surveys the broad array of sports whose references now lace written judicial opinions, and then discusses the use and misuse of these references. Sports references can help courts explain and resolve complexity, but may also implicate Rule 1.3 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct by detracting unacceptably from the prestige indispensable to the judicial role. A sports reference remains incompatible with judging when a reasonable reader would conclude that the court invoked it primarily for the judge’s personal pleasure and not to facilitate the communication of ideas.

 

Source:  LSN: University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research
 Paper Series Vol. 4 No. 4,  08/20/2009