Getting Schooled on New ABA Standards at the AALL Convention

aallSeveral BLS librarians attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries held in Philadelphia, PA, July 18-21, 2015.  Hundreds of law librarians, working in law schools, law firms, and courts, attend this annual convention.  While Philadelphia was hot and steamy, the programs were cool and enlightening, and the objective of attendance is always to bring back new perspectives for our work that will be useful for our constituencies, whether they are law school students and faculty, or law firm and court attorneys.  One of the programs I attended was entitled: ” Get Schooled on Learning: Learning Outcomes and Assessment for Legal Research Instruction under New Standards 302, 314, and 315.”

In August 2014, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates concurred in the new Standards 302, 314, and 315, among others, proposed by the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar.  These standards require schools to establish “learning outcomes” for measuring competency in several areas, including legal research.  While learning outcomes have been used for many years in primary and secondary education, this is a new area of interest and concern by law schools.

The speakers, from several different law schools, gave a historical perspective on how education reform began in the 1980s in the K-12 programs with an interest in learning-centered education and assessment. The idea was that by focusing on student learning and measurement, improvement would be made in the students’ education.

Transferring this to the legal realm, the question became: Is student learning leading to successful attorneys?  The goal of law school is to develop ethical, skilled, knowledgeable attorneys.  In order to do this, the plan was to develop learning outcomes for the legal curriculum and then assess these outcomes; in other words, to measure what students had achieved.

Standard 302:  States that a law school shall establish learning outcomes that provide competency in several enumerated areas.

Standard 314:  States that a law school shall utilize both formative and summative methods in its curriculum to measure and improve student learning and provide meaningful feedback to students.

Standard 315:  States that the dean and faculty of a law school shall conduct ongoing evaluation of the law school’s program of legal education, learning outcomes and assessment methods; and shall use the results to determine the degree of student attainment of competency and make appropriate changes to improve the curriculum.

Learning outcomes are the foundation of assessments and it is important that the learning outcomes produce skills and abilities that students can actually use in the practice of law.

Assessments are the measure of what students have achieved.  There are two types of assessments: formative and summative.  Formative assessments can be thought of as classroom discussions, electronic discussions, any kind of regular feedback that allows for frequent contact between student and instructor.

Summative assessments can be made through papers, exams, projects, etc. — long-term semester driven assessments that focus on the outcome of a program or course.

It was emphasized that law librarians should be involved in this transition to implement these new standards as instruction is provided to teach law students competency in legal research, whether the courses are in first year legal research and writing, advanced legal research, or specialized legal research courses. I found this to be a very enlightening and useful presentation.

Legal Blogs – a.k.a. Blawgs – What Can They Do For You?


Are you looking for your first legal job and want to look like an expert in a particular practice area?  Maybe you just want to learn more about a specific legal issue, an area of law, or a certain industry, law firm, or company?  If so, you should investigate legal blogs, or “blawgs.”

Here are some things to know about blawgs:

  • Blawgs usually follow “hot topics” or breaking legal news.  They can cover general legal topics or can focus on specific practice areas.
  • Blawgs may be written by attorneys, law librarians, law professors, or others.
  • Blawgs can help you to become informed and to stay current but use caution as the main purpose of some blawgs may be attorney self-promotion.

If you are looking for blawgs, try:

  • – search for blawgs by most popular, by category, or run a keyword search.
  • – search by subject, browse the headlines, or run a keyword search.
  • – an excellent source of material about the Supreme Court.

Finally, you can try:

  • – search by topic, author type, region, law school, and court.  Also, take a look at the ABA’s Annual Blawg 100.  According to ABA Journal, these are the blawgs that have “tipped us off to breaking news and the bloggers who have compelled us to write about their innovative ideas.”



Try the International & Foreign Law Research seminar!

This fall, do you plan to:

  • Write a paper on an international, comparative or foreign law topic?
  • Source-check foreign statutes & cases for a journal?
  • Develop your knowledge about an aspect of a foreign legal system that might be of interest to a future employer, such as China’s anti-corruption laws or Canada’s anti-spam law?

If so, consider enrolling in my 7-week International & Foreign Law Research seminar, which begins on Wednesday, September 9.  The main course requirement is a 15-17 page legal research memo on an international or foreign law problem of interest to you.  in the memo, I ask you to use resources that we have evaluated throughout the course.  Last semester, we also started a new class tradition: students read a problem prior to class, broke into class teams to conduct international law research, and then argued issues before a mock international court.

Please feel free to email me with questions about this seminar!

Jean Davis, Associate Librarian for International Law                                       


Goodbye to Westlaw Classic

Westlaw ClassicThe Brooklyn Law School Library has offered students and faculty free access to both Westlaw Classic and Westlaw Next. After the 2010 debut of Westlaw Next, most of our users adapted to the change. However the classic legal tool, Westlaw Classic, remained popular with some users at the BLS Library. 0n August 31, 2015, after more than 40 years of service to the U.S. legal market, Thomson Reuters will retire Westlaw Classic. Recent pop-up messages on Westlaw Classic state the expiration date as SeptWestlaw Mextember 10, 2015. Not surprisingly, there are complaints about the discontinuation of Westlaw Classic. Change is inevitable but there is help for those who need it with a free Westlaw Next patron access user guide.

The December 2014 issue of AALL Spectrum article, Saying Farewell to a Classic: Saying Farewell to a Classic by Deborah E. Shrager, Reference and Outreach Services Librarian, George Mason University School of Law Library, is worth reading. It provides a readable history of Westlaw and makes the observation that change in legal databases is a constant and that librarians “remain on the front lines of these transitions . . . We have infinite opportunities to step up and demonstrate our value. We may also feel a little bit nostalgic as our traditional resources slowly disappear.” Feel free to ask any questions about Westlaw Next access at the BLS Library Reference Desk by calling (718) 780-7567 or emailing or chatting with us by clicking the link “Ask a Librarian! Click here to chat” on the library home page.

VARA and a Whitewashed Graffiti Mecca

5PointzAn October 2013 blog post on the BLS Library Blog, Visual Artist Rights Act in Federal Court, discussed a federal law suit brought by a group of plaintiff artists, under the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990, against a defendant real estate developer in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Now nine of the artists, whose spray-paint artwork known as 5Pointz in Long Island City was whitewashed to make way for a residential development, have filed a new federal lawsuit seeking punitive damages. Over 18 months ago, the property owner used “the cover of night” to mutilate what had for years transformed Long Island City “from a virtual wasteland into an attractive place for residential development,” according to the complaint.

The artist-plaintiffs, led by Maria Castillo of Sunnyside, Queens, say they had free reign of 5Poinz through a 1993 deal with property owner Gerald Wolkoff and his company G&M Realty. With only three conditions that there be no politics, no religion, no sex, the artists worked for free retaining the copyrights of their work. One of the artists, Jonathan Cohen, the curator of 5Pointz, was given an office in 2002 and leave to commission works from others. After sale of the buildings to make way for a housing development, Cohen, facing an eviction proceeding,  fired back with a federal complaint in October 2013. He reached a settlement with the defendant requiring him to vacate by Nov. 30. The court ruled on the artists’ motion for an injunction on November 20, but the owners obliterated the art the night before.

The new complaint contends that “the whitewashing was entirely gratuitous and unnecessary” and that the defendants “were far from ready to demolish the buildings in question.” It calls the whitewashing “the replacement of something beautiful with something profoundly ugly”. The plaintiff artists, from NYC and other parts of New York, as well as London, Germany, North Carolina and South Carolina, also seek compensation for the unlawful destruction of their work in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act, 17 U.S.C. §106A et seq. (“VARA”). In 1990, Congress passed The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) to broaden copyright protections to include artists,  recognizing the “moral rights” of artists in a way that the United States had not previously done.

Before the whitewashing of 5Pointz, artists came from around the world to be featured there, and the  “Graffiti Mecca” was the site of several photo shoots, films, music videos and television shows. With the Museum of Modern Art’s P.S. 1 site nearby, visitors were “inexorably drawn” to check out the more than 350 works at 5Pointz. Subway passengers on the 7 train also saw the artwork on their daily commute.

Independence Day Reading

Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Great Britain 239 years ago today on July 2, 1776, when it passed Lee’s Resolutions (“that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved”). Traditionally and pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 6103, Independence Day is observed on July 4, also known as “the Fourth of July” the date when Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. If July 4 is a Saturday, as it is in 2015, the holiday is observed on Friday, July 3. If July 4 is a Sunday, it is observed on Monday, July 5.

In the enjoyment all of the Fourth of July sales, picnics, parades, fireworks, and ball games, it is easy to forget the real significance of the holiday. Reading the Brooklyn Law School Library ‘s copy of the 199 page e-book The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty, published by the Cato Institute and written by Thomas Sandefur, provides a good reminder of that meaning. The book is part of a recent wave of conservative/libertarian scholarship that asks questions regarding original intent, the purpose of the Constitution, and how best to defend liberty. It challenges the status quo of constitutional law and argues a vital truth: our Constitution was written not to empower democracy, but to secure liberty. In fact, the word “democracy” does not occur in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Yet the overemphasis on democracy by today’s legal community – rather than the primacy of liberty, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence – has helped expand the scope of government power at the expense of individual rights. The author argues that now, more than ever, the Declaration of Independence should be the framework for interpreting our fundamental law.

Two Landmark Supreme Court Decisions in Two Days

The United States Supreme Court on Thursday, June 25, 2015 upheld federal health insurance subsidies for moderate and low income Americans as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The vote was 6-3, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. The Court ruled that subsidies are valid even in those states that did not set up their own exchanges. This decision, in King v. Burwell, was the second time in three years that the Supreme Court upheld provisions of “Obamacare,” that otherwise might have decimated the law.  The Court upheld the law’s individual mandate in 2012 in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius.

The Court also handed down another major decision on Friday, June 26, 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex couples from getting married.  This decision establishes a national right to same-sex marriage throughout the country and requires states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.


Brooklyn Law at CALIcon 2015

imageOn Thursday, June 18 at CALIcon 2015 held at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, one of the opening sessions was called Incorporating Technology, Business Development and Marketing in the Law School Curriculum. The session by Brooklyn Law School Reference Librarian Harold O’Grady and Brooklyn Law School Technology Educator Lloyd Carew-Reid examined how law schools are now incorporating technology, business development and marketing in the law school curriculum. Using Google Hangouts, Harold and Lloyd were joined by Brooklyn Law School Professor Jonathan Askin and MIT’s Danza Greenwood to discuss their ABA-MIT Online Legal Appathon which took place at the ABA Tech Show 2015 in April.

Three BLS students participated remotely in the session: Alex Goldman, Class of 2014, Patrick Mock, Class of 2017 and Paula Collins, Class of 2017. Alex discussed his project on Technical Standards for Warrant Canaries. Patrick and Paula talked about their awards at the second annual Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE) Innovators Competition held in April 2015. Patrick won 1st Prize for his proposal, Buoy, which addresses the problem of student loan debt by incorporating a crowdfunding model into a student loan service. Paula won 3rd prize for her FLIC (Film Legal Information Center) app, which would deliver a virtual law practice, direct client services, and business/entrepreneurial services to a community of Indie film artists in Brooklyn and surrounding areas.

A video of the hour-long session is available on YouTube at this link.

First Amendment Supreme Court Decisions

Today the Supreme Court issued rulings on two cases dealing with First Amendment issues.Judges_Gavel

In Walker v. Texas the Court ruled that Texas did not violate the First Amendment when it rejected a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flagJustice Clarence Thomas joined four liberal members of the court to keep the flag off Texas license plates. The court’s four other conservative members called the decision an assault on free speech rights.

In Reed v. Gilbert the Court ruled for an Arizona church’s challenge to a sign ordinance.  The justices unanimously said the town of Gilbert, Arizona, ran afoul of the First Amendment by setting tougher rules for signs placed in the right of way along public streets to direct people to Sunday church services than for signs for political candidates and real estate agents.