Thursday, July 9, 2020

Resources for Docket Research

This week's Legal Research Bootcamp session on dockets came at just the right time! Whether you’re a law student enrolled in the online bootcamp or not, you may be interested in several important changes to major resources for researching court filings.

Last week, the federal court site PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) unveiled a redesign to its home page and informational sections, the first such cosmetic change in more than ten years. (The PACER database in which users search for and retrieve case filings was not part of this redesign.) Legal blogger Bob Ambrogi outlines the changes, which include improved navigation, new accessibility tools, and a mobile-friendly design. The site also provides easy access to PACER's fees and billing information. PACER requires account-holders to have a payment method on file, although users are not charged unless they accrue $30.00 of charges (at a cost of $0.10 per page) during a billing quarter.

Members of the Law School community likely use Bloomberg Law as an alternative to PACER, as their Litigation Intelligence Center has long provided law schools with subsidized access to PACER materials, as well as to selected state court docket filings. Recently, Bloomberg announced a change to law school docket access that limits educational account usage and provides warnings for excessive docket access (with the possibility of suspension, in the event of prohibited uses like automated data-scraping). Under the new system, there will be caps on incurring docket charges for both individual users and the institutional subscriber. Heavy docket users may receive separate communications from administrators to discuss the most efficient and cost-effective ways to receive docket information. (Viewing dockets or documents already available to "View" in Bloomberg does not incur costs; these new limits are related to tasks like setting up alerts, updating dockets, and downloading documents that are not yet available in "View" mode within Bloomberg Law.)

With both PACER and Bloomberg Law now leaving users a bit more cost-conscious, what should the average researcher in search of a court filing do? It's certainly a good idea to look for free access to the needed documents.
For help with locating court filings from a state or federal case, check out the above resources or Ask a Librarian.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Everyday People (Research)

People-finding research can take many forms: locating needed contact information; tracing your family history; finding background on a client, judge, opposing counsel, expert witness, or even the forgotten inventor of the rape kit. The increased online availability of public records has made this research easier than ever before - which can present ethical dilemmas related to "doxxing" unsuspecting persons, such as those mistakenly identified as criminal suspects whose information is posted on the internet. The following people-finding resources should only be used for legitimate and responsible research purposes.

One powerful research resource that is available to the Duke Law community is the Locate a Person (Nationwide) database within Lexis Advance. To reach it, log in to the Lexis research system and choose "Public Records" from the menu in the top left corner. You can conduct searches for people, including options to search addresses and limit by dates of birth. Results often provide address history, phone numbers (sometimes unlisted and/or cell phones), real property ownership records, voting registration information, and (all the way at the bottom of a search result) email addresses associated with that person's record. The information can contain inaccuracies, particularly with regard to address history, but it is an excellent starting place to locate basic biographical and contact information about people.

Another people-finding resource available to the Duke University community is Ancestry Library Edition. This popular genealogy website provides access to birth and death records, city directories, immigration documents, military records, historical Census logs, and many other databases from various time periods and jurisdictions. Often, databases within Ancestry do not contain more recent data, but this can be a good starting point to locate historical information about a person or their family members. (Not affiliated with Duke? Check your local public library for potential access to Ancestry, like Durham County Library's.)

Even without access to these premium, subscription-based resources, there are still many people-finding research tools and techniques that you can use for free. One approach is to search government agency websites directly to locate needed information. For vital records and property records, this information is generally held at the county government level. While not all governments have created public-facing databases, real property tax bill information is frequently available online, and other public records (such as Clark County, Nevada's Marriage Records database) may be available for searching.

For law students who are enrolled in the Summer Legal Research Bootcamp, this week's module focuses on Finding People, and includes tips and tricks for researching everyday people as well as specialized resources for researching legal professionals. For those not eligible for the bootcamp session, more information about the specialized legal resources can be found in the research guides to Directories of Lawyers and Directories of Courts & Judges. For help with using these resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Race, Oppression and Social Change Resource Guide

The Goodson Law Library is pleased to announce the new Race, Oppression and Social Change Resource Guide, which provides links to e-books and streaming video that are available through the Duke Libraries. Developed by Casandra Laskowski, Technology and Research Services Librarian and Lecturing Fellow, the guide includes tabs on various topics such as the history of racism and inequality in America, institutional structures that contribute to oppression, specialized topics such as the criminal justice system and healthcare, exploration of marginalized identities, guides to allyship and advocacy, and resources for educators.

This guide is accessible from the library Research Guides page. Its contents will be updated regularly, and title suggestions are welcomed at ref@law.duke.edu. A tab of Duke Libraries Catalog Subject Headings provides access to additional resources, which can be filtered to e-resources by using the "Available Online" checkbox.

In response to increased interest in accessing these resources, the Duke University Libraries have recently purchased additional copies for several popular titles on the EBSCO e-book platform, including How to Be an Antiracist and White Fragility. Due to the continued high level of interest, readers may still encounter a wait list for certain titles. For more information about using the various e-book platforms available through Duke, please visit the Duke University Libraries eBook FAQ or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Engaging with EDGAR

Do you suffer from page fright? When you're drafting a legal document for the first time, having an example (or "form") to go by can alleviate writer's block. Of course, you will have to edit any forms to reflect the specifics of your client's case or transaction, but starting with a form can save you time and help you avoid mistakes and omissions.

Last week, we highlighted the SEC's EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval) system as a notable source of information about publicly traded companies. Did you know that EDGAR is also a goldmine of forms for transactional drafting? Issuers are required to file "material contracts" as exhibits to their EDGAR filings, and you can repurpose those agreements as sample documents when you are drafting. (When agreements from completed transactions as used as forms, they are often called "precedents.")

If you have a specific precedent in mind, the SEC's Company Filings search is a free, increasingly user-friendly way to find it. You can easily search by the company's name or better still, its ticker symbol, and then limit your results to the relevant filing type. Material agreements are always found at Exhibit 10 to registration statements, like S-1s, and periodic reports, like 10-Qs. So it's pretty straightforward to find, say, the CEO of Zoom's most recent employment agreement. (Review the SEC’s Quick EDGAR Tutorial for additional search tips.)

If you are still looking for a good form, try to find a precedent that matches the specifics of your transaction as closely as possible. For this research task, you need a tool that gives you more control over your search criteria, and a fee-based source like Bloomberg Law's Transactional Intelligence Center or Westlaw's Business Law Center will do the trick. Both services allow you to limit EDGAR exhibit searches by criteria like document type, industry, and governing law.

For sophisticated transactions, you might need a bit more help to find exactly the right form. Bloomberg's Example Searches and Westlaw's BLC Research Library will construct complex terms & connectors searches for you and will show you exactly what search is running in the EDGAR exhibits. (For researchers, that transparency is a refreshing change from opaque natural language search algorithms.) Bloomberg lets you modify these pre-formatted searches if desired, and both services offer post-search filters to refine your results.

Want to learn more about using forms and other practice tools? For law students, this week's Duke Law summer Legal Research Bootcamp covers transactional forms and checklists. Everyone is welcome to check out the Goodson Law Library's research guides on Legal Forms, Transactional Resources, and Securities Law.

--Laura Scott, Research Services Librarian

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Know Your Companies

Did you know the same company that makes Sunlight dish detergent also makes Axe cologne, or that Starbucks owns an insurance company in Vermont? Ever wonder which law firms represent the Disney Company? Finding company information is a useful skill, whether you are looking to make a good impression in an interview, conducting due diligence as you prepare your client for a merger, or trying to come up with some decent trivia questions. Fortunately, there is a lot of information you can learn about companies, and much of it is accessible for free.

If it's a publicly traded company, check out EDGAR, the Securities and Exchange Commission's free company search website. Track down the latest 10-K form, and see what surprises await. This is the annual report, where you will find everything you could want to know, including a list of subsidiaries, a rundown of the past year's performance, and projected income for the coming year. If you want to see how a company has been impacted by recent events, take a look at the 10-Q quarterly report, or for significant new developments, the 8-K report.

For information on privately-held companies, you'll have to do a little more sleuthing. The company website can be a treasure trove of information, and news stories can also help you follow a company’s activities. If you know the state where a privately held corporation is incorporated, see what's available through that state's Secretary of State website (access via NASS directory). If you don’t know the state of incorporation, there are company research resources like Reference USA and Hoover's that require a subscription (or a Duke NetID). If you just want to take a guess, start with Delaware, which has corporate-friendly laws that make it a popular state for incorporation.

Finding information about company litigation and legal representation generally requires a paid database. Want to learn more? The Duke Law summer Legal Research Bootcamp module for this week is "Finding Company Information." If you are a law student who is signed up for the Bootcamp, log in and find out everything you've always wanted to know about Burt's Bees. If not, take a look at the library's research guide to Business Associations and Ask a Librarian for help with any resources.

--Jane Bahnson, Head of Research and Instruction

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Antiracism Resources

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in south Georgia when he was pursued and shot by several white men. Breonna Taylor, an EMT from Louisville, was shot multiple times in her bed by police officers executing a surprise "no-knock" warrant. In Milwaukee last month, George Floyd died after a police officer placed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. These brutal and horrifying deaths of Black citizens are recent high-profile examples of a long history of injustice and inequality. These deaths, along with murders and law enforcement abuses that have taken place before and since, have generated widespread public protest as well as calls for justice, accountability, and police reform.

As demonstrations and calls to action continue to grow, many activists and organizations have developed resource and reading lists for people who wish to educate themselves about the history of inequality and racism in America, as well as proactive next steps toward reforming unjust systems. One comprehensive resource, recently shared with the community by Duke Law's Student Coalition for Anti-Racist Action, is the "Educate Yourself" page, which includes the "Lesson Plan for Being an Ally" as well as a list of Anti-racism resources.

Some additional reading lists of recommended books include:

This post points to electronic access to some highly-recommended book and film titles from these resource lists. Due to publisher licensing restrictions, most titles will require a current Duke University NetID. Durham County residents may be able to access some of these materials through the Durham County Library's e-book service (more information).
To search for additional online access to titles from these resource lists, use the "Available Online" checkbox in the Duke Libraries Catalog. Note that some e-books may have waiting lists, due to restrictions set by the publisher. While the library buildings on campus remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff are happy to advise about the online availability of particular titles. Please Ask a Librarian for help with your research.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

New COVID-19 Resources Guide

The COVID-19 pandemic has had implications across multiple fields: health, education, politics, and law. It has also affected all of us, in some way, personally. As it touches on nearly every aspect of our lives, the amount of information related to the outbreak can be overwhelming. We are inundated with claims from news, social media, friends, colleagues, and more.

Most concerning for many is finding resources on the outbreak and the virus that are reliable. In response, the Goodson Law Library's Faculty and Scholarly Services Librarian Wickliffe Shreve has created a new research guide on COVID-19 Resources, now available on the library website. The new guide covers sites dedicated to health, government, international, and legal resources on reactions to and studies of the pandemic. It also focuses on work on COVID-19 produced by the Duke community, in particular the Duke Law community. For law students, faculty, and members of the legal profession familiar with the major legal databases, it also points to dedicated collections on COVID-19 in Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw.

The new COVID-19 Resources guide is just one of many detailed Research Guides available from the Goodson Law Library. If your research topic isn't listed (such as a research guide to the law of a state outside of North Carolina), try the link to Search All Law Schools to locate research guides from other U.S. law school libraries, or Ask a Librarian to show you the way.

--Wickliffe (Wick) Shreve, Faculty and Scholarly Services Librarian