Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Ways to Cram for the Bar Exam

With less than a month until the July bar exam, heads are probably swimming with legal concepts, case names, and prep-course mnemonics. If you’ve come down with a case of bar-exam brain-freeze, it might be time to try some alternative ways to learn:

CALI, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, provides interactive tutorials on more than 900 legal topics. Tutorials range in scope from general areas of law to very specific legal concepts. A Duke Law registration code is needed for accessing the tutorials on the web, and can be obtained from the library Reference Desk or online with a NetID and password.

If you like an interactive Q&A approach to studying, you might also prefer to download the mobile app versions of popular aids like the Law in a Flash flash-card series or the Q&A books from LexisNexis. Though the online version of each series is only slightly cheaper than the tangible versions, the ability to “shuffle” and annotate the flash cards and re-take the practice exams multiple times might be an advantage to the mobile format.

Prevent eyestrain and study on the go with the Audio Case Files component of CVN Law School. Audio Case Files provides MP3 recordings of edited opinions from law school casebooks. Register for the site with a Duke Law email address.

For more visual learners, there’s also The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law, the brainchild of defense attorney Nathaniel Burney. Launched in December 2011, the blog publishes detailed and creative comics which explore such aspects of criminal law as mens rea, conspiracy, and defenses. Jones McClure Publishing will release a book-length version of the comic in the fall, as the inaugural entry in its Illustrated Guide to Law series. So while July 2012 exam-takers are limited to this preview of the criminal law title, there may be a whole set of comic-style study aids in time for next year’s MBE.

Finally, for help finding more traditional supplements to bar exam study (including study guides for the MBE and past bar exams from other states), take a look at our February post on Resources for the Bar Exam or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Judgment Day

Last week, the blog Letters of Note revived a famous exchange of correspondence between two attorneys in 1988. Wyoming lawyer Becky Klemt wrote to several practitioners in California, seeking assistance with collecting court-ordered child support from her client’s ex-husband, who had skipped town to the Golden State. Stephen Corris, an Irvine-based international trade specialist, attempted to decline the opportunity politely: "Without sounding pretentious," he informed Klemt six weeks after her original letter, "my current retainer for cases is a flat $100,000, with an additional charge of $1,000 per hour."

Klemt fired off a cheeky reply, which quickly circulated throughout law firms around the country: "Steve, I've got news — you can't say you charge a $100,000.00 retainer fee and an additional $1,000.00 an hour without sounding pretentious. It just can't be done. Especially when you're writing to someone in Laramie, Wyoming where you're considered pretentious if you wear socks to Court or drive anything fancier than a Ford Bronco. Hell, Steve, all the lawyers in Laramie, put together, don't charge $1,000.00 an hour." After outlining her small firm’s intent to join Corris in his highly profitable global practice by relocating to California ("where evidently people can get away with just about anything"), Klemt assured him that the original client was "willing to pay you $1,000.00 per hour to collect this judgment provided it doesn't take you more than four seconds."

The exchange went as viral as could be in the pre-YouTube era, with photocopies and faxes of both letters making the watercooler circuit. Klemt found herself an unlikely celebrity, dubbed "the funniest lawyer in America" in a 1990 front-page Wall Street Journal article. The ABA Journal followed up a few months later, after Klemt had appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and received an offer to pose for Penthouse magazine. (She declined.) For his part, Corris defended his reply as satirical in a follow-up letter to the Wall Street Journal, stating that "Without taking anything away from Ms. Klemt’s well-worded riposte, I sure wish that I had not been taken so literally by so many."

But one other player in the tale was less amused: Klemt’s client, Marcia Broomell, whose judgment Klemt had written off after several months and dozens of fruitless letters to other California attorneys. “'Sure, sure, it's all incredible,'" Broomell told the WSJ. "'Now a thousand lawyers know about my plight, and not one of them can be bothered to collect my money!'"

Thankfully, there’s guidance out there for attorneys with clients in Broomell’s situation. Judgment Enforcement, 3d ed., a 2009 looseleaf treatise (KF9025 .B762 & full-text in Westlaw: JDENF database) includes chapters on "Basic Aspects of Judgment Enforcement," as well as state-specific guidance (including - yep - California). It and similar titles can be found in the Duke Libraries catalog with a subject search for "Executions (Law)-- United States". For help locating additional materials on judgment enforcement, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where Courts Meet Custom

Yesterday’s New York Times contained a fascinating article about the recognition of tribal courts in South Africa. These traditional village councils were commonplace during the apartheid era, and have remained an influential force in many areas nearly two decades after the country’s democratic reforms. As the Times piece illustrates, village residents who resist the unofficial but powerful local courts do so at their own peril: one widowed resident of Candu ignored the call of a traditional court following an insult to the village headman, and found herself shunned by neighbors until she appeared before the council to apologize and pay a fine (which included one live sheep and several cases of beer). Ironically, the affront to the local court was actually the woman’s adherence to the formal legal system: "She had broken customary law by calling the police to investigate a burglary at her house without informing the village headman."

A bill pending before Parliament would provide official recognition for these traditional courts, and also outline the scope of their powers (view PDF). If enacted, the Traditional Courts Bill would also give the country’s magistrate court system the power of appellate review over traditional court judgments. This isn’t the first effort to provide official recognition for such courts – an earlier version of this bill was introduced in 2008 and withdrawn in 2011. The Times describes this version as “unlikely to pass Parliament but unlikely to be completely snuffed out either.”

Whatever ultimately happens to the Traditional Courts Bill, the story is a good introduction to this unique aspect of the South African legal system. To learn more about this topic, start with a subject search of the Goodson Law Library’s catalog for "Customary Law – South Africa" to discover titles like Chiefs in South Africa: Law, Power & Culture in the Post-Apartheid Era or Customary Law in South Africa (whose entire fifth chapter is dedicated to courts: read Google Books preview). To find additional material about South Africa’s legal system, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Judicial Nominations and Vacancies

Yesterday, President Obama announced two nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This is the first step in the federal judicial appointment process, which is outlined by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts points out around 75 current vacancies in the federal court system, with almost half of those classified as “judicial emergencies”. The Judicial Nominations page at the U.S. Department of Justice presents a graphical view of nominees and hearings, although there is a slight delay in updating.

Information about current Article III judicial nominees can be found in a variety of places. THOMAS, the free Library of Congress web portal, maintains a search screen for federal nominations, including the judiciary. Results link to information about the status of the nomination. The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary also maintains free information for the current Congress, including links to hearing transcripts and nominee questionnaires. Candidate ratings, supplied by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, are available online back to the 101st Congress (1989).

Some subscription resources available to the Duke community supplement the free nomination resources with additional information. U.S. Law Week, available through Bloomberg BNA, provides a roundup of Nominations and Confirmations. Earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service released a report, Nominations to U.S. Circuit and District Courts by President Obama During the 111th and 112th Congresses (free online & to Duke community via ProQuest Congressional), which presents a statistical overview of nominations and their status from President Obama’s inauguration until May 31 of this year.

For help locating information about current or historical federal judicial appointments, be sure to Ask a Librarian.