Friday, January 16, 2015

Fastcase Legal Research Service Now Available

The Goodson Law Library now subscribes to the legal research service Fastcase. Members of the Duke Law community may access Fastcase with a current Law School NetID through this link, which is posted on the Legal Databases & Links list as well as in the Duke Libraries Catalog.

You may be thinking, "Not another legal research service to learn!" It’s true that the interface will look somewhat familiar to users of Westlaw, Lexis and Bloomberg, and the primary law content can be found elsewhere. But it's still worth taking a look at Fastcase, especially if you plan to practice in one of the 27 states (or a handful of cities and counties) whose bar associations currently offer the service for free as a membership benefit, a list which includes New York and North Carolina. In jurisdictions with free access to the service for bar association members, Fastcase can be a highly cost-effective starting place for your legal research.

Like other legal research services, Fastcase offers a choice between natural language or Boolean command searching for its content, which includes case law, statutes, regulations, court rules, and constitutions. Most primary law search results are displayed in a traditional list format. However, case law search results can also be displayed in an Interactive Timeline option, a graphical depiction of each case result's influence which was described in the May 2014 ABA Journal cover story on visual law services. Secondary sources include newspapers available through a partnership with Newsbank, and law review articles provided through a partnership with HeinOnline. (Note that in this law school-wide version of Fastcase, your personal search histories and document access histories are not saved, as they would be in an individualized account through a state bar association.)

Many Fastcase tips and tricks can be found on its Help & Training pages, as well as on The Fastcase Blog. To learn more about low-cost legal research services, visit Section IV of the Goodson Law Library guide to Legal Research on the Web or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pa$$w0rdS: Westlaw Reset, LastPass Management, and Security

Online passwords: so necessary, so hard to create, and so easy to forget. If you're prone to keeping the same passwords on multiple sites for long stretches of time, Westlaw is about to make your life a bit more difficult: all academic Westlaw users should change their OnePass password as soon as possible, in order to avoid an upcoming automatic reset which would lock you out of your account until a new password is created. A similar reset occurred last year for law firm Westlaw subscribers; the academic reset may take place as early as mid-January.

To change your OnePass password before the automatic reset, log in to, click "Update" in the left-hand welcome sidebar, and create a new password following the requirements. Passwords must be between 8-16 characters long and contain at least 3 of the required features (upper-case letter, lower-case letter, symbol, and/or number).

But think twice before typing your pet's name or "Password" followed by a "1" to meet the bare-minimum requirements. Recently, iDict, a list of the top 500 iCloud passwords, was posted to GitHub, as both a tool for would-be crackers and a reminder that the most memorable passwords are laughably easy for others to guess. For tips on creating a stronger passphrase which meets security requirements while remaining memorable for you, visit the Duke University IT Security Office Password Security page. This site includes strategies for creating effective passwords and avoiding the worst ones.

If you just can't keep track of all but the simplest passwords, it might be time to take advantage of password management software, which helps you create strong passwords in addition to filling them into your browser automatically and securely. Duke University offers free access to LastPass for students, faculty and staff; it can be downloaded from the OIT Software List with your NetID and password. For assistance with setting up and using LastPass, visit the Duke Law Academic Technologies website or the Help Desk on level 3 of the library.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Positively U.S.C. Title 54

The 114th Congress begins its first session on January 6, after a flurry of legislative activity by its predecessor: Once derided as on track to become the "least productive Congress" in modern history, the 113th Congress escaped the title by passing more than 100 new laws after the November election. (It is, however, still the second least productive Congress since 1947, with the 112th holding the dubious honor.)

Among the many laws passed between the November election and the December adjournment was H.R. 1068. This bill created a new Title 54 within the U.S. Code, dedicated to the "National Park Service and Related Programs," and enacted it into positive law. This marks the first positive law enactment since the creation of U.S.C. Title 51 (National and Commercial Space Programs) in 2010, and the second new Code title added in 2014 (Title 52, Voting and Elections, was created in August as an editorial reclassification, which did not require Congressional approval).

The new Title 54 relocates national park-related laws which were previously scattered across Title 16 (Conservation) of the U.S.C. More information about the new title 54 can be found at the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, which edits the official U.S. Code. A placeholder for the new title has already been added to the U.S. Code website; research services like Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg will add the new title's text after it is released by the OLRC. In print, the new title will appear in the 2014 annual Supplement to the 2012 edition of the U.S.C. (Supplement II). For now, Title 54's planned text can be read via the enrolled bill at

What is positive law codification? As the Office of the Law Revision Counsel explains, the first U.S. Code was published in order to arrange all of the federal laws then in force (from the chronological U.S. Statutes at Large) by their subject matter. This editorial arrangement of the general and permanent laws in force was considered to be only "prima facie evidence" of the law (i.e., in the event of a typo or other textual discrepancy, the Statutes at Large would control). Beginning in 1947, Congress enacted several U.S.C. titles into positive law, systematically revising a title and enacting it as a new statute (thus turning the U.S.C. title itself into legal evidence of the law, rather than prima facie evidence).

Currently, 27 titles of the U.S.C. have been enacted into positive law. Several other positive law efforts have been planned, with two which would enact additional Code titles rather than re-codify existing ones: Title 53 (Small Business) and Title 55 (Environment). For details about these projects, visit the OLRC Positive Law Codification page.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Effective Dates of Statutes

The New Year is more than a fresh start for post-holiday diets and personal goals. It's also often the effective date for new legislation which was enacted in the previous year. Legislative research service StateScape offers a handy chart of Effective Dates for state legislation. Effective dates vary widely by jurisdiction, and individual bills can also specify a different effective date than a jurisdiction's general rule. When reading a session law or code section online or in print, look for a note about its effective date, usually located at either the top of the screen (particularly online) or at the end of the law's text (especially in print). These notes help legal researchers determine whether a particular law was in force on a specific date in time.

So what new laws took effect on January 1? Here in North Carolina, the Legislative Library has compiled a helpful chart of 2013-2014 legislation sorted by effective dates. The 20+ new state laws which took effect on the first of the year begin on page 13 of the document, and they include a new mandatory retirement age for magistrate judges, criminal background checks for firefighters and emergency personnel, and tightened restrictions on state candidates in a primary election. USA Today explores changes to other states' laws as of the new year. Many other states will see a boost to their minimum wage laws in effect as of January 1, although North Carolina is not one of them. At the federal level, new regulations approved by the Department of Labor in October have also raised the minimum wage for certain federal contractors – a good reminder that effective dates are also important to note when researching regulations as well as statutes.

To learn more about effective dates of statutes, consult chapter 33 ("Time of Taking Effect") in the treatise Sutherland on Statutes and Statutory Construction (KF425 .S966 or on WestlawNext: SUTHERLAND database) or Ask a Librarian.