Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Putting Your Papers to Work

Sure, grades are a good enough reason to put in the hours of research and writing on a seminar class paper. But what if all that hard work could earn you even more than a top grade? You might consider reworking past or current research projects for a law student writing competition. Many organizations sponsor writing contests for current law students, and most offer cash prizes as well as potential publication opportunities.

How can you identify potential writing competitions for your project? The T.C. Williams Legal Essay Contest Catalog, maintained by the University of Richmond Law School, is the most comprehensive listing of law student writing competitions. The website features several useful searching and sorting options, including the ability to sort by subject matter, deadline, and even prize amount.

The American Bar Association also maintains a list of Writing Competitions, which includes some contests not currently featured on the Richmond list. (This is likely because many of the listed contests are not currently open for submissions, but the ABA list could be helpful in planning ahead for future deadlines.)

Be sure to closely review each individual competition's rules before submission, as they may vary on matters like word count, font size, and required documentation.

For help with fine-tuning your work for potential publication, some useful resources in the library include:
  • Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review, 5th ed. (Course Reserves KF250 .V65 2016)
  • Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers, 5th ed. (Reserves KF250 .F35 2017)
  • Jessica Lynn Wherry, Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution (Reserves KF250 .C528 2019)
For assistance with locating these or other legal writing texts, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Being Counted

Over the next week or so, you may notice library staff members taking notes about where our users are sitting (or standing, in the case of our sit/stand desks). It's no cause for alarm – we're conducting an assessment of library space usage, in order to identify patterns (such as the most popular places, times of day, and furniture types), and to help inform future space planning projects. No individually-identifying information is being recorded or reported, just tallies of where and when library visitors are using our space at certain times of day.

Consider our space assessment a warm-up, of sorts, to another important counting project taking place this spring: the 2020 Census. A decennial requirement from Article I, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Census data helps to determine such critical matters as congressional seats in the House of Representatives and federal funding distribution for public services.

Everyone living in the United States and its territories is required by law to respond to the Census. Invitations will begin to arrive in the mail in mid-March, with options to complete the form by mail, phone, or online. Form questions can be previewed online. Census-takers will visit neighborhoods in May to collect data from households that have not yet responded; the Census Bureau has tips about verifying a census-taker's identity for anyone concerned about potential fraud or scams.

If you're a current student who is not sure whether you should be counted at your local North Carolina address or a different "home" address, the Census Bureau Who to Count page has a helpful section of student information. Students (including international students) attending a U.S. college or university "should be counted at the on- or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time." U.S. students who are currently living/attending school abroad are not counted in the Census.

Last year's failed attempt to reinstate a long-dormant citizenship question on the 2020 Census (detailed in The New York Times) left many would-be respondents concerned about the privacy of Census data. The Bureau has an information page about how Census information is protected. Individual Census records are kept confidential for 72 years, after which point they are available for archival research purposes. (Want to see records from the 1940 Census or earlier? You can do so in Ancestry Library Edition, available to the Duke University community.)

Some historical background on the Census requirement can be found in the government publication The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation ("Constitution Annotated"). The 2020 Census website includes answers to frequently-asked questions and other helpful resources related to this year’s Census. Whether you're using the library during our space assessment or responding to the Census form (ideally both), be sure to be counted this spring.

Monday, February 3, 2020

PACER's Day in Court

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will hear arguments in the ongoing litigation about the cost of PACER, the U.S. government's repository of federal court filings. PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, operates behind a paywall of $0.10 per page for searches and document retrieval. Charges are capped at $3.00 per document, and individual users are not billed unless they incur more than $15.00 in charges during a billing quarter. While the costs of PACER were designed to support the system’s infrastructure, critics have noted that PACER's annual income (more than $145 million) far exceeds the actual operating costs.

As The New York Times reported over the weekend, several consumer groups have filed suit over PACER costs. The complaint highlighted practices of overcharging or double-charging individual users, and also challenged the judiciary's practice of using excess PACER income for costs unrelated to the maintenance of the court records system. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowed the suit to proceed; its denial of the government's motion for summary judgment and partial grant of summary judgment on liability in favor of plaintiffs is now on appeal before the D.C. Circuit. Numerous advocates for free access to federal court filings have filed amicus briefs in the case, which has the potential to unlock PACER's paywall.

In the meantime, current members of the Duke Law community have free access to PACER materials through Bloomberg Law's Litigation Intelligence Center. Docket tracking is also available within Bloomberg Law. For filings that pre-date the PACER service, or from state courts, the library's research guide to Court Records and Briefs provides guidance on additional sources for researching court filings. For assistance with any of these resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.