Monday, May 3, 2021

Date Calculator Tools & Rules

In law practice (and life), sometimes you'll need to calculate a future date, especially for filing deadlines. While it may seem like a quick and simple task, any miscalculation could result in at least an embarrassing conversation, if not more severe consequences like a barred claim or even formal discipline. Some law practice management systems have this feature built in (like Thomson Reuters Firm Central Deadline Assistant), but others do not (for example, Clio's help page notes that while this feature is not yet available, users can request it). What should you do if your employer doesn't have such a tool built into its practice management system? As it turns out, there are a lot of options.

On social media last week, Chicago attorney Brad Romance went viral for his "Next Level Lawyer Pro Tip" video of the future date calculation feature in Microsoft Outlook Calendar, in which users can type "today+45" (or any other number) in the date field of an event to determine the date that many days into the future. The Court Deadlines website describes this process in more detail with screenshots in a post from 2018.

Microsoft's help pages also note that the built-in Windows Calculator includes a date calculation feature, by clicking on the navigation button in the top left corner. Select "Date calculation" from the menu of options (which includes a number of other calculator and converter tools that you may be more accustomed to web-searching) in order to calculate the date x days in the future.

In replies to Romance's Twitter tip, other lawyers chimed in with their own recommended approaches to date calculation. Many voted for the website timeanddate.com, a popular calculation and conversion web resource; Clio recommends its users try this site on its help page about date calculation. Other attorneys admitted that they still calculate the dates by counting on a paper calendar, whether as their primary method or as a backup to electronic calculation; still more expressed eternal gratitude to their firm paralegals who already knew the Outlook calendaring trick.

Other replies flagged the important considerations of excluding official holidays, or whether the needed calculations should count calendar days or business days. It's critical to know the specific applicable rules for computing time (such as Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or more specific instructions in local rules or court orders). Since non-legal calculator tools will not account for those additional specifications, a free legal deadline tool like Casefleet's Legal Deadline Calculator may also be a useful bookmark. This site includes options to include or exclude the "trigger" date, clarify whether to count calendar days or only weekdays, and determine how to handle rolling over in the event the future date falls on a weekend or holiday.

In short, lawyers have many tools at their disposal to calculate future dates with confidence. For more tips on handy features within Microsoft Office products, check out Lawyerist's overview of Microsoft Office for Lawyers, which includes an in-depth review of Microsoft Word for Lawyers.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Online Almanac of the Federal Judiciary Now Available

Users of the popular judicial biographical directory Almanac of the Federal Judiciary recently discovered that Westlaw no longer carried the full text of this resource as of March 2021. The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary is now available campus-wide online through Wolters Kluwer.

The Almanac (a.k.a. AFJ) is a biographical database for all active federal district and appellate court judges. In addition to the standard biographical data, entries for judges will include information about their noteworthy rulings, media coverage, a list of publications, lawyers' comments on the judge's behavior and demeanor, and links to financial disclosure reports.

This online version also preserves former AFJ entries for inactive federal judges, which can be especially helpful in times of judicial transition. For newly appointed federal judges, the profiles can take some time to be developed, especially for the lawyers' evaluation section. (For example, newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett does not have a SCOTUS entry yet, but her inactive profile from the Seventh Circuit remains accessible.)

The "Advanced Search" feature allows you to limit your search terms to a particular subsection of the biographical entries, such as identifying which judges attended a particular school. Unfortunately, the search function in either basic or advanced mode doesn't allow for terms & connectors style searching, although exact phrases can be enclosed in quotation marks. So you may have to run several separate searches to identify how many active federal judges have been described in AFJ lawyer evaluations as a "genius" (18) versus a "jerk" (9) and conduct your own name analysis to see if there is any overlap between the two groups (no).

Despite the limited search functionality, AFJ remains an essential tool for researching federal judges, both present and past. The lawyers' evaluation comments are a particularly unique window into judicial personalities and practices.

Other resources for researching judges include Westlaw's Profiler, Lexis+'s Litigation Profile Suite, and the Leadership Connect "Courts" section. For help with using these judicial research sources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Summer Access to Legal Research Databases

Whether you are graduating from Duke Law this May or continuing your legal studies next year, your access to legal research services and other campus databases may change this summer. Below is a summary of policies for the major legal research databases that you might wish to access over the summer.

Graduating Students
  • Westlaw: You may opt in to Thomson Reuters products, including Westlaw and Practical Law, for six months after graduation for non-commercial use. This "Grad Elite" access allows 60 hours of usage on these products per month to gain understanding and build confidence in your research skills. While you cannot use it in situations where you are billing a client, Thomson Reuters encourages you to use these tools to build your knowledge of the law and prepare for your bar exam.
    In order to activate Grad Elite access: log in at http://lawschool.tr.com and use the drop-down menu by your name to access Grad Elite Status, or click on this link.
    In addition to the six months of Westlaw/Practical Law access for non-commercial purposes, Grad Elite access provides Knowledge Center eLearnings and Tutorials on Westlaw for 18 months after graduation.
  • Lexis: Spring 2021 graduates will have access to Lexis+ via their law school IDs until 12/31/21. Graduates can use their Lexis IDs for job research, professional development, and commercial purposes. Graduates do not need to register for this access; it is automatic.
    Graduates going into non-profit work may apply for a LexisNexis ASPIRE ID which lasts 12 months beyond graduation. Learn more about the LexisNexis Graduate programs and/or apply for an ASPIRE ID.
  • Bloomberg Law: Access to Bloomberg Law continues for six months after graduation. Graduated students may be limited in their ability to retrieve docket filings marked "Request," update dockets, or set up docket tracking. Graduates may download docket items already uploaded in the Bloomberg system (labeled "View").

Access to most other Duke University research databases will expire upon graduation, when your status in Duke's directory changes to "Alumni." Recent graduates who register with the Duke Alumni Association for a OneLink account receive remote access to selected databases (including ABI/Inform, several e-book platforms, and JSTOR).

Continuing Students
  • Westlaw allows continuing students to use Thomson Reuters products, including Westlaw® and Practical Law, over the summer for non-commercial research (i.e., “to gain understanding and build confidence in your research skills, but you cannot use them in situations where you are billing a client”). Examples of permissible uses for your academic Westlaw password include the following: summer coursework, Research Assistant assignments, Law Review or Journal research, Moot Court research, non-profit or clinical work, or an externship sponsored by the school.
    Your Westlaw summer access will continue automatically - no action is needed on your part.
  • Lexis: All returning students have automatic, unlimited access to their Lexis law school IDs for the entire summer. Law School Lexis IDs may be used for non-commercial purposes, as well as commercial purposes if your employer permits such use.
  • Bloomberg Law access continues over the summer automatically. IDs may be used for non-commercial purposes, as well as commercial purposes if your employer permits such use.

For questions about using legal research services or other Law Library/University electronic resources this summer, feel free to Ask a Librarian.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Font Fight

As the ABA Journal and other news outlets reported this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a new notice on "Preferred Typefaces for Briefs." The notice indicated that the court was revising its Handbook of Procedures and Internal Practices "to encourage the use of typefaces that are easier to read and to discourage use of Garamond."

Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32(a)(5) doesn't encourage or discourage the use of specific fonts in briefs, but does outline general rules for font spacing and size. The D.C. Circuit's new handbook language fleshes out the FRAP requirements with additional guidance: "Certain typefaces can be easier to read, such as Century and Times New Roman. The Court encourages the use of these typefaces. Briefs that use Garamond as the typeface can be more difficult to read and the use of this typeface is discouraged."

The announcement quickly sparked chatter on social media, with some attorneys reading the change to be largely directed at the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Appellate Staff (which uses the disfavored Garamond font in its briefs). Fans of Garamond expressed disappointment in the change, while detractors derided its "ugly" italics and cramped spacing. (Want to delve more into the great legal font debates? Check out Matthew Butterick's thought-provoking book Typography for Lawyers, available for Library Takeout or full-text, pay-what-you-can online.)

The amusing kerfuffle serves as a good reminder of the importance of consulting local court rules when preparing filings. As Law.com noted, different courts can require or recommend vastly different typefaces, from the U.S. Supreme Court's preference for the Century family to the Seventh Circuit's discouragement of Times New Roman (one of the D.C. Circuit's new preferred fonts). For more information on researching the general and local court rules for a particular jurisdiction, check out the library's research guide to Court Rules or Ask a Librarian.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Tax Time (Yes, Again)

Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up in mid-March, the Internal Revenue Service announced an unprecedented across-the-board extension to federal tax filings. This year, alas, the IRS has already announced that they expect to retain the traditional April 15 deadline. [Update 3/19: The IRS announced a one-month federal deadline extension to May 17 earlier this week; states may or may not grant similar extensions.]  Between the narrower filing window and the delivery delays that continue to plague the U.S. Postal Service, taxpayers will want to get their filings in order as quickly as possible, and consider electronic filing in order to expedite the processing of returns and refunds. (It's possible to request an Extension of Time to File Your Tax Return, but note that this does not grant an extension for time to pay estimated taxes owed.)

Taxpayers whose income was at or below $72,000 in 2020 may qualify for the IRS Free File service, which offers online tax preparation assistance and free e-filing for federal taxes. The Free File Online Lookup Tool helps taxpayers to identify available free online filing offers that are appropriate for their tax situation. If you do not qualify for Free File, the IRS also outlines additional e-File Options, including free fillable online forms for federal taxes.

Some important considerations for the 2020 tax filing season includes treatment of economic stimulus payments as well as unemployment compensation. The IRS's Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments page includes information on tax treatment of these payments, as well as how to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit for stimulus payments that were owed but not received.

Don't forget your state tax filings, as well! The Federation of Tax Administrators provides quick access to State Tax Agencies. Should your federal and state taxes prove too complicated to complete on your own, the IRS also has tips for Choosing a Tax Professional and for handling any complaints that arise.

For more resources on federal tax law, including access to research databases like Thomson Reuters Checkpoint, visit the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Federal Tax or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Impeachment Trial Redux

This afternoon marks the start of the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, a first in U.S. history. Trump was previously impeached last year by the House but acquitted in the Senate for abuse of power and obstruction charges, in connection with the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian election interference. The 2021 articles of impeachment are focused on Trump's role in inciting the deadly events of January 6, in which supporters of the 45th President stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress formalized the 2020 election results. If convicted by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, he could then be barred from holding federal office in the future (by a simple majority).

The House of Representatives voted to impeach on January 13, and delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate for trial on January 25. As NPR outlines, the first day of the trial will contain arguments on the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a former president. (Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had planned to hold the 2021 trial after Biden's inauguration, according to a memo circulated before the House vote.)

The Law School community can keep up with the impeachment trial proceedings with the Washington Post, available full-text to current Duke Law members through this proxy link. A helpful free source for impeachment information is Ballotpedia, which maintains a timeline of the 2021 trial, the legal issues, and links to relevant documents. It also includes brief descriptions of the other three presidents who have been impeached in history: Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.

You can learn more about the history of presidential impeachment in the United States with HeinOnline's U.S. Presidential Impeachment Library, which debuted during the first Trump impeachment and currently covers up to the conclusion of that trial. The library contains government documents and books from each trial, providing both primary and secondary source views of presidential impeachment. Hein's library will undoubtedly be updated for the second Trump impeachment at the conclusion of the Senate trial.

If you have questions about accessing these resources or on other sources for presidential or congressional information, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The First 100 Days

Today marked the inauguration of 46th President of the United States Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris. The new administration is already taking action on several campaign promises, including the signing of seventeen Executive Orders on a diverse array of topics. Some, such as the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change and reversing course on the Keystone XL pipeline project, are direct reversals of executive actions from the previous administration. Others are aimed at tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The first 100 days of a new administration are considered to be a critical benchmark in measuring a new president’s productivity. How can you keep up with the latest developments from the executive branch? We’re glad you asked!