Westlaw

Bryan A. Garner

This May, Thomson Reuters published the tenth edition of the estimable Black’s Law Dictionary (affiliate link). The most widely cited legal book in the world, Black’s is a must-have for every lawyer and law student.

Henry Campbell Black published the first edition in 1891. Starting with the publication of the seventh edition in 1995, Black’s has been edited by Professor Bryan A. Garner, the noted lexicographer, legal-writing expert, and author of such books as Garner’s Modern American Usage, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (the last two co-authored with Justice Antonin Scalia (affiliate links)).

I met with Garner during his recent visit to New York, where he taught his famous legal-writing course to various law firms and government employers. His voice was hoarse from a summer cold, but he generously soldiered through an interview with the help of some tea. Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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Keith Lee

A couple days ago on Twitter, I noticed Judge Stephen Dillard having a conversation with a few people about the validity of using Wikipedia as a reliable legal authority. I mentioned that I wrote about the topic back in 2011. But given the continued growth and reliance of the general public upon Wikipedia, I decided it was probably worth looking at again.

Wikipedia actually has a page devoted to documents used in legal proceedings that have cited Wikipedia as a source. One particular case provides an in-depth discussion of whether or not the use of Wikipedia is “reliable,” interestingly enough….

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(c) Image by Juri H. Chinchilla.

Years before Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center built the forty-foot high “Tower of Law” (or, as Stephen Colbert called it, “the building blocks of boring”) out of unused legal reporters, Lexis started the books’ march to obsolescence when it debuted on April 2, 1973. “Lexis,” a term the company’s president coined by combining the Latin word for law plus the letters “IS” for information systems, was the first widely available commercial electronic database for legal research. When it launched forty years ago, Lexis contained only decisions from Ohio and New York. Today, it provides access to nearly 5 billion documents, including cases from all state and federal courts, as well as notes written by law students that are still awaiting their first citation reader. This week, On Remand looks back at the history of Lexis, its rivalry with Westlaw, and its dispute with the maker of a car popular with attorneys . . .

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Have you seen this over the last few days?

* Were you using Westlaw last week and saw this image? Here’s why… [Westlaw]

* A federal judge is charged with DUI. And there’s video of the arrest! [American Press]

* A heartwrenching poem from a law professor about discrimination. Wait, it’s not about race or gender discrimination but about not getting tenure as a legal writing professor. Yeah, that makes sense. [TaxProf Blog]

* Criminal defense lawyers are part-counselor, listening to the woes of their clients. Should basic instruction in therapy be part of professional training? [Katz Justice]

* The collapse of legal industry could be happening again, this time to the medical profession. [The Atlantic]

* Jeez, I had no idea that the paralegal industry is enjoying such a surge in hiring. I guess it makes sense… you get all the drudgery work of a young lawyer at half the cost. [George Washington University]

* A new DOJ report confirms what we all expected: Montana law enforcement officials are kind of terrible at prosecuting sexual assault cases. [Jezebel]

The Layoff Lady moves beyond Biglaw.

When times are tough for law firms, others suffer too. If a firm as prestigious and profitable as Weil Gotshal is conducting open and notorious layoffs, and rival firms are conducting stealth layoffs, rest assured that other creatures in the Biglaw ecosystem — technology vendors, legal recruiters, Mercedes dealers — are feeling pain.

Take media outlets that cover law firms. American Lawyer Media recently cut at least 35 positions from its editorial and production staffs, amounting to about 7 percent of headcount within those two groups. Kevin Michielsen, chief operating officer of ALM, said the layoffs resulted from the company’s shift to being a “digital-first” operation, not cost cutting. But considering that ALM labors under a nine-figure debt load, cost cutting might not be a bad idea.

But the Am Law layoffs pale in comparison to the cuts over at LexisNexis, at least in terms of raw numbers. The company didn’t provide numbers, but the estimates might surprise you….

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* This guy could teach a master class in how to stand by your (wo)man. Mary Jo White’s husband, John White, will relinquish his equity partner status at Cravath upon her confirmation as the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. [Am Law Daily]

* Macho, macho man: it looks like we’ll never know if Dechert actually has a “macho culture,” because the FMLA and paternity leave case that questioned the very existence of this Biglaw subculture was settled out of court. [National Law Journal]

* Why you gotta go and ruin Valentine’s Day for everyone at O’Melveny and Akin Gump? Apple’s request to speed up the Greenlight Capital case was approved, with arguments now scheduled for February 19. [CNET]

* Despite her nomination being crapped on by the Senate, Jenny Rivera, the CUNY School of Law professor, was recently confirmed as an associate judge of the New York Court of Appeals. [New York Law Journal]

* Remember the lawyer who sued Westlaw and Lexis for copyright infringement? Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed it for reasons yet to be disclosed, but probably for legal dumbassery. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* “Behold, the instrument of your liberation!” Survivors of the Aurora movie massacre are being harassed by conspiracy theorists, and the DA asked the judge to scrub their names from the record. [Courthouse News]

Mahbod Moghadam of Rap Genius

F. Scott Fitzgerald once opined that there were “no second acts in American lives.” Similarly, Biz Markie once opined “’cause we all pick our boogers sometime every day.” If you’re already lost, allow me to explain. This is the story of a former Biglaw attorney and his second act. He and his friends started a website devoted to rap lyrics. The website annotates rap lyrics, and it’s this system of annotation that the founders of the website hope will take over the web (including legal research). The website was recently funded by venture capitalists, and the resulting hype has ping-ponged across the web at a pace so rapid that you’d be excused if you made like Steinski and wondered, “What does it all mean?” (affiliate link).

The interviews that have fed the myriad profiles of the site’s founders have been nothing short of entertaining. Just last week, Gawker was prompted to write a guide to the site, rapgenius.com, which managed to sound both condescending and wildly equivocating and which did nothing but illuminate the author’s squeamishness. This promises to not be like that. I don’t know if Rap Genius is going to be Wikipedia or Pets.com.

What I do know is that a Biglaw dropout just ganked $15 million from Marc Andreessen and wants to edge out Westlaw and Lexis (good luck with that).

Keep reading to find out where he went to law school and what firm he worked at. And if you want to see his shirtless YouTube diss track (no homo)….

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Since we last mentioned the new Above the Law App, sponsored by WestlawNext, more than 3,500 of you have downloaded it. To everyone else, what the heck are you waiting for? Not many things in life are free, but our app is!

With the new app, you can now check Above the Law from anywhere you want. Trapped in a doc review dungeon? Check the ATL app. Bored at a deposition? Check the ATL app. Have no fear, because now you can spend your days reading the pages of Above the Law from the carefree comfort of your own wireless devices without your employer snooping on you.

Download the app today! It’s available here on iTunes and here for Android. Enjoy.

Thanks to the economy, the legal industry has changed. It’s a sink-or-swim world out there, and law firms are rapidly increasing their use of modern technology to assist them when it comes to working more efficiently and reducing spending.

A surefire way to accomplish both goals is by taking advantage of alternative fee arrangements. But what can your firm to do to change the way it bills? Are there any strategies that are actually effective?

Check out this video from Thomson Reuters to hear top attorneys explain how the new economy has changed the established billing model, and to learn how they make alternative fee arrangements work, particularly with the help of WestlawNext.

What are you waiting for? Sign up and watch the video now.

Where would lawyers be without open (and absurdly expensive) access to Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis for legal research? They’d have to trudge down to the closest law library and read real books made of paper. They’d have to head over to the courthouse and pull actual files with non-electronic documents inside of them. In a time where legal texts are used solely for decorative bookshelf purposes, that is just too much to ask.

But that is the behavior that two lawyers would expect of their professional colleagues. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, they claim that the legal database providers have been engaging in “unabashed wholesale copying of thousands of copyright-protected works created by, and owned by, the attorneys and law firms who authored them.”

Do they have any chance of winning their class action copyright suit?

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