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Everybody Researches: What the heck is a §?

May 18, 2012 Leave a comment

In a previous blog post we looked at some of the more unusual words found in the legal research vocabulary.  In today’s post we will  focus upon some words that are commonly misspelled or misused, as well as a couple of symbols that are frequently encountered when conducting legal research.

A perennial problem in the realm of spelling is the word “judgment.”  Unless you plan on becoming a solicitor or barrister instead of an attorney, judgment should not be spelled with an “e” after the “g.”  To help you remember think “judgement is the English spelling. (Yes I know that they are the UK, but that just is not going to work as a mnemonic so be flexible).   Another word that causes spelling grief is “harass” and all its variations (harassed, harassment, etc.)   Those of you planning on a career in employment law, pay particular attention to this one.   While you should always try to do your best, do not feel TOO (not to or two) bad if an occasional mistake creeps in.  Comfort yourself with that fact that at least you are not a university that misspelled “university”……on its own website!

Some words can be spelled correctly but used incorrectly.  This type of word is particularly insidious because spell check will not detect it.   A “citation” can be a ticket or a method of referring to legal authority.   Want to make it more complicated?  What if you have a question about how to cite a site?  Make sure to proofread carefully and determine if you are referring to legal citation or a website.  For more commonly misspelled words in legal writing and some practice exercises, check out this page from the University of New England’s law school (Australia).

It is not just words that can cause confusion.  Certain symbols  frequently used in legal research are not common to most other types of research, or at least are not used in the same way.  One of the earliest “legal runes” that you encounter may be the section symbol §.  Resembling a double S, it is used to indicate  a section of a document, often a statute or code.  When two symbols are used [§§] it indicates multiple sections.

While it is not hard to remember S=section, locating the symbol may take a bit of searching. If you are lucky, it is available form the insert menu on your computer. If not, instructions are differ for Macs and PCs.  On a PC, holding the  “Alt” key and hitting “21” on the numeric keypad should make the symbol appear. When using a Mac is “Option+6” should work.  If you think that you will be using the symbol a lot,  the University of Washington’s Gallagher Law Library has some handy tips on how to create a shortcut on your computer instead of having to key in numbers every time you want the symbol.

The paragraph symbol  (¶) may only be familiar to some from edits on term papers or legal writing submissions, but it has been commonly used in legal publishing for years, usually in place of page numbers, in looseleaf services such as Commerce Clearing House (CCH).  (See Part (b) of Bluebook Rule 19.1 below), Also, as more and more legal materials become available in various formats and as many state courts have begun to require that cases be cited in a medium-neutral format   the paragraph symbol is becoming much more common (see Bluebook Rule 10.3.3 for more details on using the symbol).

As with the section symbol, The paragraph symbol is not  going to be located in exactly the same place on every computer but, for those using Word, it is likely to be found by going to “Insert” and selecting “symbols” from either the drop down menu or the picture icons.  If you do not see it in the first batch of symbols presented, check that you are viewing Latin symbols and not Greco-Roman.  If  you prefer, or need, to use the keyboard, type “Alt+20” if using a PC or “Option+7” for a Mac.

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Citing Government Documents

Government publications can be a great source of information for researchers of all stripes. But there is often confusion when it comes time to cite the materials. If you look up “government publications” in the index to the Bluebook, you get rule 14, for regulations, rules, administrative adjudications, and arbitrations. Table T1 lists some specific titles with particular formats, but there isn’t a clear default rule. Here’s a quick guide to the Bluebook rules that are most often involved with citing government documents, with examples drawn from this report.

  1. Books and Reports. Aside from legal resources such as cases, statutes, regulations, and legislative materials, perhaps the most widely cited format of government publication is the report. Written by all manner of agencies, task forces, commissions, or advisory boards, reports can range from one-time issuances of a couple pages, to annual publications of hundreds of pages. When in doubt, if something is issued once a year or less frequently, it’s probably governed by Rule 15 (Books, Reports and other Non Periodic Material). Rule 15 provides for one of the simpler basic citation formats: Author’s Name, Title (year).
  2. Periodicals. Government periodicals are usually non-consecutively paginated, so they fall under Rule 16.5. In that case, the basic citation format is Author’s Name, Article Title, Periodical Name, date of issue, at page(s).
  3. Online material. Almost all government publications are now available online, and some are exclusively available online. Rule 18 governs these publications. For items that are only or primarily available online, a URL citation should be appended per Rule 18.2.2. If the print publication is available, but the online version is easier to find, an “available at” parallel citation is appropriate (18.2.3).

Of the things you need to consider when you’re citing government material, authorship may be the most confusing. Many government publications, particularly those generating from executive agencies, list a string of organizational authors from the narrowest body up to the broadest level, like a cabinet department. You might see, as in our example linked above, “Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice,” with or without the personal names of individual authors! How much of that do you need? Rule 15.1 (c) and (d) hold the answers. (The same rules apply for periodical materials, as well.) Here’s the skinny: regardless of what information is presented, you need two elements to indicate institutional authorship.)

  • If an individual author is named, use that person’s name and then the institution itself. For instance, our example report should be cited as being authored by “Matthew J. Hickman & Joseph L. Peterson, Bureau of Justice Statistics.”
  • If no individual author is named, used the smallest subdivision responsible for the work, and then the overall body. If there were no one’s name attached to this report, it would simply  be authored by “Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Justice.”

Another special area of concern is a serial number. Many government publications are part of series, and each item in the series is numbered. This is great for specifically identifying the work. Rule 15.7 dictates that the serial number of a work should be included in the citation as follows:

  • If the entire series is issued by the same author (usually an institution), include the number as the beginning of the title. In the case of our Fact Sheet above, the serial number is NCJ 205988, and the series is issued by the institutional author. So the series is part of the title, as “NCJ 205988, 50 Largest Crime Labs, 2002.”
  • If the series is issued by a party other than the author, include the series number parenthetically, before the date (for example, if that applied to our document here,  “(NCJ 205988, 2004).”).

Given these considerations, the final citation for our document is “Matthew J. Hickman & Joseph L. Peterson, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 205988, 50 Largest Crime Labs, 2002 (2004).”

Be sure to consult the Bluebook for specific variations and for typeface considerations (whether in court documents or for a law review). But the bottom line is – citing government documents isn’t as hard as it seems!

Attribution: It’s Not Just for Law School OR How Not to Celebrate Your Law School Graduation

May 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Preston Mitchum, a student at N.C. Central University’s law school, was president of the student bar association, published two law reviews, and was asked to speak at his commencement ceremony. His future, even in this dreary economy looked bright, that is until he plagiarized a humorous speech that he discovered on YouTube.  Now he is now looking at the possibility of disciplinary charges.

Anthony Corvino, the student at Binghamton University who originally delivered the speech, confirmed that Mitchum had contacted Corvino via Facebook and asked permission to use a revised version of the speech. Although Corvino assented, Mitchum failed to credit Corvino when delivering the speech.

Mitchum is contrite and has apologized, but NCCU’s law dean, Raymond Pierce, who described himself as “disgusted” by Mitchum’s actions, has announced that a disciplinary committee would be considering possible sanctions.  While the dean admits that, since Mitchum has graduated there are limits on what the law school can do,  Pierce did point out that the matter may well be passed on to the North Carolina Board of Examiners.

View a local ABC report on the matter.

The 19th Edition of the Bluebook is Coming!

May 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A new edition of the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation will be released this month. According to Hein,

the 19th edition retains the same basic approach to legal citation established by its predecessors. The layout has been updated to make information easier to access. Some citation forms have been expanded, elaborated upon, or modified from previous editions to reflect the ever-expanding range of authorities used in legal writing and to respond to suggestions from the legal community.