Check Out RAVEL Law

Do you like pictures more than words in your legal research?  Generally, I’d say you were out of luck. That is, UNTIL RAVEL LAW (cue large auditorium echoes).

Ravel is a newish, alternative legal research platform with a strong focus on pictures (professionally, we call them info-graphics).  It doesn’t have the same extensive coverage of Westlaw or Lexis, most notably lacking statutes and regulations.   Then again, it allows for free Supreme and Circuit Court case searching, and offers an advanced plan for only $175 a month.  You can also score a free student or educational trial version by contacting them.

Here’s a quick example of exactly how Ravel works.  On the front page, it provides a general search bar.  If I start typing in a case name, it will auto-complete likely responses.  In case you were wondering, Community For Creative Non-Violence v. Reid was the seminal case for our spring research problem, so we can all pretty much recite it by memory.

Ravel Front

Once the case loads, you are provided with a lot of information.  The case is printed down the middle of the page.  On the left Ravel gives you information about the where and how often that part of the case is cited.  The footnotes are provided in the right-hand column instead of the bottom, which is convenient.  Ravel also links to the relevant Wikipedia article.Ravel Case

One of the most interesting things about Ravel is its lore visual searching.  For instance, if I search for “work for hire” AND “copyright,”  we get the below result.  If you hover over the case, it will show you your case and all the other cases citing it in visual format. Focusing in on the case gives even more information.Ravel Graph

Ravel can be a cost effective way for  attorneys to research  cases.  Is it Westlaw or Lexis?  Not really.  But, used effectively, especially in concert with a free state bar subscription for Fastcase (another research platform lots of states–including South Carolina–provide for free with bar membership), Ravel can be a pretty powerful tool for doing case-law research.  Best of all, they offer free trials and free educational access at

Superheroes and the Law

lawandthemultiverseMy new favorite read (nerd alert!) is the Law and the Multiverse Blog, which contemplates the legal ramifications of events happening in comic books and super hero movies.

Most recently, they’ve been delved into issues like whether Tony Stark and Bruce Banner could be held liable for the damage caused by Ultron and questioned whether Thor is an illegal immigrant.  Previous posts have considered issues stemming from the Walking Dead, Lara Croft, and Orphan Black, among others.

Check it out!

What are 50 State Surveys and How Can They Help You?

Have you ever had a professor to ask you how all fifty states have legislated a particular issue?  Then, 50 State Surveys are the tool for you!  Rather than sifting through fifty state codes trying to find what a state says on a particular issue, see if you can find a 50 State Survey.


50statesurveysWestlaw has them for both state statutes and state regulations.  Once you identify whether you want statutes or regulations, Westlaw takes you to a topical list.  If you were interested in the marriage age requirements in all 50 states, you would select Family Law, and then find the Marriage Age Requirements

Inside, you will find a report providing the citations for each of the state codes, saving you the time you would send browsing an index or trying to formulate a keyword search for each jurisdiction.  There will usually also be a summary at the top of the page.  In Westlaw, keycite flags are also provided to let you know whether the law has been repealed, recently amended, etc.; make sure you check this before going on to the attached State by State Analysis report (a PDF in the top left corner).  This opens up a handy chart summarizing what each state says on the particular issue.

Lexis Advance

To find 50 state surveys in Lexis, start typing “50 state surveys” in the red search bar.  LexisNexis 50 State Surveys, Statutes & Regulations will be an option.  Select the Table of Contents.50statesurveyslexisThis brings up a topical list that you can browse through, or search using the Narrow By feature on the left hand side.  If you want to look up Housing Discrimination Law, you would look under Civil Rights Law and then select Protection of Rights > Housing Discrimination.  In Lexis, there will be an overview, followed by a chart describing state treatment of that legal issue.


This Week In Legal News

The Governor of Kansas has signed a bill that would de-fund state courts if they overturn a 2014 law that governs selection of chief district judges.

A Michigan lawyer has called off his campaign to get his pet pig elected as mayor of the city of Flint.

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized the right to be drunk on your own front porch.


Cool Tools: The Constitute Project

ConstituteProject3In the past few years, new constitutions have emerged in a number of countries, including Egypt, South Sudan, and Libya, to name just a few.  Constitutions are very frequently composed based on other countries’ constitutions, and there’s a neat new comparative tool that allows used to see side-by-side comparisons of Constitutions.

The Constitute Project contains English versions of most nation states, as well as a few in Arabic.  You can search by topic for constitutions that include a provision on a certain subject area.   For example, if you were interested in finding those constitutions that guarantee equality regardless of sexual orientation, you would select Rights and Duties from the list of topics, this would open up a number of categories within that broad area.  To find equality regardless of sexual orientation, you would select Equality, Gender, and Minority Rights.  Under that category, there are a list of specific provisions that can be found in some national constitutions.


Then, from the list of results, you can select which constitutions you want to compare.  You can select up to eight countries to compare, and then select two to view side-by-side.  When you pick those countries, it will highlight the sections of the constitutions having to do with the topic you selected.


For those doing international legal research, it’s an invaluable tool for both finding provisions on a specific topic.  For those trying to write a constitution, it would be an extremely helpful aid by allowing the user to compare constitutional provisions on various topics.

2015 Silver Gavel Award Winners

The following are the list of 2015 winners of the ABA’s Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts.

NewspapersTill Death Do Us Part, by the Post and Courier

A Post and Courier Special Investigation, it looks at the extremely high rate at which women are killed in domestic violence situations in South Carolina.


Burning Down the HouseBooks:
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison, by Neil Bernstein.

The book argues that state-run juvenile detention centers should be abolished completely, and “lays bare our nation’s brutal and counterproductive juvenile prisons.”



The Case Against 8

Looks at the historic case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage.



RadioSerial: Season One






Go here to see the list of runners-up.

Images courtesy of the American Bar Association.

Feeling Blue?

bluebookNever fear!  The new 20th edition of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation that we’ve been hearing for a while was going to come out this spring has finally arrived.  Yes, some of us here in the library are ridiculously excited about this!!!!  Okay, probably really just me, Professor Drake!  We’ve ordered new copies to replace all the 19th editions (which rolled out after my first year of law school) in various locations in the library.

When you buy The Bluebook in print, you will receive a free trial to the Bluebook online.  If you already have subscription access to the electronic version, you will be able to view the new edition online.

You might wonder what the major changes have been included in this shiny, new edition.  Awesome law librarian Janelle Beitz has put together a list of the differences between the 19th and 20th editions on Google Drive.  It’s definitely worth taking a look at.

A few things that stood out to me:

1)  The typeface rules have been relaxed to align with practitioner used of large and small caps.

Prof. Drake’s awesome I <3 the Bluebook mug.

2)  As expected, new material was added to Rule 18, which deals with the citation of electronic resources, including how to format citations for e-books and how to cite social media platform posts.

3)  The new version of the Bluebook retains its preference for print editions for certain citations, including the date of statutory code volumes, but allows for the use of online newspapers as a substitute for print.

Order your new copy today!  Then, if you’re a Bluebook nerd like me, you can spend a few hours tabbing it!  :)

Just How Famously Hot? – Columbia Heat and the National Climate Data Center

6950906628_b115517ac9_zSince I moved to Columbia, SC, six months ago, people have been warning me about the heat.   I’ve gotten advice about how to move in the heat, what to wear, and what kinds of food are best in hot temperatures.  I have even been alerted (so many times) that the city’s official slogan is “Famously Hot.”  The people here warn you about the heat the same way the Japanese warn about the approach of Godzilla or the Spartans about the approach of the Persians (in their respective movies of course.) So, I decided to do a little investigating to see what the big deal was and to try to find out; “How hot is famously hot?”

One of my new favorite resources (thanks RIPS-SIS Blog!) is the National Climactic Data Center (NCDC). As the name suggests, the Center provides a wide range of climate information. The NCDC  collects and compiles information from all their weather stations across the country. They provide the data both in raw downloadable form as well as in through some really neat search tools. One of the most interesting features allows you to examine temperature trends for individual cities by year and year segment.

So what did I find?  Mainly that “Famously Hot” is no joke.  The average temperature for June, July, and August in Columbia, SC is a cool 91 degrees.  As recently as 2011, the average high was above 95.  For comparison, and maybe a little deserved sympathy, the average in my hometown in Pennsylvania for the same time period is 80.1.



This Week in Legal News

The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear a case from a law school applicant asking that his undergraduate grades from the 1970s be adjusted to offset subsequent grade icon for blog

A Minnesota man has been found not liable for sawing his neighbor’s garage in half, and gets attorney’s fees.

Four people in Mississippi are being charged with disturbing the peace after they ignored a request not to yell during a high-school graduation.

Lawyer-Inventor sues after blogger dubs his patent the “stupid patent of the month.”

A New S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice

It’s the end of an era.  Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal will be handing over her gavel to Justice Pleicones at the end of this year after fifteen years as Chief Justice.  Pleicones was unanimously elected as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and begin his tenure early next year.  Both Chief Justice Toal and Associate Justice Pleicones are USC Law graduates of the Class of 1968.

Justice Pleicones served first as a public defender, then as a municipal judge, county attorney, and private practice attorney before being elected to the circuit court in the early 1990s.  His term as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court started in 2000.

Pleicones will only serve as Chief Justice until December 2016, as justices on the Supreme Court traditionally step down at the end of the year they turn 72.