Archive for November, 2009

Book Review: International Development Law

International Development Law: Rule of Law, Human Rights, & Global Finance. Rumu Sarkar. Oxford University Press, 2009. ($95.00 | 496 pages | Hardcover: 9780195398281).

“While other areas of law may be more strictly aimed at producing legal outcomes that may be considered “just,” international development law also broadly captures an underlying element of equity that is directed toward poverty alleviation in order to elevate the human condition.” (International Development Law, Sarkar, pp. 124-125).

Modernism, IBRD, dependency theory, Zimbabwe, ICESCR, Weber, Janus Law Principle, ROL, Hobbes, Mexico, Czech Republic, UNIDROIT, Locke, India… it goes on and on—theories, acronyms, names, places. At first glance, 496 pages of international development and finance law appeared to be frighteningly confusing and more than a little boring, especially since I never took the time in my studies to more than touch on philosophy, business/economics, or political science. However, I have to commend Dr. Rumu Sarkar—she managed to make this bewildering topic both interesting and easy to learn.

There is a huge amount of historical and philosophical information packed into International Development Law, with smatterings of anthropological and sociological thoughts here and there, that provides a text covering the complex legal & financial issues involved in international development. And Sarkar does it in an easy to read, well-organized manner (the glossary, abbreviations list, and index are nothing to sneeze at either). The footnotes are often very helpful in providing not just her citations (to material in journals, newspapers, law reviews, books, the Internet—all over the place) but further explanations of information touched on in the main text. Though there are times when the text reads a bit repetitive, most of the time the repetition aids the reader as she re-phrases a concept to increase understanding. There are also enough typos to be noticeable; yet this is not necessarily a reflection on the author. I would recommend this book for any academic or firm library, definitely, as an academic treatise as well as a helpful guide for practicing attorneys in international development law.

Dr. Rumu Sarkar has written a treatise that combines academic insights into development law with her experiences as a practitioner. She often describes a theory or principle and then uses a real-world situation to detail the results of applying said theory. Sarkar uses a multi-disciplinary approach, beginning with the historical roots of development, and follows the legal principles formed throughout the past century. Additionally, she provides an in-depth analysis of the “human right to development”, again covering the history, theory and application of the concept then providing some thoughts for the future surrounding this question. Part II of the book links the history and theory in Part I with the global financial systems from the past several decades, including international borrowing, privatization, and how emerging capital economies today are changing development. An underlying theme throughout the book turns on the need to understand and make decisions using a contextual approach as opposed to following one or another specific theory. And though Sarkar writes much about the historical foundations of international development law, she uses this background to build a framework for the future of this complex area of law.

Though this is the first edition of International Development Law, I wouldn’t rule out future editions. Dr. Sarkar has also published Development Law and International Finance, which is in its second edition.

Katie Lynn is the Electronic Services Librarian at the Wyoming State Law Library in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

December issue of Spectrum online

The December issue of AALL Spectrum is available online in PDF format. This month’s articles include:AALL Spectrum

Also, readers respond to this month’s “Member to Member” question: What qualities do great supervisors have in common?

Paper copies mailed out to members on Wednesday, November 23, so look for them in your mailboxes soon.

Book Review: Movie Therapy For Law Students (and pre-law, paralegal, and related majors)

Buck, Sonia J., Movie Therapy for Law Students (And Pre-Law, Paralegal and Related Majors).  Bloomington, IN, AuthorHouse, 2009, soft bound, 194p. 

Book Review by Christine I. Hepler, Associate  Director, Garbrecht Law Library, University of Maine School of Law

 Movie Therapy for Law Students is an excellent resource that should be included in every academic law library.  I say this for two reasons.  First, the faculty could use this book to facilitate classroom discussion.  Learning the law is often done through the use of hypotheticals.  This book provides law professors with interesting hypotheticals that keep the students engaged in the class and the material being taught.  Second, this is a great resource for students who want to review the concepts they are learning in the classroom.  As suggested by the author, law students can now turn their movie watching into a guilt free review session.  Furthermore, I suggest that law professors get to work developing new hypotheticals for their classes.  Pop some popcorn and enjoy the movies!

I was drawn to Movie Therapy for Law Students, written by Sonia Buck, for a two reasons.  First, the author is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law where I am the Associate Director of the Garbrecht Law Library, as well as a proud alum (Class of 1996).  Sonia Buck was a 1L when I returned to work at the University of Maine School of Law after a seven year stint in Southern California.  I remember Sonia and the other members of the Class of 2005 fondly.  They were a fun class filled with very smart, but more importantly, genuinely nice people.  Second, I came across this title after I had just returned from the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting.  At the annual meeting I attended a session on teaching techniques used to keep students engaged during the class.  Part of that session included the use of scenes from the movie Fracture to teach some concepts in legal research.  Sitting at this session reminded me of when I was a law student.  Like most law students, I found it very difficult to watch any television programs or movies that involved some aspect of the legal system without putting my new found knowledge to use.  My constant refrain was “They can’t do that,” whether it was L.A. Law, Law & Order , The Firm, or Twelve Angry Men.  I was instantly curious about the lessons I could learn from the movies included in this book and wondered how I might be able to use them in the classes I teach.

In Movie Therapy for Law Students, Ms. Buck compiles an interesting mix of movies to discuss, including classics like 12 Angry Men and To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as current favorites like Erin Brockovich, My Cousin Vinny, and The Firm, covering legal concepts in several areas of law, such as business law, criminal law, criminal procedure, civil procedure, contracts, evidence, torts, family law, intellectual property, and ethics.  Each entry in the book provides the reader with a brief description of the movie’s plot, and a detailed analysis of the legal issues involved in the movie.  The author provides clear headings at the beginning of each new issue she discusses, making it easy to switch gears with each new issue.  Furthermore, the author provides ample citation to applicable rules and case law to support the assertions she makes.  After discussing the issues, she then provides the reader with applicable “Exam Tips,” for either law school exams or the bar exam.  I often found myself wishing I had these tips when I was in law school!

In addition, Ms. Buck made this librarian proud with the finding aids she included in her book.  In addition to a Table of Content, Ms. Buck included a list of the movies by subject matter, and an alphabetical listing of the movies discussed in her book.  Law professors and law students are busy people, without a great deal of time to waste.  These two features make it easy to jump through the book to find all of the movies on a particular legal topic.  This makes it easier for professors to find movies that discuss the issues in which they are interested and law students are provided with a movie guide from which they can choose only the movies that discuss the issues they need to review. 

We live in a society that loves to go to the movies.  Movie Therapy for Law Students has renewed my interest in legal movies and there are many movies discussed in Ms. Buck’s book that I cannot wait to watch.  As professors, the ultimate goal is to find methods to better convey the concepts we wish to teach.  Using movies to teach them legal concepts and strategies will keep the students interested in the discussion topics and they will learn more.  Maybe I will come across some issues about legal research that I can convey in a more interesting fashion, rather than by just standing in the front of the room lecturing the students.   I better get to work developing my new hypotheticals.  See you at the movies!

Christine Hepler is associate director at the University of Maine School of Law Donald L. Garbrecht Law Library in Portland.

Review: Why Don’t Students Like School: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom, by Daniel T. Willingham

Why Don’t Students Like School: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom, by Daniel T. Willingham (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass) 2009. 180 pages hardcover, index, table of contents, illustrations, endnotes. $24.95
Reviewed by Betsy McKenzie, Suffolk University Law Library

I highly recommend this book to libraries of all types, especially academic libraries.
This book is designed for teachers, though it would be interesting as well to parents and to students who would like to increase their learning retention and enjoyment. In it, Willingham makes a number of points useful to teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through college and post-graduate levels. The book is easy to read, and moderately entertaining. The points are easy to pull out of the text, laid out in special fonts and boxes. There are entertaining illustrations and puzzles to help make his points.

The book builds chapter by chapter, taking the reader through cognitive theory and applying the author’s expertise to the teaching arena. Dr. Willingham is a highly regarded cognitive scientist teaching at University of Virginia, but he seems to be very good at translating from his specialized field for others. I did not really catch fire reading this book, feeling that I saw a strong connection between this book and my own thinking about the problems of teaching legal research, until about two thirds of the way through.

Suddenly, at page 104, Willingham is talking about the difference between experts and novices:

… transfer [of previous learning to new situations] is so difficult because novices tend to focus on surface features [that is the surface difference between problems] and are not very good at seeing the abstract, functional relationships among problems that are key to solving them [that is, seeing the abstract similarities that make problems analogous, so one can transfer the solution of a previous problem to the new problem]. Well that is what experts are great at. They have representations of problems and situations in their long-term memories and those representations are abstract. That’s why experts are able to ignore unimportant details and home in on useful information; thinking functionally makes it obvious what’s important. That’s also why they show good transfer to new problems. New problems differ in surface structure, but experts recognize the deep, abstract structure. That’s also why their judgments usually are sensible, even if they are not quite right.

This is what lawyers and librarians mean when they say, “You get a feel for the shape of the law.” They mean that after you do enough legal research, you begin to see the underlying similarities that let you solve the research problem by recognizing the abstract, functional relationship to previous research problems you have solved, which may look on the surface like very different problems. And you can very quickly guess where the answer will lie, and look for it much more efficiently. But it has never been something I could articulate for students any more clearly than the little quip about knowing the shape of the law.

I now have a way to articulate for my students what I am trying to do with the classroom discussions. If they will discuss and argue about what they find, not to show me or get my approval, but to explain to themselves and help themselves see what they know and how they came to know it, they will be stepping much farther along the path toward making themselves into experts. They will be taking the time they spent on the worksheets and supercharging it, by making it into a much richer experience.
The index is a good one, and the table of contents is very helpful. The illustrations and boxes that pull the points out of the text will make this book easy to pull off the shelf and remind myself quickly what the various points in each chapter were about. But I think the reason I recommend this book and will keep it on hand is the inspiration I found in it, and the help in articulating my own, scarcely verbalized, but strongly felt thoughts about teaching legal research and learning all kinds of skills.

Besty McKenzie is director of the Suffolk University Law Library in Boston.

Book Review: Criminal Law Conversations

Criminal Law Conversations.  Paul H. Robinson, Stephen P. Garvey, and Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, Editors.  Oxford University Press, 2009.  ($150 | 768 pages | Hardcover: 978-0-19-539163-3).


Criminal Law Conversations is a collection of thirty-one dialogues between multiple legal scholars on particular issues of criminal law.  The authors featured include leaders in the field, and the topics investigated are all current, if not cutting edge.  There is enough material covered to justify the volume’s expense and place in academic law libraries or the library of anyone interested in criminal law.

The most notable aspect of the book is its format.  The editors began by setting up a website and soliciting criminal law scholars to nominate works they thought worthy of discussion.  Articles and book excerpts garnering substantial support were then condensed by their respective authors, and the pooled scholars were invited to draft their own substantial comments to the texts.  The original authors then provided their own responses to these comments.  The final result was a collection of thirty-one “conversations” on a range of topics within the subject of criminal law, each including the opinions of an original author and a handful of interested commentators.

One of these dialogues begins with Meir Dan-Cohen’s theory on the differences between what he calls decision rules and conduct rules.  His initial article divides aspects of criminal law and procedure into these different groups and explores the relationship between them.  In a series of replies six legal scholars (including ones hailing from Portugal and Canada) criticize different aspects of Dan-Cohen’s article, and these replies are immediately followed by a response on Dan-Cohen’s part conceding some points while disputing others.  The major benefit of Criminal Law Conversation’s approach is that this entire discussion takes place in thirty adjacent pages of a single volume.  Arguments are not scattered across journals and years.  Moreover, the original author addresses each of the other scholars’ comments in his response, something authors of controversial law review articles not included in this compendium might or might not get around to doing.

A conversation on the effects of remorse and mercy in the criminal justice system, originating with an article of Jeffrie G. Murphy’s, explores the effect a defendant’s apology may have on sentencing or the grant of clemency.  Several of the replies discuss problems in gauging the authenticity or voluntary nature of any remorse shown.  Joshua Dressler begins a conversation with an examination of the role of provocation in the defense of excuse.  There are responses arguing that provocation belongs in the context of a justification defense instead.  Whitley R.P. Kaufman explores the imminence requirement in self-defense, particularly in the cases of “battered woman situations.”  Responding scholars take issue with Kaufman’s attempt to distinguish imminence from necessity and ascribe a political motivation to its requirement, some by offering up their own examinations of the history of the imminence rule (including the role of eighteenth-century English philosophers) and its continued successes and failings in different situations.

Each of these discussions might have taken years to organically unfold via the usual publishing model for legal scholars.  Instead, thirty-one dialogues like these fill Criminal Law Conversations, providing a thorough examination of each issue by a number of scholars actually engaging each other’s arguments.  It is not a comprehensive source, dealing only with those criminal law topics that happened to be both the subject of recent study and of interest to a significant amount of the scholarly pool consulted.  Nevertheless, it is an extremely worthwhile source for those criminal law subjects it happens to cover.  The format, though an interesting and useful twist, might soon be completely supplanted by law journal websites and professors’ blogs, which will only feature more engagement between multiple scholars on a topic as they grow in popularity.  In this way, Criminal Law Conversations might even be a harbinger of future scholarly engagement.

Reviewed by Jacob Sayward, Serials Librarian at Fordham Law’s Leo T. Kissam Memorial Library

Succeed in the New Law Firm Library Reality—Learn the Business Side of the Firm with AALL’s December Webinar

Whether a brief but painful aberration or a whole new world for law firms, the economic events of the past year have been cataclysmic for the legal community. In order to understand the implications for firm libraries and librarians, it is important to understand the business side of law firms and how administrators view the library.

Join Barry Strauss, executive director of Wiley Rein, as he shares his insight on what it takes to be successful in the new law firm reality. Succeed in the New Law Firm Library Reality will take place on December 9 at 12 pm Eastern. A panel of firm librarians will ask Strauss specific questions to get to the heart of the issues. Webinar participants will also have an opportunity to contribute questions during the session.

Participants will build knowledge and understanding in the areas of law firm business models, law firm administrative realities, and how administrators view the library. Participants will gain a better understanding of the business side of law firms and learn how to better position themselves and their services in the new law firm reality.

Register by December 2.

November 2009

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