A Deep Dive into Big Data

A Deep Dive into Big Data

Brian Flaherty

I have a colleague who now and again laughs about the time “when we were wizards.”  When we reference librarians would wave our wands (or eyes) over digests or (worse yet) shepards – gibberish to mere muggles – and come up with citations to relevant legal authority crowned with the title “good law.”  He points out that we are no longer wizards – that with google scholar & well chosen search terms, people unfamiliar with the law are able to do adequate legal research (of course, I’m quick to point out that “adequate legal research” just doesn’t cut it these days).

I say this because just now, I think some librarians look at “big data” as mystical, and at the folks who can harvest and manipulate it as magicians.  But demystifying it is, I think, essential for a clear understanding of what’s behind it, how powerful it is, and how it can be used.  The “Deep dive” on big data went a long way towards doing this.  I am going to attempt a short summary, but what I write here will be inadequate.  I urge everyone to get the powerpoints and reading lists from the AALL site when they’re available, and become familiar with this.  The overused phrase fits here: it is the future of the law practice.

Briefly: Big Data are information sets that are too large or complex for traditional processing models.  For example: a data set including every federal case would be “Big data.”  Robert Kingan from Bloomberg Law began the program with a great definition of what constitutes big data, and a discussion of just how difficult it is to collect it in a form that is useful for any kind of analysis.  He said that some 80-90% of the work for any kind of a project is just collecting and cleaning the data, putting it into a format where it can be used.  Think, for example, of getting the aforementioned set of all federal cases into a spreadsheet, where one column was “Judges name” and you begin to get a feel for how huge an endeavor this is.  Daniel Lewis from Ravel talked a bit about how they go about manipulating the data once they’ve got it – with a short discussion of the uses of SQL and NoSQL (“Not Only SQL”) and the benefits of both.  Irina Matveeva from NexLP gave a short discussion of Language Processing – what would seem to be the next step of data analysis – where there are programs that can do document analysis, email forensics, and other linguistic manipulation extremely quickly.

Following this introduction, and a brief discussion of how BloomberLaw (Robert), Ravel (Daniel) and NextLP harness Big Data in the resources they provide, we were given the opportunity to explore what planning a “Big Data”project would be like.  Folks got into groups at tables and devised a possible project, a list of some of the resources they would need, and a list of some of the necessary players (e.g. librarians, programmers, 3rd party vendors).  Some of the ideas were fantastic: one table talked about creating a predictive tool that could be used to determine whether a law enforcement officer would be likely to be accused of a civil rights violation – and what kind of data sources would be necessary to create such a tool (personal history? Demographic information?).  At our table, one person was engaged in creating a resource that would predict the likelihood that a piece of legislation would pass – and so we talked about the data necessary to do that: the sponsor’s history, party affiliation, words in bill titles that have passed, public sentiment (retrieved from news sources & social media).

In all, Big Data is fascinating stuff – incredibly useful for its predictive value of everything from the outcome of a court case, to the passage of legislation.  Not only should we be paying attention, we should be “deep diving” into it, to understand what it can do for us and the legal community.

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Dispatches from AALL: Chicago – On Gender

AALL Chicago: On gender

by Brian Flaherty

Welcome to Chicago & AALL – if only by remote. I want to include here a few dispatches from AALL, if only to be expanded on at home.
I wanted to start by commending the SR-SIS, and specifically the committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues, for offering “Pronoun choice” ribbons in the exhibit hall. These are the lime-green ribbons dangling from our nametags that read “My pronouns are” – and then different options: he/him, she/her, they/them, and an ribbon with a blank, with an available sharpie to write in the pronoun of your choice. Bravo.
A quick digression into why this is important, and why I think it’s important for cisgendered folks like me (cisgender: a person whose gender presentation and identity match their biological sex) to wear them. We live in a world that that tries to enforce gender norms – tries to assign us a gender – at every turn. From honorifics to pronouns, to the way we’re treated at the grocery store, to the way we’re greeted at a conference. For someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about gender, this “gendering” of the world blends into the quotidian – it’s just the way things are. But for folks who think about gender a lot, for example, folks whose gender presentation doesn’t correspond to their sex-assigned-at-birth, this constant mis-gendering is a relentless reinforcement of the idea that they don’t fit in.
Using someone’s chosen pronoun may seem like a small part of changing the world but there’s that maxim about the thousand mile journey beginning with the single step? There’s also something somewhere about the first step being the hardest but most important (if only I had a librarian nearby to help me look it up… oh, wait…). One day perhaps, the phrase “do you have a preferred pronoun?” will be as common as “what was your name again?” (a phrase increasingly common as I age). Until then, however, explicitly allowing people to claim a pronoun is a great stop.
My gender presentation matches my biological sex (I am cisgender), and the pronouns I use are he/his/him. Moreover, by my presentation in the world, I don’t anticipate being mis-gendered by pronoun or otherwise. Still, I wear this ribbon proudly (and to be very clear: I’m encouraging all of you to stroll on over to the SR-SIS folks and ask for a ribbon) to reinforce the notion that sex-assigned-at-birth and gender presentation don’t always match. And while we were all a bit young to have a say in how we were called that first day, we all should have a say in what we are called today.

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Kyle Courtney wins Knight grant

LLNE member and past president Kyle Courtney has won a Knight grant for his program, “Can I Fair Use It? Crowdsourcing Fair Use Knowledge.”  Kyle is very excited to be working with the Harvard Law Library’s Innovation Lab and argues that libraries should own the fair use issue in the 21st century.  The goal of Kyle’s program is “Enabling people to share information on questions of copyright and fair use by exploring existing gaps and opportunities, and testing a new approach for libraries to connect patrons with subject experts.”  Congratulations Kyle!

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LLNE Summer Get Together

LLNE Summer get together
At AALL Chicago
5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Monday July 18
South Water Kitchen
Hotel Monaco Chicago
225 N. Wabash | Chicago, IL | 60601

Directions from Conference Hotel

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Government Relations Committee Update

By Anne McDonald & Emilie Benoit, Co-chairs, LLNE Government Relations Committee

Massachusetts Legislative Update

The UELMA in MA Subcommittee of the LLNE GRC continues to advocate for the passage of H 43, the UELMA bill.  The Massachusetts Bar Association House of Delegates voted to support H 43 on May 19, 2016. We thank Marnie Warner for her advocacy efforts with the Massachusetts Bar Association and thank all members of the UELMA subcommittee for their hard work and dedication.  According to Emily Feltren of AALL’s Government Relations Office, Massachusetts is the second state bar association to support UELMA, after Connecticut.

H 43 remains in the Massachusetts House Ways and Means committee. Marnie Warner, of the UELMA in Massachusetts Subcommittee of the LLNE GRC, reports that given the current budget shortfall, she does not expect any movement until the budget is settled.  Even though formal legislative sessions end at the end of June, legislators continue to meet informally, retaining the ability to vote on bills, until the end of December.

There is still time for LLNE members who are Massachusetts residents to contact their legislators and urge passage of UELMA.

The Massachusetts Public Records bill was signed into law on Friday June 3, 2016. It promises to make government more transparent, according to the Boston Globe.


June 13, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FOIA Improvement Act (S.337), sending the comprehensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform bill to the President’s desk. He is expected to sign it before the 50th anniversary of FOIA on July 4th.  The bill updates FOIA by codifying the directives previously established in memoranda by President Obama and Attorney General Holder. It requires that information be available to the public in electronic format and limits the time period that federal agencies can keep internal information confidential.  Here is a link to AALL’s Washington Blawg.

 Librarian of Congress Nomination Progresses

 On June 9, 2016, the U.S. Senate Rules Committee voted to recommend that the nomination of Dr. Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress be approved by the full Senate.

We are hopeful that the Senate will take up the nomination without delay.

Please urge your Senators to vote to confirm Dr. Hayden, through AALL’s Legislative Action Center.

Legislative Advocacy Training at AALL

 For those of you who will be at AALL, there is still time to register for the Legislative Advocacy Training on Saturday July 16, 2016. It will feature a speaker from Congressman Mike Quigley’s office and an opportunity to meet AALL members who will share their experiences in the legislative process. Here is a link to the draft agenda.

The LLNE Government Relations Committee is providing this information to you to further its committee charge to keep you apprised of developments which may be of interest to you as an informed law librarian.

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Service Committee Shares “Legal Link” With SNELLA

By Joshua LaPorte

Mike VanderHeijden and I presented Legal Link, the Service Committee’s online tool-kit for public librarians, to the Southern New England Law Libraries Association (SNELLA) at an event at the UConn School of Law Library on April 19th.

At the program, we discussed the background of the Service Committee’s “outreach to public libraries” initiative, how Legal Link fits into that larger focus, gave a tour of Legal Link, and solicited feedback from SNELLA’s members on topics we should include as we further develop the site.  Some ideas floated were including patent searching, lawyer referral resources, and business development topics.  We also discussed similar efforts being made here in Connecticut to equip our public library colleagues to help patrons with legal research as a tool to mitigate access to justice issues.

The Service Committee is working on developing content for Legal Link, and the feedback from SNELLA was extremely useful as we determine what should be included on the site.

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LLNE Wins Big!

By Diane D’Angelo
LLNE President

LLNE was well represented on the list of AALL award winners for 2016 — even our organization won an award!

These awards are just one more reminder of how incredibly talented our members are.  Building friendships and collaborating with these folks and many others like them is one of the great benefits of being an active member of LLNE.

Congratulations to the following LLNEers:

1.) Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award: S. Blair Kauffman, Law Librarian and Professor of Law, Yale Law School

2.) Chapter Professional Development Award: LLNE — special thanks to Nicole Dyszlewski, LLNE Secretary and Research/Access Services Librarian at Roger Williams University School of Law Library & Alex Burnett, Associate Law Librarian at the Maine State Law & Legislative Reference Library

3.) Best Public Relations Tool Kit: The staff at Roger Williams University School of Law Library

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The ABA Techshow: Teaching Technology for the Future of Law Practice

By Artie Berns

I recently attended the ABA Techshow in Chicago. The following are some of the highlights:

Prior to the actual event I attended a Dean’s Roundtable event, Teaching Technology in the Academy: Are We Finally at the Tipping Point. This event was hosted by Chicago Kent School of law and included a lively panel discussion about the modes and methods of teaching technology in the legal academy.  For me, the main take-away was that while we in the legal academy can theorize about what we should be teaching with regard to technology, a better indicator of what is needed is what the firms hiring our students want them to know when they arrive.  This event will be evolving into an actual academic track in next year’s Techshow. For more information about the upcoming academic track contact Michael Robak, robakm@umkc.edu.

More than one program I attended discussed the impact of expert systems on the practice of law.  In this context an expert system is one in which a computer conducts guided interviews to solve a particular legal problem, for instance in the program How to Hire a Robot – or Using Experts Systems in Today’s Law Firm an expert system was designed on the spot which would allow an end user to determine if they can obtain a divorce or annulment under Illinois law. Other expert systems are used to provide services for pro se litigants, for example Illinois Legal Aid Online (www.illinoislegalaidonline.org) uses A2J Author (http://www.a2jauthor.org) to help self-represented litigants to create legal forms for common legal problems.  Here in New England, the Massachusetts-based Committee for Public Counsel Services (https://www.publiccounsel.net/) uses QnA Markup (http://www.qnamarkup.org/) to help guide people to various legal resources. In the long term it is thought expert systems will be used for the automation of boring or repetitive tasks which will allow attorneys to spend their time addressing more complex and thought intensive tasks.

Several programs taught attendees to maximize the use of existing technologies such as Word, Excel, and Acrobat Pro.  Another very interesting program discussed the deep/dark web and how to conduct research there and why you would want to.  I discussed this program on the my law library’s blog, Spot-on Legal Research (http://wnelawlibrary.blogspot.com/2016/03/below-surface-web.html).  All told, I walked away from the ABA Techshow with a much better idea about what technologies we should be teaching to law students both today and in the future.

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Generosity: A Message from the LLNE Membership Committee

By Nicole P. Dyszlewski

Because the Service Committee’s Spring project benefits the Rhode Island Department of Corrections Library System and I am a Rhode Island law librarian, I have been receiving the donations here in my office at Roger Williams University Library. I have been so impressed by the generosity of LLNE members. While the book drive, Bringing Books Behind Bars, is being organized by the Service Committee, and I am sure that committee will thank all donors fully, I just wanted to take a moment from behind the wall of donated books in my office to point out what is obvious to me. It is obvious to me that LLNE is a community of thoughtful, generous, and committed members.

Book Drive Pic

Every morning for the last few weeks I have come in to my office to find packages from Amazon. These books have been donated from active librarians and retired librarians from government, academic and private firm libraries from several New England states. Several people have even donated multiple books! It is clear from the response to the Service Committee’s call to action that the members of our organization are engaged and involved in this project.

Many professional organizations (including our own) have lately suffered from a decrease in members. In addition, leaders of these organizations, and LLNE in particular, work hard to assess how actively engaged members appear. LLNE uses data such as number of attendees at meetings and responses to listserv posts on issues to gauge the connectivity and vibrancy of the organization. These conversations and changes made to organizational processes are important. If you have ideas on how LLNE can continue to serve its members, the Membership Committee and all of LLNE leadership would be happy to speak with you. This conversation continues and we invite you to be one of the participants as we move forward.

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Bringing Books Behind Bars Book Drive

LLNE Spring Service Project - Copy

By the LLNE Service Committee

In association with the 2016 Spring Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) Meeting, the LLNE Service Committee has organized a book drive for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections library system. The Service Committee has met with library staff of the prison system and has worked with volunteers to compile a list of needed acceptable books. 

All books donated must be from this list and must be donated in new condition based on the institutional rules.

The list of books can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/registry/giftlist/1R2951TFE7498

We have chosen a wide variety of titles which are both legal and non-legal.  We have also chosen titles at a variety of price points.

Donations can be purchased on Amazon and mailed to:

Nicole Dyszlewski

Roger Williams University School of Law Library

10 Metacom Ave

Bristol, RI 02809

In addition to the book drive we will also be engaging in an advocacy effort to ask prison officials to make the rules about acceptable material more lenient and more standardized. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact one of the co-chairs of the Service Committee, Joshua LaPorte (Joshua.laporte@uconn.edu) and Jessica Jones (jjones@socialaw.com).

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