Blockchain for Law Libraries

Blockchain elements - block, chain, decentralization

There’s been a lot of talk about blockchain recently.  It’s the technology that runs Bitcoin.  It can be used to create smart contracts.  It’s going to be the future of security on the web.  But what is this brave new technology?

It’s actually not really new at all.  At its heart, it’s just a database – but one that can now be widely distributed and accessed thanks to the vast size of the internet.  That said, the technology offers many new possibilities, especially in law.  Besides forming new kinds of contracts, blockchain can be used to track inventory, handle real estate transactions, and more.

If you’re looking for a quick overview about blockchain, AALL Spectrum recently published an article I wrote about the basics (there’s even a short comic).  I spoke about blockchain at CALI this summer (here are the slides).  Dan Blackaby and I will also host an AALL webinar about blockchain for law librarians on November 16.

If you want to try creating your own basic blockchain, this site features a short demo video and a blockchain sandbox.

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Judging the Inaugural AALL Innovation Tournament


Earlier this year, I received a phone call from Beth Adelman, Director at the Charles B. Sears Law Library at the University at Buffalo School of Law. She asked if I had heard about the inaugural Innovation Tournament to be held at this summer’s AALL meeting in Austin. I said I had, but I didn’t have anything to enter this year. She said that was okay, as she was asking if I would like to be a judge instead.

The competition itself was simple from a judging perspective. I intentionally didn’t try to find out who the participants would be, although I did start to hear things once I got to Austin. As one judge on a panel of five, and with the main winner being determined by a vote of the audience, I didn’t feel much pressure, but rather was interested in the entries themselves.

The three entries are all highly useful innovations in their own way. I was especially interested in the first entry presented, the digitization workflow project created by Tom Boone and Matt Zimmerman from Georgetown. It was less flashy, and more complicated in many ways than the other two entries, but I’ve no doubt it will prove to be highly useful to the law library community, especially for large academic institutions with looming digital projects….in other words, people in my job.

Katherine Lowry was the winner of the judge’s prize for her proposal for an attorney facing chatbot. This I think has the largest possible application of the three projects presented, and I could easily see this adopted as a standard feature for many knowledge management and legal research platforms, especially for those firms large enough to have their own corpus of KM materials.

Jennifer Wondracek won the audience prize for her virtual reality public speaking app proposal. As a personal practice tool, I could it see it being very useful at all levels of the legal world, and almost seemed to me to border on a gamification of the oral argument experience.

As a judge, I found it to be a highly enjoyable experience. We were given a rubric with which to score the entries, and therefore what we were looking for was easy to determine and assess. Every entry was deserving of a prize in my estimation, and I’m sure I’ll take advantage of the end product of all three. I look forward to seeing (and perhaps competing or judging again) the future tournaments.


Dan Blackaby

Technology Services Librarian, Cornell University Law Library

The Adaptive Technologies Committee has been busy

In this past year, the CS-SIS Adaptive Technologies Committee reviewed the Making Web Pages Accessible: a Pithy Guide to WCAG 2.0 web site and added new content to it.

Committee Chair Ryan Overdorf participated in an accessibility review for new content being added to his institution’s web site and utilized the Pithy Guide to WCAG 2.0 in conducting that review.

The Pithy Guide to WCAG 2.0 is an ongoing project and the Committee anticipates continuing to edit and add to its content in 2017-2018.


Annual Meeting: Cool Tools!

One of the most exciting parts of the Annual Meeting is the CS-SIS Cool Tools Café.  This year, Cool Tools will be held on Tuesday, July 18th from 2:30-3:30 in ACC Room 9ABC.  Get ready to learn about these cool tools and special thanks to all of our presenters!

  • Heather Simmons from the University of Illinois College of Law will be presenting PowerNotes, a browser extension for organizing notes, links, etc.;
  • Cas Laskowski from Duke University School of Law will be presenting on TOGGL, a time managemt tool;
  • AJ Blechner from Harvard Law School will be presenting on Poll Everywhere, a tool for interactive audience participation;
  • Debbie Ginsberg from Chicago-Kent College of Law will be presenting on WordRake and PerfectIt, writing tools designed for lawyers to check for common style and consistency errors;
  • Kris Turner from the University of Wisconsin Law School will be presenting on Fake News and Research Tracket, free browser extensions for research;
  • Malikah Hall from Texas A&M University School of Law will be presenting on Smore, a newsletter designer;
  • Rachell Purcell from the University of Florida Levin COllege of Law will be presenting on Shorthand Social, an easy to use story builder that integrates with social media;
  • Corrine Latham from Vinson & Elkins will be presenting on Docket Navigator, a tool for patent litigation research, and trademark, copyright and antitrust notifications;
  • Becka Rich from Nova Southeastern University College of Law will be presenting on Twinery, an open source tool for telling interactive, non-linear stories; and
  • Tawnya Plumb from the University of Wyoming College of Law will be presenting on Omeka, a free tool for marketing collections and hosting digital content.

Hope to see you in Austin!

CS-SIS 2017 Annual Meeting Grant Winners

Each year, CS awards grants to members to attend the AALL Annual Meeting. We do so in two categories: Grant for Students and New Law Librarians and Grant for Experienced Librarians. These grants are a win-win for the SIS and the members who receive them. They help a member come to the Annual Meeting who may not be supported to do so otherwise. In return, grant recipients write about their experiences for the blog after the Annual Meeting and choose a committee to serve on for the coming year.  We are happy to announce our grant recipients for 2017. Be sure to say hello when you see them at the Annual Meeting!


Cindy Bassett

CS-SIS Chair, 2016-17

Annual CALI Conference for Law School Computing Wrap Up

The 27th Annual CALI Conference for Law School Computing was held on June 15th and 16th in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. The temperature reached a high of 108, but it was cool inside the newly constructed and beautiful ASU Beus Center for Law and Society building.

As usual in law library conferences, change was the theme: the conference name was The Changing Rhythm of Legal Education. For the rhythm part, the conference kicked off with a drum circle experience facilitated John Fitzgerald, Manager of Recreational Music Activities at Remo, Inc. Participants worked together, playing drums and other percussion instruments, to create not only beautiful music but also to build community and create wellness and positivity for the next two days.

The keynote address, entitled Collaboration and Control:  Building the New Collaborative Web, was delivered by Michael Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University – Vancouver. Mr. Caulfield argued that the initial promise of Internet facilitated collaboration remains unfulfilled and that even contributions to Wikipedia have started to decline. He expressed disappointment with this loss of possibilities and discussed his ideas about how student collaboration and open access can benefit both students and society. He had specific suggestions on how the legal academy can encourage law students to contribute their knowledge and skills for the greater good. He pointed to the shortcomings of the Wikipedia article about reasonable doubt, pointing out that the entry about this important legal concept has been flagged since 2009 as one needing “additional or better citations for verification” and “attention from an expert in law.” He noted that law students could greatly contribute to the public understanding of law and increase access to justice by contributing to Wikipedia, creating access to justice apps, or writing open source textbooks.

Though I didn’t notice it on the schedule at the time, the conference presentations were identified by type – those that might appeal to faculty, librarians, technologists, or everyone. There were four presentations specifically designated for librarians:  The Human Element in Search Algorithms: Bias and Accountability in Legal Databases; How to Talk to your Dean (or other Decision Makers); Visual Thinking:  Strategies, Assets and Tools; and Legislative Advocacy and the Law School:  Librarians Unite?!

For faculty, most of the presentations focused on online courses – student retention, effective asynchronous delivery techniques, introduction of online courses into the curriculum, creation of PlayPosit interactive videos, effective synchronous video techniques, student video preferences, and use of CALI QuizWright.

My favorite presentation was Deborah Ginsberg’s Blocked! What is Blockchain and What Will It Mean for the Future of Law? I was pretty vague on blockchain so luckily, Ms. Ginsberg started at the beginning. She explained that blockchain is a distributed ledger that runs on multiple computers and keeps track of records (blocks). It can be used to keep track of anything – money, titles, deeds, or even identities or votes. Since the digital ledger is decentralized it doesn’t rely on a government or organization to establish trustworthiness. Currently, blockchain is mostly associated with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin but there are lots of potential uses in the legal field for anything that requires recordkeeping – land records, intellectual property rights, and smart contacts, to name just a few examples. As for information I can use, I didn’t know much about cryptocurrencies but once she said that one could buy some with apps such as Coinbase I got out my phone to install it and, after a fashion, became the proud owner of $10.00 worth of both Bitcoin and Ethereum!

The conference had a lot of great presentations and I am looking forward to attending again in the future.

Blocked on Twitter…By the President

The Washington Post reported on June 13 that author Stephen King had been blocked on Twitter by @realdonaldtrump, the Twitter account Donald Trump uses regularly instead of the official @POTUS account. Is this a violation of the First Amendment? A letter from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University says yes: “The government may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in a designated public forum, but it may not exclude people simply because it disagrees with them.”

However, in a Wired article, Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University’s Law School, and expert in First Amendment theory, points out: “The question of whether the President’s Twitter feed is a public forum is a more complicated question. The law here is famously muddled, because it’s trying to prevent the government from discriminating against people who speak on public streets and parks, but it’s trying to fight the urge to make everything a public forum.” Eugene Volokh is more pointed in disagreeing with the Knight Institute’s stance; in a ProPublic article Volokh states, “The @realdonaldtrump account is very much, ‘I’m Donald Trump. I’m going to be expressing my views, and if you don’t like it, too bad for you.’ That sounds like private speech, even done by a government official on government property.”

The Knight Institute cites the recent Davison v. Loudon County decision to support its claim that a government official blocking citizens on Twitter is a violation of the First Amendment. In Davison, the court said, “The Court is not required to determine whether any use of social media by an elected official creates a limited public forum, although the answer to that question is undoubtedly ‘no.’ Rather, the issue before the Court is whether a specific government policy, applied to a specific government website, can create a “metaphysical” limited public forum for First Amendment purposes. See Rosenberger v. Rector, 515 U.S. at 830, 115 S.Ct. 2510. That answer to that narrower question is undoubtedly ‘yes.’” Davison v. Loudoun Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, 2017 WL 58294, at *5 (E.D. Va. Jan. 4, 2017).

While legal scholars disagree as to whether Trump’s blocking of Stephen King and others on Twitter is a violation of the First Amendment, librarians agree that this area is ripe for further research (as is the question of social media and public/open records laws), and as the more private citizens bring law suits against government officials and agencies for suppressing speech on government and politician-run social media outlets, librarians will be watching with great interest at how it all unfolds.

Further Reading:

David S. Ardia, Government Speech and Online Forums: First Amendment Limitations on Moderating Public Discourse on Government Websites, 2010 BYU L.Rev. 1981 (2010).

Enrique Armijo, Kill Switches, Forum Doctrine, and the First Amendment’s Digital Future, 32 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 411 (2013-2014).

Alysha L. Bohanon, Tweeting the Police: Balancing Free Speech and Decency on Government-Sponsored Media Pages, 101 Minn. L. Rev. 341 (2016-2017).

Litigation Analytics on Bloomberg Law

By Sarah Gotschall

Bloomberg Law entered the legal analytics fray at the end of 2016 with the addition of Litigation Analytics to their legal research platform. It joined competitors such as Lex Machina and Ravel Law as companies harnessing the power of big data analytics to provide information about the litigation landscape to law students, lawyers, law firms, and companies. The data behind Litigation Analytics comes from published and unpublished court opinions and docket information. With a few clicks, the user has easy access to a wealth of litigation data about judges, law firms, and companies which can be used to inform litigation, business, or employment strategies.

Litigation Analytics has three categories of information: judges, law firms, and companies. Some examples will illustrate its usefulness.

Read more ›

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What to Watch for at the CALI Conference & the AALL Annual Meeting

One of the privileges of being a CS-SIS member is learning from and networking with our colleagues at conferences. Below are just some of the programs CS-SIS members are presenting at the CALI Conference and the AALL Annual Meeting.

Don’t see your program listed? Contact Mari and she will add your program to the list.  

CALI Conference

CALIcon17 will be held June 15-16 at the Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Phoenix, Arizona.


AALL Annual Meeting

The AALL Annual Meeting will be held July 15-18 in Austin, Texas.

CS-SIS is sponsoring the following events at AALL in Austin this year:

CS-SIS Roundtables:

And don’t miss these programs at AALL by CS-SIS members:

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Waking up….

The blog has been a bit quiet lately, but we planning new things here soon.  Look for posts about CS, AALL, CALI, tech tips and more.  Want to contribute?  Contact Debbie Ginsberg and we’ll get you on our schedule.

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