I recently attended the Westpac conference (Western Pacific Chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries) in Las Vegas. Okay, the irony of law librarians convening in Sin City is not lost on me, but it was a wonderful conference and, for me, a good first visit to Vegas.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Justice Michael Douglas of the Nevada Supreme Court. I have to admit that I usually find keynote addresses to be real snoozers, but Justice Douglas was an excellent speaker and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk. I was surprised to find out that Nevada does not have appellate courts, and he said as a result that his court reviews about 2,500 cases a year. Because of that, he said, he loooooves law librarians. He said it’s unfortunate that law libraries and legal aid organizations have faced severe budget cuts when both are needed more than ever. A large and ever-increasing number of people who appear before the court are pro se because they cannot afford attorneys, and while he recognizes that law librarians cannot give legal advice or assist in filling out forms, any information that helps these pro se litigants understand the terminology and procedures of the court cut down on wasted time. In fact, what he would like to see, besides more funding for both law libraries and legal aid is closer ties between the two. His idea is that legal aid representatives having some space or scheduled times in law libraries would be the perfect union of information and assistance.
Next up was a presentation on the Kid’s Court School, a program begun under the auspices of UNLV. What a wonderful idea this is! Under this program, any child up to age 17 who has to testify in court can attend two sessions of the Kid’s Court School. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family law case, criminal case, or even their own delinquency proceeding. Counselors work with each child one on one using a miniature model courtroom and “Lego” people to show them who the different people are and what will happen step by step. The counselors do not know any details of the case the child is involved in but use a hypothetical situation (Johnny had his bike stolen…) to get the whole court procedure across. In the second session, the teach the child deep breathing and relaxation techniques to use while actually in court.
Professor Jean Starlight gave a presentation on Lawyering and Psychology. She distinguished this from Law and Psychology, which she characterized as a very technical field concentrating on competency and various mental illnesses, and said what she was after was a greater understanding (and perhaps more training) in general psychology principles for lawyers to better understand and interact with their clients and to be more persuasive in their arguments. As an example, she cited that when lawyers are interviewing their clients, they interrupt very often and finish sentences for the client in an effort to “Stick to the facts” and “cut to the chase.” They fail to recognize that for the client, getting to tell their story their own way is often more powerful than winning or losing the case, and they may feel cheated or that the attorney is not really representing them properly if they think the attorney isn’t listening.
Prof. Lance Long gave a fascinating presentation on legal writing and the outcomes of case decisions. I can’t go into all the details since this was a carefully controlled statistical study, but I can pass on a couple of things you should be aware of. If you load your legal briefs with intensifiers (apparently, obviously, undoubtedly…) it can greatly increase your chances of losing the case. It also tends to indicate your argument is weak. As the study continued, more questions arose about correlations of legal writing and lawyer behavior, so in an ancillary study, it was determined that l,, awyers who write badly (bad grammar, typos, awkward phrasing, etc.) are more than twice as likely to be sanctioned by the bar for ethics violations at some point in their career.
Patrick Charles gave a presentation covering the results of a survey he had developed covering the various methods for teaching Legal Research in different schools. A good discussion on the balance of teaching print and electronic sources came up when a law firm librarian said it’s a problem for her firm that new associates always go directly to Westlaw for research instead of checking print resources or free databases first. For example, if they look at a treatise on Westlaw, they don’t realize that they are being charged $50 per section (and there can be several sections on a page). Likewise, they don’t understand that Westlaw searches are not like Google searches, and rack up more charges from overly broad results. She said her firm’s annual Westlaw charges run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of which is unnecessary and does not make the senior partners very happy.
So, all in all, it was a very enjoyable and informative conference. As for what else happened in Vegas…… that stays in Vegas!