Uncooked Data

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Library related events, questions and links: My professional life on a page

If they’re not filing, you’re not finding…

On Monday 8 November Uncooked Data had the pleasure of attending a CLIG event purely as participant, after several years as a committee member.

Barry Vickery and Peter Jenkins from 7Side Ltd presented an entertaining run through of the mysteries and vagaries of finding company information in a variety of jurisdictions.

Starting with the easy ones, and the UK’s Companies House, we had a compare and contrast session…
Malta: “a cracking little registry
Latvia, Estonia, Hungary: “pretty good
Poland: “sometimes comical
Russia: “nightmare

Moving on to the US (“it might be the land of dreams, but it is the land of extremes”) Barry explained exactly why so many companies incorporate in the “teeny tiny” state of Delaware and just how useful the ‘general purpose clause’ might be.

Then we went offshore to the Channel Islands & the Isle of Man before heading out to more far flung places: Seychelles, Bahamas, Bermuda and the Marshall Island (“worse than Russia. You might get a name & date of incorporation but anything else is very very very very very unlikely*”) I’ve often been asked for information on Marshall Islands businesses and now I’m able to quote 7Side’s mantra “if they’re not filing, you’re not finding.” With studied understatement the challenge of getting information on a Cayman Islands company was described as ‘a bit of a pain.’

The highlight for me was learning how to make a company disappear – how different filing regimes can be combined to obscure the existence of offshore subsidiaries. One participant suggested that one can check the Cayman Islands registry, but oftentimes what we need is evidence linking similarly named entities together. Now I understand how this disappearing trick might work, I can explain it more effectively the next time I’m asked to help find a hidden company. As it was pointed out, companies are registered offshore for a reason.

We concluded with a look at common suffixes – where one might find a GmBH, an OOO or a YEH (sound more interesting than our plain old PLC).

7side are experts in what they do and this depth of experience shows clearly in this kind of informative and entertaining event. They know what we need to know. Thanks to Jas Breslin for hosting the event and to Mary, Barry and Peter for providing the insight.

*I counted and clarified the number of verys – important to be able to feed back to enquirers…

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Filed under: Event report, research, , , ,

I need this today. Tomorrow is too late…

This week I was asked to obtain a copy of an article for a partner. That’s not an unusual task; we regularly use one of three document delivery services in London and I know my US colleagues have their own sources too. Mostly the doc del suppliers will, for a price, be able to send a copy to me within an hour. The peeople at IALS, Law Society and Sweet & Maxwell are seriously helpful and used to being asked for things in a hurry. The British Library & I have a mixed success rate. Recently they called me to check my email address and then 45 minutes later emailed to say I couldn’t have the article I wanted on a 2-hr time scale.  That’s another whole blog post, I think.

Unfortunately, this week, the article could only be obtained directly from the publisher (let’s give them the pseudonym ‘Wrights’) and it was needed for a deal closing on Tuesday. Wrights didn’t answer their phone at 5.15 on Monday; or 9.45 on Tuesday; responding to me at around 11am after I’d emailed. The content I needed would cost £200. Quite a profit for something was published a few years ago – essentially the fee was for a few minutes’ photocopying. “Fantastic,” I said.  “I need it today, can you email it to me, please?”

“No,” Wrights said. “You can’t have the content until you’ve paid for it. By cheque.”

“Right,” I said. “We are quite a large firm. You can be sure of your payment.”

That didn’t help so I went through the process of getting a cheque produced to send, all the time keeping the partner informed, but expecting that he’d not want the article after about 5pm. I was right – before I sent it I called for a final check the partner no longer needed it. The moment had passed. So I didn’t send the cheque and ‘Wrights ‘missed out on their fee.

This set me thinking. Are we not in Hard Times? Would you not jump at the chance of £200 for a bit of easy work? Would you not answer your phone? Or understand that something may be worth £200 to us NOW, but tomorrow it’s worth nothing? If Wrights’ keeping their content out of the CLA’s scheme was calculated to inflate their income from reprints, they surely shot themselves in the foot this time.

Filed under: research, , ,

More on learning US law

Today I was asked a question. A partner wanted a copy of a case from New York from 2002, Axa v Chase or similar.
I used Google Scholar to locate what looked like a likely candidate – this was close, but not close enough – what was needed was the judgment from the original hearing. I looked a bit further and found a report of said case, this time from the Supreme Court.

Bearing in mind the lessons from the recent seminar I attended, I did a bit of checking on state courts and checked in with one of my colleagues in the US, Rita Young-Jones.  It was such an entertaining exchange I thought it worth recording here.

Sara: I’ve got a classic UK to US query for you today. I’ve found this case I think this is the second judgment in the chain – if the Google link is to the appellate division, and this pdf is the Supreme Court, is there a lower state court? I checked the abbreviations list from the ALWD manual & there’s not one listed, does that mean there isn’t one, and this is the lowest judgment available or that it is not likely to be reported elsewhere, or both…?

Rita: NY confuses us all…I think this is actually the lower court decision.  Believe it or not, the trial court level for corporate & complex litigation claims is the supreme court.

and ….to make matters more confusing: the highest state court in the NY hierarchy is….

the Appellate Court.

Nice huh?

From the New York Courts website:

The trial courts of superior jurisdiction are the Supreme Courts, the Court of Claims, the Family Courts, the Surrogate’s Courts and, outside New York City, the County Courts. In New York City, the Supreme Court exercises both civil and criminal jurisdiction. Outside New York City, Supreme Court exercises civil jurisdiction, while County Court generally handles criminal matters.

The trial courts of limited jurisdiction in New York City are the NYC Civil Court and the NYC Criminal Court. Outside New York City, the trial courts of limited jurisdiction are the City Courts, which have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000. There are District Courts in Nassau County and parts of Suffolk County. District Courts have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000.

…  and … The Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, is composed of a Chief Judge and six Associate Judges, each appointed to a 14-year term. New York’s highest appellate court was established to articulate statewide principles of law in the context of deciding particular lawsuits. The Court thus generally focuses on broad issues of law as distinguished from individual factual disputes. There is no jurisdictional limitation based upon the amount of money at stake in a case or the status or rank of the parties.

…take two asprin and call me in the morning (I grew up in NY so had elementary civics/government lessons and remembered this well…I think they may be the only state that does things this way…)

Sara: (weakly)… thanks… !

One of the things in our projects pipeline is a cross-Atlantic collaboration: we get more explanations on the quirks in the state court system and also try to explain the intricacies of the EU to our US colleagues. I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks again to Rita for her help today, and on many other days…

Filed under: research, Training, , ,

#DR10: Digital Researcher

I’m cheating and getting two blog posts for the price of one, as I am posting this here and on my Other Blog. On Monday I shall be 1% of a crowd of research students at the British Library for an event run by Vitae: Digital Researcher – Managing your networks and building your profile.

I’m looking forward to this for three reasons. Firstly, it will be interesting to find out how another tribe of people are using Web 2.0 tools. I’ve read, and heard, and done a lot of law-librarian things collaboratively online. But I have not really exploited these tools for my PhD.

Secondly, it comes a handy 24 hours before the next SLA Europe event – about Twitter, and how we use it at work. A good opportunity to compare and contrast the two approaches: corporate life and research student life.

And finally, as a part-time, distance student I don’t spend a great deal of time in the company of my research student peer group – I would probably struggle to even identify a peer group – so spending a day with 99 other PhDs-in-waiting should be a brilliant boost to the motivation levels.

The organisers set up and emailed us all with the hashtag #dr10 for the event. It caused me mild amusement that this is also being used by a Dutch community somewhere, as a bunch of other tweets are in our search feed.

Filed under: research, Training, , , ,

What do users think of what you do?

Reed Smith’s experience of changing circumstances was recently presented at the Ark Group conference on managing law firm libraries in challenging times. One of the projects undertaken was a review of the research and current awareness services provided. This is how we did it.

To begin with, I wrote a formal proposal for discussion by the team. Every single service was listed – from major research enquries to circulating journals. This produced rather a long list, so similar services were grouped together. However, there were a few specific services that we felt definitely needed to be reviewed as there was a suspicion they had been inherited at the merger without further investigation. So these were left alone. Categories and items were organised via Zoomerang into an online survey. The survey was subject to much scrutiny in team meetings.

One of the key objectives was to be , well, objective, and to try to find out what the lawyers who don’t purposely use the library thought about our offerings. That is, those who still have journals arrive on their desk, or database access from their desktop, but who do not place research enquiries or request current awareness services. It is, after all, easy to ask a library-friendly partner what they think of us, but that will only give a very biased view.

I used the same randomising technique I had employed for my PhD to choose fee-earners to invite to take part in the survey. With no rewards on offer I knew that participation would be minimal, but felt this approach would help target people we didn’t know. As a researcher, I felt eliminating bias and having a robust survey was important. So I aimed to ask a representative number of lawyers – trainees, associates and partners – based on the randomised lists.

This was a partially successful project. Whilst participation was at the expected level at partner level (virtually nil) we did gain some useful insights into how our perception of the value of services differed from the lawyers’ – and we were able to drop one or two of the services that were time-intensive but not widely needed.

If you would like more information about the review, about conducting survey research or other research tools in the workplace Uncookeddata is happy to help.

Filed under: research, , , ,

Library Day in the Life – end of the week

Thursday and Friday seemed to rush past in something of a blur.

On Thursday morning I saw a demonstration of Westlaw China – I had seen the first release at the SLA conference last July, so this update was interesting. Then I met with our head of L&D to iron out some problems with the trainees’ inductions starting next week. My third meeting was an all-firm presentation about changes to the appraisal system for 2010. By the time I had been to all those meetings, squeezed in my review of the FT and a frankly more interesting daily update, it was lunchtime. I went out for another run – just my usual 20 minutes loop – then logged in at the enquiry desk.

This was an afternoon with two deceptively simple queries – one for medical articles, another for an international standard. These both took over two hours to resolve. The first I couldn’t help with, as unpublished conference abstracts are difficult to find. The second I did solve with help from a Russian-speaking colleague in the US. I was also asked if we had an Athens password. That’s a typical ‘Google first and look at library resources last’ kind of question. It means that someone’s run a Google search for relevant articles, found something likely-looking, and then asked the library for it. This is rather less efficient that using the legal journals index and our catalogue, particularly since these were articles we did have access to. If the lawyer hadn’t asked, would they have gone without  – or spent money on a download that duplicated our resources?

A slew of shipping queries kept me at the desk until 6.00pm when I escaped to the pub for a much needed pint.

Friday saw me back at the enquiry desk at 9.30 carrying on with the shipping queries and trying to record Thursday’s time and enquiries. Another busy morning – juggling shorter, easier questions with the more involved kind of query. During lunch I talked with a colleague who’s just joined the research team on a part-time basis; we discussed what the trainee induction would involve and how she’s been getting on. I spent about an hour in the afternoon on a new update that we are developing for one of the practice groups. I followed that with a piece of research I’d taken on during the morning – looking for possible future conferences for another practice group. The conversation I had with the trainee about the research was a classic example of what my US colleagues call a reference interview. I’m asked for ‘forthcoming events’ in a number of sectors. Is that just in the UK? What sort of events? Is a major trade show as relevant as a networking breakfast? How far in advance do you want me to look? Is this chargeable and how long do you want me to spend looking?

The last half an hour was employed by tidying up, finishing the time recording and leaving myself an enormous list of things to do on Monday.

Filed under: Personal narrative, research,

I Googled the Law

As I mentioned earlier today, I’ve been looking Google Scholar’s new US caselaw service. This allows one to ‘find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts’ according to Google’s official blog.

I am part of an international library team and most of my research colleagues are based in the US. We in London will ask for advice if we have not been able to locate what we need (we’re fortunate in having Bloomberg). Whilst we have access to Lexis.com, there’s something about the idea of being charged £54 a search that encourages me to ask for help – particularly in the current climate where keeping costs down is a key part of our strategy. But of course, there’s a time difference – we can’t always wait for the States to wake up. Plus, not all UK lawyers will necessarily think to ask the library for help finding a case when they can just Google. So there are two reasons why I’m keen on testing this new Google Law resource.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been required to source three judgments from the US. So, armed with the correct case names and citations I tried the service out. How did I fare?

I’d say, fairly well, but with the kinds of caveats we’re hopefully all used to by now about using free legal information we find on the web.

I struggled a little to find the first one – plenty of links to commentary, but not to the correct judgment. (Commentary for this search mostly seemed to be from our friends at HeinOnline).  I searched for this in the way I had searched for the case when I’d originally been asked for it (Can I have a copy of The Prestige please?). Now, if this was a UK case about a vessel, the vessel name would be part of the case name, and it would be a useful search term. It seems that shipping cases are the ones that are usually referred to vaguely. When I had no luck with the usual searches then I did try a general Google – this gave me some references to the incident and enough information to know that the action was American not British. At this point I asked my US colleagues to check whether what I’d found a reference to (the country of Spain suing the American classification society) did in fact happen.  It did, and I was provided with a copy of the judgment from 2008.

The case didn’t show up in the first 5 pages of results when I just searched Google Law for ‘Prestige.’ I added ‘Spain’ in as a search term and the 2008 judgment was the 8th in the hit list. So pretty good – but only if I knew this additional piece of information. And an earlier report was higher in the search results. Once I’d found the case, I could read, but not print the case – so it would be useful up to a point.

The second case I looked for had initially been given to me as a hunt for unreported case – we found a reference to it, courtesy of pne of the Philadelphia team. Google Law didn’t have what I wanted. This may be an artefact of the different indexing, but I also struggled to translate the search term I’d been given (universal music) into that which is part of the case name (UMG). Might be obvious if I worked with this a lot, though?

My final case was easy peasy; found it in the first page of results.

I think this will be a useful service – perhaps more so for finding the key argument of a case if a lawyer doesn’t need an official copy of a document. I wonder whether there will be a bit of circularity to the finding of cases – if I have little information I won’t know whether I have the right case, but with more information I could be more certain, but to gain that extra information I might need search terms I don’t know. It doesn’t feel as intuituive as Google normally does, but that could be down to my relative unfamiliarity with what are ‘good’ cases and documents. I’m still likely to check other free sources like RECAP (if I could access it) or Justia (though I think Justia now supply Google too?) or WorldLII But it’s another source to check, and one that isn’t going to cost anything other than my time.

John DiGillio, our US research team manager, has written on this on his LLRX column today too.

PS I’ll add the case names in soon, hopefully – just had to leave for a fire alarm and now about to head off to the Supreme Court visit.

Filed under: research, , ,

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