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What's Cool? Indentation is Cool!

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Mar 122015

innovation-2 (1)

A small, innovative group like ours is continually forced to make difficult decisions about what projects to take on next.  We just haven’t got the time to try all the things we can think up.  As a result, we’ve had to develop our own set of notions about what’s cool — what adds value rather than glitz, what helps our users the most, what will pass twin tests of novelty and utility.  Over the years we’ve developed an aesthetic. We think that the best innovations are both fundamental and (mostly) invisible to the user.  They’re just the way things should be. Make no mistake — we like fancy, flashy tech stuff just as much as anybody– but we’re very aware that a lot of it is just geek-fashion that, however pretty it may be, doesn’t offer much to our audience.

Indentation is an interesting case in point.  Over the years, a lot of you have told us that indentation is one of the best features of our CFR edition. It makes our edition much more readable than the unindented versions in print and on the Web.  Now, indentation is hardly innovative — it’s  been around since at least 1482, when it appeared in an incunabulum of Heinrich Knoblochtzer.  It’s not like we were the first people to think of it.

However… even though indentation itself is not particularly innovative, designing computer programs that automate the process over collections the size of the CFR is really, really hard (and, to be honest, our work on it is far from perfect).  The indentations don’t appear in the text files that we get from the Government Printing Office.  The only clues we get are the placement of enumerators (text addresses like the (a), (1), (iii), and (A) in 8 CFR 103.3 (a)(1)(iii)(A)). In theory, they follow a pattern (small letter, digit, roman numeral, capital letter) as the levels become more granular, but in reality the pattern can be different in different places in the CFR, and even within a particular section.  And, as you can see in the section linked above, it repeats when there are more than 4 levels.  To make things even more interesting, the Federal agencies who write the regs in CFR occasionally make mistakes — it is not unheard-of for a small roman-numeral “(i)” to be followed by a “(j)” because someone wasn’t paying close attention when editing.  The software that sorts all of this out — and then tries to audit the results for correctness — is very difficult to design; we’re currently on our third attempt, and as you can see in the linked example, we have a ways to go.  Writing computer programs that attempt this task is a pretty good way to make your head hurt (DAMHIKT).

But here’s the thing about our donors: you’re the kind of people who think indentation is cool, too.  Recently, a bunch of you said so in your responses to one of our surveys — and we were delighted to hear it. Interestingly, many of the same people said they placed a fairly low priority on  “development of innovative features.”  We loved that, because we think innovation should be so ready-to-hand as to be invisible.  And the fact that you guys find it so is very cool.


Tax Help from the LII

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Mar 122015

IRS logo
No, we’re not talking about a tax-deductible donation to the LII (this time–but, feel free to go ahead and donate if you’d like).

We’re here instead to introduce a new feature you might not have noticed in 26 U.S.C., aka the tax code.

This is going to be a little bit interactive at first, so please play along.

Please click here to look at a section of the tax code that’s near and dear to us, Section 501: “Exemption from tax on corporations, certain trusts, etc.”  Note the light blue tabs at the top of the page:

  • US Code
  • Notes
  • IRS Rulings
  • Authorities (CFR)

What’s new is the IRS Rulings tab.  Please click on it.


So, where’s the magic?  To appreciate the practicality of this feature, you should follow our link from that page to the IRS’s own collection of these letters (or by just clicking here).  What we’ve done is organize this large collection of guidance from the IRS in a way that is meant to be useful to tax lawyers, tax preparers, and others who are interested in it.  We’ve gathered together all the Written Determinations that cite to a given section of the tax code and put them with that section of the tax code.  There is no other publisher, free or commercial, who has done this.  (The IRS’s collection, by contrast, is a list sortable only by the number, the release date, the rather unhelpfully generic “subject” or the ponderous “Uniform Issue List Code.”

This is a project we undertook at the separate suggestion of two different friends of the LII–including a donor like you and Cornell University’s own, in-house tax guru.  In fact, one reason to spotlight this feature is for its value as a case study in where our projects come from.  They come from YOU.   If you see a gap in the way government or other websites or legal publishers are providing information–especially one that can be solved with the clever application of computer science–we are always happy to hear from you.  Email our Director here.

Another reason to talk about this feature is it demonstrates the overlap between data, computer science, and legal informatics.  That is the world in which operate, and we like to explain it to our friends like you whenever and however we can.  Good examples like this are a great opportunity.

Clean data from the IRS made this, frankly, relatively easy to do.  By publishing these letter rulings in xml with consistent metadata tags and uniform citations to the US Code, the IRS made it easy for us (or anyone else) to do what we did.  Compare that to the output of some other federal agencies–such as these pdfs of decisions of the Administrative Appeals Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  (We’re working on those next.)

From issues you might find familiar (such as “flat” pdfs with handwritten marginalia and other challenges for optical character recognition software) to others you likely will not (like the challenges of temporal instability at the subsection level of the CFR), most government-published collections of potentially useful data look more like the USCIS’s than the IRS’s.  In short, this is fertile ground for both helping the government to improve the way it makes its work product available and for applying advanced methods of processing and analysis to improve the usability of the existing piles (and piles and piles) of government-created data out there.  We do both.

Just like we’ve written about the indentation in our CFR, one way to measure the quality of a feature is by measuring its “invisibility”–can users like you find it and use it without ever appreciating just how much effort might be going on behind the scenes to bring you this “simple” little bit of functionality?  While we strive to bring you innovation that looks and feels light-weight, it’s important to our mission and the future of online legal publishing that every once in a while we stop and say “Voila!”

That’s a small glimpse into the world in which we operate.  Meanwhile, in the world in which we ALL operate, Tax Day is just around the corner.



LII Staff Profile: Sylvia Kwakye

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Mar 122015

photo2She’s baaaack!  Former LII employee Sylvia Kwakye recently returned to Ithaca, and we are lucky to add her to our staff as a Text Systems Developer. “I practice the dark arts of data mining and natural language processing to transform dry legal texts into attractive, easier to relate to but accurate reflections of themselves,” she explains.

Sylvia worked for the LII years ago while studying for her PhD in Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell.

“I took Computer Science 501 as part of my Computer Science minor,” she says. “In this class we were asked to do a project, and given a list of Cornell groups that had problems to solve. I was always interested in doing something real and useful, so I chose the LII. I was interested enough to ask to continue working when the class was over.”

As LII Director Tom Bruce recalls it, “Sylvia thought it would be fun to work on the U.S. Code with us.” Since the U.S. Code project was complex and difficult to create, it’s clear that Sylvia finds her “fun” in taking on complicated problems.

Once again, she’s working with the U.S. Code–now as a full-time member of the LII staff. One of Sylvia’s noteworthy projects is adding definitions of key terms. For example, there are 47 different uses of the word “water” in the U.S. Code. Sylvia is developing a system that will display the correct definition each time the word appears.

Sylvia comes from Ghana, but spent most of her first eight years in the U.S.  Her father studied at the University of Chicago. When the family returned to Ghana, he worked for several agencies and the University of Ghana. “We moved around, but mostly lived in Accra, the capital. We spent school vacations in the villages with our grandparents.”

Stories of the University of Chicago led Sylvia to apply there. “Initially, I wanted to be a doctor, and I got into medical school in Ghana,” she recalls. “But Dad loved liberal arts education, and said, go to a liberal arts school and then do medical school afterwards if that’s what you still want.” Stories of the University of Chicago led Sylvia to apply there.  She also applied to Swarthmore, which offered her a scholarship.  Ultimately, she chose Swarthmore.

Engineering seemed like a good pre-med degree. However, computational biology was becoming better known, “and I just happened to be in a position to understand both biology and engineering,” says Sylvia.

After graduating from Swarthmore in 1998 with a BS in Engineering, she worked as a research engineer with the Computational Biology Group at the Dupont Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. There, she says, “I got interested in writing and using software to make life easier.”

“We were trying to understand what protein switches turn genes on and off as a plant grew,” she says. “A microarray is a tray with 96 wells , so you could do 96 DNA tests at a time. So, you quickly end up with thousands of data points to analyze. That’s where all the computer science courses I had taken for fun at Swarthmore College came to the rescue. I wrote software tools to reduce months of analysis work to a matter of hours. From then it’s been routine for me to learn programming to help me get work done.”

For her PhD work at Cornell, she developed a system for rapidly detecting pathogens for use in low-resource communities: that is, a small, portable box that would test for the dengue fever virus, among other things.

After receiving her PhD in 2010, Sylvia teamed up with a graduate of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and a professor at Case Western Reserve University to develop her detection system into a commercially viable product. Unfortunately, they ran out of resources. “Because we were such a small team, major life changing events had quite an impact on our abilities to carry on,” Sylvia says. Those events included the death of her father, which required her to spend time in Ghana settling the estate.

Meanwhile, her husband Stefan continued studying for his PhD at Cornell, while his mother came from Trinidad to help with their two children, now aged nine and eight. Stefan has since completed his degree, works in the renewable energy industry, has a consulting job, and also writes software for fun.

When Sylvia returned to Ithaca, the LII was delighted to bring her back onboard.  In addition to her primary responsibilities engineering improvements to the website, she’s also helping Sara Frug, LII’s Associate Director for Technology, to mentor Master of Engineering students who are working on projects for the LII. “I was just like them,” Sylvia recalls. “I had the same anxiety about getting it right!”

Talking with Sylvia, however, you don’t see anxiety about getting things right; only the enjoyment she takes in solving complicated problems.

LII Donor Profile: Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr

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Mar 122015

STEPHEN_YALE-LOEHRWhile gifts of money are crucial to our operating model, the vote of confidence they represent is just as important to us.   Donations to the LII come in many forms, all of them helping us realize our mission in different ways.

As we note in our story about IRS Written Determinations, some people give us great ideas to explore.  We are always interested in hearing about problems like, for example, unavailable or poorly-organized government data we can help organize into a useful tool for researchers, academics, businesses, attorneys, or just “the general public.”  Send us your ideas here.

But right now, we’d like to focus on a  third kind of donor: our donors of content.  Whether it is a retired computer scientist writing about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or a practicing attorney updating our overview of bankruptcy law, folks from many different walks of life contribute content, primarily through our Wex legal reference feature.  (You can join them by signing up here.)

Recently, law professor and long-time friend of the LII Stephen Yale-Loehr upped the ante by getting his students involved.  He made writing for Wex part of the coursework in his immigration law seminar.   We caught up with Steve to talk about why he’s donating effort–both his own and his students’–to the LII.

You are both a law professor and a practitioner of immigration and asylum law. How do those two roles complement each other?

I think the two help each other. Practicing law allows me to bring real world stories to my immigration law classes, which my students always find interesting.  And having to keep up on the latest immigration law developments for my classes helps my immigration clients.

You’ve been on the Law School faculty since 1991.  Has the advent of the Internet had a bigger impact on teaching law or practicing it?  Why?

The Internet has had a big impact on both.  For example, most of my assignments for my immigration classes now are links to articles or cases on the Internet, rather than a hard copy.  I also use YouTube video clips to illustrate certain points.  That was not possible before the Internet.

The Internet has dramatically changed immigration practice.  I do almost all of my research online now rather than through books.  With the advent of the Internet we can represent clients anywhere in the world.  For example, over half of our immigration clients at Miller Mayer live overseas.  We never may never meet them, but we communicate effectively with them via email and receive and send them documents electronically.

This year, you asked your students to publish summaries of important Supreme Court immigration decisions in Wex.  Did you have a particular pedagogical goal in mind, or did you just want to see the content added to Wex?

Both.  I wanted to see if my students could summarize Supreme Court immigration opinions, which can be pretty dense and complicated, in a way that would be accessible to lay people.  Also, some of the Supreme Court’s key immigration decisions were decided 50 or 100 years ago, but remain important today.  While Wex has started summarizing major Supreme Court decisions, a lot of older opinions have not been summarized yet.  People should know about key immigration decisions, no matter when they were decided.

Do you think your students approached that particular assignment differently because their work was going to be (and is now) viewable by the general public?

Like any teacher, he called on one of his students to answer this question.  Jessica Flores, a member of the Class of 2015, replied:

“I approached the writing to the immigration case summary differently to some extent.  Since I knew my audience was going to be the general public, as opposed to other law students or lawyers, I wanted to make sure I carefully explained the case and the legal concepts of the case in a simplified way.  I wanted to make sure that anyone without any legal or immigration knowledge/background would be able to understand the case.  I know that legal cases can sometimes be difficult even for law students to understand so I tried to explain the case as clearly as possible.  I liked that I could hyperlink legal concepts in my case summary to other LII posts because I knew that other summaries would assist the general public in understanding my case summary.  For example, I hyperlinked the Fourth Amendment in my case summary.”

How much editing did you do of the student pieces before LII published them in Wex?

Very little.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the students did.  This is in part because of the excellent template and instructions that LII developed.

This seems like a fairly simple model that could be replicated in other classrooms–and not just law classrooms–around the country.  Do you see any potential pitfalls to LII expanding it into other seminars writing on other areas?

None at all.  LII has developed a good template and instructions to make it easy for any professor to give this assignment to his or her students.  It is also a good way to see if students really understand key cases!

To see the finished summaries from Steve’s students, click here.


December 2014 Fundraising Report

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Mar 122015

thank-you-newsletter (1)Friends:

Because of you, our year-end fundraising campaign was quite successful, raising well over $70,000.  That’s a 6% increase from the previous year — an impressive number when you consider that the average for nonprofits nationally is only 4%. Thanks to all of you, both for your generous contributions and for the vote of confidence that they represent.  As part of the community that recognizes that open access to law helps all sorts of people solve important problems, you’re helping 28 million people around the world find and understand the law — and to use that understanding to solve problems, either for themselves or for others.  Thank you.  We’re immensely grateful for your belief in the LII’s mission, and for your investment in our work.

Your contributions buy time and talent — the two things that we never have enough of.  One of the advantages of being affiliated with a large university is that the students are unbelievably smart and skilled; your contributions allow us to employ people who will, in a year or two, be working for the likes of Google, Facebook, Oracle, and for an array of high-end law firms.  They turn out amazing work in developing new features, in writing new material for the site, and — most importantly — in undertaking collaborative work that needs both legal and technical expertise.  Because they’re students, your dollars go a very long way (and, incidentally, you’re helping them buy groceries).

This year, we’re planning significant improvements to our US Code collection, primarily in the form of linkage to interpretive information like the IRS written determinations we added to the tax code last year.  Right now, we’re working on the interpretive letters that the USCIS issues in response to questions about immigration law, on finishing our grand project of linking all of the words in the CFR and US Code that are defined by statute to their respective statutory definitions, and on making the interpretive material in our 5,000-article WEX legal encyclopedia directly accessible from the laws they explain.  We expect that WEX itself is going to expand significantly during the next year — we are actively recruiting volunteers to help us create more expert commentary and explanation, and many of you are already helping out.  Contributions of effort are really important, too — and I’m hoping that many of you in our community will join us in making WEX the best place for people who want to understand the law.

Once again, thanks for helping us out.  LII donors are a unique bunch, and all of us are delighted to have your support.  As always, I’m eager to hear from you — so don’t hesitate to drop me a line with your comments, suggestions, and criticisms.



Stop feeling so guilty, willya?

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Aug 212014

guiltypuppySkilled fundraisers that we are (not), we have a variety of ways that we try to find out what motivates you to make a contribution to the LII. The number one leading answer is, “I felt guilty because I’ve been using the service and I thought it was time to give you something.” Believe me, we’re not above using guilt as a motivator (most of us are raising children, and all of us have mothers), and if you want to make another gift right now, be our guest. But if you’ve donated recently, stop for a minute and think about what you’ve done:  donations to the LII do a lot for a lot of people, and all of you who have contributed should feel really, really proud.

First of all, you’re helping around 20 people for each dollar that you give us — making it possible for them to read and understand the laws that affect them. That’s no small thing.

But then there’s the FDA inspector who tells us that our CFR is more up to date than the version that the FDA puts up for its staff. Or the Vietnamese civil servant who uses us as her only American law reference. Or the reporter who used our materials to check the truthfulness of a controversial sheriff in Arizona. And the blind law student who wrote to us this month and told us that we’re the only site that works effortlessly with his screen-reading software.

You guys make all that possible. We’re grateful. And so are all those other people you’ve helped.

Ithaca brings us the world

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Aug 212014

ithacaAs an institute within the Cornell Law School, the LII team is surrounded by students and faculty who are immersed in the study of law; as a part of Cornell University, we have access to some of the greatest minds in the study of just about everything else.

Perhaps best of all is the vibrant community of Ithaca, New York, which houses Cornell, as well as Ithaca College, and is home to thousands of young people looking to make a difference. These factors provide us with opportunities to leverage this knowledge and enthusiasm into research that directly impacts our mission, and we take advantage of this in several ways.

For example, we’re fortunate to host visiting scholars from other institutions who do work in information science, open access, and legal information. This summer we welcomed Jonathan Germann from the Law Librarianship program at the University of Washington, who worked on various things related to ALJ opinions and the CFR. Stevan Gostojic joined us from the University of Novi Sad (in Serbia). He worked on a Semantic Web ontology/project related to statutes and bylaws. In a few weeks, we’ll be joined by Juhani Korja from the University of Lapland, who is working on research having to do with privacy law as it applies to biometric data (think facial recognition, fingerprints, DNA, etc.).

During the academic year, we mentor and lead workshops for students from the Cornell University Departments of Computer and Information Science. Each semester, several Masters of Engineering students take an independent study course directed by our semantic web researcher and developer, Mohammad AL Asswad. Last year’s project led to an award from Google. LII associate director Sara Frug leads another group of students in a software development practicum. And the LII also offers undergraduate work study jobs in system administration and software development.

Our administrative team employs several students from Cornell Law School’s LLM program to help with basic data entry and other marketing and fundraising tasks and research. Some of these students also assist LII associate director Craig Newton in content development, specifically in translating Wex pages into their native languages.

And of course, there’s the LII Supreme Court Bulletin, which provides thirty Cornell Law School students with the opportunity to hone their writing and research skills by providing written previews of upcoming Supreme Court cases for 30,000 subscribers.

New this year, we launched a full-summer internship in non-profit communications and management with help from the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. Senior Tom Dempsey worked on advertising, fundraising, and communications projects that will give him marketable skills when he graduates next June. A part-time internship will be available throughout the coming academic year.

As a matter of principle, we think it’s important to pay our students and interns for their contributions to the LII, so we spend more than $100,000 per year to reward their hard work and support their academic expenses. These funds come from users and donors like you who make financial contributions to the LII. If you’d like more information on internships, or would like to sponsor a visiting fellow, please let us know. Or, you can make a donation here.

LII donor Margaret Felts on fracking and free law

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Aug 212014

Margaret FeltsWhen did you first become interested the law?

As an expert witness since 1983, I have spent many hours with client attorneys working through laws and regulations to understand how they apply to certain industry situations. As time passed, I became interested in knowing more about the laws and how they came to be.

Where did you go to college and what did you study there? Degrees?

I have a BA in Organizational Communications from Eckerd College, a BS in Petroleum Engineering from Louisiana Tech University, a Masters in Energy/Environmental Engineering from LaSalle Universtiy, a JD from Pacific McGeorge School of Law (UOP), specializing in international law and with an emphasis in banking.

Tell us about your work experience. What led you to where you are now?

I began my career as a process engineer at the Amoco Refinery in Yorktown, VA. Following my military husband to the Midwest, I continued to be a process engineer at Celanese Plastics & Specialties in Vernon TX, where we made guar powder, the primary constituent used in fracking fluid. We moved out to California a couple of years later when I accepted an engineering position in the Fuels Office at the California Energy Commission. From there, I moved into consulting and began to work as an expert witness on utility gas cases–which continues to this day–and broadened to other types of cases, including a 5 year case that involved research of water laws and regulations since 1890. From 1985 to 1995, I spent a good deal of time working on environmental issues related to ground water and hazardous waste, including stints with the Department of Defense and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (Site Mitigation). These combined experiences led to a solid understanding of the long term effects of the production of oil & gas on the environment.

In your current position, describe what you do and how you use the LII?

As an expert witness and technical consultant on complex litigation cases, I use LII to research the law and regulations so I can work intelligently with my clients.

What parts of the LII do you use the most?

Lately, I have been working on the case involving the PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, requiring a detailed understanding of applicable regulations under 49 CFR Part 192. LII has been a life saver. LII’s embedded links to referred sections make it really easy to follow these complex regulations.

Are there features of the LII site that you find superior to other resources of the same information?

The “free” feature is the best. As a sole proprietor, I can’t afford an expensive legal resource. Electronic access and excellent search features are important to me because they allow me to work from my office and to be efficient in my research.

You recently made a gift to support the LII’s work. Can you tell us why you gave so generously?

LII makes me look good as a consultant. I can do my research and be informed before meetings. I can answer my client’s questions quickly, without leaving the office. I can bookmark pages, making them readily available during a conference call. All of these services improve my image and lead to more consulting work, which adds to my bottom line. Since LII is my resource, I pay through donations.

If you by chance encountered another LII user at a meeting or event, what would you say to convince that user to become a financial supporter?

Try LII and compare it to the other services. If you end up going back to LII frequently, and especially if you drop a subscription to another service, send LII money so they can keep providing this outstanding service.

Can you say a few words about the importance of making the law available and accessible to everyone, without cost?

This is the most important aspect of LII – everyone can access recent versions of the law. Most individuals have very specific needs that don’t rise to the level of finding an attorney, going to a law library or subscribing to a legal information service. These people can do a simple search on the internet at LII and will probably find enough information to get them started. Small businesses who must comply with specific regulations can look up the regulations on LII using the cites provided by their regulator, saving them the enormous expense of purchasing regulations that will quickly become outdated.

Making the law available and accessible to everyone without cost brings the current law to the people affected by the law. That makes sense.

As you know, New York’s highest court recently upheld local zoning laws banning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in two towns not far from us here at Cornell. In New York, the issue was whether the state’s comprehensive law governing the oil and gas industry preempted the municipalities’ zoning authority, and the court ruled that it did not. Other than zoning laws, are there other legal options communities have used or might use to challenge local fracking activity?

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), or the State equivalent (for instance, California Environmental Quality Act – CEQA) is the place to begin. These laws and regulations apply to any activity that must be authorized by the government. Generally, if the entity has to obtain a permit, NEPA can be used. Under this set of laws, pretty much anything can be challenged – noise, traffic, water use, contamination, air emissions, etc. Individuals and/or community organizations can use these laws and regulations to slow the progress of fracking activities – but, ultimately may not stop them as the remedy is mitigation. So, if the fracking company can eventually show that it can mitigate all of the problems by changing its procedures, it may get a permit and go forward with the fracking. Sometimes, the projected cost of fighting through a NEPA challenge rises to a level that causes the fracking company to abandon the project, but that outcome is not something one would count on.

While delaying the fracking activity through NEPA, a community can take immediate steps to develop and implement appropriate zoning laws, as we see in the New York cases. Other legal options might include trespass, injunction to prevent drinking water contamination (includes hazardous waste discharge), injunction to stop noise, traffic, etc. Of course, once damages occur, one can sue for specific damages.

Finally, researching (on LII) the history of exemptions for the oil & gas industry may reveal an underlying intent to provide energy supply security by encouraging exploration and development. Recently, some fracking companies have been arguing that they should be allowed to export product, including build LNG facilities to export excess natural gas. Clearly, if they are over-producing to the point of needing to export, the intent to provide energy security has been met and one might argue that the exemptions no longer apply.

What legal arguments are available to the fracking industry that might allow them to proceed in areas where the local population might not be welcoming to their presence?

The industry should have a good understanding of all the applicable exemptions in federal, state and local laws. Over the years, they have successfully planted these exemptions, mostly in the name of energy supply security. When challenged under NEPA, think mitigation. Knowledge of, and compliance with environmental regulations from the start to the end of a fracking job is ultimately a good defense.

Can you leave us with a the bottom-line takeaway for our readers who want to understand the legal framework of the fracking debate?

In every state, there will be a conflict between agencies that were created to implement energy policies (Energy Commission, Dept of Oil & Gas, Dept of Conservation, etc.) and those created to oversee the environment (Environmental cleanup, toxic substance management, air quality districts, water quality boards, etc.) Anyone challenging fracking operations should figure out how all of these pieces fit together, what the priorities are and how the combined set of rules are applied. Unfortunately, the picture varies from one state to another.

LII in the classroom

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Aug 212014

teacherWe count among our many friends and donors a large number of educators and students alike.  While many folks in academia and beyond use the LII to look up the US Code, the CFR, and the Federal Rules, we wanted to share some of the more remarkable ways people use the LII in the classroom as a new school year approaches:

  • Encouraging students to look up legal terminology in Wex in real-time when those terms come up during classroom discussions

  • Using our Supreme Court Collection to teach the policy behind the procedures taught to police and corrections officers

  • Reading our hyperlinked version of the Annotated Constitution in order to prepare lesson plans for Constitution Day

  • Comparing the competing arguments made by opposing parties as articulated in our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews as a tool to teach high school-level rhetoric

  • Illustrating how legislation becomes regulations through our Parallel Table of Authorities in an undergraduate civics course

  • Expanding the academic understanding of concepts like readability of legislation

We’d also like to propose one more unique service we can offer all those teachers out there as they prepare lesson plans and otherwise look for new and different resources to help them out. Our recently launched Reference Desk not only contains a wealth of information to help you, but our staff of volunteer law librarians can point you to resources you might not otherwise find on your own.  Consider this an invitation to join our user community at the Reference Desk and to use our librarians to help you educate America’s youth.

Real law librarians give you real answers... free!

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Aug 212014

refdeskEvery year, the LII receives thousands of questions by email from users of their website asking for help in finding a statute, regulation, or opinion. Likewise, many academic, county, state, court, and other public law libraries also deal with self-represented litigants and help them to find legal information relevant to their particular legal situation. Different users may ask the same or similar questions, just like law librarians may answer different patrons’ questions with the same or similar information or resources.

To better serve a greater public, the LII created a Reference Desk in the likeness of a public forum so that these users and patrons would have a place to ask their questions and have them be answered by experts in legal information resources and in finding legal information. The LII Reference Desk is the place where all categories of users can ask their questions about finding legal information with the intention that the questions, answers, and resources will then be available to everyone. The LII Reference Desk will be a go-to resource for posting questions and finding answers, as well as a knowledge bank for sharing resources, experiences, and expertise.

Elizabeth Farrell-Clifford (Florida State University) and Charlotte Schneider (Rutgers School of Law-Camden) have put together a group of stellar law librarian volunteers from around the country to monitor the Reference Desk to help answer users’ questions about finding legal information. Anyone with an internet connection can benefit from the information available from this public forum, but we want and encourage all (human) users with a question, a curiosity, or a bit of legal knowledge worth sharing to join the forum site and start posting. Any law librarians who are interested in contributing as a volunteer should register for the site and email Elizabeth or Charlotte at help AT liicornell DOT org.