FOIA Letter Generator

FOIA stands for Freedom of Information Act. But what is it, exactly?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. – From What is FOIA?

You can learn more about the FOIA from foia.gov, a website containing everything you may need to know about the FOIA, including data and statistics plus FAQs, answered by the US Department of Justice.

How can you go about making a FOIA request? One tool is the FOIA Letter Generator which is produced by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a legal advocacy group for journalists. This tool:

… offers templates for putting together FOIA requests and follow-up paperwork for both the federal and state governments.

As one of my colleagues put it:

What I find especially interesting: if you scroll down to “State letter” and choose New Jersey, you’ll see a short outline of hyperlinks before the various fields to be filled in.  These actually link to annotations (case cites, court rules, and the NJSA) that pertain to the request process.

It may not always be as easy as described. That’s why The Center for Investigative Reporting is planning a FOIA Machine Project that is supposed to be a FOIA Letter Generator Plus, in that it will guide users through a “do-it-yourself” freedom of information request. Learn how to support this project at its kickstarter page.

Written by CDS and GBT.

Advertisements

HONE YOUR SKILLS NOW! Panel: How Legal Research, Writing, and Oral Communication Skills Can Help You Succeed in Your Summer Job

Some 1Ls deprioritize LAWR in favor of other core classes, thinking “Hey, it’s fewer credit hours per semester.”  These students couldn’t be more wrong, however:  your LAWR class may be one of the most important classes you take in law school.

That’s the takeaway from a recent panel discussion hosted by Sarah Ricks, Clinical Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Law School’s Pro Bono Research Project.  The panelists—3 recent graduates and 1 current 4L, a JD/MBA candidate—spoke to current students about how their LAWR classwork will translate in the real world, including the job hunt.

Although they are newer lawyers, the panelists collectively had worked in federal and state clerkships, internships, and jobs in mid- and large-sized law firms. Each speaker attributed their individual success to the skills that they acquired in their legal writing courses.

Whether you know exactly what you want to do or are still looking for your passion or your place in the legal community, these basic tenets will hold true:

1. KNOW WHERE & HOW TO FIND ANSWERS

Don’t search aimlessly in Westlaw or Lexis: learn about practice-area and subject-specific treatises. These secondary sources contain the law you need in your practice area and can save you time!

Learn how to research in print. In practice, searching online can drive up your client’s costs, and most clients aren’t willing to pay for expensive research.  One panelist admitted that even big firm lawyers often turn to books for answers because, when billing hours, every minute matters.

As a student you have almost limitless access to many legal databases: take the time to see what they offer!  Database companies want you to get comfortable with their systems in the hopes that you’ll stick with that service in practice. But don’t just learn each system’s resources; learn what tools they make available that can make you a more efficient researcher.

2. KNOW HOW TO COMMUNICATE YOUR FINDINGS

When you’re given a research assignment by a senior attorney, that person most often will not know the answer and will be relying entirely on you.  You must know how to find the correct answer and convey your findings effectively.  And unlike in law school, you will not be reminded on a regular basis that you have an assignment due.

Take writing-intensive classes.  While you may have many opportunities to learn substantive law in practice, school is the best place to hone your writing skills: ask questions, get feedback, and practice, practice, practice.

Take practicums that allow you to develop your skills. Most of the panelists mentioned that they had practiced and honed LAWR skills in clinics and competitions.  Specifically, the ability to craft correct and well-supported arguments and communicate them effectively will distinguish you from an applicant pool.  And as one panelist pointed out, “writing is only one aspect of communication.” You need to be able to verbalize persuasively and concisely.

PROOFREAD. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is easy to skip when you’re under pressure. Make sure all punctuation is in place; make sure all citations are included; make sure you say what you need to say and cut everything else.

One panelist mentioned that when he interviewed for his first internship, he had one bad grade on his record, but strong 1L LAWR writing samples.  The interviewing judge told him that, had he had perfect grades and a sub-par writing sample, he would not have gotten the internship.

3. KNOW HOW TO MANAGE YOUR TIME EFFECTIVELY

The panelists reiterated that now is the time to practice managing your time. As students, you have 2-3 months to study an issue and write a concise research memo. In this time, you’ll receive feedback so that you can improve. Heed that advice and, where possible, seek out more.

In practice, you may have as little as 30 minutes to write a memo for a senior attorney or judge.  When time is tight, knowing where to look for the answer will give you more time to read and process the information that you’re finding. This is critical.

Straight talk: your workload will probably not decrease from school to practice. Sure, now it seems like you have an overwhelming amount of work, but realistically your workload is only likely to increase.  When you’re juggling many tasks, you’ll need to be able to jump from issue to issue seamlessly. Practice managing and budgeting your time now.

Use this time to think about your own approach to research, analysis, and writing.  Don’t wait!  Visit your professor’s or TA’s office hours today.

Written by CDS.

Edited by GBT.

Introducing Bloomberg Law

bloomberglaw

Rutgers-Camden faculty and students now have unlimited access to Bloomberg Law!  Like Westlaw and LexisNexis, Bloomberg Law is an easy-to-search source for case law and other primary legal sources.  Bloomberg Law also provides excellent coverage of court dockets (including comprehensive access to federal dockets and underlying court papers found on PACER), EDGAR filings and other SEC materials, hundreds of news feeds, and useful business information.  A link to Bloomberg Law is now available via the Law Library’s Research Databases page.

Getting started is simple.  Visit www.bloomberglaw.com and click the yellow “Request a Law School Account” button on the right-hand side.  Click “Get Started Now” to fill out your registration information; be sure to use your Rutgers email address!  Once you’ve submitted your information, you’ll receive an email with your system-generated login credentials.

Once you have logged on, you will have unlimited access to all Bloomberg Law content.  First year law students will receive orientation to the service in your LAWR classes, but any and all students (and faculty!) are encouraged to stop by the Reference Desk with any questions about navigating the website or finding specific information.  We are here to help you get the most out of Bloomberg Law and all our research tools.

Written by Genevieve Tung.

Bloomberg BNA

Screenshot from http://www.bna.com/

Most law students are familiar with using Westlaw and LexisNexis for legal research projects.  Both of these competitors offer enormous amounts of legal information, are developing ever-more user-friendly search formats, help you confirm that your citations are good law, and contain a wealth of secondary sources.

As great as these products are, they are not the only game in town.  The Law Library offers members of the Law School community subscription access to a number of other online legal research resources.   These specialized databases can help you get a new perspective on an area of law, find primary authorities, and keep current on legal news.

Our collection includes access to legal research tools from Bloomberg BNA (formerly the Bureau of National Affairs).  Bloomberg BNA offers online databases and publications tailored to serve the interests of lawyers and researchers working in dozens of areas of law, including labor and employment, corporate practice, health care, criminal law, tax, banking, and intellectual property.   In addition to reporting developments in legislation, regulation, and case law, Bloomberg BNA’s specialized collections also offer searchable full text of many cases, statutes, and regulations, practice guides, electronic treatises, and legal news and analysis from notable practitioners and other experts.  These tools are an excellent way to learn about different areas of the law, develop topics for research papers and note-writing, and keep current in your practice.

We encourage you to take a look through our Bloomberg BNA collection.  As always, don’t hesitate to ask a librarian if you’d like more information.

Written by Genevieve Tung.

The UN Treaty Collection

 

 

 

 

 

Researching international law, including the treaties between nations, can be intimidating.  Treaty research requires you to use specialized terminology and parse through layers of drafting, approval, ratification, and other legal concepts that don’t translate directly from research within a single jurisdiction.

Fortunately, there are some excellent tools to help you access primary treaty sources.  One of these, the United Nations Treaty Collection, is a free and open-access source of treaty information.  Article 102 of the United Nations Charter requires that the Secretariat register and publish all treaties and agreements entered into by member states.  The United Nations Treaty Collection offers downloadable versions of all agreements and ratification status, organized to help you make sense of different areas of international law.

Within the United Nations Treaty Collection, there are two treaty databases.  The MTDSG database contains all multilateral treaties deposited with the UN Secretary General (plus all of those treaties previously deposited with the League of Nations); the UNTS database contains bilateral and multilateral treaties registered with and published by the UN Secretariat.  You can search or browse the collections to find agreements by topic, participating nations, date of entry, and other criteria.  The database contains key dates and member-state ratification information, as well as full-text copies of each treaty.  There is also a Cumulative Index, which allows researchers to search treatise chronologically or by subject matter.  It also includes helpful definitions of treaty terminology and a glossary of treaty actions.

You can find a link to the United Nations Treaty Collection on our Research Resources page.

Written by Genevieve Tung.