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Posts Tagged ‘administrative law’

Tweeting a revolution and more

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Last October, Malcolm Gladwell caused some controversy by posting an article on Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted. At the time, the article caused a stir among the blogosphere of people agreeing, at least in part and some others vehemently disagreeing. This debate just got a lot more interesting thanks to the recent revolution in Egypt and there’s already been quite a bit of talk about how much of it might be owed (or not) to Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet in general– both in the blogosphere (like this post on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube’s role in the uprisings in the Middle East) and in the mainstream media, like the New York Times: Equal Rights Takes to the Barricades and Facebook Officials Keep Quiet on Its Role in Revolts.

I don’t want to get into the debate on the subject (partly because that would probably take a book and not a blog post), but it did start me thinking about the idea of free sources, legal or not, on the Internet, in general.  In this class and elsewhere, obviously, having these free resources is very useful for lawyers and other people to learn more and, even if social media and the Internet might not cause a literal revolution, everyone seems agreed that having more free resources is a good thing.  But it occurs to me that just having these new resources may not, actually, be a good, in and of itself, but it’s only as good as what people use it for (like most tools, of any kind.)   As Gladwell pointed out, a link or a cause going “viral” on Facebook and Twitter is one thing, but it may not actually do anything.   As an example, I can point to one recent campaign on Facebook that involved urging people to use a certain website to turn their profile pictures purple as a symbol of solidarity against the rash of teenage bullying in schools.  Showing solidarity is a good thing as was raising the profile of the issue, but as an action, I highly doubt it accomplished any tangible good– or ever will.  Clicking ‘like’ on Facebook isn’t a form of voting in an election and it won’t even contact a member of Congress to let them know about a problem, that may potentially have some effect.  It’s more a short, painless way of making people feel involved and active without actually requiring them to do anything. The problem is that it may even deepen the fairly notorious apathy of the average American when it comes to things like politics and law-making.  Such people may end up feeling just involved enough by clicking ‘like’ on Facebook, and not so uninvolved as to feel like s/he needs to make a real effort to get involved in a meaningful way.

The Internet has made a lot of things much easier, but sometimes doing what’s harder is what’s required.  As an example (and returning to a more legal subject), Regulations.gov has made it a lot easier for the public to comment on federal agency rule-makings. But making commenting easier didn’t necessarily result in more or better public comments to proposed rules and may, in fact, result in worse comments. For example, in the Airline Passenger Rights rule, there were a large number of comments– at least 40– submitted by members of an airline passenger rights organization that were nearly all identical and did nothing but express the person’s support for the proposed rule. Such comments would have been absolutely useless to the agency and is one example of how lowering barriers to participation may not end up being a good thing. Participating in a rulemaking in any meaningful way requires some effort– if only just to understand the rule at issue– and that may not be a bad thing.

The free legal resources available may have their negative effects too. As an example, it may make people feel more confident to represent themselves pro se in any legal matters that arise, but pro se litigants are likely to be disadvantaged when facing off against a lawyer in court, not only from a lack of formal training, but because of the limited information that’s available. As we’ve mentioned in class, none of the free websites that provide case law allow for things like Shepardizing and so a litigant may end up relying on a case that was no longer good law and lose the case. This is not to say, of course, that having more legal resources available on the Internet is a bad thing, but as in evaluating any new website, we should remember that more information doesn’t necessarily mean more good information, just as lowering barriers to participation doesn’t necessarily lead to effective or meaningful participation.

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Getting started

February 10, 2011 Leave a comment

In our catalog of free resources, it seems as if there’s a lot of information that’s fairly readily available once you know what you’re looking for, but it gets harder if you don’t, in those situations where you’ve been thrown into the deep end and need to learn the law in a new area quickly. One resource that might get overlooked is that of all the government agencies. Agency websites can often be great places to look for background information and more in the particular field that the agency is in charge of. And, conveniently, Louisiana State University has compiled an alphabet-soup-like Federal Agency Directory that lists all the federal agencies, from the big, well-known Executive Agencies (like the Department of Labor) to agencies most people may never have heard of (like the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee).

Often, the agency websites will have the actual text of the laws they enforce available and it tends to be much easier to find than looking through the U.S. Code, if you don’t happen to know the citation to the law itself. For example, the DoL has the full text of the Fair Labor Standards Act available as a pdf document on its website. The agencies will also have the regulations and proposed regulations that they have made for each law they enforce, and again, it’s usually much easier to read on the agency website where it’s all in one place, than it is to hunt through the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register for the regulations you’re interested in. Admittedly, some agency websites (like the DoL) will only send you to the relevant part of the CFR on GPOAccess.gov but some of the agencies will have the full text of the regulations on their own website, simplifying things. The agency websites will also have the text of any proposed rules they’ve promulgated recently so you can find out about any new issues and changes in the law. For example, the Department of Education posted a Final Rule on federal foreign aid programs in foreign schools in November of last year– and the rule, as you see, is linked on the website.

Aside from the primary sources of law, however, the agency websites are also very useful because of the more general background information they often provide. They provide everything from brief descriptions of the laws they enforce and any current issues the agency might be keeping an eye on to the more official Guidance documents agencies publish. These guidance documents provide information to the public on what their rights are and how to comply with the laws and can be a great starting point to learn about an area of law. As an example, a company worrying about how to comply with the employment discrimination statutes can easily go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website and find the actual text of the statutes the EEOC, as well as their accompanying regulations, and can also find the various Guidance Documents the EEOC has published. The Guidance Documents usually provide a thorough introduction to all the common issues that arise under that statute and information on how to comply with the law. The Guidance documents can be particularly helpful because they provide a summary, of sorts, of what the law (both statutory and administrative) says and also reflect any major case law in the area, at least up until the date the documents were issued. Also helpful is the fact that the Guidance documents are written and cited as legal documents so any mention of a case is accompanied by its full citation, making it much easier to find the actual text of the case on either Westlaw or Lexis (or a free site) if you need to.

After going through an agency’s website, you are likely to know a lot more about the specific area of law and then, if you need to, can research a lot more effectively using either one of the subscription sites or one of the free sites.