Vol. 82, No. 2, February 2009
The People’s Guide to the United States Constitution
By Dave Kluge (Glendale, CA; Action Publishing, 2007), 224 pgs., $14. Order, www.actionpublishing.com.
Reviewed by John A. Becker
This book is designed to be a simple, easy-to-read guide to the Constitution. That it is. The problem is that it sometimes tries to be too simple and easy to read.
The book begins with a very brief history of some important people and events that led to the American Revolution. It then follows with the texts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Each paragraph of the documents is set out in bold and is followed by an explanation of what the paragraph is about or why it was put in the document. The book concludes with examples (three cases) of how the court has applied the Constitution and then a somewhat lengthy glossary of some basic terms.
This would be a good book for a child in grade school or someone whose knowledge of U.S. history is very limited. (This is not meant in a derogatory sense, because it may be that these are the book’s intended audience.)
The historical part is very condensed and contains a bare-bones summary of a few important events. Most adults will be familiar with most of what is contained in the history section. However, for those with very limited knowledge of American history, this section provides some basic facts.
When a reader comes across an unfamiliar word, it is sometimes helpful when a definition is given; however, the author does that to excess. A small sampling of defined words from the Declaration of Independence include declaration, people, assume, effect, object, decent, manly, impel, and consent.
Sometimes words used hundreds of years ago have different meanings today. However, most of the words are so basic they do not need to be defined throughout the text, and these too many definitions break up the continuity of the book.
This book is not written for lawyers. For someone who is not a lawyer, this book is a good introduction to a very basic understanding of the Constitution.
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Access to Government in the Computer Age: An Examination of State Public Records Laws
Edited by Martha Harrell Chumbler (Chicago, IL: ABA, 2007). 218 pgs., $89.95. Order, (800) 285-2221.
Reviewed by Donna M. Jones
This book presents well-researched articles on case law regarding the intersection of the computer age and state public records laws (“SOIA” or “state FOIA”). The articles cover issues involving preservation of and access to public records, litigant rights to discovery, privacy, contractors, and attorneys’ privileged materials.
When determining access to public records, state courts consider whether the record is defined by form or by content. Most public records statutes have been revised to cover materials generated or maintained in some electronic format. Defining a record by content means government agencies provide the record in a form of their own choosing; defining by form means they provide the record only in the form it is normally kept. This distinction is significant because electronic information may exist in multiple formats and in massive databases. Specific guidance is provided regarding maintaining and preserving electronic records. The authors remind that relevant law is developing quickly, that agencies should avoid discovery violations, and that most courts allow litigants who are attempting to use SOIA as an alternative to discovery the same access to public records as anyone else.
Concerned that the computer age provides more access and less privacy, some states restrict access based on the type of record being requested or the identity or the purpose of the request. For example, Florida enacted a statutory exception for autopsies after public records requests were made for Dale Earnhardt’s autopsy photographs. Regarding government employee privacy in the workplace, courts have held that employee emails are subject to monitoring but may not be subject to public exposure, although emails can be subject to open meeting laws. For example, when five members of a school board engaged in discussion via email, a Washington-state court held that “the evidence constituted a prima facie showing” of a public meeting.
State FOIA issues involving contractors are complex. Private entities can become contractors subject to state FOIA in four ways. One perhaps unexpected way is by providing information to another contractor connected to a state agency. Thus, attorneys for contractors should limit client exposure to state FOIA by knowing with whom a client is contracting, taking protective measures, gaining insight from confidentiality agreements for sensitive information, and receiving from agencies due notice of any state FOIA requests regarding a client.
State FOIA usually contain some exceptions that limit access. Two exceptions regard the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product; this book summarizes the relevant issues. Most states strictly construe these privileges in the public records context. For example, Colorado statutes provide an exception for privileged information, while North Carolina law subjects information protected by attorney-client privilege to public scrutiny for a three-year period. Courts continuously try to balance the scope of such exceptions with maximizing public access to materials.
Appendices highlight relevant features of each state’s public records statutes and list citations for each state’s statutes and related materials. The book provides a bibliography and table of cases and a CD of materials that include relevant articles, guides, reports, and summaries regarding 35 states.
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From Law School to Law Practice: The New Associate’s Guide, 3rd Edition
By Suzanne B. O’Neill & Catherine Gerhauser Sparkman, Ronald L. Jones, Contributing Author (Philadelphia, PA: ALI-ABA, 2008). 450 pgs. $69. Order, www.ali-aba.org.
Reviewed by Daniel J. Herber
A compact paperback, this book fit nicely in my briefcase and was easy to read on my daily bus commute. With four parts, 11 chapters, 77 sections, and nearly 100 subsections, the book exudes organization. An 11-page table of contents allows the reader to rapidly select particular topics of interest, although the book can also be read cover-to-cover. The book is impeccably edited. (I found only one error – a misplaced semicolon in a list.)
The book’s central premise is this: Successful lawyers meet the expectations of their clients. Simple enough. But as the authors explain, sometimes the client is the person paying the bill; sometimes, perhaps often for newer attorneys, the “client” is a senior-level associate or partner; and, for in-house counsel, the client is likely the business wing of the employer, a more senior member of the in-house counsel staff, or a company executive. According to the authors, the expectations of each client type vary, and different strategies are needed for a lawyer to thrive within each type of client setting.
The authors discuss common pitfalls within the law firm or corporate counsel environment and suggest ways to avoid such traps. Topics addressed include estimating time, fees, and costs; adjusting unrealistic client expectations; learning the client’s business; prioritizing and managing workload; using firm resources wisely; delegating work to assistants; communicating with the client; preparing for and conducting meetings and teleconferences; and operating in a corporate culture (for in-house counsel). The newer attorney will find useful the more than 90 concrete and concise examples of attorneys getting it right and getting it wrong with critiques of why the work product resulted in a good or a bad outcome.
Guideposts on how to check the efficacy of one’s work also are provided, for example, “When drafting issues, check whether they are phrased in the abstract. If they do not incorporate facts, consider whether your analysis and writing are focused on the client’s goal or problem.” As the authors observe, “Too often, new attorneys, unskilled at viewing an objective from the client’s perspective, launch into a detailed analysis of legal issues but fail to focus on the client’s goal or problem.”
The authors remind the reader that the onus is on the attorney to learn the idiosyncrasies of the supervising attorney or client and to clarify what type of work product is expected. But an empathetic tone is also evident, such as when the authors suggest “inexperienced and experienced” attorneys “often have the feeling” that they “never know enough law and never have enough time to research the issues properly”; the authors encourage the reader to “forge ahead when appropriate.”
Finally, the authors advise newer attorneys on how to develop and reach professional goals and market themselves in both the private firm and in-house counsel settings.
The book is a thoughtful and comprehensive resource on how to successfully navigate the first years of a legal career at a law firm or in a corporate legal department.
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