File Naming Conventions for Court Documents

Introduction

Summer is coming, and I’ve embarked on a research project concerning documents from the U.S. District Courts. As I was consolidating my work this morning, I grew frustrated with the naming conventions (or lack thereof) I’d been using while saving PDFs to drive. And since I have been rather, er, interested in filenames recently, it seemed as good a time as any to collect my thoughts. I will begin with the caveat that while I am a librarian and professor of legal research, and a successful applicant to the N.C. bar, I have never worked on a case as an attorney, so I am hoping to solicit some feedback in the comments below. I plan to keep this post updated with new information as it becomes available. So, let’s begin!

Federal Courts

U.S. District Courts & Bankruptcy Courts

An Example

The first federal district court document I found was a complaint from the Middle District of North Carolina, filed in 2016 and assigned the docket number 1:16-cv-00988. Here are two examples of how I would name this file:

NCMD_1-16-CV-00988_0001.pdf
or
NCMD_1-16-CV-00988_0001_Complaint.pdf

Explanation

Because the 94 federal district courts all use the same docket numbering pattern, it is essential to start the file name with an abbreviation for the court. I chose the abbreviation that the U.S. Courts uses for its websites — i.e., http://www.ncmd.uscourts.gov/ — which I like because it should always make it easy to sort by state alphabetically. Then, an underscore, followed by the docket number divided all by single dashes at the appropriate points. (Incidentally, this piece of the citation is considered “valid” by Bloomberg Law’s docket search feature, which is an added bonus.) Finally, the docket number, which should always be four characters, and prepended with as many leading zeros as is necessary to achieve this. If it’s important for you to be able to tell, at a glance, what the document is — i.e., an order, a memorandum in support of a motion, etc., etc., you should develop some kind of vocabulary for naming the document and add that after the docket number.

This naming scheme will allow you to easily parse your filenames and get them into a structured data format like a .csv file or Excel spreadsheet, if you’re going to be doing any analysis; greater structure will also help if you use a citation management system while writing. Of course, you can simply sort your directories by filename alphabetically and likely get a good picture of what you’ve got.

Creating Directories

For cases in the federal district courts, I’d also recommend creating directories for each case or matter that is being studied, but only if that case is particularly significant to your research or you have collected a lot of documents related to the case. I’d recommend using party names and eschewing the lowercase directory naming convention. For the document I’ve been using as an example, the directory would be Calloway-v-Moore and you would place documents from subsequent appeals or docketings, and presumably would also be useful if the case had been removed from state to federal court or if it had been transferred.

Bankruptcy Courts

My solution for documents from Article I U.S. Bankruptcy Courts follows the exact structure as above, using the url abbreviation from the federal court system website. A case from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina would begin with NCEB. I will try to compile a simple chart of all the abbreviations used in federal court urls.

U.S. Court of Appeals

An Example

There are thirteen courts that make up the circuit courts of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Eleven are numbered geographic circuits, which leaves the DC Circuit and the Federal Circuit. I find it considerably easier to name files from these courts, however, there is a wrinkle concerning the case citation. Here are two examples of opinions I have collected:

04CA_1956_239-F2d-502.pdf
and
05CA_2016_15-50559_Crose-v-Humana.pdf

Explanation

The first component is rather self-explanatory — a two digit designation for the numerical circuit followed by CA. For the DC Circuit, I recommend DCCA and for the Federal Circuit, FCCA because, well, I am allowed to be arbitrary and there doesn’t seem to be a likelihood that either abbreviation will conflict with other abbreviations used in the legal field. Also, each is four characters — consistency! [Though Rachel Gurvich, a colleague and legal writing professor at UNC, pointed out that she uses CTAF, which is the four-character abbreviation used by Westlaw for Federal Circuit cases. Just pick one and stick with it!]

Next, we have a four-digit year notation for the date the opinion was filed. Following that is the case number or case citation, which will depend on what is available and perhaps on your own intellectual bent. Opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals are published in West Publishing Federal Reporter, but, more recently, have been published directly by the court on its website or collocated and served from a site like govinfo.gov. If you have a document from the Federal Reporter (now in its third series, so F, F2d, and F3d will be appropriate abbreviations), I recommend following the Volume-Reporter-FirstPage model of citation. If you have any other federal appellate opinion, I recommend using the case number followed by an underscore and the case name format discussed above. Of course, appending the case name might be helpful in the case of an opinion in the Federal Reporter.

Again, the idea here is not to make your filename look like a Bluebook citation, it is to make it easier for you to draw meaningful information from the filename alone and to facilitate parsing of the data you’ve collected for any number of important purposes.

U.S. Supreme Court

Naming a case from the U.S. Supreme Court is rather straightforward — US followed by the four-digit year of decision, the case number, and some kind of descriptive phase about the case. These two names, representing recent cases in my collection, serve as examples: US_2014_13–354_Burwell-v-HobbyLobby.pdf and US_2016_15-108_PR-Sovereignty.pdf

State Courts

North Carolina

There is more on this to come in a subsequent post, but in the meantime, check out some data that was pretty easily parsed out from the information provided by the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts concerning N.C. Court of Appeals opinions.

I will only discuss naming files from state appellate courts here, and will use North Carolina as an example. For state trial court documents, I’m afraid we will need another extremely long and boring blog post.

Intermediate Appellate Courts

Here is an example of a filename for a document from a state appellate court:

NC_CA_2017_16-899_AttyFeeDispute.pdf

This case, from the North Carolina Court of Appeals, was interesting to me because it involved a quantum meruit claim for an attorney’s services. It’s the only 2017 case in my collection about an attorney fee dispute, and the party names weren’t significant to me, so I used a descriptive phrase. Pretty straightforward. If your state has multiple intermediate appellate courts, I recommend coming up with a two-character abbreviation. Please leave it in the comments below! For those of you regularly practicing in the nine states lacking intermediate appellate courts, I have just wasted a minute of your time.

Courts of Final Resort

I recommend using SC as the abbreviation for North Carolina’s Supreme Court, rendering a file name as such: NC_SC_1980_299-NC-360_Ragland-v-Moore.pdf

Here, we have an opinion from 1980 — but, because of the nature of the publication of state court opinions, we have a complication. Most states have both an official reporter for decisions and have decisions published in West’s National Reporter System. I suggest that, when possible, you use either the case number or the official reporter to use in your filename. The reason is that both citations are more rich in data at a glance than the regional reporter citation. There’s a lot to say about medium-neutral citation here, but my purpose isn’t to give a lesson in that whole mess, but rather to suggest an efficient and useful method of naming files so you can find them easily and analyze what you have.

A Note About Case Management Systems

Professor Gurvich also suggested, rightly, that a given firm or organization’s case management system will add information, likely a client ID and/or a matter number, to most documents. One thing that is great about case management systems is that they obscure the small details of document metadata and make things easier or more intuitive to find. In many ways, this is the point of software and information design — to make the user’s experience more fluid (and to prevent inconsistencies in data entry) so she need not worry about, say, following a complex system of filing naming perfectly.

The file-naming system described above is suggested for those without access to such a system, or those, like scholars, who use court documents in a way different from lawyers or judges. I’d suggest having a directory or file for each client, and a sub-directory for each matter, and then place named files inside, to roughly recreate the strength of a good automated document management system.

That said, I still think there is plenty of value in organizing one’s files according to a consistent scheme. This one is built with the idea of being both human and machine readable — that is, providing information to a user both at a glance and after some kind of software manipulation. Likewise, file names are indexed by all modern operating systems, meaning that using your computer’s search function will be faster, especially if you append descriptive phrases, such as party or document names, at the end of your file name.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is a list of files of case documents:

Case Naming Conventions

Yes, but how do I Shepardize?

What is a citator good for?

Citators have been a part of the American legal research landscape for about as long as any type of product. First appearing in the early 1820s, citators showed up around the same time as the first case law digests (and naturally, after the first reporters and treatises). Why lawyers wanted them was fairly straightforward — they sought to avoid the type of “Oh, sh*t” moment I wrote about last week in my post about false negatives and false positives. But in an era featuring a veritable buffet of case law authority for attorneys to find and choose from, combined with new technological tools to access and query that authority, one wonders how relevant the traditional “updating” function of case law citators really is.

Beyond the Terms

Let’s say you don’t subscribe to one of the three major services (Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg Law) with an editorial citator (KeyCite, Shepard’s, or BCite) — how do you update your case law? That is, in the parlance of only two or three decades ago, when many lawyers were educated, how do you Shepardize? There is a vocabulary problem here, of course, when an action has been subsumed by a product name. Hasn’t the function of “doing citation analysis” or “finding out what cases cite my case” been locked in to Shepard’s promised backstopping model? (“Shepardize” is a trademarked term, naturally. I’ll leave dilution or “genericide” analysis to you.)

My point is that by asking “how do I Shepardize?” you are asking the wrong question. The question really should be “how do I situate the legal doctrine I’m relying upon within the context of the cases that follow it?” Once you make the leap beyond equating all citators with the way you have used Shepard’s, KeyCite, etc., in the past, it’s possible to think of other ways of verifying the authority you’ve found. Why, for instance, should Shepardizing come at the end of the research process and not closer to the beginning? (Certainly citators are more powerful than serving as the means by which to check boxes at the end of a demanding intellectual task.) This step is essential for lawyers demanding real choices from their legal information vendors in the citator space and, frankly, for conducting more thoughtful legal analysis.

Further Reading:

The excellent article by Patti Ogden, “‘Mastering the Lawless Science of Our Law’: A Story of Legal Citation Indexes,” 85 Law Libr. J. 1, 39 (1993), for a fascinating history.

Of course, you can also read my paper, Yellow Flag Fever, 108 Law Libr. J. 77 (2016) here.

A Green Flag for Gratitude

As you probably know, I am quite new to law librarianship and the legal information field. I was fortunate enough to have my paper on citators and descriptions of negative precedent published, and while my name will fill the “Creator” field, there are many many people without whom my project could not have happened. So, let me take some time to say thanks. Of course, the familiar caveat applies — any errors or omissions in the paper are entirely my responsibility. Any insights, however, are purely coincidental and likely attributable to the after-mentioned.

First to two very special people who played very different roles: Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, let me join his team for a summer to work his brilliant ideas about citation analysis. His thinking (and some of his data) form the backbone of my paper. Thank you for taking me under your wing, Ed! And to Sara Sampson, who taught two classes I took the same semester of graduate school and who was and is an incredible mentor to many. Sara, thanks so much for encouraging me to speak up and also for showing me how to Shepardize with the print volumes!

And now, let me also say thanks:

To other members of the Fastcase team who were amazing: Christina Steinbrecker Jack, “Other Deb” Deborah Letz, Ryan Semmler, Chris Jamros, the entire dev team, and Jennifer Owens, not to mention Phil Rosenthal, who probably has no idea that my meeting him is how I got introduced to Fastcase. You were all so welcoming and helpful, and I apologize for eating too many subs at my desk.

To my colleagues and mentors at Carolina Law who talked with me all throughout my time in graduate school and took the chance of hiring me full-time right after I graduated: Anne Klinefelter steered me away from many errors and gave very helpful feedback, Leslie Street has been an excellent supervisor (two times over!), and Julie Kimbrough, who prevented me from writing about “metadicta,” whatever the hell I thought that was. (OK, I know what it is and I might still write about it someday!) And to Stacey Byrd, who got me my first job as a circulation assistant in the law library!

To my master’s paper advisor, Ryan Shaw, whose comments and guidance strengthened my work, and to Lara Bailey, who is awesome. To James Duggan, editor of LLJ, who cite-checked and line edited my work. Now I get one of those “LLJ Author” ribbons, right? To Susan Nevelow-Mart, whose work was extremely helpful in exploring this area of study and who invited me to workshop an earlier paper at the Boulder Conference. And to Brett Currier, for being my fellow traveler through the world of graduate school, and for tolerating my linguistic prescriptivism.

To my parents, Paul and Hannah Kirschenfeld, for supporting me since birth and helping me attend the schools I wanted to (and mostly leaving me alone while I was there!) and who endured many tough times raising a stubborn, argumentative young man. I love you both very much.

To my wife, Debbie, who read many versions of the paper and did a bunch of editing, and who also married me. I knew from the moment I met you that we’d spend the rest of our lives together – I love you.

And to four very special cats: Mitch, Sherman, and William, you guys are the absolute worst-best pets and you are very cute, and to Maddox, whom I miss dearly, and who is surely best friends with all the other pets over the rainbow bridge – love you, yogurt-friend.

There are so many others who deserve recognition that I didn’t have time or the proper memory to name – my thank you to you all as well!

Yellow for Caution

What, exactly, are we paying for when we are paying for citators?

If you’ve read or skimmed or read the abstract of my paper – Yellow Flag Fever, 108 Law Libr. J. 77 (2016) – you might be left with that question or something similar.

Let me start at the beginning. I think a citator derives primary value from its integration in a “total” CALR system. (Of course, no one CALR system is total.) I don’t think it’s possible to extract a citator and judge it unconnected by the tools surrounding it, out of context. That said, my paper does try to examine and assess elements of citators without resorting to a “Coke vs. Pepsi” type of comparison.

I want to take the time to explain some of my findings and impressions here on the blog. You can leave questions in the comments below or send them to me on Twitter – I am @kirschsubjudice.

I also want to make one point very clear: I think citators are excellent tools, just not at the task of accurately identifying and describing the nature of negative precedent. I’ll be sure to address the good along with the bad in the weeks to come.

So for the first of these posts, I want to lay out a basic problem for you and talk about how it relates to my research.

False Negatives and False Positives

The case you’re researching has been overruled, but your citator doesn’t tell you that. It’s the nightmare scenario – the false negative!! Obviously, when you are assessing a citator, you want to know not if what you’re looking at is good law, but rather if it is bad law. If the citator says nothing, you’d like to think that it is definitely not bad.

What concerns me more as a buyer of a product for people, i.e. lawyers, faculty members, law students, and members of the public, is whether they will be able to use the system both *efficiently* and to yield the best results. I tend to worry much more about false positives. That is, how often is the case you’re researching characterized as receiving negative treatment when it really hasn’t? This isn’t dangerous, per se, but it’s wasteful.

As I conclude, KeyCite’s Yellow Flag is problematic because it tends to present a false positive more often than I’d like. It often means, in essence, that the researcher should read the case. Oh, gee, thanks. Of course you should read the case! But we don’t need a citator to tell us that, do we?

Voting “No” on the Proposed AALL Name Change

As you might know, the executive board of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) has proposed changing the organization’s name to the Association for Legal Information. This proposal was announced in an organization-wide “E-briefing” on November 12, 2015.  The membership will begin voting on the proposed change on January 12, 2016 and voting will continue until sometime before February 11, 2016, when the results will be announced. The proposal’s FAQ, in concert with the E-briefing, contains most of the pertinent information. There is a central location for all things re-branding, as well.

After thinking over this question for a month and watching the online discussion in both the AALL My Communities forum and on social media, I’ve come to a decision about how I will vote. Instead of keeping this decision to myself, I’d like to share it publicly given that the tenor of this process does seem to have changed from “proposal” or “discussion” to that of a campaign. And beyond another virtual “town hall” meeting on the topic on December 18, 2015, it does not seem this issue will be otherwise publicized before the vote. So before the holiday season descends in earnest, I want to share my thoughts.

I will vote against the executive board’s proposal to change the organization’s name. I will vote “no.”

I am voting “no” for one reason alone, though there are many other reasons, singly or in combination, that have contributed to my thinking. I will mention those reasons later.

The reason I am voting “no” is that I do not want the organization’s initialism to be ALI, which is the initialism used for the American Law Institute, a prominent and well-respected organization of judges, lawyers, and legal scholars that produces many important works, almost all of which reside on our library’s shelves and on the shelves of other academic, public, and law-firm libraries. Imagining a scenario during which I mention to a member of the faculty of my institution or to a practitioner in any professional setting that I am a member of the “ALI” is patently ridiculous. Confusion about my professional standing, which would be reflected by my membership in some ersatz ALI, is all but certain.

There will be no option to propose alternate names during the January 12 – February 11 vote. Of course, I understand why this is the case — managing or stewarding a large professional organization like AALL is difficult, and consensus-like decision-making isn’t possible. This is how things work: the board proposes, the membership votes. So, while I am not per se opposed to a name change, I am absolutely opposed to this name change. And since this name change is the only name change proposed to be voted on, I oppose it.

I think that a discussion of whether the organization’s name should or should not be changed at all is warranted — in the future (or perhaps, in retrospect, was warranted in the past).  Does a change’s benefits outweigh its costs? Can re-branding be accomplished without a name change? I support asking this questions, but I must again note — they are simply not relevant to the vote at issue here. The vote is on the lone issue of whether the American Association of Law Libraries should change its name to the Association for Legal Information. For the reason outlined above, it should not. And so I am voting “no.” I urge you to do the same.

Rule 18.2.1(b)(ii)

for purposes such as criticism, comment, … scholarship, or research (17 U.S.C. 107)

Earlier today, I began a semi-serious live tweet of my reading of the new rules concerning digital sources in 20th edition of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation®. (Our copies at UNC Law Library arrived this afternoon.) And while the editors are still claiming copyright protection for their work, my little show got some attention, and serious law librarians really do want to know what has changed. So here, I present a particular new rule, 18.2.1(b)(ii) for criticism, comment, scholarship, and research purposes. Perhaps we can puzzle out the Bluebook’s transformation on the way it privileges print. Ah, and for an excellent working list of “diffs” between the 20th edition and the 19th, see Janelle Beitz’s Google Doc, which expands upon the new edition’s preface (tip o’ the hat to my friends at Duke Law Library for the heads up.)

Here is the new rule, which I think shows some much-needed sense on medium neutrality:

(ii) Online sources with print characteristics. If an online source shares the characteristics of a print source such that it could be fully cited according to another rule in The Bluebook, the citation should be made as if to the print source and the URL appended directly to the end of the citation, even if it is unknown whether the cited information is available in print. (Latter emphasis mine.)

Examples of this follow. Then, we get a definition of what it means to “share the characteristics of a print source.”

an online source must be a version permanently divided into pages with permanent page numbers, as in a PDF, and have the elements that characterize a given print source, such as a volume number (for law review articles and the like) or publication date (for magazine articles and the like).

And finally, the editors then write that

for purposes of citation style it does not matter whether [the] source has in fact been published in print

In all, this seems to be an extension of what I always felt the spirit of the old 18.2.1 was, except that now it doesn’t seem to require an extensive search to find the print volume of a material if it is available online in permanently paginated form. Whether this is truly a “print characteristic” is a matter of debate, of course, but some movement on the topic is better than none.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to return to my careful reading of The Bluebook!

 

Yellow Flag Fever Sweeps the Tiny Part of the Nation That Cares About These Things

Here is some exciting news:

My master’s paper and an article-length derivation from it have been getting a lot of attention from folks in academe.

First, and most recently, the paper has won the AALL/LexisNexis Call For Papers Award in the Student Division. My new employers at the Katherine R. Everett Law Library released the news yesterday.

Second, a few weeks ago, the paper won the Dean’s Achievement Award from the School of Information and Library Science at UNC. The award “is presented annually to one information science student and one library science student who produce the highest quality masters’ papers each year.”

Here is an abstract:

This paper analyzes the accuracy with which descriptions of subsequent negative treatment are applied by an online citator system that employs a hierarchical controlled vocabulary—Shepard’s Citations—as opposed to one that does not—KeyCite. After a contextual review of the citator’s history, a framework for assessment is proposed and employed to test the hypothesis that a citator employing a hierarchical controlled vocabulary would produce more accurate descriptions. The study’s results suggest that a system making use of a hierarchical controlled vocabulary does apply descriptions of subsequent negative treatment in a marginally more accurate way. A discussion of the citator’s place in legal research follows, including the suggestion that legal research instructors and researchers themselves, namely lawyers, should reconceptualize the role citators occupy in the legal research process.

Confessions of an Information Materialist

Do you know the popular ice-breaking game Two Truths and a Lie? Let’s play a version in which I list three works I’ve read recently, and you choose which two I’ve found to be stunning, if unintentionally brilliant, works of information science:

  1. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, trans. Cathy Hirano.
  3. Official Comment 4a to UCC 9-102 by the ALI & NCCUSL.

OK, have you guessed? This was kind of an easy one, since Option 1 is an intentional (and very good) work of information science. Yes, a self-help book about decluttering and a comment to a UCC section are the two works that have most stunned me with their brilliance lately. All three works address the same phenomenon — loosely, categorizing — and, while I recommend Bowker and Star, I think law librarians and other legal information professionals might feel more satisfied, if not pleasingly surprised, by the latter two works.

Much has been written about Kondo’s little book, which raged through my little family unit and is now rippling out to relatives and friends alike. Shane Parish’s review over at Farnam Street (“The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”) is what got me interested in the book in the first place, so, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably read that. The linchpin of Kondo’s strategy is the idea of tidying by category. As an information obsessive, this naturally appealed to me, but as I started on my decluttering journey — and I’ll note, I would in no way at the time, outwardly, anyway, have been considered a “cluttered” or “messy” person — my ideas began to be challenged in a way I hadn’t imagined.

I’ve found a latent materialism awakened in me. After my more radical years of reading the Transcendentalists, the more recent anti-Globalizationists (Charles Bowden, R.I.P.), the Buddhists, and the Ancients. I derided materialism and those who used material things to define their their very sense of personhood. I remember hearing Dana Vachon calling these people, in neo-Marxist terms, the denizens of “lifestyle nations,” a concept he articulates, unironically, in an article for a major airline’s in-flight magazine. In any case, it’s safe to say I did not like stuff, which I often called “my shit,” or see any joy in its acquisition. I ordered what clothes I bought in bulk annually from L.L. Bean, for instance.

What I realized reading Kondo, though, was that I had a problem with consumerism, not materialism. In fact, I actually love materialism, or at least, materials. I appreciate high quality craftsmanship, durability, and style in goods. To love a thing is to respect it — well, in many cases, that is — and with the respect for the possessions I kept after purging my house of things that did not bring me joy, I have come to love what I have. More important, I have come to think of it differently. Now, I think very acutely about fabric, color, and size. I think of filling holes in my wardrobe through targeted, category-by-category acquisitions. It is thrilling.

The UCC comment hits me two ways. First, it shows how inexorably linked law and the organization of information really are. The profession seeks to explain or justify what is what, what belongs to who, how much of it, and so on. The comment also shows how the logical process of categorizing involves deductive, inductive, and analogical reasoning. With the UCC specifically, practice came before formal classification, and seeks, much like a foreign-language textbook, to explain a living thing by reducing it to categories of words and phrases — nouns, verbs and their tenses, and adjectives (really, the meat of descriptive vocabulary), among others. What are goods and the subordinate types of goods? Comment 4a to 9-102 will tell you!

This brings me hurtling to a conclusion. First, accept a premise: Information is always transactional, in the sense that it has value to more than one person, and tends to be sold or at least traded given the costs of its acquisition or creation. (And if you haven’t read the OED’s post about the etymology of “information,” please do.) It is a commercial item, a good, a thing.

It is not bad to like things so long as they are capable of sparking joy. For law libraries and legal information vendors, make sure the information sparks joy in some form for any reader or researcher, which must be the unspoken 6th Rule of Ranganathan. Further, don’t hesitate to look outside the categories already built for us, perhaps to the world of consumer goods, for ideas on providing our information to patrons or customers. Oh, and read the Kondo book. You won’t regret it.

 

Teaching Safe Tech

If I’m given the opportunity to teach legal research courses to law students sometime in the near future, I don’t plan to ban laptops in my classroom. The decision has a little to do with the subject matter — so much research is done online, and I’m not a particularly big fan of demonstrating a research tool without the class following along. But demos will only be a small part of the class, anyway. The biggest reason I won’t implement a no-device policy is because I believe in teaching “safe tech.”

The arguments for banning student use of computers are extremely compelling, principled, and no longer merely technophobic. Professor Fox presents what I think is the best case, especially since it incorporates ethics, mutual respect, and a healthy dose of reality in addition to compiling recent scientific studies on cognition and distraction. (Fox, “Why I don’t allow devices in my classes.”) Others have tackled the issue more recently, albeit with less depth. (Gross, “This year, I resolve to ban laptops from my classroom.”) And Clay Shirky has also weighed in, focusing on what I’ll call “second-hand tech,” or the distractions that one student using a laptop can pass to a non-user.)

I appreciate that this is a long-running debate about which much has been said. Reportsbest-practices, and so on. And I’ll admit, I find the absolute or conditional bans as attractive solutions to the problems of inattention and difficulty absorbing information. Transcribing isn’t listening, etc., etc. I know and agree with the arguments that suggest bans as panacea in principle. But you wouldn’t be reading this post, and I wouldn’t be writing it, if I were here to offer nothing more than a hearty approval of these policies.

So here is what I plan to do: allow students to use laptops (or productivity tablets, if there truly are such things… but I think of an iPad rigged with keyboard or a Surface Pro…) in the classroom however they wish. Phones and tablets without keyboards will be totally banned, except for when a student notifies me they will need to take an important call during class. Texting is plainly disrespectful whether it is done under the desk or on top of it, and serves no classroom purpose. As Professor Fox writes, “In environments where phone use is considered inappropriate, this lack of self-control will be interpreted as disrespectful and inappropriate by others, and it is likely they will be judged as ignorant, immature, or just plain rude. Who wants to work with, or hire, or befriend, or date someone who can’t put their phone down and listen?” That works for me.

In her next line, however, she brings up the point I most want to talk about. “The classroom is an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness and to also train oneself to have a more healthful relationship with their devices in general.” Bingo. What this means to me is allowing students to keep their laptops and tablets in front of them and suggesting that they practice managing the distractions the devices present on their own. In a professional school, part of the mission must be teaching for work-readiness, and guess what — when the students graduate, they’ll be going to workplaces full of buzzing, beeping computers. Why ban the devices, then, when the classroom can be a safe place to experiment with their use?

I plan to teach about how it is better for lawyers to take note by hand, perhaps using the Cornell Method. (Both posts from Lawyerist, by Sam Glover and Lisa Needham.) I also plan to teach about tools I’ve mentioned before on this blog that help to manage distractions while using a computer, such as Freedom, LeechBlock or StayFocused, tips for managing email and notifications, and getting things done in general. These are life lessons, and, as more adults seem to be struggling to break technology addictions, they are probably best learned early.

I’ll pitch my colleagues on including readings and lectures on these newfangled study skills — that is, essentially, what they are — both at the beginning of the semester and throughout. Teaching students how to learn not only isn’t beyond our ken, it’s necessary in this time and place in higher-ed. The students will have these devices and whatever new technology crops up, and the desires and distracting urges they bring, for a lifetime. Odysseus had the presence of mind to command his crew to lash him to the mast. When will our students develop the same mindset if not in the classroom?

So, while a laptop won’t give you an STD or get you pregnant, and though the analogy to sex education is certainly flip, I think it holds. Abstinence-only doesn’t work and never has. And that’s why I’ll be teaching safe tech.