Monday, August 10, 2015

Word of the Month for August 2015: Nystagmus

Windows to the soul
This last month I attended the yearly AALL Annual Meeting and Convention for law Librarians. One of the presentations was entitled "Attorney Research Skills: Join the Conversation between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians."  What I thought was funny was the description which read: "To more effectively teach legal research, academic law librarians must have a clearer understanding of how legal research is conducted in practice."  

This is "funny" because for YEARS I have had a running "debate" with law school libraries around the country about how to teach students of law.  What I hear repeatedly is that the primary function of law schools is to teach the theory of law, not practical application of law (i.e. research and representation).  Of course, that explains a lot (given the quality of questions I get on a near daily basis from students and graduates) and is probably why freshly minted students of law can't (by and large) find a job fresh out of law school (i.e. they're not marketable).

The problem with focusing on the theory of legal research, it is by using and doing in the "real world" that you learn the "how" of something.  While I may be a bit biased, I think the best place to help you DO your legal research is at your local county law library.  While you won't be a research guru overnight, I'm going to help you learn a little bit about "how" to go about doing a research project using our word for this month: NYSTAGMUS.  

Wait, what the heck is NYSTAGMUS?!  For the answer to this, we can first turn to the pre-eminent resources for all legal definitions - Black's Law Dictionary - which defines NYSTAGMUS as 
a rapid, involuntary jerking or twitching of the eyes, sometimes caused by ingesting drugs or alcohol.  See Horizontal-Gaze Nystagmus Test.  
A critical part of legal research is to pay attention to the words after "See" as they'll often come back to haunt you.  On a side note, nystagmus is also a condition that you can be born with (but try explaining that to a cop at 2:30AM who thinks your eyes are bouncing around because you are stone cold drunk/stoned).

Anyway, the next research-esque resource you might take a look at a general resource like Words and Phrases (West), Vol. 28B to locate some cases that talk about NYSTAGMUS.  Still not really understanding what NYSTAGMUS is or how it is applied (i.e. context), I might look in AmJur Proof of Facts, 1st Series (West), Volume 8 (pages 418 and 436), 22 and volume 22, page 143.  

Under the heading Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (remember the "See" in Black's?), take a look at AmJur Proof of Facts, 3d series, Volume 4 page 439.  Next, you might want to take a look at AmJur Trials (West) Volume 59, page 95 (which has a really great discussion on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test).  Finally, I suggest you take a look at some topic specific resources like Attacking and Defending Drunk Driving Tests (James Publishing), Chp. 7 sections 140-161 and California Drunk Driving Defense (West), Chp. 9 section 14 and Chp. 11 sections 20 and 44.

And that's about it!  Oh, yeah - there are a few other doo dads you can use to find answers but these few resources will get you started with darn near any research project you might have.  While institutions of higher learning may never get their act together, know that your local county law library has just what you need to help get you (or your law practice) up and running with the big dogs.  Yeah, they are that good!