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St. Louis Diary

During the last week not many real exciting things have happened


Most of the last I have been working on my seminar paper for the trademark law seminar. I have been doing a lot of research and, using the Westlaw system, experienced how convenient this can be. Searching for cases, statutes or articles from legal journals, everything can be done online - no more searching for books, no photocopies...

If you find a case or article that is matching your search request you can read it over the web or print it out right away. Special search options show you whether a case has been cited in a journal or another case so you can easily find related issues. Another feature that I find to be very useful is the KeyCite system. The editors of Westlaw read each case and check its history. If a case is no longer good law or has been criticized or iscussed in a negative manner by another court, it is awarded a flag symbol to warn of the history. Depending on the history the cases get either a blue "H" which stands for some history, a yellow flag that warns that the case has some negative history but has never been reversed or overruled or a red flag, which signalizes that the case is no longer good law for at least one of the points, it contains. This option is extremely useful if you want to base an argument on a specific case, since it prevents you from finding out that your key case is no longer valid after you handed your paper to the professor...

More troublesome though is the way of citing a case in a paper - if you wrote some papers in Germany you might now tend to say, "what is the point, no big deal?" But actually it is not as simple as that, since very case has to be "bluebooked". The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is the authoritative reference on "legal citation". While in Germany almost every professor has special preferences on citations, this is dramatically different in the U.S. And this is where The Bluebook comes into play. It lays out those rules, that courts expect lawyers to follow in briefs and memoranda - and of course those, law professors expect their students to follow.

Now, what exactly is a "legal citation" in this sense? It is a standard language that allows one lawyer to refer to legal authorities with sufficient precision and generality that other lawyers or judges can follow the references. Every case has to be cited in a specific form. Let me give you a simple example: Meritor Sav.

Bank v. Vinson 477 U.S. 57, 60 (1986) would be a typical citation for a case. This is the case Meritor against Vinson, published in the 477th volume of the U.S. reports on page 57 in 1986, and the citation refers to page 60. While this still seems to be very simple it gets trickier if you read cases from the several different states. Without The Bluebook it would be very hard to find out what abbreviations such as Ill. Comp. Stat. (West’s Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated) or N.J. L. (New Jersey Law Reports) stand for. While every American law student is supposed to master the abbreviations for the circuits of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and those for the U.S. District Courts, one normally has to look up the abbreviations for courts, jurisdiction, and journals from different states. And if you write a paper the bluebooking is a very important part of the whole project. By the way, a orrect citation for a German decision would be OLG Hamburg, Recht der Internationalen Wirtschaft [RIW], 38 (1992), 941 (942).

Later, Nils