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The Life and Career of James S. Heller: Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law at the William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law

published November 06, 2006

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( 22 votes, average: 4.1 out of 5)
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<<In our interview with Heller, he shed light on the three basic categories of legal materials which constitute legal authority. These are "primary authority," "secondary authority," and "finding aids." "Simply put," said Heller, "primary authority is the law," which includes constitutions, legislations, court decisions, and administrative rules and regulations. Secondary authority is "literature about the law," such as treatises and articles in journals or encyclopedias that "explain, analyze, criticize, or otherwise comment on the law." Finding aids like Lexis, Westlaw, and Google, explained Heller, help one to locate the primary and secondary authorities relevant to the case at hand. Since the law—and, therefore, legal authority—is so dynamic, Heller expects that the digital information found via the aforementioned search engines will eventually "completely supplant the print materials" found in law libraries.

Heller compared law to a chemistry experiment, wherein the chemicals are the facts of the case at hand and the primary and secondary authorities found in law libraries. The hypothesis of the experiment is legal theory. The theory one applies must be relevant in the context of the case, but as Heller attests, "whether that theory holds will depend on the results of [one's] research." This is why relevancy is so important in legal research. If the components of the experiment are not relevant, the attorney is simply mixing random chemicals. Of course, the accessibility of digital information through technological research aids makes the search for relevant laws, cases, and facts much easier than it would be if someone were sifting through myriad random sources of information.

Heller earned law degrees from the University of Michigan (B.A.), University of San Diego School of Law (J.D., cum laude), and University of California, Berkeley (M.L.S.). After holding career positions as Director of the Law Library at the University of Idaho, Head of Reader Services at the George Washington University Law Library, and Director of the Civil Division Library of the U.S. Department of Justice, he became the Director of the Marshall-Wythe Law Library in August of 1988. According to the law library's website, in 1991, Heller petitioned the college's computer services office to pay equal attention to the resource needs of the law library. The office responded by doubling the number of computers in the law library and implementing new work stations, thereby expanding the availability of Lexis and Westlaw to library patrons.

From 1999 to 2000, Heller served as President of the Executive Board of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), according to the group's magazine, the AALL Spectrum. As President, Heller upheld the mission of the AALL, which echoed his high standards regarding information quality and availability. The AALL's mission, in short, is to promote and enhance the value of law libraries in recognition of the fact that unhindered access to legal information ensures a just, democratic society.

In the fall of 2000, in accord with his unerring attention to justice via information and the implications technology has for law, Heller wrote an analytical essay for The Richmond Journal of Law & Technology called "The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA): Still Not Ready for Prime Time." Therein, Heller enumerates his oppositions to UCITA, a commercial contract code addressing the licensing of rights to digital information, on the basis of its lack of regard for the rights that the Copyright Act affords to consumers. Heller feels that UCITA threatens "the free sharing of information in the public domain." He points out that UCITA would allow licensors to bind licensees to volatile contracts, which licensors could change without licensees' acknowledgment. Heller suggests that, since the consumer has no bargaining power, this kind of contract is not truly negotiated. By extension, Heller's objection to UCITA calls into question the very concept of the ownership of information. Should the legal right of possession extend to information at all, and if so, by whom will the scope of that possession be determined?

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published November 06, 2006

( 22 votes, average: 4.1 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.