Legal Technology

Videos guide lawyers through federal civil procedure

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James M. Wagstaffe.

James M. Wagstaffe

Learning federal civil procedure can be a tough slog. The author of an online legal-practice guide helps lawyers research the subject with a series of online videos.

The Wagstaffe Group Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial is available in three loose-leaf volumes from Matthew Bender. Subscribers to the Lexis Advance research service also can view 2- to 5-minute videos in which author James M. Wagstaffe puts his citations in context.

“Bluntly, it’s as if I was down the hall and my associates asked me a question,” says Wagstaffe, a partner with Kerr & Wagstaffe in San Francisco.

“I’ve done webinars for years, and it occurred to me that a lot of people don’t learn by watching a sage on a stage talking for an hour or by reading a treatise,” says Wagstaffe, an adjunct professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law and former co-author of the Rutter Group guide on the subject.

Practice guides, by necessity, drill into the fine points of law. Wagstaffe uses video in chapter headings to frame an issue and give lawyers a foundation for the details to follow. “This is one way people are processing information,” he says. Detailed treatises are “fabulous” to have when writing a brief, he says, but hard to follow when first learning the material. He credits his son Mike Wagstaffe, who produces short films for Hollywood director David Zucker, with encouraging him to adopt the summary format.

In a sample video on the LexisNexis website, the elder Wagstaffe, dressed in black suit and bow tie, presents a straightforward but energetic case brief of Erie Railroad v. Tompkins. Bullet points onscreen emphasize his key points against a simple black backdrop. When he makes a breezy transition—“Drum roll please, here’s the Erie Doctrine”—it comes without a cymbal crash.

Erie is a pretty turgid subject for young lawyers,” he tells ABA Journal. “I thought, can I make it matter?”

Wagstaffe has plans to update videos as well as case law, noting that he was preparing a script on the May 22 Supreme Court opinion in the TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands patent case.

Video is often incorporated into business handbooks but, according to Wagstaffe, it’s rare to find an online practice guide that utilizes videos. So far the package includes more than 150 videos with transcripts, which make the presentations searchable. “I’m waiting for the first citation,” he adds.

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