ResearchWire - Have You Punched Your Intranet Today?

Want to add pizzazz to your law firm intranet? Invigorate its research content!

Many firm intranets provide access to administrative materials and functions. Most offer online viewing of former paper documents like policy manuals, personnel telephone directories, and department or practice descriptions or benefits. Some allow for online processing of repetitive tasks like allocating disbursements, requesting photocopies, or ordering train tickets or lunch for meetings. Others inform about firm or local events. Most provide select links to external Web sites for research or informational purposes.

But do typical law firm intranets serve the legal and factual research needs of lawyers? How might developers transform a chiefly administrative product into a powerful and practical research tool?

A research intranet should reduce, and perhaps some day eliminate, requisite knowledge of online research system query and retrieval command language. On a basic level, such an application might retrieve case law, statutes or regulations when a lawyer enters a citation, or produce a hypertext list of public company securities filings upon the entry of a company name or ticker symbol. This tool would fetch such documents without requiring that the lawyer know necessary retrieval commands; e.g., find on Westlaw, or lexsee or lexstat on Lexis.

A more advanced product would produce instantly, upon the click of a button, a hotlinked table of contents to specific court rules, certain statutory codes or particular acts. It would generate citation lists of notices and other regulatory actions of specific federal or state agencies occurring within say, the past 30 days. Such an intranet would also provide instant access to current news stories involving top clients or competitors, daily or weekly specialty publications, or important legislation, case law, or other documents. None of these functions would require that the lawyer know essential query language.

Of course, such a application would offer flexibility to those proficient in online research techniques. For the group already familiar with constructing online search statements, it would facilitate access to appropriate research databases. A real estate practice section of this type of intranet, for example, would provide menu access to relevant property record databases on Lexis or Westlaw. Lawyers using it would then highlight their database choice, opt to search using natural language or Boolean connectors, enter a query, and click a button, or press enter, to process the request.

Sound difficult to build? Granted, turning an everyday intranet into a useful research application requires time, planning, creativity, and tolerance for technical glitches as well as a working knowledge of hypertext mark-up language (HTML). But various tools offer assistance.

During Spring 1999, Susan Charkes reviewed one of them – West’s Intranet Toolkit – and mentioned several others. I would like to introduce Lexis.com Intranet Solutions, which appeared on the scene after the publication of Charkes’ article.

Unlike West’s Intranet Toolkit, Intranet Solutions requires no software installation. It runs on the Web. To access it, developers simply enter their existing Lexis password information.

Intranet Solutions comprises plug and play practice area Web pages, customizable search and retrieval functions, a tool for creating research links; that is, links that perform pre-formatted searches, search forms tailored to retrieve documents and information relevant to specific legal practices, and Web links to popular Lexis services and products.

Novice developers may download custom-made practice area Web pages and load them directly into their intranet. These pages typically offer case and statute retrieval by citation, keyword search retrieval, pre-formatted research links, tailored forms for searching and retrieving specific materials, Shepardizing by citation, and Web links for other relevant Lexis data.

Practice area downloads require javascript to facilitate client code entry and to perform some research functions. For example, the environmental law page lets lawyers retrieve pertinent statutes by choosing an appropriate U.S.C.S. title from a pull-down menu. Once selected, the title instantly appears in the citation box. The lawyer then enters the code section he wants. This javascript function prevents Lexis error messages caused by improper statutory citation input.

Developers with knowledge of HTML will want to modify the practice pages to match the research needs of their patrons and the look and feel of their firm intranet. In creating the environmental law practice page for Ballard Spahr's intranet, for example, I added sources to the various pull-down menu database search options, removed graphics and color coding, incorporated search features and research links from other commercial services, and corrected errors.

The environmental practices custom download contains two errors of which I'm aware: the citation search for regulations sends users to Title 49, Transportation, instead of Title 40, Environment, and the Site Records search box offers the menu options, All Site Records, Federal Sites, and State Sites; none of which appear as available Library/File combinations via the Web.

In talking to several Ballard lawyers, I learned they like pre-formatted searches. They prefer to click, and fetch instantly, certain documents and current information.

With Intranet Solutions "Research Links," I created links for retrieving select information from the Federal Register. Our environmental lawyers, for example, may obtain instantly a citation list of consent decrees published during the past 90 days. Similarly, they may fetch the table of contents to various federal and Pennsylvania environmental statutes, from which they may read or print an entire Act or portions of it. Westlaw supplies the content for this later feature.

Have you punched your intranet today? If it lacks practical research content, consider adding some of the features and functions available through West’s Intranet Toolkit or Lexis.com Intranet Solutions. If your attorneys react like mine, you'll likely hear things like: "I can't wait to use it again!" When was the last time you heard that in the library?!