Features - Tips & Trends: New Web Sites and Related Services for Legal ResearchersBy Sabrina I. Pacifici, Published on April 1, 1998
Sabrina I. Pacifici has been a legal newsletter editor and publisher for the past decade, as well as a law librarian in Washington, D.C. for 18 years. She is the Editor, Publisher and Web Master of Law Library Resource Xchange (LLRX).
(Archived May 1, 1998)
The constant introduction of new sites to the Web poses a challenge to legal professionals seeking to quickly and effectively review and separate the vast amount of superfluous information from that which is genuinely useful. To stay current, many legal researchers rely on hot tips from colleagues that are posted on legal listservs, daily e-mail information delivery services, and repeat visits to Web sites providing up-to-date, reliable information targeted to the profession.
This article reviews new Web sites, associated Web services, and a Web based push technology service that will help keep you ahead of the information curve. Each one provides current information targeted to specific topics and issues, in well-designed and well-maintained formats. With the exception of one site, which charges a monthly fee, and two Web-based subscriber applications, the other Web sites and services discussed are free. Highlights include several news services, Congressional and state legislative tracking resources, trial level court links, and a new case docketing and retrieval system.
Court Docket Monitoring Courts, State Administrative Laws and State Legislation Legal Listserv Legal Research on the Web News Politics and Congressional Research
Unlike other legal listservs which are either unmoderated (often leading to e-mail chaos) or moderated by a single individual (such as Net-Lawyers, moderated by Lew Rose from Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn) the TechnoLawyer utilizes a self-moderated model. This requires participants to exercise professional courtesy while sharing information and opinions, and to adhere to a set of specific legal technology discussion topics that are designated each week. The result is a group of nearly 900 subscribers who contribute wide ranging, insightful commentaries and evaluations of technology related products, services, hardware and software applications, vendors, CLE programs, technology conferences and more.
FindLaw Legal News
Stacy Stern and her colleagues at FindLaw, the comprehensive guide to legal resources on the Web, introduced this new service on January 27, 1998. It offers continually updated stories from the Reuters news service. The site format uses two frames, dividing a list of hypertext links to over a dozen pre-designated topics from the full text of the item chosen for viewing by the user. Among the topics covered are the Microsoft antitrust case, White House affairs, tobacco litigation, telecommunications, the U.S. Supreme Court, DOJ, and international legal news. Special features of this site include a search engine, and an option to receive e-mail updates on topical news stories and breaking events. This service is another winner from the resourceful professionals at FindLaw.
NewsWorks offers readers a broader perspective on current and topical newspaper stories than other Web sites with a news focus. This is accomplished by providing links to current headlines from papers throughout the country, as well as to topical stories on business, science, technology, life and entertainment. NewsWorks' content is updated regularly, and presented in a clear, easy to use textual format accompanied by well-designed graphics and unobtrusive advertising. Useful features of the site are a search engine that supports plain language or keyword queries, and relevancy ranked search query results which include the name, date and title of both the article and publication, an article summary, hypertext link, and file size. For those who are interested in access to a wide range of sources on breaking news and events, this site is well worth adding to your Netscape Bookmarks or IE Favorites list.
For those who are never sated when it comes to news and commentary on politics and policy, this new site from the National Journal really fits the bill. Beginning with the front page, and throughout the site, Cloakroom's design is subtle and accommodating. This site is easily and logically navigable, making good use of color and graphics that do not assault the reader with flashing designs and diverting instructions. Best of all, it is replete with links to a comprehensive range of facts, figures, opinions and editorials from a wide range of prominent writers and political experts. However, like a growing number of useful Web sites, Cloakroom is not free, carrying an entrance fee of $9.95 per month. The fee is waived for subscribers to National Journal publications. With top news stories, insider information from the Hill, a Pundit Watch (how many opinions are too many?) state-by-state campaign trail news and guides (Congressional and gubernatorial), public opinion polling data, and a searchable version of The Almanac of American Politics which is regularly updated, there is something here for most Hill aficionados who need their daily dose of opinions and facts.
This site is an unusual demonstration of innovative design by a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. CRFilter serves as a search intermediary between the user and the Congressional Record located at the Library of Congress supported Thomas site. Although it has some limitations, including requiring Netscape browser 3.0 or later, and utilizing a unique search syntax, this site is worth a visit for those who routinely track legislative issues and do not have access to a comprehensive commercial site such as Legi-Slate. Using CRFilter, you may search the 103rd, 104th and 105th Congressional sessions.
There are several Web sites that provide access to state judicial information, including the State Court Locator and the Piper Resources State Court Directory compiled by Nina Platt. Courts.Net attempts to cover new ground by providing links to trial-level courts often overlooked by other sites. Choosing first from a list of states, users are then view a list of links through which the user navigates using frames. In the narrower left hand frame resides an alphabetical list of links to courts. Users are prompted to choose a court, with the relevant information appearing in the larger frame. As is common on similar sites, the range of information varies from state to state, with Michigan currently providing the most extensive content (including State Courts, Supreme Court, trial-level courts, and District Courts). Information and links for other states may be as scant as an address, telephone number and contact name, or as comprehensive as the complete text of decisions.
Administrative Codes and Registers
The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) sponsors this Web site which provides a straightforward chart of hypertext links, organized alphabetically by state, to bulletins, journals, registers, and codes. NASS supplies a valuable service by offering comprehensive access to state administrative codes and regulations that are often unavailable through commercial legal database services. The availability of data varies from state to state, but Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington state offer excellent coverage. Although free at the time this article was published, this 102-page survey, arranged alphabetically by state or jurisdiction, must now be purchased. The cost is $40.
Multistate: State Legislative Presence on the Internet
Multistate Associates, Inc., a state and local lobbying firm, maintains this easy to use page which consists of a chart listing all 50 state, with their respective legislative links. The chart includes specific annotations as to availability of full-text bills, bill status, and a rating of the specific site attributes and special software requirements. The site is current and extensive, making it a useful addition to the Web resource library for those researchers who track state legislation.
This service is not exactly a Web site, nor is it a traditional commercial legal subscription service. CaseStream is a fee-based, subscription docket monitoring and retrieval system. However, it differs significantly from the other two more senior systems, Pacer and CourtLink, which have some similar capabilities. The unique feature that sets this system apart from the others is that CaseStream utilizes push technology and a TCP/IC Internet connection to deliver information to the desktop that is customized to the users exacting specifications. The system automatically scans federal civil district court dockets as they are filed. Each morning, CaseStream delivers information on specifically targeted cases, issues, clients and opponents, that match a profile created by the user(s). The system also provides docket activity on designated cases. This facilitates careful monitoring of cases filed against existing clients, as well as providing information useful for marketing and client development opportunities.
The two giants of the legal research industry, LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW, have recently introduced Web-based services. Westlaw.com was released to great fanfare at the ABA TechShow 98 in Chicago, March 26. A review of this service will appear in an upcoming issue of LLRX. LEXIS-NEXIS Xchange, on the other hand, was released late last year. It is a full-featured subscription service that also offers some free content. This content, which will be expanded in the coming months, includes links to bar associations nationwide, highlights and summarizes of selected current cases, and a tax forum with free articles on topics selected weekly. LEXIS-NEXIS Xchange provides access to over 1 billion documents from approximately 20,000 sources. It is an evolving product, with near term enhancements planned for client validation and client masking, printing capabilities, and a Supreme Court Page. As is the case with most Web pages, Xchange also sports banner advertising on its free pages.
Research may be conducted utilizing most of the current database content, assisted by templates for retrieving a case or statute, checking a citation (Auto-Cite, Shepard's or finding references to a case using LEXCITE), or formulating a Boolean search request to be applied in any one of the database files (the freestyle option is not currently available). Drop-down menus prompt the user to choose an appropriate source, and short cuts to popular databases are only a "click" away.
It will be interesting to watch the competition between these two excellent research systems unfold in the Web arena. Subscribers certainly can only be the beneficiaries of the expanded choice being offered to access these critical research tools.