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Features - The Daily Law Journal on the Web

By Carole Levitt, Published on April 16, 2001

Carole Levitt has twenty years of extensive and diversified experience in the legal field as a Law Librarian, Legal Research and Writing Professor (Pepperdine University School of Law), California Attorney and Internet Trainer. She is a skilled online searcher, focusing on legal, public record, investigative and business research. As President and founder of Internet For Lawyers (www.netforlawyers.com), she provides customized Internet legal research training to legal professionals.

Most major legal newspapers have been offered online since the 80s. But not the Daily Journal. For 15 years, the Daily Journal teased us with promises of online access and demonstrations of beta online databases, while at the same time declining to offer their content via LEXIS or Westlaw.

But on Monday, December 4, the waiting was finally over. The Los Angeles Daily Journal (and indeed all of the Daily Journal Corporation's California newspapers and most of its other products) became available online at http://www.dailyjournal.com. This accomplishment, which took 15 years and no doubt took a tremendous amount of money and effort, was heralded with a small article near the bottom of the DJ's front page with the inauspicious headline "Website goes online."

Free or Freely Accessible?

It should be noted up front that unlike the legal newspapers available on LEXIS or WESTLAW, which can be accessed on a per-use basis, the Daily Journal online is only available to subscribers to the print materials. This eliminates any possibility of using the web site to retrieve material on an occasional basis.

And while the online site has been touted as "free" to those who pay for a subscription to the print newspaper, it would be more accurate to say that it is freely accessible to print subscribers. There is no option for an online-only subscription, so the print subscription charge may be considered by some as payment for access to the online site. And, print subscribers do not have a totally free ride once they've gained access-certain sections of the site are fee-based.

There has been much confusion over this. For example, subscribers have free access to the online Court Rules if they subscribe to the print Rules. On the other hand, there is no free access to the online "Judicial Profiles" even for print Judicial Profile subscribers. Even those (users and potential users with whom I spoke) who understand the need to charge still thought that the DJ's $15 per Profile fee was very high. Finally, subscribers to the print newspaper can search and view only selective current news articles free. To view a story from the archives the fee is $2. Based on the confusion I encountered in my conversations with researchers over these pricing and access structures, a portion of this article is devoted to explaining the access and pricing policies.

Site Content

While the site has excellent content, as well as a fairly robust search engine, straightforward instructions about how to search each section of the site and clear notice about the date coverage of each of its sections, there were many aspects of the site that remain confounding (more about that later). First let's take a look at the content:

The following sections are free of charge to print newspaper subscribers:

  • The Daily Journal newspaper - selective current articles and job ads only
  • The Daily Appellate Reporter (DAR) – current (last 3 days) and archives (back to 1997)
  • California Appellate and Supreme Court cases - back to 1934, but one month behind
  • California Codes
  • California Legislation
  • Directory of Attorneys

The following online sections are accessible to print newspaper subscribers but ADDITIONAL CHARGES STILL APPLY.

  • “Research” - which consists of “News Publications” (the Daily Journal newspapers, special supplements such as Cyber Esq. and House Counsel and also the California Lawyer) - $2.00/Story
  • Settlements & Verdicts - $3.00/Verdict
  • Judicial Profiles - $15.00/Profile

The following online sections are free of charge to Court Rules subscribers:

  • Court Rules
  • Court Forms

Scope

The scope of the Publications Section's content confounded me. From a researcher's viewpoint, it is incumbent upon a database provider to alert researchers to the scope of the database's coverage (both content and date). While the DJ clearly delineates the date coverage of its new database, it does not do the same with the scope of its content. After two days of intensely studying the site, I finally phoned the Project Manager, Sherri Salzman for illumination as to the scope of the site's content. Sherri immediately explained that the site should be regarded as "added value" to the print version of the Los Angeles and San Francisco DJ, and not a mirror image of the print newspapers.

The most important information relating to content coverage of the Publications section is that the database is NOT comprehensive. It is comprised of selective stories only. In fact, it is a selective amalgamation of the Los Angeles DJ and the San Francisco DJ, with several other DJ products added to the mix - some free, some not. For ease of searching, I would prefer to see a separate database for each paper and the full text of each paper online.

To help other DJ researchers avoid the confusion I encountered, I have compiled the following information about the site's content coverage which is not listed anywhere on the site itself:

There are a few rules of thumb that I can pass along to help you predict content coverage:

Specific Search Tips for the "Publications" Section

To access the "Publications" Section (the archives to all News Publications), click on "Research" at the top of the home page and then "Publications". The "Publications" section includes: the Daily Journal Newspapers (Los Angeles and San Francisco), Law Firm Articles, California Law Business, California Lawyer, House Counsel, Real Estate Journal and Cyber Esq., all back to 1999, and Settlements & Verdicts (back to January 1998). And, note, as discussed earlier, the archives are NOT comprehensive (they are not a mirror image of the print publications).

A specific publication, such as "Cyber Esq.", can be searched individually, or search "All News Publications" simultaneously. I particularly like this feature. Search by keyword and Boolean connectors in the "Research" section and use the date restrictors of "all", "previous year", "6 months", "3 months", or "1 month". You may also "save" searches for an extended period of time and you may also view your results free for 24 hours.

General Search Tips For Most Sections:

Boolean operators: A "Boolean" help pop-up window and an "Instructions" pop-up window appear on most pages of the site (except not on the California Court Opinions portion although the same connectors are used there too). To be user-friendly (and for consistency's sake), I would like to see these "help" pop-up windows in the Opinions portion of the site. Proximity connectors are not available.

If you are on a page with the word "help" underlined, click on it and a window pops up to show you the symbols to be used for the three Boolean connectors. Except for the "and" operator which is the symbol "&" (just like Westlaw), the other symbols are rather non-intuitive. For the operator "or", use the straight-line symbol "|" (by holding down "shift\"). For the operator "but not", one must resort to using that hard to locate "tilde" symbol "~" (found in between the space bar and "Insert" -- at least on my keyboard).

Help screens: The usage of boolean operators in a search strategy is explained in the Site Instructions, but nowhere are you informed whether "and" or "or" is the default boolean operator. The answer is "and".

Keyword(s) highlighted: If you search with keyword(s) in any section of the site, they will be highlighted for you in the returned results. But if the section of the site has an "attorney" or "judge" search box and you use it to search by the attorney or judge's name, their name will not be highlighted in the returned results. One way around this is to simply type their names into the "keyword" search box (and then their names will be highlighted in the returned results).

Refine, Expand and Save: You can "refine" the search (narrowing by filling in more fields or adding more keywords). You can also "save" the search or "expand" it--which will automatically run the same search in the following databases: the DAR, Verdicts & Settlements, Profiles and the News Publications. Note that these functions do not appear in the Opinions database.

Article titles aren't keyword searchable: For example, on Dec. 19, 2000, I searched the online Newswire for DJ staff writer Karen Coleman's "Douglas Young Leads..." story that I had read in the Dec. 19, 2000 print DJ (Los Angeles) earlier that day. I did not find it online. I also did not find it in the Research section. I later learned that I did not find the story for two reasons: (1) There is no keyword searching of titles (the "Instructions" indicate this - I missed it the first time around) and (2) If the story appeared first in the San Francisco DJ, then the San Francisco story would be the story placed online (this I learned from Ms. Salzman). Thus, I dismissed the December 15, 2000 story that had "Douglas Young" as part of the title (but not the word "Leads") because I was intent upon finding a story with the exact title "Douglas Young Leads...", dated Dec. 19, 2000, from the Los Angeles Daily Journal. I would strongly suggest to the Daily Journal that they make the titles of articles searchable since most people usually can recall part of the title of an article they have read in the past.

California Opinions Searching

The California Court Opinions database (back to 1934), provided by AccessLaw Inc. has a search engine that is more limited than the DAR search engine. At the California Court Opinions site, one is limited to searching by case name, citation (and not the DAR citation!!) and keyword(s) (while the DAR section allows all this plus attorney and judge name searching). I'd venture to say that the California Opinions search engine is less robust because it is provided by an outside source, and was not designed in-house by the Daily Journal as was the Daily Journal's own DAR proprietary database.

One must choose to search either the "California Appellate" cases or the "California Supreme" cases. I'd like to see an "all courts" option. As noted earlier, there are also no "boolean" help or "instructions" pop-up screens.

Standardization of Searching

The lack of standard search parameters between the different sections of the site (previously discussed) may cause confusion. Here are a few other non-standard aspects of the site: (1) While punctuation is IGNORED when searching in the "Publications" section of the web site (which includes the Daily Journal, House Counsel, Cyber Esq. and California Lawyer), it is NOT ignored in the California Opinions, Codes, Constitution and Rules of Professional Conduct sections of the site. For example, a search for "health providers" in the Publications part of the site will also bring up results that include "health provider's", but the same search run in the California Opinions section of the site would not bring up "health provider's"; (2) Date restrictors can only be used in the "Publications" section of the site and (3) Even the choice of browsers between different sections of the site is not standard. You are required to use the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser for the DAR and the Verdicts & Settlements sections, while all other sections can be accessed with the either Explorer or Netscape Navigator.

Current DAR Opinions

Subscribers can receive a daily DAR table of contents e-mailed to their in-box and can link to the full text of the opinion. While subscribers can forward the DAR table of contents e-mail to non-subscribers (with the Daily Journal's permission only), non-subscribers cannot link to the full text of the case from the email, as it resides on the web site and is not available to non-subscribers.

Bill Back?

The question that comes up most often is, "Can the searches be tracked by client and billed back?" Yes. To charge back searches, fill in the client name (or number) and the matter name (or number) in the box located at the top of the search screen, entitled "Search Title (optional)/Matter #". I found this awkwardly phrased and would suggest it be re-worded to say "Client Name or Number / Matter Name or Number." Most searchers I spoke with also preferred to see the charge back function as mandatory instead of optional.

Conclusion

It's been a long wait. Though the Daily Journal Online has its quirks, accessibility to the quality content the Daily Journal offers is definitely a boon to researchers. That is, for those who can afford it.

For more information on the Daily Journal Online, see Carole's three part series on her web site, Internet For Lawyers.