T. R. Halvorson is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, MT, President of Synoptic Text Information Services, Inc., webmaster of LexNotes, and author of Law of the Super Searchers: the Online Secrets of Top Legal Researchers.
Previously I reviewed the LOIS Law Library,1 VersusLaw's V.,2 Jurisline.com,3 National Law Library,4 Quicklaw America,5 EastLaw (since renamed RegScanLaw),6 and LawProbe 7 applying the Southern California Online User's Group Rating Scale (SCOUG Rating Scale).8 The rise of alternative online sources of American legal information continues with the introduction of CaseClerk.com.
CaseClerk.com offers three main categories of information:
- case law
- online CLE programs
- catalog of web links to resources provided by others
CaseClerk.com is a wrapper for VersusLaw. Search interface elements, hit lists, and hit documents are served from VersusLaw into the CaseClerk.com screens. Searchers are interpreted by VersusLaw's query processor and run against indexes and databases on VersusLaw servers. Thus, the points of the SCOUG Rating Scale may be presented briefly.
The coverage and scope, the accuracy/error rate, timeliness, accessibility and ease of use (software required, hours of availability, search screen, navigating to a database, Boolean operators, operator precedence, etc.), output (hit list, order of hit list, ranking, general appearance of documents, context of search terms, citations, pagination, paragraph numbers, printing, saving documents to local storage, etc.), consistency, integration, and documentation all are virtually the same as for VersusLaw.
CaseClerk.com does add some user interface elements that enhance one's navigation and sense of place. It uses drop-down menus that make the pages act like familiar desktop applications.
The pages display an abbreviated location tree:
and buttons that keep documentation and help immediately accessible:
The chief attributes of VersusLaw to recall in connection with a repackaged product like CaseClerk.com are:
- Data authenticity is good. VersusLaw obtains the data directly from official sources.
- Scope and coverage compare favorably with the other alternative services. The backfile is shallow in some jurisdictions, however. As an example, for my own state of Montana, coverage begins in 1993. Scope is narrow in federal district courts.
- The query language is standard Boolean. It does not suffer from idiosyncrasies as do the query languages of some of the other alternative services. VersusLaw uses PLWeb Turbo, a nonproprietary, commonly used, and well documented search engine. Professional researchers will experience an almost flat learning curve.
- The query interface provides excellent cross-file searching, the best of any of the alternative providers of online case law, and easier to use than either Westlaw or Lexis.
- There is no KWIC-like display.
- Document format is adequate but not polished. There is no print version.
- There is no official pagination or West pagination. When courts issue opinions with medium-neutral paragraph numbers, VersusLaw retains them and also provides its own pinpoint paragraph numbers.
- There are a few data accuracy blemishes. In some cases (as reported in my review of VersusLaw), the initial letters of words following quotation marks are missing.
CaseClerk.com is a reseller of VersusLaw's eLLR online CLE programs. eLLR is an electronic adaptation of VersusLaw's ethics newsletter, Lawyer’s Liability Review. Those who specially subscribe to eLLR receive monthly email links to the equivalent of 15 pages of material. The content includes digests of the most recent cases relating to legal malpractice and professional responsibility as well as analysis of ethics advisory opinions from across the country. Subscribers read the material, take an online quiz, receive a response with the correct answers and detailed explanations, and receive an email certificate of completion.
When VersusLaw announced eLLR on January 19, 2001, it had already been approved for CLE Credits in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Missouri, New York, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Subscribers can view useful accreditation information for their respective states on the State Accreditation List. CaseClerk.com provides a free sample. The subscription price is $9.99 per month.
For law firms whose malpractice carriers offer premium discounts when lawyers in the firm earn a minimum number of ethics CLE credits, this service can be not only convenient and economical; it can allow an attorney to catch up before a deadline because content is already online and continuously available.
Web Links Catalog
The web links catalog includes links to:
- statutory codes
- administrative codes
- court sites
- selected federal government sites
- selected state government sites
Most of the entries for state statutory codes link to state legislative sites. The entries for Delaware, Vermont, and New Mexico link to the front page of LexisNexis' Michie site. There a user must select the desired state from multiple jurisdictions. The entry for Tennessee also links to the Michie site but directly to the resource for Tennessee rather than to the front page. The links for Delaware, Vermont, and New Mexico ought to do the same. When I viewed CaseClerk.com's state statutes page, the links for Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming were out of date. No link was provided for Massachusetts or Pennsylvania.
Most of the entries for state administrative codes link to state government sites. For example, the entry for Texas links to the Texas Secretary of State's site where the resource is offered. In some instances, the entries link to official, commercial publishers, such as Weil Publishing for Rhode Island and and Anderson Publishing for Ohio. Curiously, the entry for New York links to the relevant database record in Zimmerman's Research Guide on LLRX.com. When I viewed CaseClerk.com's state administrative codes page, the links for Kansas and Vermont were out of date. No link was provided for the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, or North Dakota. Clicking on the link for North Dakota generated a popup message box saying that resource would be available July 2001; it was January 23, 2002.
The page for the California Code of Regulations contains the following copyright notice: "California Code of Regulations copyright © 2002 by the State of California. All rights reserved. Data on this website may not be commercially reproduced or sold." The Internet CCR is maintained and updated weekly by the Office of Administrative Law through a contract with the West Group.
The Court Links page lets a user select jurisdictions either by clicking on a map or on text links. The arrangement is based on federal circuits. Choosing a circuit calls data for both the federal and state courts in that circuit. The map is identical to (i.e., appears to have been copied from) the one at The Federal Judiciary site maintained by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. By default, the data appears in a table with columns for contacts, local rules, federal rules, local forms, official forms, fees, calendar, docket, and web page. You may choose to display only one of those columns. Since the entries link to resources at court sites, not to data gathered and provided by CaseClerk.com itself, the data accessible by this means is only as complete and current as what the courts have published on their respective sites.
The links to state government resources (other than the courts) are generally limited to secretary of state websites, business entity forms, business entity search, UCC forms, UCC search, and tax forms. Inclusion of the items in that set of resource types is uneven from state to state.
The collection of links to federal government resources included twenty links to forms provided by various federal agencies.
The following is quoted directly from CaseClerk.com's Membership Plan and Pricing Page:
Choose the Plan that Meets Your Needs
Our goal is to provide the lowest possible cost for case law research with unlimited access to all jurisdictions with no hidden charges. Your membership includes: Unlimited access to all of our case law databases. Plus you get full access to Codes/Statutes, Administrative Codes, Local Rules, Dockets, Court Calendars, Filing Fees, Forms, Contacts, and all of the critical resources that you need for your Federal and State Government transactions.
- Annual Plan: $29.95 / month with annual subscription
- Monthly Plan: $49.95 / month with monthly subscription
- Daily Plan: $19.95 / day with 24 hour subscription
- CLE Plan: $119.88
VersusLaw offers the same case law for $8.95 per month. LawProbe is also a wrapper for VersusLaw. LawProbe charges $40.00 per month per user for unlimited access. It offers discounts for prepayment: $30.00 per month with prepayment for six months ($180.00); and $25.00 per month with prepayment for one year ($300.00). With a LawProbe subscription, a user can take advantage of that service's collections of links to free web resources. It's collections are good, but not better than the many free legal research catalogs and directories on the web.
1 T. R. Halvorson, "The LOIS Law Library: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses," LLRX.com™, March 1, 1999. <back to text>
2 T. R. Halvorson "VersusLaw's V.: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses," LLRX.com™, March 15, 1999. <back to text>
3 T. R. Halvorson, "Jurisline.com: What You See ... What You Don't See," LLRX.com™, January 17, 2000. <back to text>
4 T. R. Halvorson, National Law Library: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses, LLRX.com™, May 1, 2000. <back to text>
5 T. R. Halvorson, Quicklaw America: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses, LLRX.com™, October 2, 2000. <back to text>
6 T. R. Halvorson, EastLaw: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses, LLRX.com™, January 2, 2001. <back to text>
8 Reva Basch, "Measuring the Quality of the Data: Report on the Fourth Annual SCOUG Retreat," Database Searcher, vol. 6, no. 8, October 1990, pp. 18-24. The SCOUG Rating Scale is the earliest full-orbed view of quality and value of information in the electronic age that I can find. It came out of the 1990 annual retreat of the innovative Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG). Despite its pre-web genesis, the SCOUG Rating Scale has enduring value today. There are a number of SCOUG-inspired rating systems being applied to web services. That's why I previously proposed that searchers "use the Web to conduct and publicize SCOUG-inspired quality evaluations of selected Web resources." T. R. Halvorson, "Searcher Responsibility for Quality in the Web World," Searcher, vol. 6 no. 9, October 1998, pp. 12-20. <back to text>