logo

An Overview of Selected Legal Digital Libraries

By George Butterfield and Kristyn Helge, Published on June 25, 2007

Introduction

Assessing the best and the worst of legal digital libraries has been a hot topic recently (see Ambrogi, 2004). More and more digital libraries and repositories are coming into existence (see, e.g., NELLCO Legal Scholarship Repository, 2007). The purpose of this paper is to review ten digital libraries from the legal field. The major characteristics of each library are summarized. Guidance is given for the user who would access the library. Finally, some of the differences between the ten libraries are presented. The goal of the authors is to continue the discussion begun by Ambrogi (2007) and other scholars in the legal field.

Legal Digital Libraries: Characteristics and Guidance for Users

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School (APYLS) is located on a server at Yale Law School. The APYLS maintains a historical legal collection. Historical electronic documents located in this collection include electronic versions of the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights, initial charters of various states, the Twelve Tables document form 450BC, and other legal historic documents. The APYLS also maintains contemporary legal documents such as the Nine-Eleven Commission Report, the Tenet Plan and other modern legal materials. This collection is conveniently organized in categories by century (Etkin, & Coutts, 2002). As a result users may expediently click on a particular century and search for a needed document. Or, users may search for a document via title.

The primary users of this project include legal scholars, historians, professors and students (Fray, & Spar, 1998). This collection provides efficient and quick access to pertinent legal and historical documents. The APYLS also offers a help guide which leads users through frequently asked questions. The APYLS does not offer any interactive type of reference such as phone, e-mail, chat or wikis.

Users are advised to discover which century in which a needed document is created before using the APYLS. Having knowledge of said century augments the beginning stages of research in APYLS. Also, if users are searching for a popular legal document such as the Magna Cart, they may wish to first click on the major collections link found on the APYLS front page. This link transports users to a page of major historical documents. Otherwise, users are advised to implement the basic search option offered.

The British Academy Digital Library

The British Academy Digital Library (BADL) presents a myriad of international law reviews, cases law, case reporters, treatises, links to legal related web-sites, treaties and other legal materials. Some legal subjects included in this collection consist of Chinese legislation case law and law digests, European Union treaties, case law and treatises, legal dictionaries, United Kingdom case law and statutory information, World Trade Organization documents, and other international legal resources. The topics stored in this collection are arranged via subject in alphabetical order.

The search options in this digital law library are quick and efficient. A basic key word search option is provided. When one enters the following query: Chinese civil law, numerous related articles and other types of information are generated. Also, while searching in the BADL one has an option of setting a basic search to locate non-legal materials. This search option benefits a legal professional when he or she is trying to locate non-legal issues pertinent to a case.

The BADL is set up to be used primarily by attorneys, paralegals, judges, professors, other legal scholars. This information contained on this site is written in a scholarly manner. The BADL provides telephone and e-mail reference services. However, this digital library's collection is so extensive it could benefit from co-browsing and chat technologies. Co-browsing software permits librarians to show patrons how to locate information in complex collections (Balleste, & Russell, 2003)

The BADL allows users to implement Boolean logic. Also, a search within results feature is offered. The search within results feature allows users to narrow down retrieved results by entering more specific pertinent key words. For example, a user initially enters a search query: United Kingdom and treaty. After browsing the retrieved results, a user seeking treaties concerning double taxation may enter more specific key words such as: double taxation, or taxes and income. Such specific key words generate articles more pertinent to a users needs.

Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates digital law library in Malta

The Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates digital law library (CCADLL) houses a vast collection of legal resources. Such resources consist of treatises, case law, law reviews articles, statutes, and general legal news briefs regarding international trade, business law, gaming law, immigration, technology, intellectual property, taxation and trust law. The collection is organized via topic. For example, tax law materials are presented with suggested subject headings, and they are further broken down into subtopics.

Patrons may search by clicking on a suggested subject heading. After clicking on a subject heading, a patron may search for more detailed topical information. Only basic keyword searches are offered in the CCADLL. However, searching in this digital library is logical, and one may quickly and efficiently locate a needed resource.

The primary users of the CCADLL appear to be attorneys and other legal professionals. Researchers of this digital library are provided with phone and e-mail reference options. Interestingly, this digital library also encourages local patrons to submit reference questions via post or courier. In addition, the CCADLL encourages in-person reference for individuals living in Valletta, Malta (Chetcuti Cauchi, 2007). This legal digital library is housed on a server in the Britannia House in Valletta.

This digital library is a valid resource for individuals seeking Maltese tax documents. For example, the CCADLL contains articles regarding property taxation in Malta. It also offers statutes and articles regarding the taxation of automobiles, cigarettes, businesses, and various licenses. Furthermore, the CCADLL offers numerous legal resources regarding gaming laws in Europe and in Asia.

Cornell University Law Library

There are five major sites within this library that contain digital objects, including the Donovan Archive, Online Legal Resources, Foreign & Int'l Law Resources, Cornell Law Scholarship, and Legal News. The Donovan Archive includes documents on the Nuremberg trials. The Online Legal Resources includes treatises on ninety-one topics organized alphabetically. The Foreign & Int'l Law Resources include nineteen links to various newsletters and sites. The Cornell Law Scholarship link includes faculty publications as well as links to various repositories of digital objects (e.g., NELLCO Legal Scholarship Repository, 2007). The Legal News link is updated daily and includes articles on topics of legal relevance.

There is a quick site search box on the homepage and an advanced search that allows the user to search for any word, all words, an exact phrase, or sound-alike matching. The user can limit the number of recalled objects from 5-100. Each database can be searched separately. The Donovan Archive can be searched or the available index pages browsed. A basic search can be done on the Online Legal Resources. The Foreign & Int'l Law Resources can be searched or browsed by topic. The faculty publications can be searched, browsed by topic, or searched by author. The Legal News has no search function.

The user community of this digital library is primarily the students, faculty, and staff. Researchers can also gain access "providing use does not conflict with its primary responsibility to members of the Cornell community" (Cornell Law Library, 2007, Access policy). Online access is obtained through a username and password. Services for students and faculty include online access, interlibrary loan, research instruction, reference help, research assistance, and faculty research support.

The best guidance available for the user is the help pages and guides on the homepage. Detailed instructions and tips are present on how to search and browse the collection. A site map presents an in-depth guide to every database within the collection.

FindLaw for Legal Professionals

The collection in this massive web site includes resources by practice areas, including everything from administrative law to transportation law. This section is organized alphabetically. A second major part of the collection is entitled Research & Reference and includes federal and state cases and codes, other U.S. federal and state resources, foreign and international law, articles, dictionaries, directories, forms, legal news, newsletters, resource centers, and law school information, including reviews. The material in this main section is organized either alphabetically, by date, or by jurisdiction.

The main page has a simple search box that permits the user to search either the whole FindLaw site or a section of the site, for example, Articles, News, Commentary, or Technology Center. Each database within FindLaw also has its own search engine. For example, the search feature for case summaries allows the user to search by court, legal topic, docket number, party name, date, or a date range. There is also a full text search box that includes a link of options, namely, how to use Boolean operators and wildcards. The user may also browse the case summaries by jurisdiction. Within each section of the web site there are basic search features.

Although the site has an open access policy, it appears to be designed primarily for attorneys or individuals who need an attorney. On the one hand, there are legal materials that can be researched. On the other hand, an important aspect of the site is information about attorneys in the various jurisdictions and the ability to get the information necessary to contact an attorney. The best guidance for a user of this site is simply that they go to the site and follow the links of choice. The site is organized logically and the search features are easy to follow.

Internet Law Library by LawGuru.com

This collection has several huge databases that are arranged alphabetically, including the U.S. federal laws by source, the U.S. federal laws by agency, U.S. state and territorial laws, laws of other nations, treaties and international law, laws of jurisdictions arranged by subject, law school and law libraries, attorney and legal profession directories, law book reviews and publishers, legal forms, daily legal news, and legal plans for the person who needs an attorney.

Under Legal Research Tool the user can search either the main research page of the web site or can "Pick a Search Tool" for any of several hundred search engines organized by state, federal, or general resources. There are also separate search tools for the Code of Federal Regulations and the United States Code. One section on the home page is entitled Knowledge Base. From that link the user can do a keyword search (for any or all keywords) by state or country within various categories of law, such as banking law, immigration law, etc. If the user needs an attorney, they can search under "Find Attorneys" by zip code and area of law or state or country and area of law.

The Internet Law Library originated as a digital library for the U.S. House of Representatives. It eventually was opened to the public. "The Law Revision Counsel's goal was to provide free public access to the basic documents of U.S. law" (LawGuru.com, 1999). It currently serves the public but with a special interest in aiding attorneys. There is an attorney network that includes over 5,000 attorneys in over 35 countries. One feature that is designed to assist the general public is entitled "Ask For Free." The user can submit a free legal question to the attorneys in the network. There is also a Help link that includes answers to frequently asked questions.

Internet Law Library by LawMoose: World Legal Resource Center

This digital library has three main sections, including materials from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the World. The Minnesota and Wisconsin legal reference libraries are organized topically. There are links for state and local law, local government, forms, litigation, services and products for lawyers, as well as many others, including a link for topics listed alphabetically. The Minnesota site currently lists 653 topics and the Wisconsin site lists 513 topics. There are also links to federal law and government as well as other states and jurisdictions. The section on "the World" basically includes the former U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library, many of the same materials that are included in the LawGuru.com site.

There are several different search tools available. First, the user can limit the scope of the search to the World, Minnesota, or Wisconsin sites. The search box requires a keyword and the search can be limited to any part of the page, page titles only, or page text only. The number of results can also be limited to 20, 30, or 50. Second, there is a Table of Contents that helps the user narrow the search to general pages, subject pages, U.S. states and territories pages, and other nations pages. The U.S. Code and the Federal Code of Regulations can also be search separately.

The user community for this site is the general public and those individuals that practice law or do legal research in Minnesota and Wisconsin. There is a LawMoose Member Center for legal marketing. Membership is required and the database is accessed via a username and password. There are also links for sending LawMoose feedback or a request that the user be contacted. Finally, there is a translation tool for the user who needs English concepts translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish. The site is so simple that the best advice for the user is that they simply surf it.

Kappler's Indian Affairs Digital Law Library

The Kappler's Indian Affairs Digital Law Library (KIADLL) hosts seven volumes of United States Treaties, laws and executive orders pertaining to Native American Indian tribes (KIADLL web-site, 2007). The legal materials found in this collection also include editorial enhancements. The collection is organized by year and volume number.

Users may implement either a basic search or an advanced search while locating specific materials. An advanced search allows users to seek documents in twenty different languages. Also, an advanced search allows users to retrieve documents in different formats such as PDF, rich-text format, HTML and others. Additionally, an advanced search implements a keyword search, hence users can look for keywords in a title, text or in a URL.

This digital library is located on a server located at Oklahoma State University. The primary users of the KIADLL include historians, Native Americans, students, professors, and hobbyists. The KIADLL offers phone, e-mail and instant messaging reference services. The instant messaging services are offered via Yahoo, MSN Messenger, ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger. These instant messaging services provide a dynamic interface for users seeking information (Chase, 2007).

Users of the KIADLL are advised to implement an advanced search because words and exact phrases can be searched for or eliminated in a text. Also, users can search for words in a URL or in an article, statute, case or other legal material. Such advanced search capabilities enable users to more quickly locate their needed documents. Further, the chat option appears to be a reliable and valid reference tool for all individuals.

The Library of Congress Thomas

The Library of Congress Thomas (LCT) offers digital versions of United States House and Senate bills and resolution, the congressional record, presidential nominations, treaties, committee reports, and other government and legal resources. The legal materials in this collection are organized via topic and by year. For example, a bill may be located by topic or by the year it was proposed.

The principal users of this digital library consist of attorneys, paralegals, law students, law library students, professors, and other legal scholars. The LCT provides users a basic keyword search option, and an advanced search option. Using the advanced search, users may attempt to locate legal resources by keyword, date, bill number, congress session number, or by the last name of a member of congress (Cramer, 2002). In addition, the LCT offers phone, e-mail and letters of correspondence reference services.

Researchers may utilize this digital law library to locate bill information back to the ninety-third congress held in nineteen-seventy-three. However, full text renditions of all bills are not available for all subsequent years (Cramer, 2002). Therefore, researchers who are not locating full text information from older bills, may want to consult FindLaw or LawGuru digital law libraries.

Nevada Law Library

The Nevada Law Library includes several databases. The 2005 Nevada Revised Statutes includes a Table of Contents, Index, and search tool. The Nevada Administrative Code includes a Table of Contents, Index, search tool, a comparative table, and a form for agencies that need to do a 10-year review and submit a report to the Legislative Council. The Nevada Register and Supreme Court Opinions links have Table of Contents and search tools. There are also links for the Nevada Constitution, city charters, court rules, and selected special and local acts. These latter sites do not have search tools or indexes but are generally arranged alphabetically. The main collection on this site is for the Statutes of Nevada arranged by session. There are ten databases within this site. Each of them include links for bills by chapter number, an index, a search tool, and resolutions and memorials by file number.

The search tool for the 2005 Nevada Revised Statutes includes a query box, an option to limit the results to 10, 20, or 50 objects, and a feature that allows the user to sort the recalled documents by document relevance, document title, hits in document, size of document, document filename, document date, or a default sort order. There is also a link for the user who wants to go to a particular chapter in the Statutes or desires to browse the chapters. There is also an advanced search feature that has everything included in the basic search with the addition of Boolean operators. The search tools for the Nevada Administrative Code and the Supreme Court Opinions are the same as for the Statutes. The Nevada Register search tool is also the same minus the advanced search feature. The Statutes of Nevada arranged by session also have the same search tool, including the advanced search feature, but they also include the ability to limit the search by select statutes.

The user community for this site is the citizens of the state of Nevada, although it is open to users from outside of the state. No special guidance is required to use this site.

Differences Between the Digital Libraries

Primary purpose

The primary purposes of these digital law libraries vary as well. For example, the Law Guru.com library, the FindLaw digital library, Nevada digital Law Library, the Library of Congress Thomas and the British Academy Digital Library implement an altruistic and informative approach offering legal resources to any person for free. However, the Internet Law Library by LawMoose and the Cornell University digital law library tender access to some legal materials for a fee, and they offer access to other legal resources gratis. Further, the primary purpose of the Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates digital law library apparently is to attract clients for its law firm. In addition, the Kappler's Indian Affairs Digital Law Library's motive appears to be a political attempt to inform the public about Native American law. Finally, the primary function of the Avalon Project at Yale Law School is a historical endeavor to offer access to famous historical resources.

Primary users of the digital libraries

The ten legal digital libraries discussed are designed to serve different users. Each of these users can be classified into four similar but diverse groups. These diverse groups consist of either private attorneys and other legal scholars; private attorneys, other legal scholars and students; members of congress, private attorneys and other legal scholars; or members of the general public, historians, hobbyists, private attorneys and other legal scholars. The Cornell University digital law library and the Avalon Project at Yale Law School primarily serve the private attorney, other legal scholars and students group. The Find Law digital library and the British Academy digital library primarily serve the private attorney and other legal scholars group. Whereas, the Library of Congress Thomas digital library and the Law Guru.com digital library primarily serve the members of congress, private attorneys and other legal scholars group. Finally, the Nevada digital law library, the Internet Law Library by LawMoose, the Kappler's Indian Affairs Digital Law Library, and the Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates digital law library primarily serve the members of the general public, historians, hobbyists, private attorneys and other legal scholars group.

Search tools

The search tools of these digital law libraries vary in several ways. First, they differ in the type of search tool available. Avalon and Chetcuti have a basic, keyword-oriented search tool only. The other eight sites have basic and advanced tools but the nature of the advanced tools vary widely. The British, FindLaw, and Nevada sites' advanced search tools permit the use of Boolean operators. Several of the other sites that have advanced search options do not permit the use of Boolean language but allow the user to delimit the search based on the subject of the database (e.g., FindLaw and Thomas), factors such as whether or not the whole document or part of the document is searched (e.g., LawMoose), or even what language is recalled when the search results appear (e.g., Kappler). Secondly, these sites also differ as to the location of the search tools. All permit a search of the whole site. Some, such as FindLaw, permit a search of particular sections or databases within the site.

User interfaces

Another key difference between the ten databases is their depth, their branching capability, and the way the material is presented to the user. For example, the Avalon, British, Chetcuti and Nevada sites have every available database present on their home page. These sites have three main layers: the listing of the databases, the databases themselves, and the documents within the databases. The FindLaw and Cornell sites have so many digital objects in their collections that they tend to have additional layers and branches off of those layers. For example, a user searches FindLaw to recall the biography of Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts. They will access that biography on the sixth layer with additional layers still available on subjects about the Chief Justice. Cornell's site has a document entitled "July 6, 1945 - The Nazi Master Plan: The Persecution of the Christian Churches." Part I of that document is five layers away from the Cornell homepage. The impact of these design decisions is on the user who can easily get lost in the maze of material found at the FindLaw and Cornell sites but also find a wealth of material on any given subject.

Conclusion

Numerous legal digital libraries are located on the internet. These legal digital libraries display varied characteristics. One such varied characteristic is for whom a library is designed. Some of the digital libraries are tailored to congress persons and other legal professionals, while other digital libraries are created for the general public. In addition, a few of the digital libraries offer historical legal content, yet others tender the most recent case law. Also, each digital library presents a slightly different manner of searching for housed content. Furthermore, many of the digital libraries implement a unique manner of organizing their content. Also, a few of the libraries offer different user services. Finally, the paper suggests some specific guidance to users in how to use these legal digital libraries.

References

Ambrogi, R. (2004). The essential guide to the best (and worst) legal sites on the web (2d ed.). New York: ALM Publishing.

Balleste, R., & Russell, G. (2003). Implementing virtual reference: Hollywood technology in real life. Computer in Libraries, 23, 14-17. Retrieved March 23, 2007, from EBSCO HOST Academic Search Premiere electronic database.

(CCADLL). Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates digital law library. (April 10, 2007). Legal Digital Library Information. Retrieved April 10, 2007, from http://www.cc-advocates.com/library/.

Chase, D. (2007). Transformative sharing with instant messaging, wikis, interactive maps, and flickr. Computers in Libraries, 27, 50-56. Retrieved April 2, 2007, from EBSCO HOST Academic Search Premiere electronic database.

Cornell Law Library. (2007). Access policy. Cornell Law Library. Retrieved April 21, 2007, from http://library.lawschool.cornell.edu/INFORMATION/Library_Policies/access.htm.

Cornell Law Library (1999-2007). Law Library Home. Cornell Law Library. Retrieved April 21, 2007, from http://library.lawschool.cornell.edu/default.asp.

Cramer, J. (2002). Guide to free on-line legal and legislative resources. Reference Services Review, 30, 150-159. Retrieved March 29, 2007, from Emerald electronic database.

Etkin, C., & Coutts, B. (2002). Web sites. Library Journal, 127, 46-47. Retrieved April 20, 2007, from EBSCO HOST Academic Search Premiere electronic database.

FindLaw. (1994-2007). Library. Thomson. Retrieved April 22, 2007, from http://lp.FindLaw.com/.

Fray, W. C., & Spar, L. A. (1998). The Avalon Project. Electronic Library, 16,243-245. Retrieved April 10, 2007, from Library Information Science Abstracts electronic database.

(KIADLL). Kappler's Indian Affairs Digital Law Library. (April 20, 2007). Legal Digital Library Information. Retrieved April 20, 2007, from http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/intro.htm.

LawGuru.com. (1999). About the Internet Law Library. WebSiteBroker, Inc. Retrieved April 22, 2007, from http://www.lawguru.com/ilawlib/about.htm.

LawGuru.com. (1996-2006). Internet Law Library. WebSiteBroker, Inc. Retrieved April 22, 2007, from http://www.lawguru.com/ilawlib/.

LawMoose: World Legal Resource Center. (1999-2003). Internet law library. Pritchard Law Webs. Retrieved April 22, 2007, from http://www.lawmoose.com/internetlawlib/1.htm.

NELLCO Legal Scholarship Repository. (2007). NELLCO repository home. New England Law Library Consortium, Inc. Retrieved April 11, 2007, from http://lsr.nellco.org/index.html.

Nevada Legislature. (2007). Nevada Law Library. State of Nevada. Retrieved April 22, 2007, from http://www.leg.state.nv.us/law1.cfm.