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Notes from the Technology Trenches - My Findlaw; West Group Seeks to Expand Services, April 2000

By Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on April 17, 2000

Roger Skalbeck is the Electronic Initiatives Librarian at Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C., and is the Web Master of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.  This column reflects the personal views of the author, which are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organization. This column, of course, is 100% free of any legal advice.

My FindLaw:  A Customizable Legal Portal

Well, it had to happen at some point, and who better than FindLaw to make the move towards offering a customizable, personal portal for legal information? In a very exciting development, mega legal site FindLaw announced in early April the MyFindLaw service. This new service is quite similar to personal portals you may have seen, such as MyYahoo, MyExcite, MyLycos MyWay.com, and a host of others. The beauty of MyFindLaw is that the content is focused exclusively on legal resources.

To use MyFindLaw, you simply register with the service, and select your legal interest areas, after which you decide what your personal FindLaw research page will contain. The elements that you can select include fourteen content areas, which appear in two columns on the screen. These cover legal and business news, state-specific links, caselaw updates and various message boards.

With news, you can select from sixteen major subject groupings, which mirror content areas already available through the FindLaw LegalNews. Most of these cover general legal topics such as labor and employment, telecommunications and intellectual property. They also offer specific update areas on Microsoft and the Waco investigation.

For caselaw content, MyFindLaw offers state and federal appeals courts, with direct links to the most recent opinions, as available on FindLaw. Federal courts appear to be generally more up-to-date than those for the states, likely due to the fact that they are more uniformly available, in addition to being applicable to a wider audience.

To test out the availability of state court decisions, I selected my home state of Minnesota as a sample. Around mid-April, the most recent cases on FindLaw were from the end of March. Opinions available through the Minnesota State Court System were available through April 6th, but you would have to download a week’s opinion set in order to view them. Alternately, you could get these opinions from the Minnesota Lawyer site containing recent appellate decisions, but the FindLaw aggregation is very useful, with the added advantage that the format is uniform across all available jurisdictions.

Balancing out the news and caselaw, the service also offers links to FindLaw message boards, tech deals, and job listings for states you select. In addition to this, the service also offers current postings from the various Greedy Associates message boards, which are in their new home hosted by Infirmation.com. FindLaw recently acquired Infirmation, so this is a very logical combination. These message boards had been at Yahoo!, and their move to the Infirmation site resulted in the expansion of some areas, as well as the addition of better searching and browsing functionality.

At MyFindLaw, you can also elect to include up to 10 personal bookmarks, which is a great way to give yourself a handful of starting points for performing legal research. Other personalization portals allow you to store address books, categorized links, bookmark collections and even documents online. If you are looking to port your bookmarks over to an Internet-based site, you might want to first check out a recent Salon article on this topic, entitled "Why leave your ‘marks online?". The author argues that it might not really be worth the effort.

MyFindLaw won’t replace the need for customized, filtered and annotated legal information updates, in the form of traditional media such as newsletters and practice-specific journals. Nonetheless, this new service provides a valuable starting-off point for the pursuit of legal information on the Internet. The combination of dynamic content together with static and focused links makes this a very attractive service.

Recent West Group Activities; Dialog Purchase; Westnews; Practice Innovations

Since last month’s column, West Group has been very active in enhancing coverage and working to expand services.

In late March, West Group made an offer to purchase the Information Services Division of the Dialog Corporation. This is the company that provides access to hundreds and hundreds of --databases for a vast array of corporate, legal and government information users. Since the early 1990s, Westlaw users have been able to access Dialog databases through a gateway service, and a 1998 article in Searcher magazine reported that Westlaw offered the greatest number of these databases, then numbering around 490. It remains to be seen how the integration of the databases will benefit Westlaw users. Dialog databases have typically been excluded from flat-rate Westlaw contracts, so perhaps the acquisition will change that situation.

It will also be interesting to see what comes of the planned strategic alliance between BrightStation, Dialog’s successor company, and West Group parent, Thompson Corporation.

Additional coverage of these West Group developments is available:

West Group is also bringing out a new Westnews service, which I’ll try to cover in greater detail in a future column. Beyond Barbara Quint’s article above, check out what West Group has to say about the new service at the main Westnews page. Two elements of this service are geared towards intranet content delivery of headlines and filtered news, which might be attractive to law firms and legal practitioners in mid- and large-sized organizations.

In other news, West Group recently re-christened the Information Innovators publication, transforming it into something called Practice Innovations, which is now scheduled to come out twice yearly. The cover story in the premiere issue details the changing world of law firm environments in the context of corporate mergers, technology changes and multidisciplinary practices. The other two articles focus on application service providers and knowledge management. The earlier Innovators publication was subtitled "A Resource for Legal Information Professionals". The full title of the successor publication is: Practice Innovations: Managing in a Changing Legal Environment, with the footer title of "communicating best practices and innovations in law firm information and knowledge management to legal professionals". Clearly the target audience is broader than the information professional community. The polished format and broad coverage should prove to be a great resource for keeping up with major legal technology topics.

Correction

Correction to the March 15, 2000 column:

In last month’s column, I covered updates to the MarketSpan service CaseStream, stating:

[…] Beyond these system limitations, also remember that PACER dockets are available from roughly 1990 to the present, depending on the court. Moreover, there are still a few courts that don’t participate in the PACER system, so they are similarly excluded from MarketSpan's services.

CaseStream actually includes court docket coverage for three districts that don’t participate in the national PACER system: Idaho, New Mexico and Southern Indiana. While CaseStream does not fill in time gaps for PACER courts, it does expand coverage beyond those systems that rely exclusively on PACER data by providing docket information for three additional courts.

As always, if you have comments or suggestions for future columns, please contact me.

Web Sites Mentioned in this column:

MyFindLaw

MyFindLaw Press Release

MyYahoo

MyExcite

MyLycos

MyWay.com

FindLaw LegalNews

Minnesota State Court System

Minnesota Lawyer (Appellate Courts Edition)

Greedy Associates

Infirmation.com

FindLaw acquires Infirmation

Why leave your ‘marks online? (from Salon.com)

West Group

Dialog Corporation

Dialog Alternatives: A Power Searcher's Checklist by Amelia Kassel. Searcher, vol. 6, no. 8 September 1998. (mentions Westlaw gateway to Dialog databases)

Press release from the Dialog Corporation

Thomson to Buy Dialog

Thomson’s West Group Recasts and Expands Business News Service as Westnews

Information Innovators

Practice Innovations

MarketSpan

Copyright © 2000 Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.