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Notes from the Technology Trenches - Updates on Blogs, Training and Legal Portals

By Cindy Curling, Published on January 15, 2002

Cindy Curling is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.


Welcome to 2002! Before we get into the business of the new year, I’d like to take a quick look back at the last few columns and revisit some elements that need attention. When I took over Trenches last year, I asked readers to give me their feedback, hoping that the column would become a little more interactive and responsive to your needs and views. Happily, many of you have taken me up on my suggestion, so I have some great additional resources to discuss. This month I’m going to give you a few more Weblogs to look over, a host of user bloopers to incorporate into your Web training experiences, and I’ll also discuss a few more legal portals. Last month’s column you may recall was a list of mainly large, general legal audience portal sites, and many of you had additional, more narrow legal resource sites to recommend. Chief among these is LexisOne, and it will be our last stop today. As always, if you have comments or suggestions about other topics or materials you’d like to see covered here, please pass them along.

Blogging

My October column on Blogs was focused mainly on individual, informal, and primarily non-commercial current awareness logs, but it generated comments from several folks in the library and legal worlds mentioning their own sometimes more formal (and more commercial) favorites. Two of the most interesting:

Corante is a technology log that is updated daily. To my mind, this seems more like the sort of news service mentioned in the Keeping Up column than a blog, but it looks helpful enough that I’m happy to mention it and not split hairs. It provides mainly summaries and links to the full text of technology news articles in seven news categories: E-Business, Internet, Personal Technology, Law & Policy, Venture Capital, Communications and Biotechnology. The main page provides just a few links to abstracts of the latest news in each category, but each category includes more abstracts with links back to the original articles, a few related Web sites, and a recommended reading list - some books with abstracts and links to the item on Amazon and others with just links. Corante also offers a free daily e-mail service.

LawMeme is a law Weblog run by law students. This log does not appear to be updated daily, but then the schedules of law schools are subject to the vagaries of exams and holidays. When I last visited, early in January, the latest article links were from October (though back then the articles were evidently being added daily). More prominently displayed were some nice collected resources mentioning articles and related documents from late November. While it may not be updated often enough to be of regular use to professional attorneys, law school students may find it a useful source for interesting current legal issues that can help put their studies in context.

Web Training

The November column on Web training mentions that I asked business and law librarians on several discussion groups for their examples of user bloopers. The theory behind the request was that those errors could be used in promotional materials for classes, or in classes themselves, as painful and memorable illustrations of how research should not be done. For example, an e-mail promoting a class might start out, “Have you ever spent an hour on the Internet looking for a current CFR section? If so, then our session on Regulatory Research will save you time and frustration,” etc.

The summary of all the responses I received is now available as an .rtf document, along with an overview of a recent discussion on training attendance and support issues from the Legal Research Training Focus Group site of the Law Librarians’ Society of the District of Columbia. If you have other user stories to share, please let me know.

Portals and Case Law

One reader in Paris responded to the Legal Portals column from December by noting that I tended to emphasize the importance of the availability of case law (or lack thereof) on the legal portals. As he put it: “We [in Europe] generally do not read case law until we have exhausted statutory materials, jurisprudence, and historical documents (including legislative history)…This is not meant as a criticism of the case-law approach ... In fact, the European Court of Justice has come to rely more on such reasoning, at least so it is reported in English-language articles.  And consistency is prized, though it must battle with political evolution.

The system is not so different here in the U.S. In fact, I spend most of my time persuading newer attorneys that full-text case searching is one of the least efficient ways for them to do research, especially when they begin without good background information. However, I think that access to cases and statutes is one of the most valuable offerings available through portals. Gathering primary materials from across the Web is a complicated business, and most services which aggregate them for you tend to charge steeply for that added value.

By the same token, law portals are not the ideal place to do really thorough research of any sort, mainly because materials on the Web tend to be from no earlier than the mid-1990s (with some exceptions like the Supreme Court decisions at FindLaw), and what is available is inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and topic to topic. Web portals are, on the other hand, great places to go to get an idea of what secondary and primary materials are available on the Web on your topic or to retrieve something specific, like recent decisions, so long as you keep in mind that materials are not usually edited or official and may not be the most current available. Portals are good starting points, but they are merely doorways to lead you to resources which in turn will lead you to more materials and so on. They are not meant to be used alone, but are one convenient tool among the many now available to legal researchers.

Narrow Focus on Web Portals

The portal article also drew comments from people who had additional portal favorites, usually on specific topics. The more valuable among these were:

Employment Law Information Network, a nicely organized portal offering primary and secondary materials, sample policies, forms, contracts and more. The Network also delivers employment law news, offers a discussion forum and links to sites offering related newsletters. The only lack I noticed in my quick survey were links to employment law related organizations and services. According to its site description, there should be a section devoted to online resources which provides categorized links to content pertinent to topics in employment law, but it seemed to be missing from the navigation frame when I visited.

GigaLaw.com is a news-oriented site for Internet professionals and attorneys specializing in Internet and technology law produced exclusively by lawyers and law professors. It focuses on daily news updates along with independent articles on current technology law concerns, but it also offers a discussion list, a limited “law library” of technology-related cases and statutes by topic, and lists of books on technology law topics with some recommendations. GigaLaw apparently plans to offer a free directory of attorneys, and provides a form for users to submit their information, but no directory is available yet. Users can subscribe to a free daily e-mail service.

ILW.COM, the Immigration Law Portal, is a site for immigrants, employers and immigration attorneys offering daily newsletters, articles, an attorney directory, forms and more. It lists a legal research section as coming soon, but doesn’t yet offer any content there or any estimated date when content might be available.

The folks at Law Periscope also responded to the portal article, but I think it’s more of a directory. If it’s a portal, it’s a very narrow one which only points to the Web sites of the 300 largest US law firms. The idea behind the site is to make it easier for in-house counsel, corporate executives, and consumers to research, access and compare the capabilities and resources of those firms based on their Web sites. By simplifying the structure of firm sites and presenting them, as it were, all on one page, it is easy to get a quick overview of what a firm offers, including alerts and bulletins, and easy to compare that information to the profile of a competitor. Profiles are accessible mainly by firm or attorney name but Periscope also offers an “Expertise” search. To me expertise implies some comparison of capabilities, but this is essentially a search by practice area. While some of this information is available through the major law directories like Martindale, the information there doesn’t usually go into the same kind of detail and is more focused on individual attorney information. Periscope, instead, gives an interesting firm overview, though it does also provide attorney information. This information is also available on the firm sites, and ultimately Periscope points you to the appropriate section of the sites themselves, but it does make finding and comparing sites simpler. While it is obviously not an exhaustive resource since it only covers very large firms, it is an interesting take on the legal directory idea.

PageBid is a site for litigation support pricing research. Customers can use the site to get an immediate estimate for litigation support services based on PageBid’s historic averages, or they can distribute and manage a Request for Proposal (anonymously) through the site. PageBid claims to have the most comprehensive and searchable litigation support provider directory available on-line. Services to purchasers are free. Vendors who win bids pay a percentage of its fee, usually one to two percent.

LexisOne

A few readers of readers asked why I hadn’t mentioned LexisOne among the major legal portals. As one noted:  “I subscribe to Lexis, so I do not have occasion to use LexisOne much. What makes the site worthy of consideration is that they give away some premium Mathew Bender information and have an excellent link library.”

I can’t argue with that and had considered including LexisOne in the December column, but ultimately decided against. As I mentioned in that article, my list of portals was not exhaustive, partly because anytime I’m reviewing Web materials I usually I try to give precedence to those sites that don't require registration or fees, which LexisOne does at one level or another. A second reason I opted not to cover LexisOne in December was its focus. LLRX Editor/Publisher Sabrina I. Pacifici reviewed LexisOne when it was first launched back in July of 2000, and at the time, the site was clearly being marketed mainly to small firms and solo practitioners - users without Lexis contracts or large in-house facilities for research. While the site has undergone expansion since that time, the focus remains the same, and it didn’t seem to have the general legal audience that I was looking for in the December article. However, LexisOne is certainly worth a significant entry in this follow-up, despite its narrow marketing focus.

It’s interesting to consider how differently Lexis and Westlaw have handled the free Internet sides of their businesses. Westlaw has so far kept its commercial offerings quite separate from the free material on FindLaw, and though they have made some nice site improvements and added good content, they have not required any kind of registration for its use. I suspect that is at least in part to keep traffic up since so many people are reluctant to give even minimal information to register at Web sites. As a side benefit, Westlaw can then use advertising on the site to highlight their fee services to large numbers of users without seeming overwhelmingly biased.

Lexis, on the other hand, has chosen to very closely tie its commercial offerings to its freebies. There is no question anywhere on the LexisOne site that it is anything other than a Lexis product, and the site is definitely doing its best to establish Lexis brand loyalty. That is not a bad thing; Lexis has a high quality product and LexisOne fits right in with the rest of the LexisNexis family. However, one does get the feeling that advertising for Lexis is one of the primary reasons for the site’s existence. Still, that should not deter you from checking it out if you have not already done so. It does offer some very tasty free materials, principally:

  • Case law, including U.S. Supreme Court cases from 1790 and selected federal and state cases from January 1, 1996, and
  • A library of over 6,000 official and approved forms, including forms from the Matthew Bender collection.

The catch is that while you may search without registering, you must register and be logged in to view materials in full text. The good news is that the registration process isn’t too arduous, but you do need to provide more than what some people consider the essential information. You must provide your name and email address, at least one jurisdiction in which you practice, your key practice area, your firm size, and what kind of user you are (government attorney, student, etc.). Be sure to read the privacy policy before registration if you are uncomfortable with sharing more than your name or email address.

Those of you who are already Lexis customers may not see the sense in going through that process when you already have access to the same materials through a contract, but several users have mentioned that they find it convenient to use the case law searching when they have a client they would prefer not to bill, or when they need to easily retrieve a case for their own information. It is usually materials that is available other places on the Net, it’s just easier to use a single familiar interface. Essentially they use the case searching feature as an alternative to a trip to the library to use the books or to struggling with an unpredictable CD-ROM server.

What draws me to the service is the legal Internet guide, part of the site that can be used without registration. I really like the guide, but that’s a completely subjective opinion. It is not an all inclusive list of legal Web resources - instead it is very selective. For me, that’s a time saver since I know the sites listed will be substantive and that I won’t have to sift through loads of duplicative information. Others may find it frustrating because it will not list every single possible Web site under a given category, and they will run into gaps when they compare this guide with other legal Web directories.

In addition to all that, the site goes beyond Web links, cases and forms to offer other typical portal services such as practice area news, access to a statutory law guide and the Lawyer Locator through Martindale-Hubbell, discussion groups, a regular newsletter, articles, tips and tools for solos and small firms, and a lifestyle section. Where it differs from other portals is that it also links directly into the LexisNexis suite of fee services. The line between free and fee services is very clear. You will not be charged for any fee-based access without knowing in advance. The fee options are for primarily for Lexis.com and appear to be charges by the day, week or month and appear on the Pay-As-You-Go section of the site. A per document option also allows users to search legal information, news, public records, company information and by area of law using a simple template system for free, but then pay from $1 to $12 per document ordered in full text. Other fee services are subscriptions to advanced form features, a option to subscribe to electronic advance sheets, CLE training classes, and access to treatise materials.

So, while LexisOne may not be considered a major legal portal in the broadest sense, its features do make it a very important site for small law firms and solo practitioners, and it certainly offers elements  that a general legal audience will find worthwhile.

I think that ties up all the hanging threads for 2001 - thanks for a great year. Here’s hoping that your 2002 will be joyous and productive, and keep your comments and suggestions coming!