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ResearchWire - Virtual Reference for Real Lawyers

By Genie Tyburski, Published on September 1, 1998

Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase:TM A Research Site for Legal Professionals.

(Archived October 1, 1998)


While composing a particularly difficult legal memorandum, you look up from the computer momentarily to find a partner impatiently awaiting your acknowledgement.  You never heard his knock nor perceived his presence.  Whatever thought caused you to avert your eyes from the monitor fled.  Without preface, the partner requests biographical information about an out-of-state lawyer.  He wants it several minutes ago.

Or, in the midst of composing this troublesome document, the telephone rings.  A client wants the address of his congressional Representative ... as a favor.  He'll hold while you look it up.

Or, a friend, an associate from your graduating class, interrupts to ask your advice about formulating a legal citation.  His memorandum was due five hours ago.

Or, perhaps every time your creative juices begin to flow, someone intrudes.  And instead of flowing, they bolt. 

Ah, life in a law office.

During harried times like these, I occasionally entertain making use of a stress management toy -- a hand-sized pliable ball of sand.  I imagine squeezing it repeatedly until the sand bursts from its sides even though I know it won't relieve my tension unless I can sling it.  All the way across the library.  Several times.

Clearly, I've had to find other ways of alleviating stress!

Control works for me.  With respect to interruptions like these, I suggest managing stress by reducing the amount of time the break consumes.  Consider, for instance, streamlining access to a library of useful reference publications.

How will you accomplish this?  Some may find that their organization's intranet or network already provides a collection of useful reference tools.  Others may buy such publications and house them in their offices.  But given the number of excellent resources on the Web, think about building your own virtual reference library.  Believe it or not, the task presents less of a challenge than you may think.

For the sake of brevity, I'll assume you have Internet access, a Web browser, and some familiarity with navigating.1

First, decide what your reference library should contain.  A legal dictionary?   Lawyer directory?  Telephone directories?  Citation manual?   Etcetera.

Second, discover the availability of these publications on the Web.  A few words about this in a minute.

Third, determine the extent of organization your virtual library will require.  Is an alphabetical arrangement sufficient?  Will it require categorizing or even sub-categorizing?  Will it need a search feature?

Your library should be easy to use ... for you, not your neighbor.  If, for example, it points to a small number of sources, it may require no particular arrangement.  But if it references numerous publications, logical organization, or even the ability to search it, will facilitate its use.

Finally, decide how to store your library.  In part, this depends on the level of organization it requires.  For example, if you want to record a small number of links, consider using your Web browser's bookmark feature (aka "favorites").  If you already have an extensive list of bookmarks, consider arranging them in descriptive folders.2  Researchers using higher-level versions of Netscape or Internet Explorer may also create a special toolbar for frequently accessed links.3

Bookmarks provide just one method for building a Web reference library.  Others include creating a card file, composing a contacts list, utilizing organizing software,4 developing a database, or constructing a Web page.

Let's examine these steps in more detail while erecting a library for a busy litigator in an insurance defense firm.  In addition to the few resources mentioned above, our lawyer wants access to insurance-related reference publications.

How will we discover what's available on the Web?  We may browse some of the larger legal indexes like FindLaw, CataLaw, or Internet Legal Resource Guide.  But I recommend starting with selective resources; that is, begin with sites that review, evaluate, and even annotate references.  These include LLRX findX, my own site, The Virtual Chase, Dow Jones Interactive, The Argus Clearinghouse, special research guides like International Commercial Arbitration by Lyonette Louis-Jacques, University of Michigan Documents Center, the Scout Report Signpost, Librarians' Index to the Internet, and The Webliography: Internet Subject Guides.

Using these recommended sites, we compile an extensive list of reference publications.   Because we desire a simple yet flexible and well-organized library, we opt to create a Web page.

Numerous HTML authoring software packages exist.5  A clean page, unencumbered by the typical bells and whistles of cyberspace, however, does not demand special software.  We will create this library with Microsoft's Notepad.

All good basic HTML documents begin with this tag: <html>, and end with this tag: </html>.  Each contains header information denoted by the opening <head> tag and closing </head> tag; and each includes a body beginning with the <body> tag and ending with the </body> tag.  Those unfamiliar with the basics of HTML may learn more about it at The Web Developer's Virtual Library.

If you wish, copy the coding below.  Replace the URLs in the anchors,6 and their descriptions, with URLs and descriptions of your choosing.

To organize the library, we select several headings:  General Reference, Legal Reference, and Insurance-Related Reference Publications.  A list of relevant hyperlinked titles will follow each heading.  To facilitate navigation within the library, we will create internal hyperlinks for each heading.

The coding of the basic page, without external hyperlinks, looks like this:

<html>

<head>

<title>My Reference Library</title>

</head>

<body>

<h2>My Reference Library</h2>

<p align="center"><a href="#general">General</a> | <a href="#legal">Legal</a> | <a href="#insurance">Insurance</a></p>

<h3><a name="general"></a>General Reference</h3>

<h3><a name="legal"></a>Legal Reference</h3>

<h3><a name="insurance"></a>Insurance-Related Reference Publications</h3>

</body>

</html>

Viewed in a browser, it should resemble this:

My Reference Library

General | Legal | Insurance

General Reference

Legal Reference

Insurance-Related Reference Publications

Now, let's add resources for the section on General Reference and place them in alphabetical order by title using the list <li> tag.

<h3><a name="general"></a>General Reference</h3>

<ul>

<li><a href="http://www.oanda.com/converter/classic">164 Currency Converter</a></li>

<li><a href="http://att.net/dir800/">AT&amp;T-Toll Free Internet Directory</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.bigbook.com/">BigBook</a></li>

<li><a href="http://stats.bls.gov/cpihome.htm">Consumer Price Indexes</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/cong016.html">The Congressional Directory</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.dnb.com/">Dun &amp; Bradstreet Reports</a> </li>

<li><a href="http://www.encyclopedia.com/home.html">Encyclopedia.com</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.indo.com/distance/">How Far Is It?</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.infospace.com/">Infospace</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.kbb.com/">Kelly Blue Book</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.mapquest.com/">MapQuest</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.m-w.com/home.htm">Merriam-Webster Online</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.graylab.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?action=Home&amp;query=">The On-Line Medical Dictionary</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.usps.gov/ncsc/">Postal Service, Zip Code Lookup</a></li>

<li><a href="http://stats.bls.gov/ppihome.htm">Producer Price Indexes</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.thesaurus.com/">Roget's Internet Thesaurus</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.census.gov/statab/www/">Statistical Abstracts of the United States</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www3.thomasregister.com/index.cgi">Thomas Register of American Manufacturers</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.weather.com/homepage.html">The Weather Channel</a></li>

</ul>

In a browser, General Reference should appear like this:

General Reference

We continue building the library by adding resources for Legal Reference and Insurance-Related Reference Publications.  When completed, the coding looks like this:

<html>

<head>

<title>My Reference Library</title>

</head>

<body>

<h2>My Reference Library</h2>

<p align="center"><a href="#general">General</a> | <a href="#legal">Legal</a> | <a href="#insurance">Insurance</a></p>

<h3><a name="general"></a>General Reference</h3>

<ul>

<li><a href="http://www.oanda.com/converter/classic">164 Currency Converter</a></li>

<li><a href="http://att.net/dir800/">AT&amp;T-Toll Free Internet Directory</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.bigbook.com/">BigBook</a></li>

<li><a href="http://stats.bls.gov/cpihome.htm">Consumer Price Indexes</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/cong016.html">The Congressional Directory</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.dnb.com/">Dun &amp; Bradstreet Reports</a> </li>

<li><a href="http://www.encyclopedia.com/home.html">Encyclopedia.com</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.indo.com/distance/">How Far Is It?</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.infospace.com/">Infospace</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.kbb.com/">Kelly Blue Book</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.mapquest.com/">MapQuest</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.m-w.com/home.htm">Merriam-Webster Online</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.graylab.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?action=Home&amp;query=">The On-Line Medical Dictionary</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.usps.gov/ncsc/">Postal Service, Zip Code Lookup</a></li>

<li><a href="http://stats.bls.gov/ppihome.htm">Producer Price Indexes</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.thesaurus.com/">Roget's Internet Thesaurus</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.census.gov/statab/www/">Statistical Abstracts of the United States</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www3.thomasregister.com/index.cgi">Thomas Register of American Manufacturers</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.weather.com/homepage.html">The Weather Channel</a></li>

</ul>

<h3><a name="legal"></a>Legal Reference</h3>

<ul>

<li><a href="http://www2.law.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/foliocgi.exe/citation?">Basic Legal Citation</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/cfr-table-search.html">Code of Federal Regulations</a></li>

<li><a href="http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/tallons/content_search.html">Contents Pages from Law Reviews and Other Scholarly Journals</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.epa.gov/">Environmental Protection Agency</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.fema.gov/">Federal Emergency Management Agency</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html">Federal Register</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/public.html">Federal Register Documents on Public Inspection</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ljx.com/practice/insurance/index.html">Insurance Law by Law Journal Extra!</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/insurance.html">Insurance Law Materials by Cornell</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.llrx.com/columns/litigat.htm">Litigator's Internet Resource Guide:

Rules of Court</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.martindale.com/locator/home.html">Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Locator</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www2.law.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/foliocgi.exe/ModelRules/
query=[jump!3A!27rule+1!2E1!27]/doc/{t2}/pageitems={body}?
"
>Model Rules of Professional Conduct</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.claims.com/index.html">National Directory of Expert Witnesses</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.osha.gov/">Occupational Safety &amp; Health Administration (OSHA)</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.wld.com/client/clawinfo/orans.asp">Oran's Dictionary of the Law</a></li>

<li><a href="http://thomas.loc.gov/">Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet</a></li>

<li><a href="http://law.house.gov/usc.htm">United States Code</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.wld.com/">West Legal Directory</a></li>

</ul>

<h3><a name="insurance"></a>Insurance-Related Reference Publications</h3>

<ul>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/legal/index.html">A.M. Best's Directory of Attorneys and Adjusters</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/resource/insdir.html">A.M. Best's Worldwide Insurance Directory</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.adr.org/focus-insurance.html">American Arbitration Association -- Focus Area: Insurance</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/bestline/index.html">BestLine</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/review/lh/index.html">Best's Review: Life/Health Edition</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/review/pc/index.html">Best's Review: Property/Casualty Edition</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/safety/index.html">Best's Safety Directory</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/bestweek/index.html">BestWeek</a></li>

<li><a href="http://chemfinder.camsoft.com/">ChemFinder</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ucalgary.ca/MG/inrm/glossary/index.htm">Glossary of Insurance and Financial Planning Terms</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.captive.com/service/signetstar/GlosRein.html">Glossary of Reinsurance Terms</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/directory/ascdir.html">Insurance Associations</a></li>

<li><a href="http://connectyou.com/ins/yellow.htm">Insurance Connections!: Insurance Yellow Pages</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.hwysafety.org/default.htm">Insurance Institute for Highway Safety</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.insure.com/">Insurance News Network</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.insure.com/ratings/index.html">Insurance Ratings</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.inswebpro.com/main/02-iic/statereg/default.htm">InsWeb State Regulatory Information</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.cnare.com/html/hot_topics/insurance_topics.html">Lexis/Nexis Hot Insurance Topics</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www4.ncdc.noaa.gov/cgi-win/wwcgi.dll?wwnolos~product~PB-078">Local Climatological Data</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/mmwr.html">Morbidity &amp; Mortality Weekly Report</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pubs.html">NIOSH Publications</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.insure.com/ratings/analysis/sp798.html">Standard &amp; Poor's Individual Annuities Sector Review</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ambest.com/directory/govdir.html">State Government Regulators</a></li>

<li><a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/ol/climate/climateproductsstormdata.html">Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena</a></li>

<li><a href="http://gen.insweb.yahoo.com/general/ref/general-default.htm">Yahoo Insurance Glossary</a></li>

</ul>

</body>

</html>

In a browser, it appears:

My Reference Library

General | Legal | Insurance

General Reference

Legal Reference

Insurance-Related Reference Publications

Save the file on your hard drive, or on a floppy, using the extension, .htm or .html.7  To load it, simply open it within your browser.  Consider creating a shortcut to it on your desktop.8  Now when the partner, the client, or the friend drop by, you can assist them in minutes and quickly return to more creative work.

Footnotes

1.  For information about the basics of Internet access and navigation, see PBS' Life on the Internet.

2.  Gordon Black, "Put Everything in its Place,"   Home User (15 April 1998)  Online. Internet. 27 July 1998. URL:   http://www.microsoft.com/ie/homeuser/archive/?/ie/homeuser/monthly/04apr/27artp3.htm

3.  To create a toolbar of links with Netscape 4.0, connect to a Web site you want to reference.   Then hold the cursor over the tiny bookmark icon to the left of the word, "location," which precedes the URL box.  (It appears on the URL/Bookmarks toolbar.)  Next, drag the icon to the space below the URL/Bookmarks toolbar.  As you do this, a plus sign and link (part of a chain link) will appear.  Drop the plus-sign-chain-link onto the empty toolbar.   You've now created a Personal Toolbar.  You may add as many pointers as it will hold.  And, you may edit the toolbar via the bookmarks menu. (Pull down Bookmarks.  Click on Personal Toolbar Folder.)  The following article describes the process for both Netscape and Internet Explorer:  Dinos Lambropoulos, "Been There, Liked That, Now What?"  2 Blink Online Tutorial (February/March 1998)  Online. Internet. 27 July 1998. URL:  http://www.earthlink.net/blink/issue18/tutorial.html

4.  See Organizing Utilities at internet ProductWatch.

5.  internet ProductWatch provides an extensive list as well as a review for each editor.

6.  The anchor code begins with <a href="http://domain.com/filename.htm"> and ends with </a>.  The information between the opening and closing tags describes the URL.  For example, a link to The Virtual Chase will appear as:   <a href="http://www.virtualchase.com/">The Virtual Chase</a>.

7.  If you use other word-processing software like Word or Word-Perfect, also save the text as "plain" or "ascii."

8.  To create a desktop shortcut, open Windows Explore (right mouse click over the Start menu, then click on Explore).  In Explore, locate the .htm or .html file you saved.  Drag the file to the desktop.