A review of Web sites related to litigation.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 2/20/1997; ALI-ABA Video Law Review; publisher: ALI-ABA
1. Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?
When personal computers were first invented, avid typists complained that they were not portable, could not print, and, therefore, were less useful and versatile that good old typewriters. When laptop computers were invented, computers suddenly became at least as portable (if not more so) than typewriters. And I recently saw a laptop computer that had a built-in printer, so we can now say, in 1997, that nearly 20 years after its invention, the personal computer has finally achieved the same functionality as the typewriter.
Similarly, when the World Wide Web was invented, making Internet access available to consumers with a simple graphical point-and-click interface, critics focused on what information was not available on the Internet, rather than what was available. Like avid typists, they stuck to traditional ways of doing legal research: books, periodicals, CD-ROMs, and online services such as Lexis-Nexis. And while the computer may have replaced the typewriter, the Internet has not yet replaced traditional research methods. But the Internet – and in particular the World Wide Web – can be used to supplement (not supplant) traditional legal research. Concerns voiced by Internet critics who maintain that the glass is half full (if that) should not be ignored by Internet proponents. Rather, those concerns should be considered by avid Internet legal researchers in the context of determining the reliability of Internet information.
2. Coping with Information Overload
Those who use the World Wide Web for the first time are amazed at how much information is there. They often feel overwhelmed by all of the information that is available, and they begin to ask others how to find information, what to do if you can’t find what you’re looking for, and how to know when to quit looking. “In my lifetime, I could never even begin to look at the home pages of all of the Web sites out there!” they say in wonderment. Yes, that’s true. But the same is true of any library in the country. In one lifetime, you could never read all the books in one stack of shelves. Yet somehow, Web users do not feel the same sort of “information overload” in a familiar library, where they have some visual clue as to the whereabouts of information. On the Net, the seemingly endless information is right there, just a point and a click away. So how does one cope with information overload on the Net?
You should deal with information overload on the Internet is the same way that you deal with information overload at the library. At the library, you can consult card catalogs with information sorted by author or by subject. You can wander down the isle where your remember seeing similar information. Or, when all else fails, you can ask a reference librarian for help. And, in the case of legal information, as you get closer to what you’ve been looking for, you’ll discover that much of the sorting, organizing, and summarizing of information has already been done for you. Just as librarians help you find the particular book you’re looking for, legal publishers help you find the case in the book that you care about. Librarians and legal publishers are both information professionals, specialists in taxonomy (the organization of information), who are paid to help you weed through the volumes of available data to find the few pages (or bytes, take your pick) of information that you need.
3. Information Professionals – At the Library and On the Net
On there Internet, traditional information professionals (such as librarians and legal publishers) have set up shop to help Net users find what they are looking for. For example, on June 1, 1996, Martindale-Hubbell (http://www.martindale.com/) put its directory of 900,000 lawyers on the Internet, giving every lawyer in American a de facto presence – or home page – on the Internet. Martindale-Hubbell, already the name in paper-based lawyer directories, is now the name in Internet-based lawyer directories. Also, new types of Internet-only services (such as search engines and directories) have been established to cope with some of the problems that are unique to the digital-only environment of the Net.
|Type of Resource||Traditional Library||The Internet|
|Comprehensive Compilation of Volumes||– Books in Print
– Card Catalogs
|The InterNIC’s Whois Database (http://www.internic.net/wp/whois.html)|
|Subject-Oriented Data||Book Stacks and Shelves||Directories of Web Sites:
– General Purpose: Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com/)
– Law-Related: FindLaw (http://www.findlaw.com/)
|Searchable Index||Computerized Card Catalogs||Search Engines:
– InfoSeek (http://www.infoseek.com/)
– Alta Vista (http://altavista.digital.com/)
|Human Help||Librarian||Virtual Private Networks:
– America Online
– Counsel Connect
4. Reliable Litigation Resources
When you are looking for litigation resources on the Net, start by looking for Net-based versions of what you’re used to looking for in paper. You can use the table above to help identify which type of resource can help you in your search. For example, if you are looking for state supreme court opinions, go to FindLaw (http://www.findlaw.com/) to see if the information is available. You will find that there is a great deal of information that is not available on the Internet – particularly any pre-1992 information – but you will also be pleasantly surprised at how much is available. Used properly, the Internet can be used to supplement paper-based research.
Primary law (cases, statutes, and regulations) related to litigation are discussed in detail elsewhere in these materials, but here’s a sampling of what’s available. On the federal side, you can find the US Code (http://law.house.gov/usc.htm), pending legislation (http://thomas.loc.gov/), the Code of Federal Regulations (http://law.house.gov/4.htm), and the Federal Register (http://thorplus.lib.purdue.edu/gpo/). These sites are all free, and many of them are searchable. The remainder of this paper will cover reliable sources of secondary law (commentary, law reviews, and the like) related to litigation.
a. University Sites
A summary of what I consider to be the top 10 law school Web sites can be found on the “Legal Links” column of the Martindale-Hubbell Web site (http://www.martindale.com/profession/linkarchive.html). Clearly, the best two law school Web sites – in terms of the amount of content that exist at their sites – are Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (http://www.law.cornell.edu/) and The Villanova Center for Information Law and Policy at Villanova University School of Law (http://www.law.vill.edu/). Cornell’s site has a wealth of value-added content, most notably United States Supreme Court decisions. Villanova’s site contains several key law-related indices, including The Federal Court Locator and The State Court Locator.
Legal periodicals are also available online. Law journal articles and papers to which the authors have retained copyright can gain second life on the Internet. In fact, there are already many law journals on the Net (http://lawlib.wuacc.edu/washlaw/lawjournal/lawjournal.html).
One of those journals is JOLT, the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology (http://www.urich.edu/~jolt/). Created by Richard P. Klau when he was a student at the University of Richmond School of Law, JOLT was the first law journal published exclusively online (the Internet, Lexis-Nexis, and Westlaw). JOLT is an excellent example of how the Internet is changing legal research and legal publishing as many now know it.
b. Other Law-Related Sites
Many law firms are publishing articles online, such as one published by Frank A. Lattal, of Connell, Foley & Geiser entitled “Ex Parte Interviews of Employees and Former Employees: Balancing Ethics and the Unfettered Discovery of Facts” (http://www.cfg-lawfirm.com/lattal.html). Two of the best ways to find law firm Web sites are to use the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (http://www.martindale.com/) and Yahoo’s law firm directory (http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Companies/Law/Firms/).
c. Listserv Lists and Usenet Newsgroups
In addition to Web sites, there are many e-mail-based and Usenet-based discussion groups related to law. “Law Lists” (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/~llou/lawlists/info.html) is the best compilation of law-related electronic mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups. It is maintained by Lyonette Louis-Jacques, Foreign and International Law Librarian and Lecturer in Law at the hUniversity of Chicago (firstname.lastname@example.org). It is also searchable (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/law-lists). Searching “Law Lists” for “trial” yielded the following:
TRIAL-LAWYERS@assocdir.wuacc.edu (Trial Lawyers – Attorneys list)
Send the following message email@example.com:
subscribe trial-lawyers Your Name
d. Business and Corporate Sites
Business and financial resources are also available. Some examples include the Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval) database (http://www.sec.gov/edgarhp.htm), which contains searchable 10K and 10Q filings. InterQuote (http://www.interquote.com/cgi-bin/search) provides a searchable database of stock market symbols and company names. And PC Quote, Inc., offers stock market quotes (http://www.pcquote.com/index.html) online.
c. News Sites
The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition (http://www.wsj.com/) is available on a for-fee basis ($29 – $49 year) and has a two-week free trial. The New York Times (http://www.nyt.com/) is a free service, but registration is required. And there are others, of course. If you read it and rely on a particular publication, it may very well be on the Web (although it may not be free).
d. Medical/Scientific Sites
If you are looking for medical information, you may want to try the American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/). And if you are looking for scientific information, where better to start than the best science and engineering school in the country: MIT (http://web.mit.edu/).
5. Conclusion – It’s Half-Full
There has been a great deal of hype about the Internet – and about the World Wide Web in particular – over the last few years. Whether you believe all of the hype all of the time or not, one thing is clear: the Internet is here to stay. These materials have focused on the power of the Internet as a means of publication and research. The Net is also a powerful medium of communication. And new technologies are blurring the lines between e-mail, the Web, and other Internet tools. Those that already on the Internet (and have already established Web sites) have a bit of a head start. But those that have not can still catch up. Because we have only just begun to see how the Internet – like the telephone and the fax machine – will change the way we do business each and every day.