The Proactive Attorney: Using Free E-Monitoring and E-Alerts to Keep a Step Ahead
By Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch
Being proactive rather than reactive is one of the keys to becoming a sought-after attorney. Being proactive requires being a step ahead of others about the issues that affect your firm, your profession and your clients (this includes current, past, and potential clients). Setting up online e-monitoring and e-alert services can be your secret weapon. Instead of trying to keep up to date by manually scanning information from myriad news articles, pending legislation and regulations, dockets, and websites, you can set up an e-monitoring/e-alert service to automatically monitor this assortment of information for you and have an e-alert e-mailed to your in-box. Some e-monitoring services require the user to go to a website to view new alerts, while others automatically send e-alerts to the user.
While there have been subscription-based e-monitoring and e-alert services for years, free e-monitoring and e-alert services did not come into existence until the rise of the Internet. This article will focus on free services.Monitoring Federal Legislation
Federal legislation offers an example of how e-alerts can benefit the practice of law. The official federal legislative site, Thomas, does not have an e-monitoring or e-alert feature to track pending legislation, but GovTrack does. (GovTrack, www.govtrack.us, was developed by a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Linguistics.) At GovTrack, information from a variety of official sources—including Thomas (for bills andcommittee reports) and the U.S. Senate and House websites (for voting records)—is integrated into one database for ease of monitoring legislation and sending e-alerts.
GovTrack is easy to use. For example, an immigration attorney can use GovTrack to research pending legislation on torture if the attorney has clients claiming they would be tortured if returned to their country of origin. To find pending legislation, the attorney would click on the “Legislation” tab and either select “Search Legislation,” enter the word “torture” into the “Find a Bill” search box, and choose a year back to 1999, or click on the “What Interests You?” tab, select “T” from the alphabetical list and then click on “torture.” In both cases, 15 bills appear. If the attorney were interested in only one bill, such as Senate Bill 654, clicking on the bill would display the status of the bill and links to the full text of the bill. The attorney can request that GovTrack monitor the bill by selecting a tab labeled “Monitor.” To end the monitoring, click “Stop Monitoring.” To monitor all bills under the topic “torture,” use the topic search.
To receive an e-alert from GovTrack about Senate Bill 654, go to GovTrack’s home page, scroll down to “Track,” and then click on “Sign Up.” Then, enter an email address and select a password. Return to the home page, click on “Monitor,” and then select “Login and email updates settings.” From here, the user is able to select from a drop-down menu. One setting is “Send Me Daily Updates,” and another is “Send Me Weekly Updates” and the other setting is “Don’t Send Me Updates.” Once a selection is made, click on “Update Settings.”
Monitoring Federal Regulations
If an attorney’s practice involves federal regulatory law, subscribing to a free daily e-alert for the Federal Register’s table of contents is in order. Sign up by entering your name and e-mail address into the form found at http://listserv.access.gpo.gov and selecting “FEDREGTOC-L Federal Registers Table of Contents” from the drop-down menu. Unfortunately, there is no option to limit the alert to a specific agency’s regulations. Each day subscribers receive a nicely formatted email containing the table of contents of that day’s Federal Register. Next to each entry are links to access the entry either as text or PDF.
Monitoring the Web and News Articles
For those who want access to a broad amount of information, the e-monitor and e-alert features at Yahoo and Google could be a good solution.
To set up a Google e-alert, visit www.google.com/alerts and enter your key words (for example, client names, company names, competitor names, words describing an industry, and so on) into the first box. Then choose the type of alert (Web, news, Groups, or Web & news) and how often the alert should be e-mailed (daily, weekly, or as they occur). Next, enter a recipient email address. On the bottom left of this Google page, a “Manage Your Alerts” sign-in offer appears. The benefit of this process is that every time you log onto Google Alerts, you can view your list of alerts, run an e-alert search on the spot (when you cannot wait to receive an automatic e-alert), and edit or delete e-alerts. For example, one may create a daily Web e-alert with Iraq as the topic. Later, it is simple to revise this alert to add “news” to monitor Google’s news database, in addition to monitoring the web. The alert can be edited to send news as it happens rather than daily.
If a user does not select the “Manage Your Alerts” sign-in offer, editing e-alerts is not an option. In this case, the alert must be deleted entirely (by clicking on a link at the bottom of an alert e-mail) and a brand new alert must then be created to the new specifications that are desired.
To use Yahoo e-alerts, see http://alerts.yahoo.com. Unlike Google, Yahoo requires users to set up accounts (for free) before being allowed access to the feature. Once logged into a Yahoo account, a user can add key words to an alert search or modify a search by excluding key words (by adding them to a “Do Not Include” box). Yahoo offers fewer delivery frequency choices than Google, but Yahoo offers more options for where it delivers its alerts. To choose Yahoo alerts once daily or as they happen, users click the “Change Delivery Options” link near the bottom of the alert setup screen.
To receive alerts via e-mail, Yahoo Instant Messenger, or a text-message-enabled cell phone, users can click on the “My Alerts” tab. Because Yahoo and Google do not monitor all the same sources, it may be useful to set up an e-alert on both services.Watch That Page
Another way to keep tabs on a company is to monitor its website for any changes. To accomplish this, users can sign up for a free service at Watch That Page (found at www.watchthatpage.com). After signing up, a user enters one or more URLs (for example, www.lacba.org) into the “Add Pages” box. When a page on a monitored site changes, Watch That Page sends an e-alert on a daily or weekly basis. One can choose an e-alert that displays only the URLs of the pages that have changed or one that shows what text on the page has changed. Websites belonging to clients or opposing parties are prime candidates for Watch That Page monitoring.
Clicking on “Add New Channel” on Watch That Page allows the user to have new content on all watched pages collated into one email message or separated into several messages. Users can also restrict the monitoring to specific key words on the watched pages instead of all changes on a page.
Watch That Page can be used to monitor the dockets of courts that do not offer docket monitoring of their own. To monitor the docket of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case (and receive an e-alert for any new action about the pending case), visit the court’s Web site ( www.supremecourtus.gov) and click on “Docket.” Enter a party name or a key word into the “Search For” box to find a case. Select the link to the case, and note the URL for the case’s docket (for example, http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/03-1238.htm).Monitoring State Bills
Copy this URL into the Watch That Page monitoring page. Watch That Page will monitor the docket sheet and send an e-alert when the page changes.
Many state legislatures provide free services for monitoring pending legislation. An attorney can monitor a California state bill, for example, by visiting the Assembly site ( www.assembly.ca.gov) or the Senate site ( www.sen.ca.gov), clicking on “Legislation,” and entering a bill number, key word, or author, into the search box. After finding a relevant bill, the attorney would link to it and click on “Subscribe” (located on the left side of the Senate page and at the bottom of the Assembly page). On the next screen, enter an email address into the “Enter E-mail” box and click “Submit” on the Senate site and “OK” on the Assembly site.
The Legislative Counsel site, LegInfo ( www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html) also offers this feature for both Assembly and Senate bills. An added feature only at the Assembly site is the ability to send a comment via e-mail to the member of the Assembly who authored the bill. Click on the “Comment” tab located at the top of the screen (it is also located at the bottom) of any displayed Assembly bill.Monitoring State Dockets
Many state courts provide free services for monitoring case dockets. The California Court of Appeal’s official site, for example, offers a free e-monitoring e-alert service of its docket. To search for the case to monitor, a user may for example visit http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search.cfm?dist=2. Once the case is selected, the user can request an e-alert by entering an e-mail address and the case number. The user then selects the case activities for which notification is to be sent (for example, brief filed, calendar notice, disposition, record on appeal filed, and remittitur issued) and then clicks the “Register for Notification” button.
Six months after a case is complete, e-alerts are deleted from the system. If a case is reinstated, re-registration is required. No alert is sent to notify a past user of this reinstatement.Go Ahead and Set Up an E-Alert Now!
E-alerts offer an excellent supplement to research because they can be a way for a busy attorney to stay ahead of the competition by keeping track of the news, legislation, regulations, and dockets that are important to his or her practice areas. Shortly after signing up for e-alerts, they begin to arrive in your designated mailbox. Best of all, many e-alerts can be established for free.
Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch are principals of Internet For Lawyers ( www.netforlawyers.com). They are nationally recognized speakers and writers about Internet research. They coauthored the second edition of the ABA LPM published The Lawyer's Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet ( http://www.abanet.org/abastore/index.cfm?section=Main&fm=Product.AddToCart&pid=5110568). The new edition will be available in September 2006. They also coauthored The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet ( http://www.netforlawyers.com/products.htm), published in April 2006. Carole serves on the ABA LPM Executive Council and its Publishing Advisory Board.