General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
Winter 2003 vol. 9 Number 2
Five Essential Search Sites for Solos
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Consider combing through more than 5 billion documents-a conservative estimate of the Internet's size-and you understand why a good search engine is a lawyer's most critical Internet tool. But no single tool performs every job, so I rely on a select few search sites, each tailored to a common task. Think of them as a legal researcher's Swiss Army knife.
Google (www.google.com) Start your search with Google, whose sheer breadth-it indexes more than 3 billion Web documents-helps make it the best overall search engine. Vast though it is, it delivers highly relevant results, thanks to its PageRank technology. The more sites that link to a webpage, Google presumes, the more valuable it must be. There is more to Google than Web searching. Google Groups is a complete archive of discussions from Usenet-the Internet's original bulletin board-back to 1981. Need a medical illustration? Try Google Image Search, possibly the largest image bank on the Web. Google News delivers headlines from more than 4,000 sources.
FindLaw (www.findlaw.com) For finding legal sites, FindLaw is a multifaceted portal. Its core is a comprehensive index of links to resources in more than 30 practice areas. Beyond its index are a host of features, including LawCrawler, a search engine that scours only sites that contain legal information, and an ever-growing library of free court opinions and statutory codes. West Group purchased FindLaw in January 2001, adding the West Legal Directory and other original content.
FirstGov (www.firstgov.gov) The official gateway to U.S. government information on the Internet, FirstGov connects to more than 51 million pages on more than 20,000 federal, state, territorial, and tribal sites. Overhauled last year, links are now organized by type of user (citizen, business, etc.) as well as by common reference terms, such as forms, laws, and press releases. Search the entire site or a single state.
Switchboard.com (www.switch board.com) Search for a missing witness. Locate a lost heir. Get the e-mail address of opposing counsel. Find a long-lost law school pal. Map the route to an unfamiliar courthouse. Match a phone number to its owner through reverse lookup. Search for a business. Telephone and e-mail directories abound on the Web, but Switchboard consistently remains one of the best.
Science.gov (www.science.gov) From tort to IP to biotech and beyond, lawyers can attest that scientific research is often an important aspect of law practice. Such research became easier in January when the federal government launched this gateway to science and technology information. A collaboration among 14 scientific and technical organizations from 10 major science agencies, the site indexes more than 1,000 government resources-technical reports, journals, databases, websites, and fact sheets- all available free.
Robert J. Ambrogi is a solo lawyer in Rockport, Massachusetts, and author of the book, The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web. He tracks new and intriguing legal websites through www.legaline.com/lawsites.html.