General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter
WINTER 1999 ISSUE
How to do Legal Research Online
By Ruth Davey
I’m a telecommuter. I live in Tucson, Arizona, and work in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I do legal research and writing and then either e-mail the completed product or save it on a floppy disc and send it by overnight mail. It’s possible to work from home effectively, and to do a variety of legal research using only a personal computer.
Using the Internet, it’s simple to research an issue to determine what the law is, and how it applies to your factual situation—a preliminary analysis. This is useful when you’re examining a client’s file at 11 p.m. and no law libraries are open. Additionally, there are areas of the law where you can find entire cases on the net—recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, bankruptcy cases, and many U.S. District Court cases. The database available on the Internet is constantly changing, so to stay current and make the World Wide Web work for you, search the Internet on a regular basis.
There are legal research services available over the Internet, such as Westlaw (http://www.westlaw.com), or Indexmaster (http://www.indexmaster.com). There are also a number of Web sites, search engines, metasearch engines and virtual libraries for law. Most of these are available for a fee. I will name only a few that I have found useful. For a more complete listing, I recommend G. Burgess Allison’s books, all published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section, and accessed through the LPMS Web site, http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/aboutburgess.html.
My favorite search engine is Altavista (http://www.altavista.com), and there is a new metasearch engine, which is subject-specific and searches legal databases: (http://www.lawguru.com).
Legal sites I like are:
• http://www.law.cornell.edu (Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School)
• http://www.washlaw.edu. (Washburn University School of Law)
• http://law.house.gov/ (U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library)
• http://www.law.indiana.edu/law/v-lib/lawindex.html (World Wide Web Virtual Library for Law)
• http://www.internetlawyer.com (Internet Lawyer Law Library).
If you are unable to access a site, keep trying. You may need to shorten the URL (Web address), and search through the directory to narrow your search.
Not all legal research can be conducted solely over the Internet. I believe that in order to write a brief on a current issue of law, the information needed is available from various proprietary sources. This includes most states’ case law and includes citation checking. Citation checking is also available over the Internet. Case law is available on CD-ROM sets. Providers of these sets are state-specific, so check your local bar journal for advertisements. The providers then update the CD’s by mailing a new CD set every 2-3 months. You might think that you could then use an older CD, recognizing that it would not contain the most recent cases, but software designers write in a code that makes the CD inoperable after a certain date.
Good luck—I firmly believe that the practice of law will have changed substantially ten years from now, based upon computer use. Practicing from home will become a viable and efficient method of serving clients, especially for solo practitioners.
Ruth Davey (Ruth.Davey@azbar.org), lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is a part-time attorney with Allan Wainwright, P.A., of Albuquerque, New Mexico (AllanLW@aol.com).