Technology - PropertyTechnology Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
Internet, Schminternet What's the Big Deal?
I am sick of hearing about the Internet. So are you, probably. For starters, the Net is the most worn out cultural idiom since Comet Kohoutek. But, it's more than that. For a lot of us, it has to do with the unique species of indignation that we reserve for cultural phenomena holding special appeal for people who have just too much free time on their hands. In fact, step back for a moment and consider what was the last thing that annoyed you as much as all the ballyhoo about surfing, cyberspace, the info-way, blah, blah, blah. Right. MTV.
The Internet Is a Useful Tool
Well, Luddite brothers and sisters, that's all too bad, because underneath all the claptrap and infomercial clutter lies a useful tool. And it's a tool that you would do well to become familiar with, because it can add value to the legal services you provide your clients.
I will assume for our purposes here that you are familiar with the Internet. If you are unfamiliar with the Net, you have three choices:
(1) get yourself familiar with it;
(2) persuade an associate or staff member to get familiar with it; or
(3) get used to the idea of being snickered at by skateboard-riding 12 year olds who really aren't anywhere near as smart as you are.
If you choose the option of self-education, there are some resources to help you get started. In order of increasing detail, consider Daniel Evans's Technology Probate column in Probate & Property, Nov./Dec. 1995, at 32; Joseph Hodges Jr.'s A Lawyer's Guide to the Internet, Probate & Property, May/June 1995, at 38; and G. Burgess Allison's The Lawyer's Guide to the Internet (published by the ABA Section of Law Practice Management and available through the ABA). Don't feel that you need to know anywhere near everything in this book to get started, though.
No matter which approach you take, you shouldn't spend long trying to get up to speed. Remember how you learned to be a lawyer in the first place? That's right: experientia docet. To become conversant in Internet-speak, you must sit down in front of your partner's or your colleague's or your kid's computer and try it out. You won't get lost. You can't commit malpractice (not counting the work you ignore). You probably can't even hurt the PC. Do it sooner rather than later. Don't fall farther behind.
A Word of Caution
One more thing to keep in mind as you're out there careening through cyberspace: Be careful, or at least don't be careless. Your ethical obligations follow you on-line. This seems obvious. You will be astonished, however, how often you observe duties of confidence being compromised. The showing off that seems to accompany on-line discussion sometimes gets out of hand. Resist the temptation to impress your colleagues with bloated tales of your brilliant tactics on behalf of Mega Corp. Give some thought, too, to the positions you publish, especially in settings where non-lawyers may be watching. There is no clear guidance yet on any number of significant concerns like issue conflicts and formation of attorney-client relationships. Until guidelines emerge, do not be fooled by the casual appearance of Net communications.
A Guide to Resources for Real Estate Professionals
Now, for those of you who caught the train, here's the promised survey of Internet-based resources. The list is as current as many hours of purposeful searching can make it. It focuses on materials that a real estate practitioner might find useful but includes only resources available without charge. The list does not include any subscription services.
Before getting to the more specialized services, here are some general resources that you should immediately queue up if you have not done so already:
- the United States Code ( http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode).
- the complete Code of Federal Regulations ( http://www.pls.com:8001/his/cfr.html).
- the Supreme Court's decisions ( http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/supct.table.html).
- the recent decisions of the United States Courts of Appeals are at Glenn Bacal's Indispensable Website for Lawyers and Their Clients, ( http://www.azlink.com/lawyers/). This site also contains much other useful material.
- All of your state's on-line agencies. Try Indiana University's WWW Virtual Library of State Government Servers, ( http://www.law.indiana. edu/law/states.html).
- Commercial Real Estate List Server. A discussion group for professionals involved in sales, acquisition, management and development of commercial real estate. To subscribe, send a message to list email@example.com with no subject line and only the following text in the body of the message: SUB COMMERCIAL-REALESTATE (e.g., using my address, SUB COMMERCIAL REAL-ESTATE MJO@QUARLES.COM).
- DIRT is the grandaddy of list servers for generalist real estate lawyers. The list and its discussions are well administered by Patrick Randolph at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Professor Randolph, who also edits the Quarterly Report on Developments in Real Estate Law (published by the Section), draws on case law developments, practice trends and other hot topics to prepare a "Daily Development," which is then fodder for the group's discussion. Recent Daily Developments have touched on everything from environmental contamination insurance to capital gains liability on foreclosure to the use of opinion letters in real estate practice. The discussion is lively and the commentators generally well informed. To subscribe, send a message to dirt-request@cctr. umkc.edu with no subject and only the word SUBSCRIBE in the body of the message.
- HOA-List is a discussion group for those involved with ownership associations, whether in planned unit development, townhouse, condominium or other settings. Participants include unit owners, association board members and professionals. To subscribe, send a message to hoa-list-request@netcom. com with no subject and only the word HELP in the body of the message.
- Homeforum, the discussion group of the ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, provides an interesting interplay among real estate, land use and tax lawyers about the arcana of Section 8 programs, Code 42, HUD, FHA, LIHPRHA, and so forth. To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with no subject and the following text in the body of the message: SUBSCRIBE HOMEFORUM (e.g., SUBSCRIBE HOMEFORUM JOHN SMITH).
- LNET-LLC is a group for discussing limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, limited liability limited partnerships and other unincorporated business entities. The group, which serves as a forum for lawyers, accountants, academics and students, is a project of the Section's LLC/Partnerships Task Force. It also includes access to an Internet library of LLC/LLP materials available to subscribers by e-mail and FTP and on the Web. To subscribe, send a message to listserv@ usa.net with no subject and the following text in the body of the message: SUBSCRIBE LNET-LLC (e.g., SUBSCRIBE LNET-LLC JOHN SMITH).
- Tax Analysts' Real Estate Discussion Group is a group moderated by the staff of Tax Analysts. The moderator posts occasional developments that serve as a forum for comment on tax elements of real estate practice, as well as for debate on tax policy. (Tax Analysts also sponsors 20 other discussion groups, each moderated by one of its staff members, on substantive areas ranging from bankruptcy to natural resources.) To subscribe, send a message to email@example.com with no subject line and the following in the body of the message: SUBSCRIBE (e.g., SUBSCRIBE MJO@QUARLES.COM).
- Lyonette Louis-Jacques's Law List is not a list server but a list of list servers, maintained by Lyonette Louis-Jacques, a law librarian at the University of Chicago. The list was last updated July 10, 1995 but may be a good continuing resource. Access the list through the ABA's home page on the Web, or go directly to the list of real estate servers at http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/lawlists?realestate.
ABA and the Section of Real Property, Probate and Trust Law. The ABA is on the Web through ABAnet, http://www.abanet.org.
- You can gain access to the Section through the ABA's page or directly at http://www.abanet.org/rppt. The Section's page includes membership information; committee rosters; tables of contents from recent issues of Probate & Property and the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Journal; information on upcoming programs; links to related external sites; and an e-mail link to the Section.
- Findlaw, at http://www.findlaw.com, offers a searchable database of law journals available on the Internet. Findlaw also offers searchable, full text files of the journals themselves. The site is organized by legal subject. You can gain access to the real estate subject index directly at http://www.findlaw.com/01topics/33property/index.html.
- Hieros Gamos Real Estate Indices. Hieros Gamos, a service of Lex Mundi (a global consortium of about 125 law firms), bills itself as "the only comprehensive guide to the worldwide practice of law." Judge for yourself at http://www.hg.org. Hieros Gamos offers several specialized indices of interest. The real estate index ( http://www.hg.org/realest.html), for example, provides a list of articles on topics ranging from "Confiscation of U.S.-owned Property Overseas" to a thoughtful piece on "Real Estate Tax Policy in the Information Age." Indices also exist for land use ( http://www.hg.org/landuse.html) and landlord-tenant ( http://www.hg.org/landlord.html) topics.
- Legal Information Institute Real Estate Pages. G. Burgess Allison calls LII, sponsored by Cornell University's law school, "one of the most comprehensive starting points for law-related services" on the Internet. That's a fair appraisal. Among the useful resources available through LII are the following:
-real estate transaction law materials, at http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/real_estate. html;LII also offers loads of other resources, including one of the better search engines for finding recent Supreme Court decisions.
-landlord/tenant law materials, at http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/landlord_tenant.html.
- Americans with Disabilities Act Document Center. This site, located at http://janweb.icdi.wvu.edu/kinder, includes the full text of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), as well as Department of Justice publications on ADA and other links to ADA and other disability-related topics.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics's home page at http://www.bls.gov offers ready access to price indexing information of the kind commonly found in real estate contracts, including the latest consumer price and producer price indices, as well as mountains of other economic data.
- Census Bureau. This is probably not the first site that comes to mind for a real estate lawyer, but the Bureau's page at http://www.census.gov provides a wide variety of data that can be very useful, especially in zoning proceedings. For example, the Bureau's TIGER map service provides detailed street grids (with your choice of demographic data in some instances) for any location in the United States, at any level of detail the user selects. The Bureau's thematic mapping system permits a user to generate customized data matrices (e.g., percentage change from 1985 to 1992 in building permits issued for private health care facilities) from a very large list of data categories. The site is not very easy to use, however, and it is rather slow.
- Fair Lending Guide. Published by Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, the Fair Lending Guide page at http://www.ffhsj.com/fairlend/fair.htm provides information on the Fair Lending Guide, a resource covering topics under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), as well as under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The page also provides on-line access to copies of Fair Lending Alert ( http://www.ffhsj.com/fairlend/fairarch.htm), a Fried, Frank periodical on fair lending topics, and to copies of 21st Century Banking Alert ( http://www.ffhsj.com/bancmail/bancpage.htm), a Fried, Frank publication on legal issues in banking trends.
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Survey of Real Estate Trends. A copy of FDIC's most recent survey of real estate trends is available at gopher://gopher.fdic.gov:70/00/survey/survey.txt. The survey publication summarizes the responses to FDIC's periodic surveys of bank examiners and asset managers at FDIC, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, and the Resolution Trust Company. Trends in residential and commercial real estate are reviewed on national and regional bases and distilled into an index predicting future real estate trends.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA's home page at http://www.fema.gov includes information on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a link to FEMA's map service center, on-line access to NFIP map products, and information on ordering hard copies of Flood Insurance Rate Maps. (The page claims that FEMA plans to make available on-line flood data covering more than 800 counties across the country by this summer.)
- Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). Fannie Mae's home page at http://www.fanniemae.com includes, among other things, information on FNMA itself and on products and services available to lenders, as well as abstracts of housing research reports available for ordering.
- Federal Reserve System's Homebuyer Qualification Software. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis's page at http://woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us includes information on, and a downloadable copy of, Partners, a freeware program that can be used by real estate professionals to determine if a potential homebuyer can qualify for a loan given the financial information and underwriting criteria the user provides. The program also includes loan amortization schedules, an equity build-up computation and information on secondary market considerations.
- Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD's page at http://www.hud.gov includes downloadable copies of the most recent six months of HUD handbooks, notices, and mortgagee letters, as well as housing related Federal Register documents. The page also includes discussions of Section 8 and FHA-insured multifamily housing issues, information on local offices (with direct links to some), and information for lenders.
- Law Journal Extra! Real Estate Pages. This is an on-line service from the publishers of The National Law Journal, New York Law Journal and Law Technology. Access requires a subscription fee of $10 per month, but the publisher is currently offering one month's free access. The LJX! real estate pages at http://www.ljx.com/realestate/index.html include a collection of stories on real estate topics, columns collected from LJX!'s sister publications, links to real estate statutes (through the Legal Information Institute at Cornell), a "title insurance update," and Construction Law Review (a digest of recent construction law cases prepared by the construction practice group at Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz).
- Planning and Architectural Internet Resource Center (PAIRC). PAIRC ( http://www.arch.buffalo.edu/pairc), put together by the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, offers links to over 1,600 Web, gopher and FTP sites with urban planning, architecture and landscape architecture information. Try PAIRC's link to land use and zoning at http://www.arch.buffalo.edu/pairc/land_use.html, which includes a number of municipal zoning codes.
- Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA site at http://www.sbaonline.sba.gov/index.html provides general information on SBA and its products, including its popular LowDoc Loan Program (with downloadable forms) and its program of loans to small general contractors.
- United States Geological Survey (USGS) ( http://www.usgs.gov) and USGS National Mapping Information Page. USGS offers an exceptional resource that includes: FTP access to digital data sets available from USGS's Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center; downloadable software for viewing a wide variety of Landsat satellite photos (with roadway, hydrography, and topography information); and a catalog of, and ordering information for, maps and images from the National Geospatial Data Clearinghouse.
- Personalized Shakespearean Insult Service. Stop by ( http://kite.ithaca.ny.us/insult.html) the next time you want to call your local zoning administrator a "pribbling, idle-headed, clay-brained pigeon-egg" or something equally nasty.