Legal Practice Tips
3 Thrifty Tools
Legal research for the rest of us
By Barry D. Bayer
a lot to do on the Internet, but for any lawyer, computer-assisted legal research
should be key. Although Lexis and Westlaw still have more primary sources and
better search tools than anyone else, they are, of course, the most expensive.
Computer-assisted legal research availability has broadened. This column looks
at two new sites that will be of interest to any lawyer, and takes another look
at the revived Loislaw.
NATIONAL LAW LIBRARY
The National Law Library (NLL) purports to offer 'affordable legal research' with 'the essential case law and statutes that you need at the lowest possible price.' Depending on your definition of 'affordable' and 'essential,' NLL seems to deliver just what it promises.
claims statutes, legal forms and at least 50 years of court decisions in all
50 states; I didn't check every jurisdiction, but coverage seems at least close
to the claims.
begin research, the user selects the jurisdiction and file to search, then enters
search terms and chooses whether to treat two terms as connected with AND, OR,
AND NOT, or to treat them as a phrase.
user can also enter the search terms in a complex Boolean expression, but constructing
a search according to NLL's rather strict and unforgiving syntax - each operator
preceded by a backslash, each search to begin with a parentheses and a space,
a space between each term and so forth - proved tedious; it took me five tries
to get my first, relatively simple, search request accepted.
entry on the resulting hit list has a case name and either West reporter and
official reporter citations or, for more recent cases, an official court case
number and what looks to be a slip opinion. In cases with reporter citations,
referenced opinions are hyperlinked if the referenced case is in the database.
costs $34 per month for the state cases and statutes from one state, and $50
for the material from one state and the federal library. The federal library
includes complete coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court cases, the United States
Code, cases from the U.S. Courts of Appeals from all of the Circuits, Rules
of the U.S. Supreme Court, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence. All 50 states plus federal
material is $75 per month. These charges are for one user at a time; significant
discounts are given for additional concurrent users.
is not completely up to date and NLL doesn't have a lot of frills, but the pricing
seems reasonable. If the major-company, computer-assisted legal research offerings
are too expensive, and the $6.95 per month Versuslaw or the free five years
of cases from Lexisone just doesn't have what you need, I suggest you point
your Browser to www.itislaw.com, and take
Instacase digests court decisions from nine states, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, and posts each digest, and a link to the full text of each opinion, on official court Websites, or semi-official sites such as Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute's archive of U.S. Supreme Court opinions.
out the news and cases of the day. Or search the archive, selecting specific
jurisdictions and case type. Chances are that your state is not currently available,
but we're told that the developer will be including more states, and the rest
of the federal appellate courts in the future.
digests and links are archived and searchable for only 90 days. InstaCase is
for current cases and doesn't pretend to do more.
of this is available free of charge. But if you're willing to part with $100
a year, InstaCase will send a daily e-mail of iGests (for Internet Digests)
of all opinions from the covered jurisdictions; if 'all opinions'
leads to information overload, you can select a subset of the coverage, designating
the jurisdictions and case types of interest.
you are currently paying for a computer-assisted legal research system, you
probably can get a clipping service that provides similar information at little
or no cost.
so, you may wish to determine whether Instacase covers your jurisdiction or
otherwise provides useful information. (The site does cover Delaware, and therefore
may be useful for corporate lawyers throughout the country.) Even if there isn't
enough to justify paying for the iGests, it may be useful to run a free search
once a week, just to see what is there.
URL is www.instacase.com.
When Loislaw.com went public a couple of years ago, the market viewed it not as a legal publisher but as a dot-com, and priced the stocks extraordinarily high, considering the company's size and earnings history. Live by the dot-com market, die by the dot-com market, but Loislaw.com seems to be flourishing since its purchase earlier this year by Wolters Kluwer.
has now added GlobalCite, an attempt to compensate for lack of a traditional
citator service such as the old line Shepard's citator or West's more recent
KeyCite. GlobalCite is not really a citator, but does a search in all Loislaw
databases for the document being viewed.
GlobalCite report doesn't give the nuanced, pinpoint listings and status flags
of the Lexis or West citator, but it does at least provide some modicum of information
to the attorney beginning research on a matter, with nothing but a case citation.
second new feature is coverage of the most difficult to cover courts in American
law, the federal district courts and the bankruptcy courts. The company is adding
new cases as they come down, but is attempting to add older cases that have
been cited by higher federal courts or state courts.
the district court and the bankruptcy coverage are intended to be inclusive,
beginning with the year 2000; selective district court cases begin in 1932,
with selective bankruptcy coverage in 1979.
pricing has bounced around a lot over the years. It was incredibly inexpensive
in the early days, but of course the database didn't have full coverage then.
Current pricing begins at $79 a month for single-state coverage to $179 for
the entire national collection not including the district court or bankruptcy
cases. Add $20 to any other pricing for the district court cases, and $79 for
district court and bankruptcy cases. Thus everything on the system can be purchased
for about $260 a month.
of these prices are for one user at a time, and significant discounts are available
for multiple concurrent users. While these prices don't seem unreasonable for
the material offered, it certainly asks solo or small firm lawyers to pay almost
in the range of what they would for the big two. I suggest that before signing
up with Loislaw, you should check with both Lexis and Westlaw.
URL, of course, is www.loislaw.com.
MORE WORD ABOUT PRICING
There are lot of differences in collections and research facilities in the various computer-assisted legal research companies. If you pay more, you usually get more. I don't think that legal research capability has become a commodity, but cases or codes within the given time periods are usually at least similar.
the computer-assisted legal research companies are alike in one way: Pricing
is always confusing and these companies do offer deals. While I know of no specific
deals with any of the mentioned computer-assisted legal research companies,
I always suggest you ask your salesperson whether any special deals are available
before signing up. It can't hurt, and it might lead to significant savings.
Instacase provides free current awareness case digests for nine states, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. E-mail versions are available at $100 per year.
Law Library has low-cost, no-frills 50 years of coverage for 50 states, and
usable coverage for federal appellate cases.
Loislaw.com, having added federal district court and bankruptcy cases and with foreign ownership, is now squarely in the computer-assisted legal research big leagues. I like the offerings, but if you're pricing Loislaw, you ought to see what is available on Lexis and Westlaw for a similar price. +
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his office in Homewood, Ill. You may send comments or questions to his e-mail address email@example.com or write c/o Law Office Technology Review, P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, Ill. 60430. Reprinted with permission from Law Office Technology Review, April 24, 2001.