Oregon State Bar Bulletin — OCTOBER 2011
On the Legal Web:
A Round-up of What's New
By Robert J. Ambrogi

This month we play catch-up with some of what is new on the Web of interest to legal professionals, from a much-improved official site for the U.S. Code to a new online journal of analysis and commentary.

New Official Site for U.S. Code
The official federal government publisher of the U.S. Code recently unveiled a beta version of a new U.S. Code website, http://uscodebeta.house.gov, that features a number of enhancements for searching and working with the nation’s governing body of laws.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives — the entity responsible for preparing and publishing the official U.S. Code — said that the new site incorporates several new features and that additional enhancements are in the works.

The most dramatic improvement is search, especially when compared to the current search site. Search is improved on many levels, but one that stands out is in the display of search results. Whereas the current site (http://uscode.house.gov/search/criteria.shtml) shows results only as a list of citations, the new site shows results in context, Google style. This enables a much quicker assessment of a result’s relevance. If you prefer to see the results listed by citation, you can easily toggle the view. You can also choose to sort results either by relevance or order within the Code.

Also improved is the display of Code pages when you click through from a search hit. The current ASCII-style display is replaced by one that is far easier on the eyes. Hits open in a new window with search terms highlighted. Within this window, you can move from hit to hit and from Code section to section.

Another noteworthy new feature is Cite Checker. Use this to quickly check a specific Code section for any recent amendments. It also gives you the section’s catchline and source credit along with any editorial notes relevant to its codification.

Other features of the beta website are:

An expanding table of contents through which you can browse the Code.

A simple search facility for quickly accessing specific Code sections or performing simple word or phrase searches.

An advanced search facility for sophisticated searching using delimiters such as field or Code hierarchy restrictions, Boolean logic and case-sensitive searches.

Easy access to USCprelim, an advance posting of the next online version of the Code.

This beta site will be tested for several months before the current site is shut down. The office is accepting comments and questions about the beta site at uscode@mail.house.gov.

New Site for Legal Commentary
Over the years, I’ve written several times about the ironic parallels between two legal portals, FindLaw, www.findlaw.com, and Justia, www.justia.com. Whereas FindLaw had once been the preeminent Internet resource for legal professionals, its usefulness started to fade in 2001, after Thomson West purchased it from its founders, Stacy Stern and Tim Stanley. Meanwhile, Stern and Stanley went on to create Justia and, over the years, build it into everything FindLaw could have been.

Recently, Justia launched a legal commentary site, Verdict, http://verdict.justia.com, and it’s hard to resist making that FindLaw comparison once again. FindLaw, you may recall, has Writ, http://writ.news.findlaw.com, its legal commentary site that it launched around 2000.

Comparing the two sites visually, it is apparent that Justia’s Verdict is has a much more compelling design and makes far greater use of social media. But you can’t judge a book purely by its cover, of course. What happens when you dig into some of the commentary?

What happens is that you come to realize that many — in fact, the majority — of the longtime columnists for FindLaw’s Writ now make up the roster of columnists for Justia’s Verdict. This is an esteemed group of academics and practitioners, all of whom left Writ for Verdict.

Justia’s announcement of Verdict says: “Verdict’s team of ten columnists includes nine former law clerks — among them four U.S. Supreme Court clerks — seven law professors and the director of a new college-level human rights program, all currently teaching at eminent schools.”

Once again, it appears, Justia has done FindLaw one better.

Legal Guide for Digital Journalists
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has launched the Digital Journalist’s Legal Guide, www.rcfp.org/djlg/, a resource that will prove useful to established journalists and independent bloggers — and to the lawyers who advise them.

The guide is designed to provide legal guidance to anyone who disseminates news online. It covers key areas of media and access law: access to courts, copyright and trademark, censorship, Internet regulation, invasion of privacy, libel, newsgathering, open records and meetings, and sources and subpoenas.

The guide is layered in a way that allows a user to get quick answers on a topic and also drill down deeper into it. The front page of each section contains a summary of the applicable legal principles, answers to common questions about the topic, and links to pages that provide more detailed discussions about specific aspects of the topic.

These section front pages also include links to relevant news articles from the RCFP website covering actual court cases and legal stories. Those links are effective at helping to illustrate how these legal principles are applied in real-world situations.

Well before it published this guide, the RCFP’s website was already the preeminent source of legal guidance for journalists. This new guide takes full advantage of that pre-existing library. Articles in this guide are generously hyperlinked to other resources on the RCFP site.

All of these materials are offered free of charge for anyone to use. That said, you can always show your appreciation and help support the RCFP’s great work by making a donation.

Quick Hits
Two brief items to mention this month:

A free practice-management tool. What I’m about to tell you about isn’t a website, but it is too good a deal to keep to myself, and at least you can get it from the Web. Toronto-based Credenza Software, www.credenza soft.com, has released a new version of its Credenza practice-management software that comes at an unbeatable price — free. Now the company offers two versions of its software: Credenza Basic for free and Credenza Pro for $24.95 a month.

Both versions work within Microsoft Outlook to transform it into a practice-management tool. Credenza adds a “files” module to Outlook. You can use these files however you like to organize your work — by clients, matters, projects or whatever. The key is that, once you install Credenza, you can associate anything in Outlook with a file. Credenza also adds features to Outlook that allow you to track time and expenses, phone calls and phone messages.

A newsier focus for MyCorporate Resource. I’ve written before about My CorporateResource, www.mycorporate resource.com, a site that aggregates the thousands of client alerts, briefing papers and memoranda produced by the nation’s largest law firms and organizes them in a way to make them more useful and more readily accessible.

Now, the site has been thoroughly revamped and relaunched. You’ll see a new look and some new features, even as the site adheres to its original premise of aggregating law firm alerts. But the biggest change to the site is in its focus. The site now has a greater emphasis on current and trending news, giving it more the feel of a legal news magazine.

The value of this site is in its aggregation and sorting of materials scattered over hundreds of law firm sites. You wouldn’t — and wouldn’t want to — track all these separate sites yourself, simply to find the latest alert on whatever topic of law it is that interests you. This site does that work for you, filtering reams of content to deliver the articles you want to read.

Robert Ambrogi, who practices law in Rockport, Mass., is the former editor of
National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly USA. He is internationally known for his writing about the Internet and technology. He is the author of three blogs, which can be read at www.legaline.com.

© 2011 Robert Ambrogi

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