Jan 6, 2008

Helpful Sites for Smaller Firms

No comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

[The following column originally appeared in print in April 2006. I am republishing it as part of my continuing effort to maintain an archive of my published columns. Important note: I have not updated this since its original publication. While most of the sites remain as described, some may have changed. All information was current as of the date of original publication.]

Lawyers in smaller firms are adept at using the Web to give themselves the upper hand. Here are several new or recently reviewed sites useful to lawyers in smaller firms.

Calculating deadlines. Just over a year ago, CompuLaw launched Deadlines on Demand, a service designed to help sole practitioners and small firms calendar court deadlines using CompuLaw’s rules-based service on a pay-per-use basis. I recently checked back for an update and find this to be a useful and low-cost calendaring tool for solo and small-firm lawyers.

DOD allows a lawyer to avoid the time-consuming and sometimes confusing process of researching rules, looking up holidays and counting calendar days to come up with a schedule. DOD does it all for you – researching the jurisdiction’s rules, adjusting for holidays and scheduling all deadlines. It uses the same calendaring rules as its parent, CompuLaw, which the company says is used by more than half of the 50 largest U.S. firms and which was winner of the 2005 Law Technology News award for best docketing and calendar software.

For smaller-firm lawyers, DOD’s advantage over CompuLaw is its pay-as-you-go pricing. A search costs from $5 to $99, depending on the complexity and number of deadlines. Joseph C. Scott, DOD’s vice president and general manager, told me that the average cost of a search in 2005 was $27.50. You are not charged until after DOD calculates and shows you the price, so you can always decide not to complete the search.

Searching is simple. Start by selecting the jurisdiction of your case from a map of the United States. DOD covers all federal courts and all 50 states, but it does not necessarily have all courts or local rules within a state. You can browse the list of available rules before you start your search. Next, select the court and area of practice (state court civil litigation, for example) and then the event (filing of complaint, for example). If you wish, you may enter your own matter reference number and other case information.

At this point, DOD gives you a summary of the information you have provided and the cost. If you approve, click submit. DOD generates the list of deadlines and sends it to you by e-mail in an iCalendar format that you can import into Microsoft Outlook. You can also send the deadlines to a delimited file to import into other programs or hand-held devices.

A reassuring feature is DOD’s change notification service. If a jurisdiction changes a rule that could affect a user’s previous search, DOD sends the user notice of the change by e-mail along with a link to rerun the search. Live telephone support is available weekdays and users can also submit support questions by e-mail.

DOD’s one drawback for some lawyers will be its coverage. While some states, such as California, have virtually blanket coverage, others do not. DOD includes at least the appellate rules and principal civil trial court rules for every state, as well as federal district rules. From there, coverage varies. The company is constantly working to add new and update existing jurisdictions, Scott said.

DOD is practical and easy to use. A search takes just minutes. Most attractive is its pay-per-search pricing. Overall, it seems certain to save you time and your client money.

Medical images. If images of gastrointestinal endoscopy or neuroimaging start your heart racing, you are probably a personal-injury lawyer. Medical images are important, both to help you understand the plaintiff’s injuries and as demonstrative evidence to use in the courtroom. Medical Image Databases on the Internet is a useful compilation not of images, but of databases, directories and search engines for finding them. It is sponsored by the library at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Fighting fraud. A recently launched Web site is designed to serve as an online national clearinghouse and research center to help fight consumer fraud and other economic crimes. The site, Fraud Update, will track government actions throughout the United States against fraud and other practices that victimize consumers, businesses and government. The site will also provide consumer alerts and track relevant legislation and rule-making. It is operated jointly by Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the St. Thomas University School of Law.

Business advice. Attention smaller-firm lawyers: There is a new Web site for owners of small and home-based businesses, SmallBizResource from CMP Media. It offers original articles and expert advice on a range of small-business issues, including sales, marketing, finance, legal, HR, technology, growth and strategy. Companion to the site is a new weekly e-newsletter, BizBuzz, which promises to deliver “valuable tips for managing your business, new feature articles from expert columnists, cutting-edge blogs about today’s most critical business topics, free offers and discounts on business products and services from our industry-leading sponsors, plus much more.” Sign up at the site.

Labor law compliance. The U.S. Department of Labor recently redesigned and relaunched its Compliance Assistance Web Portal, a site designed to help workers and employers understand and comply with federal employment laws and regulations. The redesigned site features enhanced navigation and content. Included within the site are fact sheets on a variety of employment law issues, regulatory text, frequently asked questions and a range of additional compliance-assistance information.

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