[The following column originally appeared in print in September 2009. 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.]
There are a number of new legal sites to bring you this month. They range in focus from enhancing legal research to simplifying document assembly to facilitating pro bono volunteerism.
We start with two legal-document sites, one for sharing and one for assembly. The document-sharing site, ExampleMotion, is a place where lawyers can share pleadings, motions and other legal documents. But it adds a unique twist. Rather than just share documents, lawyers can sell them.
While some documents are free to download, others must be purchased, generally at a cost of between $10 and $50. Lawyers who upload a document get to set its sales price and receive half of any purchases, with the site taking the other half.
Documents can be searched by jurisdiction, type of law, stage of proceedings, and document type. If the document you seek is not there, you can post a document request anonymously. If another user posts it, an e-mail notifies you.
Initially, the site is focusing on building a collection of California legal documents. It plans to expand into other states and welcomes attorneys from any state to upload documents now. The site also allows users to store and organize documents without sharing them.
Easy Document Assembly
The document-assembly site, WhichDraft.com, enables automatic assembly of contracts and other legal documents. Users start by finding the type of document they want and then they fill them out by answering a series of simple questions. The site provides its own collection of documents and also allows users to post documents.
Attorneys are sometimes reluctant to rely on form documents. A feature of WhichDraft is that lawyers can also use it to automate assembly of their own documents. The site allows users to upload their own documents and build their own sets of questions and answers for completing them. Lawyers can keep these documents private or opt to share them.
The site also includes simple collaboration tools. These include the ability to share documents with others by e-mail, to track multiple versions of a document, and to compare versions with red-lining. All the site’s features are provided without cost.
In Search of Better Search
Different methods of searching each have their limits. Keyword searching can be too literal. Boolean searching can be too formalistic. Mark Johns, president of a U.S. company called Littlearth believes there is a better way. For certain types of document collections – such as cases and codes – a “discovery engine” is the better search tool, he says.
His company hosts three free legal-research sites that employ his DocumentDiscovery technology: PatentSurf, USCodeSurf, and Case-Law. The sites operate on the ideas that the best form of search is natural language, that the more natural language used in a search the better the results, and that the best natural language to use is that of a relevant document.
While a query could begin with just a few keywords, a researcher could also opt to input an entire document as a query. As the search proceeds and finds other relevant documents, it can be refined based on the text of these documents.
Quick Case Digests
The legal research service Casemaker has launched a new case-digest service providing summaries of the most recent cases decided by the courts. Called CASEMAKERdigest, the initial roll-out covered only state and federal courts in Texas. As of this writing, it had added Oregon and planned eventually to cover all 50 states.
The service provides summaries of cases soon after the cases become available. Summaries are listed by date and can be sorted by area of practice, court, judge and jurisdiction. They can also be searched by key word. Additionally, a user can subscribe to an RSS feed that shows the 50 most recent cases published on the site.
The service is offered free for a trial period of 30 days. After the trial runs out, the service will be offered for a subscription price of $39.95 a year.
Casemaker General Manager Steven Newsom says that the company is investing heavily to hire highly experienced staff to write the summaries. The company also plans to launch a citator product to flag whether cases in its legal research database remain good law.
Harvard University launched a Web site in September, DASH, devoted to providing access to scholarly articles written by faculty and students. While articles on the site cover a range of topics, Harvard Law School was a key contributor to the site’s launch.
As of this writing, the site’s law collection includes 64 faculty articles and one student paper. An announcement said that Harvard expects the collection to grow significantly over the next few months. Articles can be searched by keyword or browsed by topic. The full text of an article is provided in PDF format.
Domestic Violence Directory
The American Bar Association launched a site in August that is intended to serve as a comprehensive resource for lawyers who want to volunteer their services to assist victims of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory, features a database of programs nationwide that provide pro bono legal services in these cases.
The database entries describe the various programs and tell how attorneys can become involved in them. The site also provides a calendar of training programs throughout the country and has a collection of articles, links and other materials for attorneys to use as resources in handling these cases.
The ABA’s Commission on Domestic Violence created the directory in partnership with Pro Bono Net, a national organization that works to increase access to justice. Development of the site was funded through a grant from the Avon Foundation.
Resources on Capital Cases
As part of its programming to help judges better manage death-penalty cases, the National Judicial College has developed a Web site, Capital Cases Resources. The site provides resources for state trial judges who sit on capital cases, but one need not be a judge to find it useful.
A featured resource is an overview of Supreme Court jurisprudence regarding capital punishment. Written by Indiana University criminal law professor Joseph L. Hoffmann, it provides a case-by-case walk-through of the substantive and procedural issues decided by the court.
Other sections provide links to circuit- and state-specific case law and legal materials. Another compiles articles and publications on key topics, such as jury selection.
Copyright 2009 Robert J. Ambrogi