TAG | column

Feb 27, 2010

Bloomberg Law: Can it be a Contender?

[The following column originally appeared in print in January 2010. 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 [...]

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Feb 27, 2010

Google Gets Into Case Law Search

[The following column originally appeared in print in December 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.]

Ken Auletta’s new book, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, ponders the mission of the Web’s 800-pound Gorilla. Is Google’s purpose altruistic, to offer free and easy access to all the world’s information, or is it a marauding monster out to dominate the media and information landscape?

With Google in command of my e-mail platform, my blogging platform, my search platform, my RSS reader, my photo-storage platform and even my document collaboration platform, I certainly should be worried that Google could become the Big Brother I never wanted.

Even so, I am lulled into complacency by the simple fact that Google does what it does so well. So it is with Google’s entry into case law research with its recent announcement that Google Scholar now allows users to search full-text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state appellate and trial courts.

Even before the cases were added, Google Scholar was a useful research tool for lawyers. It allows researchers to search a broad selection of scholarly books and articles, including law journals, drawn from the Web and from academic and library collections.

But case law takes Scholar to a whole new level of usefulness. As you would expect from Google, the search interface is simple and familiar. Enter any name, word or phrase and hit “search.” The default search covers all of Scholar’s collection of federal and state cases and law review articles.

An advanced search page lets you tailor your search more precisely. You can specify words and phrases to include and exclude and set a date range. You can choose to search just federal cases, just a single state’s cases, or across multiple states. Searching multiple states requires you to check a box for each state, so if you want to search a significant number of states, you’ll have a lot of checking to do.

You can also search by citation, but be careful to put the citation in quotes. If you search 794 F.2d 915, the results will include cases that have “794,” “F.2d” and “915″ anywhere in them. But if your query encloses the citation in quotes, “794 F.2d 915″, you get the cited case plus any others that cite it.

Other Features, Other Questions

Scholar has no Shepard’s or KeyCite for flagging the status of a case, but it does have a nice feature for showing a case’s subsequent citation history. As you view a case, a tab on the top of the screen lets you switch to a second screen showing how it was cited.

This second tab shows a list of cases and articles that cite your case. It also includes a separate list of cites showing a quote extracted from the case at the point of the citation. The quote helps you see the proposition for which your case is cited. Click on any of these quotes and jump right to that point in the citing case.

I could not find within Google Scholar a description of the scope of the case law database. According to a post by Tim Stanley at Justia’s Law, Technology & Legal Marketing Blog, http://onward.justia.com, it includes all Supreme Court opinions since the start of U.S. Reports, federal circuit opinions since 1 F 2d 1 (1924), and many federal district court opinions.

Scholar also has opinions from all 50 state supreme courts dating back to 1950. I was able to determine that intermediate appellate courts are included for some states, but I could not tell whether they are included to the same extent as state supreme courts.

There remain many questions about Google Scholar’s case law search. Google offers sparse documentation so answers are hard to come by. Besides not knowing the precise parameters of the database, we also do not know how often new cases are added. Google has not disclosed where it got the cases but has said the supplier will continue to provide new cases as they are released. We also do not know what kind of quality control, if any, Google has in place to ensure the cases are checked for typographical, scanning and coding errors.

Still, putting the power of Google search behind a comprehensive database of federal and state cases is more than just a good start. Google’s engineers clearly put a lot of thought and effort into this and I expect there will be further refinements and enhancements to come.

Whither Wexis?

Inevitably, Google’s announcement leads to another round of predictions that 2012 has arrived for Westlaw and LexisNexis. Legal blogs have been abuzz with speculation about this.

Both LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters issued statements saying, in so many words, that they are not worried about Google’s entry into case law research.

“Free case law is not new to the Internet and is included on some of our own sites like lexisONE, LexisWeb and lawyers.com,” the LexisNexis statement said. “However, our legal customers generally require more than raw, unfiltered content to inform their business decisions. They look to LexisNexis to find needles in the ever-growing information haystack, not the haystack itself.”

Thomson Reuters said: “Google has shared with us their plans to expand Google Scholar to include the search of publicly available case law and some legal journals. We believe that government-authored information should be accessible to the public, and Google joins existing sites such as FindLaw, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School and scores of others as sites that offer this information free of charge.”

“Our customers rely on us for very specialized information and legal insight, and use Westlaw to find exactly the right answer on very specific points of law.”

My belief is that LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters will continue to remain healthy and profitable for many years to come. I’m not privy to their finances, but I suspect that case law research has become a less-important source of revenue for them.

What they have that others do not are significant databases of secondary legal-research materials. These include treatises, specialized legal-research products in particular areas of concentration, and ever-growing collections of public-records data, court and deposition transcripts, docket information, and all sorts of other information that remains largely unavailable or inaccessible elsewhere online.

A Game Changer

Even so, there is no ignoring an 800-pound gorilla. Google’s entry into the field of legal research is definitely a game changer for the entire legal industry. More than that, it is without doubt a turning point.

In announcing the new feature, the Google engineer who spearheaded this project, Anurag Acharya, acknowledged the prior efforts of the “pioneers who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land.”

He mentioned such trailblazers as Tom Bruce of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, Jerry Dupont of the Law Library Microform Consortium, Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray of the Australasian Legal Information Institute, Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org, Daniel Poulin of LexUM, Tim Stanley of Justia, Joe Ury of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, and Tim Wu of AltLaw.

Acharya is right to credit all the pioneers who blazed this trail. But where they yielded machetes, Google drives a bulldozer. If this is progr
ess — and I believe it is — its pace is about to accelerate.

Copyright 2009 Robert J. Ambrogi

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Feb 27, 2010

New Sites for Documents, Research and More

[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.

Legal Scholarship

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

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Mar 20, 2009

A Round-up of New Legal Sites

[The following column originally appeared in print in October 2008. 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.]

A legal search tool from LexisNexis and an e-discovery resource from an industry leader are among the law-related sites new to the Web. This month’s column rounds up some of the legal Web sites that have recently made their debuts.

Legal search from Lexis. LexisNexis has launched a beta version of its own Web search tool, called Lexis Web. Unlike general search sites such as Google, Lexis Web searches a more limited sphere of legal-oriented Web sites. The user guide says that the sites it searches have been selected and validated by the LexisNexis editorial staff, so that users “can trust that all content has met LexisNexis criteria for being authoritative and accurate.”

This is similar in concept to the Law.com search tool, Quest, which searches an editorially selected sphere of Web content in addition to Law.com’s own content. The goal is to produce search results that are more relevant and targeted to legal users.

In addition to search results, Lexis Web displays a selection of “LexisNexis Recommended Sources.” These are sources and libraries within the subscription version of Lexis.com. If you have a subscription, you can click on any of these recommended sources to run the same search there.

Another feature of Lexis Web is clustering to help you narrow your search results. Clusters are topical folders and subfolders shown in a pane to the left of the search results. A search for “Antonin Scalia” resulted in top-level folders for “Legal Topics,” “People,” and “Keywords,” among others. You can also use this to narrow results by subject or geography.

In the search results, when you click on a link, it opens a nearly full-sized preview of the linked page. Click one icon in the preview to go to the actual page or another to close the preview.

Lexis Web is free, but the user guide includes this foreboding note: “During the beta offer, … all search activities will be available to you free of charge.” Does this suggest Lexis plans to charge at some point? Charging for a Web search tool would make little sense, so let’s hope not.

E-discovery legal guides. Lawyer Michael R. Arkfeld is a leading expert on e-discovery and author of the treatise, Arkfeld on Electronic Discovery and Evidence. Recently, he launched a comprehensive e-discovery Web site, Arkfeld’s eLawExchange.

A stand-out feature of this free site is a database of e-discovery case law and rules from all 50 states. Enter a keyword and select a state to find the applicable entries, or simply select a state to find all cases from that jurisdiction.

A second database contains information on individuals and companies that provide e-discovery services and consulting. Other features of the site include articles on e-discovery and a collection of “litigation intelligence links” to Web resources that are particularly useful to litigators.

A site for software reviews. LitiReviews is a Web site that provides free access to reviews of legal and litigation software and technology. The site collects the reviews from third-party sources such as TechnoLawyer, the American Bar Association, the Association of Legal Administrators and Law.com. It does not actually publish the reviews, but links to them at their original sources.

Its usefulness is that it organizes all these reviews from disparate sources by categories and product names. So if you want to find reviews of, say, Amicus Attorney, you click on that product name and you find 10 reviews compiled from such publications as Law Office Computing, GP Solo and Legal Assistant Today. (Be prepared for the occasional dead link — the danger of linking externally.)

The site is operated by Lexbe.com, a company that I’ve written about before for a similar site it operates, Litilaw, which provides access to legal articles written by lawyers for CLE programs or publication. Lexbe is a company that sells its own case management software, so one must be wary of a software company operating a site that collects software reviews. That said, LitiReviews simplifies the task of quickly finding reviews on point for specific products or types of software.

Worldwide legal news. The Law Library of Congress has converted its Global Legal Monitor from a static, monthly PDF newsletter to a dynamic and regularly updated Web site. The monitor tracks legal news and developments worldwide, drawing on information from the Global Legal Information Network and other sources.

The new Global Legal Monitor provides readers with the ability to browse legal developments by more than 100 topics and more than 150 jurisdictions. Current and archived news stories are also fully searchable through an advanced search interface.

Each legal development has its own permanent link for easy reference and sharing. An RSS feed is available for those wishing to keep up with Global Legal Monitor developments.

Code city. It can be difficult to keep up with the folks at Public.Resource.Org and their efforts to put as much law as possible into the public domain. I’ve written before about their successes in putting caselaw in the public domain. The latest release, Codes.gov, publishes critical state and municipal public safety codes from all across the country.

These are building, electrical, plumbing, elevator, mechanical and fire codes, among others. Included are codes from every state, although not every code from every state. They are working on that.

Also here are the full California Code of Regulations and the full administrative code of Sonoma County, Calif., where Public.Resource.Org is based. Previously, these have been available only through private publishers that claim copyrights in them.

That copyright issue may come to a head at some point. Public.Resource.Org spent some $20,000 buying these codes in order to post them online. It takes the position that they cannot be subject to copyright. They’ve even created an illustrated storybook detailing their case, which you can find at the Codes.gov link.

Examine the examiners. A recent Web site, USPTO Examiners, aims to provide a forum where patent professionals can review, rank and learn about patent examiners and trademark examining attorneys. “Prior knowledge about a particular patent examiner or a trademark examining attorney can be a valuable tool when planning and strategizing the prosecution of a patent or a trademark case,” the site explains.

The site is mainly a message board for posting comments about particular examiners. I never found any ranking component. The site’s owners are anonymous and those who post comments are anonymous. A comment about one examiner said, “Although he seems to be conscientious, he can hardly
speak or write intelligibly. The office actions I have seen are terribly ungrammatical, virtually unintelligible and evidently illogical.”

That quote gives you the flavor. As message boards tend to do, this one has its share of rants and ad hominem attacks. If you are a patent or trademark attorney interested in keeping up with gossip in your field, you may find this site of interest. Otherwise, there is little here of practical value.

Copyright 2008 Robert J. Ambrogi

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Mar 20, 2009

Super-Powered Web Sites

[The following column originally appeared in print in April 2008. 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.]

Consider this the super-powers edition of Web Watch. Read on to find out how you can use the Web to build memory stronger than an elephant’s, have the vision to search across the Web, and develop the ability to communicate from the afterlife.

Never forget. EverNote has long been a popular desktop application among lawyers, who use it to store notes, Web-page clips, images, ideas, to-do items and whatever. The “ever” in EverNote came from its appearance, storing all your notes and clips in a perpetual, scrolling tape-like window. Recently, the company announced the beta release of EverNote 3.0, which expands its functionality to the Web and mobile phones and adds a Mac-compatible version.

The company describes the product as an external brain, available to you whenever you see something you want to remember. With its ability to store and search just about anything and do it from any platform, the description is not far off the mark.

The most significant enhancement in this beta release is the ability to create and synchronize notes across multiple platforms – desktop, Web and mobile phone. Synchronization is seamless, so wherever you enter the note, it is quickly available everywhere else. A side benefit is that if your computer crashes, your notes are backed up online. In fact, you need not install the desktop software at all if you prefer to use only the online version.

A second notable new feature is EverNote’s ability to index and search text within images. Snap a picture of a business card or receipt with your mobile phone, send it to EverNote and later find it through a word search. This also works for images containing handwriting, meaning you can write a note, save it to EverNote, and later find it through a search.

Other useful features let you e-mail notes directly into EverNote, clip Web pages, add tags to notes, and use a time band to find notes by date.

As of this writing, this latest version of EverNote remains in private beta, which means you must request and receive an invitation before you can sign up. Once you do, registration is free.

See across the Web. Searchme is a new search site, in beta as of this writing, that delivers results visually, showing images of pages in place of descriptions. While not the first search engine to include page images within search results, Searchme delivers results more smoothly and seamlessly. Results flow across the screen in a style similar to the Cover Flow display of CD covers on an iPod touch or on iTunes.

Begin to enter a query and icons pop up under the search box representing topics by which you can narrow your search. As I type “antonin scalia,” for example, icons appear for U.S. government, courts, politicians, U.S. news and history. I can select one of these icons or ignore them and search across topics. The icons remain visible throughout, so you can narrow your search at any time.

The default results page has no text, just the flow of matching pages, with the top result centered in the screen and the others queued to the right waiting to take center stage. As you move through them, the pages flow smoothly across the screen. Hover over a page image and a box pops up with more information about it. Click on the page image to go to the actual page.

If you prefer both images and text in your search results, a quick click on the arrow at the bottom of the page divides the screen horizontally, with the top showing images and bottom containing the descriptions more typical of other search engines.

Searchme’s delivery of search results through images rather than text is highly effective. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then seeing the pages that contain your search results helps you quickly measure their usefulness and relevance. Visual search may not be for everyone, but I like what I see here.

Goodbye from the grave. Any lawyer who handles wills, trusts and estates should check out iGoodbye.com. It offers a way to pass on critical financial and personal information to heirs while keeping it private until death. This could include passwords, information about assets and financial accounts, and other personal data. It could also be used to store copies of wills and trusts, to leave recorded messages or videos, or to provide instructions.

The way it works is simple. After creating an account, you specify the heirs or recipients, upload the encrypted files intended for each, and then notify each heir of the location of the files and the password. Upon death, the heirs contact iGoodbye.com, which verifies the death through a death certificate and then releases the files.

The cost to use the service is based on an annual subscription of $29.95 – so the sooner you say goodbye, the less you will pay. There is also an option for a free account if you agree to pass the costs on to your heirs.

Copyright 2008 Robert J. Ambrogi

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Mar 20, 2009

Tweet 16: 16 Ways Lawyers Can Use Twitter

[The following column originally appeared in print in November 2008. 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.]

When it comes to social media, I tend to be an evangelist. But even I could not grasp why so many lawyers were all atwitter over Twitter. What value could there be in a microblogging tool that limits each post to 140 characters?

So I strapped on some wings and gave it a try. In no time at all, Twitter turned me into a songbird ready to sing its praises. For all those who ask, “Why Twitter?” I present my Tweet 16 – 16 ways lawyers can use Twitter to enhance their practices and their profiles.

First, a few words about how it works. After you sign up and create a user name, you can post short messages, called “tweets,” of no more than 140 characters. These messages appear on Twitter’s Web site and can also be tracked through mobile phones and other applications.

Once you are a member, you can choose to follow other members’ messages. When you come across someone you know or find interesting, click the “follow” button to add their messages to your feed. (Find mine at http://twitter.com/bobambrogi.) Others can do the same to receive your messages. If you prefer to be less public, you can limit the visibility of your messages to people you approve.

It is so simple in concept, yet surprisingly versatile in potential uses. Here are 16 that stand out for me.

1. Expand your network. What with blogging, writing, speaking and various bar committees, I consider myself pretty well networked. So I was surprised upon joining Twitter at how many new contacts I made, how quickly I made them, and their potential value to me as a professional.

2. Discover new blogs. Everyone on Twitter has a profile page on which they can link to their Web site or blog. As interesting tweets catch my attention, I sometimes click through to find equally interesting – and previously unknown to me – blogs.

3. Mold your image. Those who post regularly to Twitter provide others a glimpse of their daily lives. That glimpse can help shape your public image. Do your posts paint you as a high-powered professional – now writing an appellate brief, now preparing for a deposition – or as a trivia-obsessed slacker – now breaking for lunch, now off for drinks? By thinking before you post, you can shape how others see you.

4. Distribute your news. Lawyers and law firms already use Twitter as a vehicle to distribute news and press releases. Even though Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, posts can include Web links. Thus, post the headline or a brief description together with the link to the full item.

5. Drive traffic. When you post an interesting item to your blog, mention it on Twitter with a link to the full post. Various tools let you do this automatically, updating your Twitter feed whenever you post to your blog. (I use Twitterfeed for this.)

6. Simulate the water cooler. For solo lawyers and self-employed consultants, Twitter is a virtual office water cooler. Throughout the day, lawyers on Twitter comment on the news, throw out questions and share articles and items of interest. You can reply directly to others, either publicly or privately.

7. Message your colleagues. You can send a direct message to anyone on Twitter, visible only to the recipient. This is a convenient way, much like instant messaging, to send a colleague a quick question or comment.

8. Monitor the buzz. What are hot topics among lawyers in your practice area? What are people saying about your client or its product? On Twitter, you can select the people whose posts you wish to follow. You can also search all Twitter posts, save the search and get updates via RSS. (Go to http://search.twitter.com.)

9. Get noticed by news media. News reporters are turning to Twitter to find sources and leads. Additionally, Twitter provides opportunities for professionals to connect and establish relationships with reporters.

10. Keep up with your local court. Courts in Philadelphia recently launched a Twitter feed of news and announcements. (Find it at http://twitter.com/PhilaCourts.) Others may well follow suit.

11. Track activity at a conference. Using what Twitter calls “hashtags,” you can tag posts to connect them with other posts. One way this is useful is at a conference, enabling attendees to find each others’ posts. The tag is marked using the pound symbol and placed directly within the post. For example, #legaltech might be used by attendees at the Legal Tech conference in New York. A site devoted to monitoring hashtags is at http://hashtags.org.

12. Follow the government. The White House, federal agencies and members of Congress are among the many sources within the U.S. government that use Twitter to distribute news and announcements. A list of federal government Twitter feeds is at Twitter Fan Wiki.

13. Promote an event or seminar. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal told how Andrew Flusche, an attorney in Fredericksburg, Va., used Twitter to promote a webinar he was holding on trademark registration. The session attracted 15 attendees, more than twice the number he drew for a subsequent seminar he didn’t promote on the service.

14. Get more mileage. Why publish to just one source when you can as easily publish to many and reach that many more readers? When I post an item to my blog, it shows up in my Twitter feed. When I post an item to Twitter, it shows up on my Facebook and Plaxo profiles. In social networking, there is power in ubiquity.

15. Find clients. When a California blogger was threatened with a lawsuit over comments he made online, he turned to Twitter to search for a lawyer. Through Twitter, you may find new clients and they may find you.

16. Locate experts. Either by posting a message to Twitter or by using its search function, you may be able to find experts on a particular topic. If you do, use Twitter’s direct message feature to make the initial contact.

There you have my Tweet 16. But I hasten to add something else lawyers can do on Twitter: Get in trouble. For example, a Seattle law firm recently generated controversy when its outside public-relations consultant posted a message to Twitter seeking putative plaintiffs for a possible class action suit.

Before you post to Twitter, consider the consequences. A casual tool such as this makes it easy to unwittingly create an attorney-client relationship or overstep an ethical rule. Even with only 140 characters, you can easily get yourself in hot water.

Copyright 2008 Robert J. Ambrogi

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Nov 24, 2008

10 Essential Podcasts for Lawyers

[The following column originally appeared in print in September 2008. 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.]

Podcasts come and podcasts go – and others merely lie fallow. Inconsistency is the curse of podcasting, particularly within the legal field, where lawyers have plenty enough demands on their time without trying to squeeze in a regular broadcast.

Launched with the best of intentions, podcasts often have a short half-life. In fact, when I set out to revisit my 2005 column in which I listed 10 essential podcasts for lawyers, I discovered that five of them had disappeared or gone dormant.

Among the podcasts from my earlier list that are no longer active are Evan Schaeffer’s Legal Underground Podcast, last updated in January 2007; Evan Brown’s Internet Cases Podcast, last updated in February 2007; and the Supreme Court Watch Podcast (later Justice Watch), last updated in October 2007.

But for every podcast that turned off its mikes, others came along to fill the silence. As I surveyed the current crop of podcasts, I concluded that, within the legal field, podcasting remains alive and well. There are so many worthwhile programs that I had trouble winnowing my list to 10. (As you’ll see, I cheated on the numbers to include more than 10 programs).

So herein is my latest set of 10 podcasts I recommend as essential for legal professionals.

1. Legal Talk Network. Here is my first opportunity to cheat – and a self-serving one at that – because LTN hosts not one podcast, but several. They include Law Technology Now, the monthly program hosted by Monica Bay, editor-in-chief of Law Technology News, and Ringler Radio, a show that explores a variety of issues related to personal-injury and tort litigation.

LTN also produces Lawyer2Lawyer, the weekly legal-affairs podcast that I co-host with California lawyer and blogger J. Craig Williams. Now in our fourth year of broadcasting, we feature guests from all over the world and all corners of the legal profession to discuss current issues in the news.

2. Podcasts at Hamline University School of Law. Now my second cheat. What started several years ago as a single podcast called Conversations in Law – a series on law, leadership and legal education – has expanded into an array of podcasts covering law and leadership, health law, public law, Native American law, dispute resolution and intellectual property. Within the Conversations series, programs range from a discussion of feminist jurisprudence to Kenneth Feinberg recalling the many personal stories he heard as administrator of the 9/11 victim compensation fund.

3. ABA podcasts. The ABA provides my third opportunity to cheat, given that its Web domain is host to a variety of podcasts. One that I particularly recommend is the ABA Litigation Podcast, a series highlighting “tips and tactics for the practicing trial lawyer.” Another is the ABA CLE Podcast, a series of free CLE programs on various practical and legal issues. Finally, there is the ABA Book Briefs Podcast, which features ABA authors discussing their books and current issues related to their books.

The ABA’s Web site is also home to The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology, a monthly podcast from two well-regarded practice-management professionals, Sharon D. Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises, a Fairfax, Va., computer forensics and legal technology company, and Jim Calloway, author of Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog and director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. The podcast is produced as part of the Law Technology Today e-zine of the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section.

4. University of Chicago Law School podcast. This series of podcasts, produced as part of the law school’s Faculty Blog, features recordings of lectures and other programs at the school. In one recent episode, legal scholar Adam Samaha discusses the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. In another, law professors Cass Sunstein and Richard Epstein debate whether conservative voters should support Barack Obama.

5. Law and Disorder. This is produced as both an independent radio program and podcast. With four left-leaning lawyers as its hosts, the show examines issues surrounding civil liberties, privacy and politics. The show is professionally produced and features a range of guests and topics. Recent topics included arrests of protesters during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., trials at Guantanamo and new FBI guidelines for investigating terrorism.

6. Out-Law. The U.K. law firm Pinsent Masons produces this weekly 10-minute podcast on topics relating to Internet and intellectual property law. The podcast is part of the firm’s award-winning Out-Law.com Web site which provides a variety of guides, articles and news stories about the law. Recent episodes of the podcast examined whether database law is bad for business and whether patents and copyrights make innovation impossible.

7. This Week in Law. Don’t let the name mislead you into thinking this is a weekly program – a new episode is posted every month or so. Host Denise Howell, a California lawyer and longtime blogger, tackles cutting-edge issues at the intersection of law and technology. Think of it as the McLaughlin Group for cyberlaw. Each show includes a panel of guests – some regulars and some not – who weigh in on such topics as cyber-bullying, cloud computing, blogger liability and domain-name law.

8. Hearsay Culture. This is another show produced both as a podcast and for radio – Stanford University’s KZSU-FM. Recorded in cooperation with Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, the show is hosted by Dave Levine, an assistant professor at Charlotte School of Law. Each 50-55 minute program covers issues of law and technology, but not, as the show’s Web site says, “from a purely law or geek perspective.”

9. International Dispute Negotiation. From the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution, this series of podcasts – more than 40 episodes as of this writing – focuses on timely and practical topics in dispute resolution, with an emphasis on cross-border commercial conflicts. Among the topics the program has covered are mediating with hard negotiators, detecting lies and concealing emotions, and dealing with arbitrator bias.

10. New Jersey Law Blog. The law firm Stark & Stark offers weekly legal updates in podcast form as part of its blog about New Jersey law. Podcasts feature lawyers from various practices in the firm discussing recent developments in New Jersey and federal law.
Although these podcasts are directed more at consumers than other lawyers, I include them here in part because they demonstrate how effectively a law firm can use podcasting as part of its overall marketing and positioning strategy.

With this list as a start, load up your MP3 player (or listen on your computer) and start to explore the world of legal podcasting.

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Jul 27, 2008

Ambrogi Wins National Press Award


Indulge me as I blow my own horn. The American Society of Business Publication Editors this week awarded me its national silver award for best contributed column in a publication with a circulation under 80,000. I received the award for the “Web Watch” column I write for the magazine Law Technology News, an ALM publication.

ASBPE announced its national award winners July 24 as part of its national editorial conference in Kansas City, Mo. My award is listed on the page of editorial award winners. This is the second award for my Web Watch column, which in 2006 won a Silver Tabbie Award for best regular column from Trade Association Business Publications International.

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Jan 6, 2008

A Vote for Firefox 2.0 over IE 7

[The following column originally appeared in print in December 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.]

The browser wars are back, and netizens everywhere are being asked to choose sides. With major upgrades released to the two leading Web browsers, the question for Web surfers is, “Which should get my allegiance, Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2.0?”

But even as the two browsers draw their battle lines, the differences between them become less and less clear. That said, Firefox still wins my vote as the most functional, configurable and secure browser available.

IE7 is Microsoft’s long-overdue, great leap forward in the battle for browser supremacy. When first released in 1995, IE was the upstart battling browser giant Netscape Navigator. IE won, but with Microsoft’s control of computer desktops, the fight was hardly fair. Even as IE’s audience grew, so did its reputation as bloated and insecure.

Meanwhile, the rebel force known as Firefox launched its version 1.0 in November 2004 and quickly gained ground. Built on an open-source platform that made it secure, lightweight and configurable, it established a loyal following among tekkies and other IE malcontents. As it continued to add innovative features such as tabbed browsing and RSS integration, its popularity grew.

So when Microsoft on Oct. 18 released its first major upgrade of IE since 2001, it was undoubtedly more than coincidental that Firefox followed six days later with its first major upgrade in two years. But if the battle lines were drawn, the warriors had become less distinguishable.

When a Firefox user first fires up the new IE7, the most striking feature, after its highly streamlined design, is its familiarity. Features new to IE – tabbed browsing, RSS support and integrated search bar – are old hat to Firefox. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, IE7 is a paean to its upstart rival.

To be fair, IE7 goes Firefox a step better in some respects, such as in its handling of tabs. Each open tab has a small button to the right that you can click to open another tab. Firefox requires you to go to the file menu to open a tab or to right click on a hyperlink and select “open link in new tab.” Even better in IE, with one click, a user can display all open tabs as thumbnails on a single page.

IE7 adds other nifty features its competitor lacks: page magnification (something the Opera browser has long offered), grouping of multiple tabs into a single bookmark, and improved printing of Web pages by automatically shrinking text to fit.

Perhaps the most significant improvements for this historically hole-plagued browser come in enhanced security. IE7 now offers one-step deletion of browsing history (like Firefox), phishing protection against scam Web sites, enhanced pop-up blocking and enhanced ActiveX blocking.

While IE’s leap from version 6 to version 7 is broad, Firefox’s change from 1.5 to 2.0 is more modest. Fans will say this is because Firefox was already well ahead. New features in version 2.0 include enhanced tab management, built-in spell checking, phishing protection, and session restore, which allows you to pick up your browsing where you left off if your system crashes.

Firefox was first to add an RSS reader, but now that both browsers have this feature, neither stands out. While the RSS readers in each are perfectly functional, neither offers the features of a dedicated reader such as FeedDemon. Given this, an advantage to Firefox is that it lets the user configure its RSS-subscription button to work with any Web service that handles RSS feeds, such as Bloglines or Newsgator. IE lacks this option.

Thanks to its open-source roots, Firefox has long benefited from a battalion of independent programmers writing small add-on programs to enhance its functionality. Hundreds of free add-ons are available for enhanced blogging, image browsing, searching, bookmarking, news reading and other purposes.

With version 7, IE now offers add-ons as well. Here, however, Firefox retains the upper hand. The selection of IE add-ons has yet to approach that of Firefox, and Firefox excels in the ease with which a user can find, install and remove add-ons.

For IE users, version 7 is a great leap forward that significantly improves its functionality and security. Anyone still using IE6 should waste no time in upgrading. (For Windows users with automatic update enabled, IE7 will install automatically.)

Firefox users, however, are likely to view IE7 as merely catching-up. Even though IE7 is now on a par with Firefox in many respects and even a bit ahead of it in some, it offers no strong reason to switch.

For Firefox users, the bottom line is security. Because its source code is open to public view, security holes are found and patched before they create a threat. IE’s source code remains closed. As long as that remains the case, Firefox will remain the more secure browser.

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Jan 6, 2008

Helpful Sites for Smaller Firms

[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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