Thomson Reuters – the company that owns Westlaw – has been beefing up its coverage of legal affairs in recent years, with reporting and commentary available through the Thomson Reuters News & Insight website. As part of this push into enhanced legal coverage, the company recently launched a new offshoot devoted to covering the Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term, called Case by Case: The U.S. Supreme Court.

The site uses interactive graphical tools to help users find information about the court, the justices and the cases, with links to analytical and legal materials, including motions, briefs and opinions. While the graphical elements hold the promise of being useful, the site’s usefulness is quickly lost for anyone who does not have a Westlaw subscription.

Let’s start with the good news — the graphics. Visually, the site is well designed, making good use of its various visual elements. Across the top of the page are pictures of each of the justices. Hover over a picture for a quick snippet about the justice. For Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for example, the snippet says, “Obama appointee, court’s first Hispanic justice.”

The center part of the page highlights a particular case. In the center of the page is a synopsis of the case and links to any relevant news articles or legal documents. Framing the synopsis on either side are brief profiles of the lead attorneys for the petitioner and respondent, with links to their briefs.

Across the bottom of the page is an interactive timeline for the term. Click on a day to see the cases set for argument. Alternatively, you can use a color-coded index to filter the timeline to show only cases pertaining to a particular topic. Red signifies intellectual property cases; olive reveals only First Amendment cases.

Interactive timeline lets you filter cases by issue and see when they are scheduled for argument.

While the visuals are clever, the site’s usefulness ends there for anyone who isn’t a Westlaw subscriber. Although the site provides links to briefs, decisions and various other documents, all links lead to Westlaw. If you want to see the petitioner’s brief in a case, you’ll need a Westlaw subscription. If you want to see the court’s decision in a case, you’ll need a Westlaw subscription.

Joe Hodnicki hit the nail on the head when he wrote about this site at Law Librarian Blog, “This is another corporate avenue to promote subscribing to Westlaw to access cited content.”

If any of this were content proprietary to Westlaw, I might understand this set up. But many if not most of these documents are publicly available online. The Supreme Court’s opinions are available directly from the court itself, as well as from any number of other sites. Briefs are available from the American Bar Association’s stellar site, Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases. All sorts of background and commentary are available from the preeminent Supreme Court source, SCOTUSblog.

The bottom line is this: If you want snappy visuals, visit the new Thomson Reuters Supreme Court site. If you want substantive information without having to pay for it, go instead to one of the other Supreme Court sites I mentioned here.

FindLaw and Lawyers.com are among the most highly trafficked lawyer directories and consumer-facing legal sites. Now it appears that both are taking steps to beef up their coverage of legal news — no doubt in order to further beef up their traffic.

First came the announcement from Lawyers.com in September that it had hired well-known legal marketer and former legal journalist Larry Bodine as editor-in-chief. “In this role, Larry will be responsible for shaping and developing site content we produce around current legal news and topics of interest to consumers and attorneys across the United States,” said the announcement.

Now comes news from FindLaw that it has launched FindLaw Legal Pulse:

FindLaw.com is introducing FindLaw Legal Pulse, a new content area that offers continuously updated legal headlines from around the world, along with news, photo feeds and analysis from such sources as Reuters, the Associated Press, New York Times and Washington Post. The content covers a broad range of law-related topics-everything from Supreme Court decisions to legislative updates, everyday legal issues and even sports and celebrity news.

FindLaw has gained a reputation in recent years for aggressive SEO tactics. There are elements of this new section that suggest SEO is at least one reason FindLaw launched it. For example, the page contains a section titled “Popular Topics” where the listed topics include “Car Crash News,” “Child Custody News,” “Divorce News” and “DUI News.” While these are clearly popular phrases for legal SEO, are they really popular topics for legal news? Also, the page contains a section, “Other Legal Headlines,” that appears to consist solely of posts from FindLaw blogs.

That said, the two main sections of Legal Pulse, “Editor’s Picks” and “Top Legal Headlines,” contain newsworthy articles on a broad range of legal topics. The Editor’s Picks section appears to be just that, highlighting articles based on their content rather than on their timeliness. By contrast, the Top Legal headlines section highlights current news stories from AP, Reuters and other sources. Each of these sections has its own RSS feed.

It should be noted that FindLaw is owned by Thomson Reuters, which has its own Legal News & Insight site. The site features news from Reuters — which has significantly expanded its legal news coverage in recent years — along with features such as the On the Case blog written by Alison Frankel, a long-time writer for The American Lawyer, and analysis written by lawyers and others. Let’s hope there might be some symbiosis between the FindLaw and Reuters legal news sites.

There are any number of choices for sites that aggregate legal news. Two that I rely on heavily are Law.com and the ABA Journal Daily News. Still, no single source is sufficiently comprehensive to cover everything I’m interested in. That is why I track an array of blogs and news outlets. For now, I’ll add FindLaw’s Legal Pulse to my aggregator and see what, if anything, it adds.

I received an e-mail yesterday informing me of the launch of ExampleMotion, a Web site where lawyers can share — or even sell — pleadings, motions and other legal documents. Here is what the e-mail says:

ExampleMotion.com enables attorneys to share their pleadings and motions with one another online. Attorneys can log onto the site and upload their previously filed motions and pleadings, as well as download relevant samples that others have uploaded. ExampleMotion.com also allows users to store and organize their motions for free without sharing them. If a user shares uploaded documents, the price paid for any document downloaded is split between ExampleMotion.com and the attorney who originally uploaded the file, giving new value to files stored on practitioners’ hard drives.

The lawyer who uploads a document gets to set its download price, which is expected to range from free to $50. Initially, the site is focusing its efforts on California legal documents. It plans to expand into other states and welcomes attorneys from any state to upload documents now.

No account is required to search and preview documents. Documents can be searched by jurisdiction, type of law, stage of proceedings, and document type. If you choose to buy a document, you will then need to register. If you do not find the document you want, you can post a document request. It gets added to a browseable list of requests. If another user posts the document, you are notified by e-mail.

ExampleMotion was founded by two California attorneys, Valerio Romano and Daniel O’Shea.

Thanks to the weather in Boston, American Airlines is treating me to an extra night in St. Croix. If you need to be stuck somewhere, this is the place.

I was here to speak at the annual meeting of the Virgin Islands Bar Association. This was the bar’s first CLE program since instituting mandatory CLE this summer. Other speakers on legal technology issues were PDF guru David Masters from Colorado and St. Croix lawyer Andy Simpson, who offered tips on inexpensive ways to avoid costly mistakes.

Probably of greatest interest to V.I. practitioners were the series of presentations about the new V.I. Supreme Court. Until this year, appeals from here went to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Now, appeals go to the V.I.’s own Supreme Court. Decisions of the V.I. Supreme Court can be reviewed by the 3rd Circuit only on a more limited certiorari basis. The 3rd Circuit’s certiorari power will expire after 15 years.

One of the speakers was 3rd Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth, who discussed the standards the circuit will apply. Those standards are derived largely from the precedent established by the 9th Circuit’s now-expired certiorari power over the Guam Supreme Court. All three of the V.I. Supreme Court justices also spoke: Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge, Justice Maria M. Cabret and Justice Ive Arlington Swan. The court assumed jurisdiction last January and already has a much fuller docket than it anticipated, Chief Justice Hodge said. Justice Swan said that one minor problem the court has encountered is discovering a recusal issue after a case is scheduled for argument. Since the three justices were all formerly trial court judges, Justice Swan said it is important for lawyers to review the records carefully and point out any potential recusal issues stemming from one of the justices past involvement in a case as a trial judge.

These are significant changes for practitioners here. Their interest in understanding the changes was reflected by the large turnout — one of the most well-attended state bar events I’ve been to in some time.