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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
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April 2003

A Hodgepodge of Newly Launched Sites

By Robert J. Ambrogi
I am always on the lookout for new Web sites of interest to lawyers. But not all the ones I find make their way into this column. So every so often I play catch-up. What follows is a hodgepodge of interesting sites I have come across in recent months.
  • BankruptcyClearinghouse.com. This new Web site promises one-stop shopping for bankruptcy court data nationwide, providing access to bankruptcy filings from courts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Data for most courts dates back to Jan. 1, 1997, and is current to within a few days. Users can pay by the search, at $1 each, or have unlimited searches for a flat rate of $50 a month. The service allows you to prepare custom proof-of-claim forms and save them to use again later.
  • Cases & Materials on American Federalism. Indiana lawyer Douglas G. Amber recently published the sixth edition of this online textbook he wrote for the American government classes he teaches at Purdue University Calumet. Although he wrote the text for college freshman, Amber, a partner with Amber, Golding & Hofstetter, Munster, Ind., relies heavily on original source documents and court opinions, making it of value to anyone with an interest in federalism and its origins. The text covers such topics as American socio-political heritage, constitutional beginnings, and the consequences of federalism. Each chapter is an outline, with links to full-text cases and documents.
  • Coffin Nails: The Tobacco Controversy in the 19th Century. Any lawyer who believes tobacco got its bad name only in the latter part of the 20th century should visit this fascinating history of the tobacco controversy drawn from the pages of Harper's Weekly from 1857 to 1912. It shows that, as early as 1862, tobacco addiction was a recognized problem, with various "cures" offered to users. In 1867, the editor of Harper's identified the three major health dangers of tobacco use as cancer, heart disease and lung disease.
  • GPO Access. Long the best source on the Web for federal government documents, the official site of the U.S. Government Printing Office recently took the wraps off a new design. GPO Access is a far-reaching repository of documents from the three branches of government. It includes the U.S. Code, the Congressional Record, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and much more. GPO based the redesign on a series of surveys, usability studies, focus groups, and feedback received through user support.
  • Historical Records Project. In 1819, a woman slave named Winny filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court that would establish an important judicial precedent. Winny sought freedom for herself and her children, charging one Phebe Whitesides with trespass, assault and battery and false imprisonment. On Feb. 13, 1822, a jury agreed and the court declared Winny and her children free. Whitesides appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict, establishing as law that slaves who had once resided in a free territory or state were to be freed.

    Between 1814 and 1860, nearly 300 of these freedom suits were filed in the St. Louis court. Now, thanks to that court's Historical Records Project, the records of these freedom suits are available online. They include Winny v. Whiteside as well as the original Dred Scott case. The files displayed here show the original, tattered, handwritten papers, among them an array of petitions, affidavits, depositions, summonses, motions, jury instructions, and evidentiary documents, all documenting these petitioners' fights for freedom.
  • LeapLaw. Launched last November, this subscription "knowledge base" is targeted at corporate associates, in-house counsel and small law firms. Developed by Denise Annunciata, a former corporate paralegal in Massachusetts, LeapLaw positions itself as a sort of virtual paralegal, providing access to tools and information that will help a lawyer "leap" to completion of a task. It does this primarily through a database which it says contains more than 2,000 corporate terms and definitions, more than 800 legal forms, another 800 sample corporate votes, a collection of "best practices" guides, and links to outside sources of information. Although focused exclusively on corporate law, LeapLaw promises to add other topics in the future, including real estate, intellectual property, bankruptcy, litigation, employment and contracts.
  • Legal Reference Services. This new service allows lawyers to consult law librarians in real time, via chat, over the Internet. Using the interactive Virtual Reference Services software, LRS allows a lawyer and librarian to chat live, browse Web sites together, and share documents simultaneously. At the end, the lawyer receives a transcript of the session that includes links to visited sites. The service says it is best used as a starting point for quick searches into online sources, for simple reference questions or for co-browsing with a librarian when you need help navigating on the Internet. Pricing is by subscription to bundled hours billed monthly and is based on a $50 per hour rate.
  • Regulations.gov. The U.S. government recently launched this Web site intended to make it easier for the public to participate in federal rulemaking. The site allows users to search for, review and comment on proposed rules that have been published in the Federal Register. Users can search for proposed regulations by keyword or by agency name. Regulations can be viewed in either HTML or PDF format. Once having read the proposal, a user can submit a comment using the provided form.
  • Science.gov. Lawyers in a range of practice areas - from tort to IP to biotech and beyond - can attest that scientific research is often an important aspect of law practice. Such research became a bit easier in January when the federal government launched this gateway to science and technology information on the Internet. A collaboration among 14 scientific and technical organizations from 10 major science agencies, the site indexes more than 1,000 government resources - technical reports, journal citations, databases, government Web sites and fact sheets -- all available free.
  • SocraticLaw. A former Delaware trial lawyer recently launched this Web-based service that searches trial transcripts the way other research sites search court opinions. Users submit search requests and obtain results though the site, but the actual searches are conducted by SocraticLaw staff. As of this writing, the service has transcripts from the Delaware Chancery Court and Delaware Supreme Court, and is preparing to add the U.S. District Court for Delaware. Eventually, it will add transcripts from state and federal courts outside Delaware. In selecting transcripts, it leans towards those relating to corporate and securities law, bankruptcy and intellectual property. There is no charge to consult on a research project, but once it is initiated, the fee is $250 plus a per-page charge that starts at $5 for the first 250 pages.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., tracks new and intriguing Web sites for lawyers through his LawSites Web log. He is author of The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web, available through LawCatalog.com. E-mail him at rambrogi@legaline.com.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.