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April 2005

A Papal Pundit, and Other News From the Legal Web

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Patrolling the Web each month, Web Watch is always on the lookout for lawyers who find innovative ways to distinguish themselves or their practices online. This month's discovery: Patricia M. Dugan.

Dugan, a Philadelphia lawyer, is one of only a handful of lawyers who practice both Catholic canon law and U.S. civil law - and one of the only laywomen in history to do so. When the death of the pope invoked the little-understood process of electing his successor, Dugan saw a unique opportunity to share her expertise.

She launched a Web site devoted to helping people understand the process of electing the pope. Called ElectAPope.com, her site unravels the intricacies of the papal funeral, the College of Cardinals, the conclave that elects the pope, and the papal coronation. On a less serious note, the site invited visitors to cast their own vote for the next pope.

Dugan, a partner in the firm Dugan, Carver & Kosinski, earned her Juris Canonici Licentia at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome - the same university from which Pope John Paul II gained his degree - after she had already practiced law for 10 years. She also maintains a site about canon law, CanonLawyer.net.

ElectAPope.com was not the only new site of interest to lawyers, of course. Among other new developments on the legal Web:

  • Supreme Judicial Court webcasts. Established in 1692, the Massachusetts SJC is the oldest appellate court in continuous existence in the Western Hemisphere. With last year's ruling on same-sex marriages, it also became one of the most controversial. Now, thanks to Suffolk University Law School, you can watch the court live, through webcasts of oral arguments streamed in real time from the courtroom. The home page for SJC Oral Arguments includes a calendar of cases, summaries of the issues they present and links to case dockets. At press time, the webcasting was being tested and had not been formally announced to the public.
  • The TechnoLawyer blog. Since at least 1997, TechnoLawyer has published a network of free legal technology and practice management e-newsletters. Recently, it moved into the blogosphere, with the launch of TechnoLawyer Blog. At the same time, it unveiled a revamped Web site, which for the first time created a distinct home page for each of its newsletters. The blog will both promote and supplement the newsletters. It will provide advance looks at each week's articles and offer short posts that supplement or update articles. It will also draw on the newsletters to provide opinions and advice on legal technology and practice management issues.
  • Legal ethics blog. "This is not a 'typical' blog, if there is such a thing," Lexington, Ky., attorney Benjamin Cowgill says of his Legal Ethics Blog. This is because, in addition to the typical blog-posting fare, Cowgill - onetime Kentucky bar counsel who now concentrates in legal ethics, legal malpractice and the law governing lawyers - includes a significant volume of reference material concerning legal ethics in Kentucky and beyond. Notably, the site includes the full text of all 423 ethics opinions and all 62 unauthorized practice opinions issued by the Kentucky Bar Association since 1962. This is the same collection that Cowgill previously published through a site called the Kentucky Legal Ethics Library.
  • Corporate filings blog. This column has written before about LeapLaw, a knowledgebase focused on corporate filing resources. Recently, LeapLaw unveiled a blog devoted to state-specific corporate and UCC filing information, but it is a blog with an unusual twist. Called Secretary of State Tips, the blog focuses on the practical aspects of doing business with the 50 secretaries of state. Unlike blogs that are organized by date, LeapLaw's blog is organized first by state and then, within states, alphabetically by topic. Topics might be, for example, "Annual Reports and Due Dates," Dissolutions and Withdrawals" and "Limited Liability Company Summary."

    Denise M. Annunciata, LeapLaw's CEO, explains, "We list the posts in alphabetical order rather than by date because our readers will want to know about fax filings for instance, and not necessarily the latest news on secretary of state technology." New posts are added whenever a state secretary revises its procedures, a state issues new laws affecting business entities, or for any other developments relating to doing business with the 50 secretaries of state, Annunciata said.

  • Government metasearching. The March 2005 Web Watch discussed the search tool Clusty, noting its customizable tabs for searching news, images, shopping sites, blogs and other types of information. Now it has added a "Gov" tab, allowing users to search a number of special collections focused on U.S. government and politics. It combines a metasearch of FirstGov, MSN limited to the ".gov" domain, DefenseLink, political news from Reuters, AP and CNN, and a number of prominent American think tanks, including RAND, The Brookings Institution and The Cato Institute.

    You can also use it to find senators and representatives. Type in a state name or postal abbreviation, and it will return the state's senators, with their photographs, voting record, biography and a form to e-mail them. Type in a ZIP code to find a U.S. representative.

  • One-stop government searching. Elegus.com is a new, subscription-based tool designed to provide one-stop, simplified searching of virtually any U.S. federal or state government Web site or group of sites. Users select searches from a list of government sites that includes nearly every domain and sub-domain within the federal system, as well as all state government, judiciary and legislature sites. Elegus also offers searching of groups of sites, so users can search across multiple sites related to the same office, department, state or subject heading (such as "All Federal Courts") with a single search.

    Based on the user's search parameters, Elegus formulates a query and sends it to Yahoo! Search. The Yahoo! results are displayed either in a viewing frame or in a separate window. In theory, anyone with sophisticated searching skills could achieve the same results, but you'd have to be highly proficient as a searcher and have plenty of time on your hands. The cost is $14.95 a month or $149.50 a year. A seven-day free trial is offered, as well as a free demo.

  • Griping, without risk. Offering "communication without the risk," Anonymous Employee is a Web site created to provide employees with a way to convey their problems or concerns to their employers without revealing their identities. Employment lawyers and others might look to it as a form of informal dispute resolution for their clients.

    The way it works, according to information on the site, is this: After completing the free registration, the employee writes a message describing the problem and proposing a solution, and specifies the company and official to receive the message. AE contacts the company by phone or e-mail and explains the process. If the company agrees to participate, AE directs it to a secure log-in, where it can review the anonymous message and respond.

    The employee and employer can continue to send messages back and forth attempting to negotiate a solution, and can bring others into the exchange. If this back-and-forth fails to resolve the problem, AE also offers users the option of requesting professional mediation or legal advice.


© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.