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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
16 McKay's Drive
Rockport, MA 01966
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June 2002

Recently Hatched Web Sites Take Wing

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Web sites newly hatched or recently preened are the focus this month. We look at a dozen sites of interest to lawyers that have emerged in recent months from their virtual incubators, hoping to take wing.
  • Created at the urging of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, marks its 20th anniversary this year. Specializing in public-interest litigation in such areas as toxic torts, the environment, access to the courts and discrimination, TLPJ celebrated it anniversary May 1 with a revamped Web site. The site already included descriptions of TLPJ's current caseload and a library of its briefs and legal filings. With the revamp, it expanded these features and added a public-interest database providing links to more than 2,000 Web resources, including legal research tools, law school public interest centers, places to find public interest law jobs, and, it claims, every legal aid, legal services and poverty law office in the U.S.
  • The official gateway to U.S. government information on the Internet, FirstGov, connects to more than 51 million pages on more than 20,000 federal, state, territorial and tribal sites. Launched in 2000, it was overhauled earlier this year to make it easier for users to find what they need. Now, links are organized by type of user (citizen, business, etc.) as well as by common reference terms, such as forms, laws and press releases. Users can search the entire site or a single state.
  • The Supreme Court's 1993 decision, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, forever changed the rules on expert scientific testimony. Now, a useful new Web site, Daubert on the Web, may change how lawyers keep up with its progeny. Created by Philadelphia litigator Peter Nordberg, it offers more than 200 appellate cases, organized by circuit and field of expertise, along with a procedural guide, tactics and an evolving treatise.
  • Religious freedom as it has played out in courts and legislatures is the focus of The Religious Liberty Archive, a unique new Web site from Denver law firm Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons. The site is a virtual library of religious freedom law, housing the full texts of pertinent Supreme Court cases since 1815, federal and state laws, treatises and historical materials. News of recent developments and links to related materials round out the site.
  • The nation's first "cybercourt" became a virtual reality in January when Michigan Governor John Engler signed it into law. Once set up, the court will conduct proceedings via the Internet, handling only disputes between businesses and commercial entities. It will allow pleadings to be filed electronically, take testimony remotely and even "Webcast" its hearings. The court has no URL as yet, but the Detroit law firm Dykema Gossett offers MichiganCybercourt.net, a site devoted to providing information about the court and its launch.
  • Iowa's court system also took a step into Cyberspace earlier this year when it put its dockets online, giving the public free access to basic court information such as child-support payments, criminal and traffic records and case outcomes. Users of Iowa Courts Online, can search across all state trial and appellate court dockets for cases, litigants and attorneys. Later this year, the court will add a $25-a-month subscription layer that will offer access to additional docket information, including hearing dates and judgment liens, and advanced search capabilities.
  • A system for filing cases online is also now available through the recently revamped Web site of the American Arbitration Association. Dubbed AAA WebFile, it allows parties to a dispute to file, track and, in some cases, even resolve their differences online. The site - a preeminent ADR resource even before the redesign, with rules, forms and useful documents - now also includes a publications catalog and daily headlines from ADRWorld.com.
  • Before you head off to court, let a virtual jury help you assess the strength of a case and gauge what it may be worth at LegalVote.com. The "jurors" are visitors to the site who have filled out a brief self-profile. They review a summary of the case prepared by the lawyer, then answer a set of standard questions. The price of the service is $500 for an assessment of damages, $2,500 for a standard case study and higher for expanded or customized studies.
  • The Internet took skiptracing from an art to a science. For lawyers, this made it much easier to locate missing witnesses, track down long-lost heirs and investigate opposing litigants. Skipease, has culled the Web's most useful skiptracing tools and assembled them together here. Using its links, you can research property ownership; Social Security numbers; death, birth and marriage records; professional licenses; and more.
  • Founded in 1982 to advance the practice of litigation consulting, the American Society of Trial Consultants, recently launched its first Web site. For practicing lawyers, the main attraction is a directory of the nearly 400 ASTC members nationwide. Use it to search for a particular consultant or to locate one by state. Each entry includes contact information, areas of expertise, and a link to the consultant's Web site, if available.
  • Next trip out of town, book your hotel through Hotels.com, and likely save yourself some money. Launched in April, this is a more user-friendly successor to a suite of sites started by Hotel Reservations Network, a hotel room "consolidator" that reserves rooms in bulk and offers them to consumers at below published rates. HRN's former sites, including HotelDiscounts.com and 180096hotel.com, will be phased out, but users will find the same hotel bargains here. The one drawback is that you must prepay your room. But because HRN buys rooms in advance, it often has rooms still available when no one else does.
Robert J. Ambrogi, rambrogi@amlaw.com, is author of the book, "The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web," available at www.lawcatalog.com, and editorial director of the National Law Journal, www.nlj.com.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.