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legal.online, Column no. 47, January 1999
Copyright 1999 Robert J. Ambrogi
Originality Helps New Legal Products Stand Out
By Robert J. Ambrogi
New legal Web sites and services are too often just variations on a theme -- knockoffs of others that already exist. Sometimes, however, products come along that are both original and useful.
We look at a variety of original products this month, but start with one that seems so unoriginal as to be pointless.
Legal WebFront is described as a "personal Internet legal research tool." More precisely, it is a mini-Web site that you download and store on your computer. It consists of a series of hypertext pages containing links to legal resources on the Internet.
You use it as you would an online Web site. Load its index page into your browser, and you are presented with a selection of general categories such as "Caselaw" and "Federal Government." Click on any of these to bring up a page of links to resources within that category.
Each page also has a form at the top for performing a general key word search. This search tool belongs to the FindLaw legal index and is precisely the same as the one you find at the top of its front page (http://www.findlaw.com).
In fact, the entire design and organization of Legal WebFront appears strikingly similar to that of FindLaw. But while the two may look alike, Legal WebFront is far from FindLaw's equal, with far fewer links and no annotations.
Which raises the question: Why use this inferior knockoff rather than the real thing?
Legal WebFront's developer, Chicago-based Novion, trumpets the convenience of storing it entirely on your own computer, allowing you to start your research without being connected to the Internet.
True, but you won't get more than a page or two into it before you do have to be connected. You cannot use its search engine or follow any link without being online. It is more akin to a phonebook in which you look up the address for a library than it is to the library itself.
Judge for yourself. Legal WebFront is shareware; download and use it free for 30 days. If you like it, pay $34.95 to continue. You can find it at: http://www.novion.com/lwf.
In contrast, Oliver's Cases, http://www.oliverscases.com, a service that delivers the latest appellate court opinions to subscribers' desktops every day, is both original and useful.
Oliver's is not a case publisher; it is a search and delivery service. Several times a day, it goes out and searches all the free sites on the Internet where courts post their opinions. It then matches those opinions to each subscriber's preferences and delivers what amounts to an electronic advance sheet.
Subscribers select from a menu of jurisdictions and practice areas. The service includes opinions from all federal and all but a handful of state appellate courts. Each day, it notifies you of new cases that fit your selections.
For each case, Oliver's tells the area of law, case name, appellate court, and major issues. To obtain the full text, click on a link and you are taken to the opinion at the site where it was posted.
All this is done in a so-called "push" format, meaning that instead of a user going to a Web site and "pulling" the information, the service delivers it automatically, or pushes it, to the user's computer.
This requires special software, called BackWeb, which Oliver's provides free. Once installed, a small icon appears on your computer screen and flashes to notify you when new opinions are delivered.
The cost is a flat $195 a year. There are no add-ons or advertising. There is no limit on the number of courts or practice areas. And Oliver's offers a full, no-questions-asked refund for the first 30 days.
One quibble is Oliver's selection of practice areas. It seemed a bit broad and omitted topics one would expect from an Internet-based research service, such as Internet and technology law.
Legal News Online
Sometimes, originality comes in finally doing something right.
Ever since the Web's first legal news site, West's Legal News, closed two years ago, attempts to provide national legal news online have been feeble -- offering little more than repackaged wire-service stories.
Not so with American Lawyer Media's Law News Network, a free, national, daily "newspaper" on the Web for and about the legal profession.
LNN only publishes articles written by reporters and editors from ALM's national network of print and electronic news sources, which includes The American Lawyer, The National Law Journal, and a host of regional and specialty publications.
Each business day, LNN assembles all the national legal news stories from throughout this network and publishes them online.
It also delivers digests of the most important stories free each morning by e-mail, with links to the full text on the Web.
LNN grew out of last year's merger under one corporate roof of two of the most popular legal Web sites, Law Journal EXTRA! and Counsel Connect, as well as a host of regional and special-interest sites.
In addition to news, LNN features editorial commentary and legal employment listings from throughout the country.
You will find it at http://www.lawnewsnetwork.com, where you can also obtain instructions for subscribing to the daily e-mail digest.
Another example of something original is IndexMaster, http://www.indexmaster.com, a service for reviewing and purchasing legal treatises over the Web.
It features a unique database containing the actual indices and tables of contents for thousands of treatises from more than 60 legal publishers.
Search the database by keyword, topic, title, author or publisher to find the treatise that most precisely matches your needs. You can then review the actual index or table of contents and read the publisher's notes online.
If you like what you see, click "Buy" to order the treatise directly from the publisher.
Try it free for 10 days, after which the annual subscription price ranges from $75 for small firms to $595 for the largest.
An innovative product most useful to trial lawyers allows delivery of real-time transcripts via the Internet.
LiveNote Inc., already considered to have one of the best transcript-analysis programs, released a special edition of its software that allows a court reporter to transmit transcripts in real time to a secure Internet server.
An unlimited number of offsite recipients at any number of locations anywhere in the world can receive the real-time text. This means that corporate counsel in the home office or associates back at the firm can follow a deposition or trial as it occurs.
Offsite participants can perform the same annotation, coding and searching functions that the LiveNote software would allow on site.
Information about the service and a list of reporters who offer it are available at the company's Web site, http://www.livenote.com.
For environmental lawyers, West Group introduced its Environmental E-Site, http://www.e-site.westgroup.com, a Web-based subscription service providing direct access to an online library of environmental resources.
The site features ELR -- The Environmental Law Reporter, West's cornerstone environmental law publication. ELR contains full-text cases, statutes, regulations, agency documents, briefs and pleadings, international treaties, and current analysis from leading experts in the field.
The site is updated monthly, with weekly Federal Register updates and an online newsletter updated three times a month.
ELR is produced for West by the Environmental Law Institute.
West plans to add to the site collections of guidance and policy documents and Superfund decisions.
Visitors can register at the site for a free trial or to obtain pricing information.
Finally, a look at a site that, while not original in concept, succeeds in taking the concept a step forward.
A year ago, the American Bar Association introduced the Lawyers Communication Network, broadcasting continuing education programs to satellite dishes installed in lawyers' offices and homes.
Now, LCN is offering those same programs on a pay-per-view basis via the Internet, http://www.abalcn.com.
LCN's satellite service offers some 60 hours of new programming each month, most of it taken from live ABA programs. The Internet version offers several of these same programs, transmitted using the free RealVideo software.
Internet subscribers also receive access to a library of some 200 past programs. Users can browse the library's titles, but then must specially request that a particular program be prepared for Internet broadcast.
Basic access is free for ABA members, who then pay from $39.95 to $79.95 to view individual programs.
A sample program viewed over a standard Internet connection contained more-than acceptable quality video and virtually broadcast quality audio. Dual windows allowed viewing of the speaker and his slides simultaneously.
Robert J. Ambrogi (firstname.lastname@example.org), a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of the Internet newsletter legal.online, http://www.legalonline.com. Past installments of this column are archived at: http://www.legaline.com.