was, having a Web page was a pretty heady experience for a company. Then
everyone had one and only extraordinary content and/or a killer search
engine could distinguish your page from the pack.
Then we entered
the age of the portal. Here, new entities provided their customers with
a jumping off point to get to where they needed to go on the Internet.
Portals were where you wanted to begin your day. Each portal selected its
own version of the "best" sites (for directories, lifestyle, finance, education,
career, health information, etc.). Each was free to users, because its
owners made their money selling advertising space, banner ads, and links
to paying corporate sites. Often the sites to which the topics on the home
page linked were (and still are) corporate "partners." Users had to determine
on their own just how independent information coming from a corporate source
that sells related products and services would be. One person's perception
of a conflict of interest is another person's "perfect piece of information"
for their immediate needs.
From Whence Do Portals Come?
Once upon a time,
there was Netscape Navigator and MS Internet Explorer, and you chose your
side. Or, perhaps, you signed up with an Internet Service Provider that
had its own portal such as Netcom or AOL. Then came Iwon.com (for those
who felt lucky enough to win money off their choice of portal) and portals
devoting themselves to targeted audiences, such as women, through portals
like Ivillage.com, or Latinos with the likes of http://www.Yupi.com,
or law professors through http://www.jurist.law.pitt.edu.
But you felt like a traitor. You had to "leave" your "home" portal to go
to an alien site — but if another portal had the content you needed, then
off you went to the better portal.
was, and always will be king. After all, content, coverage, and currency
drive why we select a certain database on commercial online services for
a particular search. The same rules apply to Web sites and portals. Quality
Sure, portals have
lots of added features. For one, they are often customizable to "my [portal
name]" with content we want daily, like our local weather, tickers of our
stocks and mutual funds, our horoscope, an assortment of lawyer jokes1,
and if you live in a major metropolitan area like me — traffic reports!2
Technology is our friend!
commercial online services have begun to join the "free" portal movement.
LexisONE and Westlaw's newly acquired FindLaw are the most visible players.
In addition, there are established free legal sites with value-added and/or
portal-like services such as Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute.
And, then there are operations like LoisLaw, which, since its acquisition
by Wolters Kluwer, will probably soon migrate to compete more head-to-head
with the big guys (though whether it changes some files from fee-based
to free remains to be seen).
So why have the
commercial online databases decided now to provide "free" information on
the Internet? Is it an act of altruistic public service? Or do these databases
aim to lure poor unsuspecting attorneys in with freebies and then, after
giving them a taste of the "real" information waiting for them, lead them
over to the commercial site? Or, are databases really marketing to clients,
the layperson, and/or businesspeople served by most portals?
FindLaw has become
popular with everyone, and its home page masthead bears this out with links
for "Legal Professionals," "Students," "The Public," and "Business." The
same can be said for Hieros Gamos' [http://www.hg.org],
Law.com [http://www.law.com] with
its "Comprehensive Law and Government Portal," and LawGuru [http://www.lawguru.com],
which also reaches out to laypersons as well as attorneys and law librarians.
On the other hand, LexisONE's home page banner reads "Resources for Small
Law Firms," and http://www.LawyerExpress
is "designed by a busy lawyer for busy lawyers."
(American Bar Association Journal) apparently considers the commercial
services' free portals a ploy to coax attorney users onto paid sites3,
because according to the article, "West says it plans to expand FindLaw
and target customers for West's e-business solutions, including its new
online continuing-legal education project."
Whomever they target,
the portals bring a wealth of information for everyone. The impact on the
public and the legal system itself from all of this free and low-cost access
to legal information is not clear yet4.
Problems inherent in the current spate of products, especially the free
ones, include the lack of standardization of product presentation and/or
search system(s), the difficulty in assuring the currency of information
retrieved, and the lack of editorial enhancements (cross-references, links
to related materials, etc.).
Soup to Nuts and Womb to Tomb?
What kinds of
services can you find on the legal portals?
Cases for a certain number of years (e.g., LexisONE provides
5 years of case law), or for a single (or few) jurisdictions [like http://home.pro-usa.net/rstewart/njp.htm,
which focuses on New Jersey5].
Many states provide
a current copy of state regulations as well. The portals have created links
to these, in most cases.
codes, statutes, treaties, constitutions, and government regulations. These
pages generally link to a source (usually a state or federal Web site)
that ideally provides the current code (sometimes called statutes) and
not outdated version. Good sites also provide different versions of bills
on the move through the legislature, as well as committee hearings, reports,
etc. It is also nice to see the version that the legislature passed into
law (called statutes, chapters, or acts in most jurisdictions).
to legal resources on the Internet. LexisONE has a legal Internet guide,
with links to 20,000 law-related Web sites. Every self-respecting portal
has hundreds of links to other sites, specialized search engines, and legal
resources. LexisONE's Legal Internet Guide is broken down into 32 subject
categories (e.g., Practice Management) and a "private reference desk" that
sits on your computer6.
provides an interesting service: You can become an affiliate and create
a link from your Web site to its legal research tools — LawGuru even provide
buttons (including animated ones) to help you do this7.
Some sites provide
forms for a fee. One such site, http://www.lawguru.com,
has an array of forms tailored to each state of the union for a fee, but
no explanation on how or when to use them, nor which of several forms would
work "best" for your situation. On the other hand, http://www.nolo.com
provides lots of background and explanatory information about different
types of forms, but sells its books and software with the forms in their
"law store." What was it you heard about a free lunch? Even on the "free"
portals from Lexis and Westlaw, not all forms services are free. The LexisONE
service allows attorneys to prepare "signature-ready forms in minutes"
using HotDocs, "priced for small firms logically organized and up-to-date."
• Legal dictionaries.
dictionaries online are wonderful for verifying spelling of Latin phrases
and legal terms, as well as for getting definitions of words used in the
opinions, forms, and contracts on these sites. FindLaw and LexisONE have
several. A law-to-plain-English-dictionary-for-laypeople called Everybody's
Legal Dictionary appears on http://www.nolo.com.
In addition, most portals have links to standard English and specialized
as well as dictionaries from one language to another. I know from personal
experience, however, that not all computers support all the unique character
sets for all languages — a little frustrating when you want to see something
• Law journals.
of the larger law portals link to law journals (law reviews, legal and
business newspapers) that provide free full-text content online. Check
out Hieros Gamos' "Law Journals Online" at http://www.hg.org,
American Law Sources Online [http://www.lawsource.com/also],
and, one of my favorites, http://www.lawyerexpress.com, which links to
legal periodicals, newspapers, business magazines, broadcast media, daily
newspapers around the U.S., and a wealth of other full-text news and information.
• Legal search
engines. The best portals provide both a search engine for their particular
site and a specialized search engine for legal information on the rest
of the Internet, in addition to links and resources to other specialized
sites. For nice clusters of search engines, see http://www.LawyerExpress.com
• Free legal
and court forms, contracts, etc. Every self-respecting legal portal
has some kind of library of legal forms, court forms, contracts, and/or
other legal documents. You get what you pay for, however. The array of
legal forms that you can locate runs the gamut from simple wills and employment
contracts to sophisticated licensing agreements. Try sources like Internet
Legal Resource Guide [http://www.ilrg.com]
which pull together the forms from a number of other sites. For the most
part, you have to know what you need (no one tells you) and you must plow
through a number of sites to find the forms. Furthermore, unlike the formbooks
at a law library, there are usually no directions, no "tactics and tips,"
and no help with negotiating or strategizing.
Legal forms constitute
one of the more enticing features of a number of the sites. However, you
may end up slogging through a number of portals before you find the particular
form you want. Say you need something simple like an employment form. Well,
I recommend looking for at least two in order to compare the terms, language,
etc. If the subject of the form is new to you, check maybe three or four
contract forms total and look up new terms in the legal dictionaries online.
Each portal will likely only have one or two, so rather than being a true
"solution site" that can satisfy all of your needs, the portal becomes
just the first site in a search of many.
Most portals give
you just the forms, but no explanation of the provisions, when to use one
over another, which one favors which party, how to negotiate, etc. Several
portals have court forms, such as the section on LLRX [http://www.llrx.com/courtrules],
with links to over 700 sources for state and federal court rules, forms,
Speaking of getting what you pay for! Several sites provide
free legal advice, though some charge a fee. Try http://www.lawguru.com
for a backfile of 25,000 old questions (with notes as to the state law
applied) and the opportunity to post new questions for attorneys volunteering
to respond with a new answer. There is even information on prepaid legal
plans so you can see an attorney as easily as a doctor — for more personalized
information and legal advice. Another site with answers to legal questions
is http://www.nolo.com. For a
guide to legal advice sites, please see the excellent special report from
BNA at http://subscript.bna.com/SAMPLES/der.nsf/
Also read my article [Ebbinghouse, Carol, "Medical and Legal Misinformation
on the Internet," Searcher: The Magazine for Information Professionals,
vol. 9, October 2000, pp. 18+], which covers an array of legal and medical
While not technically
portals, listservs provide constantly updated information and discussions
on specialized topics of interest to help keep the attorney or legal researcher
up-to-date. To locate a broader list of topics on which to find constantly
updated information (plus the opportunity to post questions and./or answers),
see the following sites:
• Bar examinations
and/or results. Curious whether your cousin ever passed the bar in
California? Checking out the requirements to sit for the bar exam in New
York state? While these probably won't be best-sellers, these facts are
available on the Washburn University Law School sites at http://www.washlaw.edu
and http://www.ABAnet.org, as
well as http://www.law.com. LexisONE
and FindLaw have other sources of information for those considering, or
already attending, law schools. Finally, for anything to do with law school
or legal education, visit http://www.jurist.law.pitt.edu
for Jurist: The Legal Education Network.
job hunting, and career information. The larger sites all link to articles
on entering law practice, salary surveys, career satisfaction, and stress
management. Most also have a means of searching for a job through the classified
ads, along with information on resume preparation, salary negotiation,
alternative careers, and how to prepare letters of resignation. FindLaw
has links to the very irreverent "Greedy Associates" boards and threaded
discussion forums through which you can get the inside story of life in
the sweatshops and how (and where) to get more money. (Librarians need
services like these!)
• Client and
practice management information, law practice management software and/or
services.Targeted to the small firm practitioner, LexisONE has a significant
amount of information about systems, services, software, and other resources
for the practitioner. However, FindLaw, as well as some of the lawyer association
Web pages, provides different types of these resources and/or links, as
well as a link to Westworks.com which has a full array of services for
a fee. Hieros Gamos and most of the others link to practice management
software and resources, as well as consultants, experts, etc.
legal education on demand.FindLaw provides online continuing education
courses for CLE credit at $20 per hour credit. LexisONE and ABANET "on
demand" at http://www.abanet.org/cle/demand.html,
as well as American Lawyer Media [http://www.legalseminars.com],
all provide courses, as well.
lists of legal products, services, and CLE providers. Almost every
legal portal links to other product and service providers, if it doesn't
have its own, particularly for information and services outside the legal
groups, forums, professional chats, and listservs. Lexis LOOP ("online
community for lawyers and legal professionals") has 25 moderated discussion
in three different categories (legal practice areas, law office and practice
issues, and "after hours" topics). FindLAW has message boards on a number
of practice areas. The law professor site, Jurist, at http://www.jurist.law.pitt.edu,
has a number of links you can access through its 26 topical "law guides."
L. Jacques site — http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/law-lists
Minds — http://www.legalminds.org
(now a part of FindLaw)
• Law Guru's
Mailing List Manager — http://www.lawguru.com/subscribe/listtool.html
• Current awareness
services (by court or specialty). Lexis-Nexis has an Electronic Advance
Sheet Service. "You choose the courts and the legal topics. The Service
conducts daily searches for the cases you want and automatically sends
you an e-mail alert when cases are found. Plus with every e-mail you'll
get a link to the full text of the court decision" — at $99/year after
a 30-day free trial period. FindLaw also has current awareness and advance
sheet services. The service seems to be free, but it does carry advertising
(perhaps explaining why it is free).
• Legal ethics.
has a legal practice area for ethics, with references to cases, codes,
and other Internet sites. FindLaw has a wealth of information as well.
Both provide links to documents and Web sites such as http://www.legalethics.com,
a leader in the field.
• Attorney directories
Virtually every legal portal that I visited had some type of directory
of attorneys. Either it linked to an existing directory (for instance,
Martindale-Hubbell or state bar membership lists), or its own directory
of "member attorneys," or partners, affiliated law firms, etc.
resources and foreign language services. One of the premier portals
with international information is Hieros Gamos
where you can switch to 60 different language displays (if your computer
can support the different character sets, that is).
So What's Next?
I sure could not
have predicted that commercial databases like Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw would
begin to provide free legal portals chock full of information. Pretty positive
proof, as a matter of fact, that predicting is not my strong point.
However, the product
I want next (and I believe that, as a consumer, I am not alone), is a device
to pluck the "best parts" from each of my favorite legal portals (and my
favorite legal Web pages/search engines) into something I can only describe
as "my dream portal." Most of the real portals provide ways for users to
customize their content into "my [portalname]." However, the portals only
seem to be able to pull from their "partnered" sites. I want to pull from
bits and pieces of their competitors!
If the customer
is always right and should ideally get what they want, and if customer
satisfaction is good for business, then perhaps there is a "dream portal"
in my future!
Until that day,
when I can assemble "my dream portal," I'll have to be content with bookmarking
a number of different portals, having to remember what each is the "best"
at, and subscribing to all their e-newsletters touting "what is new" on
Legal Portals (Or Portal-Like) Sites
Some will argue
with my selections. I certainly omitted a number of personal favorite sites
which did not "look or feel" like portals. Several of my co-workers suggested
other sites I omitted because, while rich in information, they were lists
— Web sites full of lists, some with search engines, some just metaindexes.
Before you condemn my omissions, remember that I never claimed this article
would cover all Web sites devoted to legal information nor describe all
the "best" sites; it may not even completely list everything portal-like.
you're interested, now is the time to crank up your browser and click on
Bookmarks or Favorites:
in This Game
Well, we know about
LexisONE and Westlaw's FindLaw services, so who else is creating legal
portals (or Web sites so large and rich in legal content that they might
pass for portals)?
There are other
commercial sites that provide free information in addition to the products
and/or services that they sell:
Law firms are becoming
more active. For instance, http://www.lawguru.com,
which has risen to portal-like proportions in my mind, was created at a
California law firm. Another site, much more regional in flavor for New
Jersey, is http://home.pro-usa.net/rstewart/njp.htm,
created by a solo practitioner.
Law schools have
a long history of making Internet resources available through links, search
engines, etc. Actually, the legal education sites have provided free information
for a lot longer than LexisONE or Westlaw. I regret that I cannot but give
a small sampling of the legal education Web sites that provide portal-level
information. In addition to a wealth of legal information, each of the
following provides links to other law schools and their sites — please
lavishly funded and appropriately attractive Legal Information Institute
at Cornell University Law School began in 1992 and hailed as one of the
premier locations for legal information [http://www.law.cornell.edu].
Many attorneys begin their search there because its broad and deep content
can often provide needed answers.
associations have created Web sites with rich content:
University's Washlaw [http://www.washlaw.edu]
amasses legal information (cases, codes, and a variety of other information).
the portal for legal educators located at the University of Pittsburgh,
is an excellent starting point for online course syllabi, exams, and research
on the law, in addition to everything relating to legal education.
Some of the American Bar Association's best content comes from committees
which put entire publications online.
and their sites provide targeted information. The following offers but
a small sample of a few organizations focusing on one topic — intellectual
property. The large portals will help you locate associations and you may
find one that you want for your "home" portal:
and courts have begun playing an increasing role in supplying information
through the Internet:
• A specialized
offering from the ABA, http://www.elawyering.org,
provides a vast and unique array of links to law firm and law-related organizations
that maintain portal-like sites of legal information. Don't miss this one!
— A wonderful, searchable portal-like site full of information by and about
the federal government.
1. These are everywhere,
but some well known lawyer joke sites appear on http://www.nolo.com,
2. See the home
page at http://www.megalaw.com
for a list of metropolitan area traffic report sites.
3. See Hope Viner
Samborn, "In the Land of the Free: West's Purchase of Cult Favorite FindLaw
Keeps Pace with Rival Lexis in Bid to Coax Users onto Paid Sites,"
vol. 87, 2001, pp. 76+.
4. See Kumar Percy,
"Open Access to the Law: Internet Legal Publishing Transforming the Face
of the Legal System" (March 19, 2001) at http://www.llrx.com/features/internetpublishing.htm.
Also visit "Legal Information Systems, Week 6" at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/courses/tbruce/week6.htm
for a course handout of readings and discussion topics.
5. This Web site
belongs to a solo practitioner, and, while not up to portal standards,
represents a wave of the future. See an article about solo practitioners
and how they use the Web to get clients at http://www.law.com/cgi-bin/gx.cgi/AppLogic+FTContentServer?
Or begin at law.com, go to Legal Professionals, then Legal Management and
Technology to get to the April 28, 2001, article by Henry Gottlieb reprinted
from the April 30, New Jersey Law Journal.
6. Learn how to
use it efficiently in Desk References http://www.PRQO.COM/apps/redir.asp?link=XbcdadfdBH,YffjjgcdeED
7. For a description
of the program, go to http://www.lawguru.com/affiliates/index.html.
8. See, among others,
(for a foreign slant). For the most comprehensive list that I have found
of different types of dictionaries, go to http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/Australia/Research/Encyclopedias_and_Dictionaries.
e-mail address is email@example.com.