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HOW TO CONDUCT LEGAL RESEARCH AND STUDY USING THE INTERNET

Dr. Ronald F. Movrich*

I. Introduction

The advent of the Internet and the digital age has not only transformed business and commerce but has also significantly altered the way that scholarship can be conducted. Today, one can learn, research, and discuss law in ways not convenient or even possible just a few years ago. The printed book and word are now no longer the sole or perhaps even the major sources of information. A recent study indicated, for instance, that: 71% of legal professionals accessed the Internet in some capacity, roughly the same figure used it for research, and 33% had websites.(1) These developments are especially good news for those of us living and working in Asia where there are none of the great libraries such as those found in the Western world. So marked are the changes between the pre- and post- Internet divide, to borrow Mark Twain's words on a different subject, that the two periods are about as different as a lightening bug is from lightening.

In the following pages, this paper examines and assesses non-commercial resources for the study and research of law on the Internet, especially the World Wide Web. It begins with a discussion of how those unfamiliar with the Internet can start to develop their on-line skills. Then, it looks at some helpful overview guides and articles--available on the Net--for doing legal research. Next, it examines "comprehensive" or "mega" sites (such as "Findlaw" and "The WWW Virtual Library-Law") before looking at two of my favorite websites--"Jurist" and the technology section of The New York Times. It concludes with a discussion of the use of "all purpose" and "legal specific" search engines (like "Google" and "LawCrawler", respectively). A forthcoming paper will discuss websites available for international legal research and study in general, with an emphasis on Thailand and Asia. But it should be noted at the outset that I have selected websites and research tools with a global perspective for this article.

II. What to do if you are unfamiliar with the Internet

How can you harness the lightening of the Internet if you are more used to dealing with lightening bugs? In short, what do you do if you know little or nothing about the Internet and computers? The prominent educational philosopher, John Dewey, long ago established that the best way to learn anything was by doing it.(2) So my advice to beginners is to put aside your fears, and "Just do it." First, you may want to enlist the help of someone more proficient than you in using computers and the Internet: a friend, a co-worker, a fellow student, or even a relative. Usually, people who are keen users of the Internet are delighted to help others learn; and, you will be able to set aside your fears better if you work alongside someone you know. If you are unable to find a friend who can serve as a tutor, then hire someone. This does not have to be expensive. There are small businesses--usually computer stores or shops offering classes--in most communities that can provide help, for a reasonable price. Or, walk into your local "cybercafe" and talk to the owner/helpers. For a small, added fee, many of them will be happy to show you how to get started because they realize you represent another customer. From my own experience in teaching Thai students who are first time computer users, I estimate it will take you less than one hour to learn the fundamentals of using the Internet.

If you are one of those people who need "hard copy" to help you learn, you may find the following books helpful. Sonja Larsen and John Bourdeau have written a good book available in paperback, Legal Research for Beginners.(3) As its title indicates, this book is not solely about using the Internet for legal research; rather, it is a comprehensive treatment to guide you through the complexities of law and legal research and includes helpful practical tips and strategies. One chapter--Chapter 8 of ten--is devoted not only to the Internet, but to Lexis and Westlaw services and to law on CD-Rom. Here you can find out what the Internet is and how to get on it, and other helpful if basic search tips.(4)

For a book entirely devoted to the Internet, see Judy A. Long's study, Legal Research Using the Internet.(5) Long begins with an overview of the Internet and what it is; walks you through the basics like hypertext links and URL's {addresses, to those not familiar with Internet jargon}; and then provides specific chapters on United States Federal and State sources, and secondary sources (including law schools and their libraries; legal dictionaries, legal research questions). She concludes with specialized topics--like bankruptcy, civil rights, consumer law, intellectual property, corporate, and criminal law. Needless to say, she identifies many good websites for legal research. Her book, written with a view towards students and paralegals, is simple and easy to follow.

Long's book, however, has several major drawbacks. First, it suffers from being too focused on the United States. Although she deals with international law in one chapter, it is only three pages long, with one page consisting of assignments for students.(6) The chapter looks like and reads like an afterthought. Overall, the book simply does not devote sufficient space or attention to the large and wide world outside of the United States. A second drawback of the book is price. This black-and-white paperback has only one hundred and nine pages of text and that count is generous since there are several blank/mostly blank pages between chapters that are still "counted".(7) Yet the book sells for the hefty price of $26.95. Third, there is little material here on search engines. Finally, the material is presented in somewhat helter-skelter fashion and the organization of materials is lacking. Better materials can be found for free on the Internet itself, as we shall see in the next section.

III. Where to Start Your Internet Research and Study

Thankfully, there are numerous overviews and guides available for inexperienced users of the Internet. Before starting your project, you may wish to look first at a thorough article available on-line written by Lyonette Louis-Jacques, a Librarian and Lecturer in Law at the D'Angelo Law Library, University of Chicago Law School. Her article, "Legal Research Using the Internet," is full of helpful research tips, and describes legal resources generally available on the Internet such as web, gopher, ftp sites, and listservs.(8) The article has hypertext links that allow you to go to sites that you deem interesting.(9) Louis-Jacques also provides helpful advise in putting together an overall research strategy. "Try to develop an approach to research using the Internet," she writes. "Become familiar with a few sites and search engines - it is always good to know what website you'd like to begin your search with, and if that site doesn't hold an answer to your question, what search engine to use to find relevant sites."(10) Louis-Jacques--"Lyo"--has also compiled a searchable list of electronic discussion groups, newsletters, journals, etc. related to the law.(11) Final mention should be made to her detailed article, "Researching International Law" which is available at http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/law/lloufr.htm [.]

Another approach those with little Internet experience is to take an on-line tutorial session in using the web. An excellent resource is David P. Habib's and Robert L. Balliot's "How to Search the World Wide Web: A Tutorial for Beginners and Non-Experts." It can be found at http://204.17.98.73/midlib/tutor.htm [.] A rich source of information with hypertext links also has been compiled by research librarian Jack Corse of Canada's Simon Fraser University. Corse's "How to Use the World Wide Web to Find Resources" may be found at http://www.lib.sfu.ca/kiosk/corse/libguide8.htm [.]

Additionally, a most useful source called "ICYouSee: How Can You Find Anything on the World Wide Web? The Tools" has been developed by John R. Henderson, of the Ithaca College Library. To access "ICYouSee" please go to: http://www.ithaca.edu/library/Training/find.html [.]

Another helpful starting point for research of any kind--not just legal-- is "The Scout Report," at http://scout.cs.wisc.edu.index.html. Sponsored by the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it uses a team of professional librarians and subject matter experts to select, research, and annotate Web resources. It is one of the oldest and most highly regarded resources for finding the best of both new and well-established Web sites and other Internet resources. The Scout Report covers a variety of different categories, and many subjects. Business and law- related web sites that are annotated and have hypertext links include those for the Civil Rights Center, and a unique website, Sweatshops.org which gives world-wide information for various unsavory business practices and how to combat them. Website reviews found at "The Scout Report" tend to be both more analytical and detailed than those provided by most other sites.

Here are several other top research guides that you may find helpful in legal research and study:

The Internet Society's "Guide to Internet Law," (www.isoc.org/internet/law) offers links to and brief discussions of the more useful legal research sites on the Internet.(12)

The "Virtual Chase," a mega site sponsored by a major law firm, is strong on research articles and Internet strategies. It has an excellent section called "Other Legal Information Guides" (www.virtualchase.com/resources/otherguides.shtml) that has numerous links to international legal websites.

"Guide to European Legal Databases." (www.llrx.com/features/europenew.htm) Authored by Mirela Roznovschi, Reference Librarian of the New York University School of Law Library. This 15 May 2000, updated guide provides extensive coverage of European law resources available on the Internet. It includes search engines for international and foreign law; search tips; indices; guides; journals; dictionaries; European legal databases; constitutions; and transnational/international organizations.

"Guide to Foreign and International Legal Databases." (www.nyu.edu/library/foreign_intl/) New York University's huge collection of international information under the direction of the same person as the above guide.

"Guide to International Trade Law Sources on the Internet." (www.llrx.com/features/trade.htm). This comprehensive research guide to the best Internet sources for international trade law is compiled by Marci Hoffman, the Foreign and International Law Librarian at the University of Minnesota Law Library.

"University of Minnesota Human Rights Library"(www.umn.edu/humanrts). More than a research guide, this is a collection of over 6,500 human rights documents and materials including bibliographies and guides; refugee and asylum resources; human rights search engines; treaties and international instruments; with over 2,500 links to other sites.

"Law on the Web" (http://lawlib.slu.edu/library/LawOnTheWeb.html). Compiled by James Milles, the Law Librarian at St. Louis University, this is a well-organized list of legal resources on the Internet including general guides; selected subject-area guides (including Comparative and International Law); search engines; statutes and cases. Milles uses a star system to recommend sites.

"Guide to Law Online" (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/glin/worldlaw.html) prepared by the U.S. Law Library of Congress is an annotated hypertext guide to sources of information worldwide on government and law. Strong U.S. and international links including area guides, international organization links (UN, OAS, and so on), worldwide reports on human rights, international and comparative law reviews, political system and economic guides for many of the world's nations.

"InSite" (http://128.253.118.14:8080/insite/insitetp.html) The law librarians at Cornell University evaluate useful websites, select the most valuable ones, and provide commentary and subject access to them. "InSite" highlights selected law-related websites in two ways: first, as an annotated publication issued electronically and in print; and second, as a keyword-searchable database.

Final mention in this section goes to the "ONU Internet Legal Research" (www.law.onu.edu/internet). Actually, because of its size and makeup this site is more of a "comprehensive" site than others in this section. Its layout and presentation is so easy to use, however, it acts as a useful bridge between those guides that will help you get started and the following section on comprehensive legal websites. Put together and maintained by Ohio Northern University's Pettit College of Law, it assembles websites in categories like "Dictionaries", "Comprehensive Law-Sites," "Legal Newsletters," "Federal Sources", and so on. "ONU" is easy to use and efficient.

IV. Comprehensive or "Mega" Legal Websites

Comprehensive or "mega" sites are those that include a wide array of services, functions, resources, and subject areas. Because of their extensive nature, each of the following websites provides an excellent starting point for legal study and research:

"Findlaw" (www.findlaw.com) has often been billed as the best site to find other legal resources. It is designed in easy-to-view sections for legal professionals, students, businessmen, and the public. Its features include: current news, community boards (on legal issues such as immigration and cyberspace law), newsletters, a lawyer finder function, and the noted search engine, "LawCrawler." This search engine includes an international option for searching individual country domains. Some 38 legal subjects are indexed at "Findlaw" including Communications Law, Cyberspace Law, Dispute Resolution and Arbitration, Family Law, Intellectual Property, International Law, International Trade, Law and Economics, and the Year 2000.

"Global Legal Information Network" (Library of Congress) (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/law/GLINv1/GLIN.html). The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) maintains and provides a database of laws, regulations, and other complementary legal sources. The site can be viewed in English, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. The documents included in the database are contributed by the governments of the member nations from the original official texts that are deposited, by agreement of the members, at the Library of Congress of the United States. This database contains: (1) full texts of the documents in the official language of the country of origin, (2) summaries or abstracts in English, and (3) thesauri in English and in as many official languages as are represented in the database. Information can be searched in English.

"Hieros Gamos" (www.hg.org) touts itself as the "#1 Global Law Site With 2+ Million Links." Global it is: it can be read in most of the world's major languages, and has extensive international links and information. HG's content--divided into business, consumers, attorneys, and students--is somewhat similar to "Findlaw." Its object was to be the comprehensive starting-point for all law and law-related information. It has a search engine to search 11,000 law and government sites. HG, incidentally, is Greek for the harmonization of seeming opposites (such as earth and sky) and in this case, electronic and written information. Recently, its content and layout has become so large and extended beyond the law, that the site has begun to lose focus of its original purpose.

"Jurist" (www.jurist.law.pitt.edu) is described fully below in the section on "Favorites". It is important to emphasize that it has parallel sites in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the EU, and Portugal, so it is a superb global source.

"LawGuru" (www.lawguru.com) is a cornucopia of legal materials including a "QA" section with frequently asked questions (FAQs) and their answers; a database of thousands of free forms with a search engine for forms; law news; chat rooms; discussion lists; and more. Its key feature is its legal research section that allows you to do extensive legal research with access to over 500 legal search engines, tools, and databases. For a listing of its resources by topic, use the pull-down menu on the "Legal Resource" page.

"Legal Information Institute (LII)" Cornell (www.law.cornell.edu) This site is one of the oldest and still one of the best legal information sources on the Internet. It is maintained by Cornell University. The site offers an encyclopedia called "Law About" where you can initiate your topical research. There are also vast amounts of materials (core materials for major law school courses; the UCC; Introduction to Legal Citation, and so forth that can be downloaded, some for a fee. It has a very strong collection--under "Law from Around the Globe"--which breaks down international materials country-by-country for each continent. The "Spotlight" section on the home page features law events in the news from around the world.

"MegaLaw" (www.megalaw.com). This site is geared toward the practicing lawyer (with sections, for example, on "Expert Witnesses" "Process Service", and finding court reporters). It also features "LawBot", a search engine. Unfortunately, its "International" section focuses mostly on countries outside Asia. From the Far East region, only China and Australia are listed).

"Student Law Centre" (www.studentlaw.com) Sponsored by Britain's BPP Law School, this site is not as vast as others in this section; yet, it presents good information for students and from the European perspective. Features include a search engine, many links, and a "Studentlaw Wire" with site news delivered free to your e-mail address.

"Virtualchase" (www.virtualchase.com). Sponsored by a law firm and with over 500 pages of information pertaining to Internet legal resources, this site is especially good for research strategies. It is designed for lawyers and other experienced legal researchers and has a good search engine and hundreds of links.

"The World Wide Web Virtual Library-Law" at (http://www.law.indiana.edu/v-lib/) is presented by the Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington. You can search with its search engine or browse the library by subject matter (all of the usual academic subjects of law) or by information source (such as law firms, law journals, or the U.S. Government. As befits its name, it has an enormous collection of links to other legal websites.

"WashLawWeb" (www.washlaw.edu) is maintained by the Washburn University School of Law Library. WashLaw's goal is "to provide users with links to all known law-related materials on the Internet."(13) Information on the home page is arranged alphabetically, by subject, and by geographic location. WashLaw also hosts a large number of law-related Listserv discussion groups. Discussion groups are intended to provide scholarly forums for the exchange of ideas, opinions, and information relevant to law professionals. When you join a discussion group, you receive e-mail from others who have already joined. Other highlights of WashLaw include connections to more than 50 legal directories(14) and, access to foreign, international and United Nation's materials.(15) You can even subscribe free to a list of new law-related websites that will be e-mailed to you.

"Yahoo!" (http://dir.yahoo.com/law/) "Yahoo!" is one of the Web's favorite portals and a major directory. Its law section is simple and easy to use. It starts with a search engine and then a vast array of subject categories including many unusual ones like: Booksellers, District Attorneys, Self-help, and Indigenous Peoples. It also contains an annotated list of helpful legal links. This directory section is not as large as many other comprehensive sites but it serves as an excellent starting-point for legal research.

Part 2


Endnotes:

* Dr. Ronald F. Movrich is Professor of Law in the Faculty of Law, Dhurakijpundit University, Bangkok, Thailand. He received his J.D. from the University of California, Davis, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Ford Foundation Fellow. He is a member of the Hawaii State Bar and can be reached online at rmovrich@yahoo.com/ Dr. Movrich wishes to thank his colleagues at Dhurakijpundit University, especially Dean Nuchtip and Dr. Apinya, for thei support in writing this article. Thanks also to Khun Sathit Srimongkol, Computer Engineer with DaimlerChrysler in Bangkok, for his technical assistance. Attorney David C. Farmer of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A., and Dr. J.H. Stape of Vancouver, Canada, kindly contributed their thoughts and helped me to edit this paper. All faults, of course, are the author's. You may contact the author at rmovrich@yahoo.com.
An earlier version of this paper appeared under the title, "Legal Research and Study Using the Internet" in the Dhurakijpundit Law Journal (Spring , 2001) at 117-131. This paper was presented at the invitation of the Law and Society Association at the association's international meeting hosted by Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, on 6 July 2001.

(1) Peggie J. Brown, "Internet Legal Research, A Viable Option" at (www.katsuey.com/chgdlegalresearch.htm) last visited on 26 January 2001.

(2) John Dewey, Democracy and Education; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: Macmillan, 1916); see also, Roger C. Schank, "What We Learn When We Learn by Doing." (Technical Report No. 60, Northwestern University, Institute for Learning Sciences, 1995).

(3) Sonja Larsen and John Bourdeau, Legal Research for Beginners (New York: Barron's, 1997).

(4) Larsen and Bourdeau at 173-180.

(5) Judy A. Long, Legal Research Using the Internet (Albany, N.Y: West Legal Studies, 2000).

(6) Long at 97-99.

(7) See, for instance, Long, at pages, 1-2, 16, 32-34, 42, 65-66, 74, 96, 100, 109.

(8) Lyonette Louis-Jacques, "Legal Research Using the Internet," may be found online at (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/~llou/mpoctalk.html).

(9) The same author has written an article by the same title for 'lectric Law Library at (http://www.lectlaw.com/files/lws56.htm). This appears to be an up-dated version.

(10) Id. Other useful overview articles online include: Timothy Mulligan, "Law 101: Basic Legal Web Links," (January 23, 2001) at (http://www.law.uh.edu/librarians/tmulligan/law101.html); Carl S. Kaplan, "Rambling Through Legal Web Sites," Cyber Law Journal (June 30, 2000) at (www.nytimes.com); Peggie J. Brown, "Internet Legal Research, A Viable Option" at (www.katsuey.com/chgdlegalresearch.htm); "Internet Legal Research 101," at (www.minncle.org/legallinks/99Internet101.html ); and, Kenneth E. Johnson, "The Basics of Internet Legal Research" at (http://www.wwwscribe.com/glasser3.htm).

(11) See Lyonette Louis-Jacques, "Lawlists" at (www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/law-lists).

(12) CAUTION: Internet pages tend to move frequently and their addresses also must be typed exactly. If you are having trouble finding a particular page or website, do a search at www.google.com. For instance, if you cannot find "Law on the Web" by James Milles, a Google search using his last name "Milles" should lead you to the page.

(13) "Services," at (www.washlaw.edu).

(14) at (www.washlaw.edu/directry/directry.html).

(15) at (www.washlaw.edu/forint/forintmain.html).