Free Legal Resources

March 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the past few weeks I’ve stumbled upon numerous online legal education resources. Free courses, ebooks, podcasts all online and all for free. I think these are great resources to use post graduation, or for anyone wanting to learn about a particular aspect of the law without taking an actual course through a law school.

Project Gutenberg is a digital library that offers over 34,000 books free of charge. The catch? All books listed on the site are out of copyright, which means they are fairly old. It is a great site to download classic novels. In fact, just about any classic you can think of is probably listed on the site. The “Top 100” page lists books like Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, Plato’s Republic, The Prince, etc. You can find religious texts, philosophical treatises, slave narratives, poetry, just about anything you can think of. As far as legal texts go, books by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Benjamin Cardozo, William Blackstone, and more are included on the site. Overall, the site provides some good material for those interested in legal history.

Websites like Scribd and Docstoc can also be incredible resources to get free ebooks or legal templates. Scribd and Docstoc are like the Youtube of documents online. People can upload documents for others to view and download for free. Both sites include a legal section where countless forms and templates can be found. These documents can be used to model your own contracts or agreements. Law related ebooks in PDF format can also be found on these sites. Like Youtube, though, Scribd and Docstoc have received a lot of criticism for allowing copyrighted material to be uploaded by users. When using the site, do not assume that everything you see is in the public domain (as opposed to Project Gutenberg where EVERYTHING on the site really is in the public domain).

Open Culture is another great educational resource on the web. The site offers free school textbooks, ebooks, language lessons, and even online courses. Although the language lessons were the most interesting to me (they have the nightly news in classical Latin!), they also have various talks hosted by law schools through out the country.

I’m definitely just scratching the surface with this list, but I think it’s a good start for anyone interested in acquiring free law related material (or very interesting non-law related material) online.

 

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Finale of the research website series

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I am going to introduce two research databases in my last blog posts as the ending of this research resource series. I found them by using the database links offered by Duke Law library website (this is how I found most of the databases I introduced in this blog and why I wanted talk about the library website resources as my presentation topic today).

I. Bepress Legal Repository

Bepress, as shown on their homepage, stands for “the Berkeley Electronic Press”, which publishes high quality peer-reviewed journals. In Bepress Legal Repository, it offers you free access to tons of journal works. On the homepage of Bepress Legal Repository, you can browse the 10 most recent publications, 10 most popular papers or 10 most recent Peer- Reviewed Articles in legal repository. Or you can simply browse it by institutions or subjects.

Also, you can find papers by their search box on the homepage. The advanced search feature is handy to use. You can combine and create the search items you want and make it easier for you to find the article you want. I run a research on “child abuse” using the full text search. It showed 5306 results arranged by year. You can also change the order into arranging by publication, author or title. One great feature it has is that you can asked them to notify you for future results in the subjects you searched which can keep informed of the latest paper published in that area.

II State Legal sources on the Web

Supported by U Mich, this website is clear and easy to use. It is in the form of chart arranged by states. Within this website, you can find resources regarding Bills, Session Laws, Codified Law and Constitution, New Regulations and Executive Orders, Codified Regulations, Attorney General Opinions, State Courts cases, Newspapers, State Law Library and Election Data. The good thing about this website is that you can actually find resources that are not so common in legal research like the attorney general opinion. Everything on that chat has a link to the particular website for you to do further research. This website is user-friendly and will be really helpful if you want to concentrate on state legal information.

However, the last update of this website is on May 1, 2009, almost 2 years ago which means you have to pay attention to the result gain from this site. You may need to check if the links in this chat covers the latest resources.

Hopefully these sites will be helpful to your future research. If not, you can always try to find something valuable in law school library website which works for me every time.

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Helpful Sources for Company Research

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

After listening to a classmate’s presentation on Yahoo Finance, I was inspired to try out a few other business research websites for my blog post this week. I have done very little business research in the past, but when I have, I’ve used Westlaw, Lexis, or CCH, all paid sites. I decided to look into a few free sites to see what they had to offer.

First, I tried Hoovers, which is a business directory/database that connects researchers with more than 65 million companies (http://www.hoovers.com). At first glance, it looked really promising: the website appears to be easy to use and looks like it houses a lot of company information. Unfortunately, although it is very user friendly, a lot of the information is available only with a subscription. Some company information is blocked behind the paid subscription wall, while other companies (I think the smaller, less frequently searched ones) are available. For example, I entered “Apple” into the search box at the top of the page, and was brought to a page with very limited company information, and several offers to try a subscription.  I then tried clicking on “Browse directories: Companies” (note: there is also a way to browse companies by industry) and was brought to an alphabetical list of all of the companies for which Hoovers has a profile. Also on this page was a way to sort the companies, either by industry or business classification. Further, it provided industry overviews. I randomly selected 1800Mattress.com from the company list, and was provided with an overview of the company, including its location and stock information, a list of executives, and the competitive landscape. Although you would need to subscribe to access the full competition report, even without the subscription, you are provided with a list of competitors and the industries in which the company competes. This type of information is incredibly helpful in the event that you are working on an antitrust assignment, where it can be really difficult to figure out what exactly a company does, and who it competes with. In all, I think this might be a useful site to use as a supplementary source, when you know exactly which company you are looking for and you need only quick, basic information about that company.

Next, I tried Manta, which claims to be the world’s largest online community for connecting small businesses, with more than 64 million company profiles from the U.S. and beyond (http://www.manta.com/). It is rated the third largest business news/research website. Like Hoovers, this is a site that offers its best information to members of the site, but also like Hoovers, there are some great features available for free. At the top of the page, there is a way to browse through companies. You can either browse by state or industry, or you can access the entire list and refine your search from there.  Using filters on the left-hand side of the page, you can limit your results to companies created as of a certain date, companies with a certain number of employees, or those with a certain level of revenues. To try out the site, I chose to browse through the entire list. Then, I narrowed down my search by industry to “food” companies. Within my new list, I perused the subheadings, and chose “chewing gum.” This brought me to forty-one different chewing gum companies. When you select a company, you are given some basic information, and asked to register for free in order to view more information. Although this site has a lot of potential, and can again help you out if you are looking for some quick answers, it is definitely inferior to yahoo finance in terms of usability and content. And, I needed to keep reminding myself that it was a collection of small businesses, so this is not the place to find information on a company like Apple.

I then tried CNET Ticker Look-up, a great site for getting quick stock information (http://www.learnwebskills.com/company/ticker02.html). The website comes with directions, making it extremely easy to use. All you have to do is enter a company name into the search field, and you are provided with a host of stock information, including price and volume, a company overview, financial strength and profitability and the ticker symbol. The search also brings up a number of news stories related to the specific company. And, even if you are not researching a particular company, you can use the website to get general stock market information. The site provides US indices, Global indices, a currency calcuator, and information by sector. One downside of the site however is that you need to put up with a lot of advertisements, so many that I would recommend turning off the sound on your computer.

Finally, not to be forgotten are the company websites themselves, which can be some of the best sources of free information. Often, a company will have links to their most recent SEC filings, including 10Ks, 10Qs, and 8Ks. With our last research assignment in mind, I used Borders as an example. At first, it seemed that the website would only be helpful for finding a book or a store location, but on closer inspection, I found an “investor relations” link on the bottom of the homepage (http://www.borders.com/online/store/PartnerSiteInvestorsView).  This brought me to a page with a company profile, the NYSE ticker symbol, and the price of the stock. It also showed that the data was current as of March 3, 2011 at 12:08pm (only 20 minutes old at that point), so I knew the information was very current. In addition to links to recent news stories involving Borders, the site also contained links to information regarding corporate governance, analyst info, press releases, annual reports and SEC filings. When I clicked on SEC Filings, I was brought to a table with links to all of their recent SEC filings. In fact, the table included filings from as far back as June of 1996 (not bad!). Also helpful was a way to search for keywords in the SEC filings, and to limit the search results to specific forms. There were links to search tips and descriptions of the different forms themselves on the site as well. Finally, the link to annual reports brings you to a list has a pdf version of the actual, glossy annual report, from 2000 to 2009. Although the SEC website and other free resources can definitely produce the same info, it’s good to remember that when researching a company, sometimes it’s easiest, and maybe even fastest, to go directly to the source itself: the company.

 

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Zotero, master your resources

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

For researchers, it is crucial to organize resources you have gathered in an efficient way.  We know how overwhelming it could be to keep up with new information and organize them under existing resources.  Now, Zotero just made your life whole lot easy.  With Zotero, you can create a rich digital repository of annotated, highlighted sources, with attachments and keywords.   Zotero is a research tool for managing online references.  It is developed by the Center for history and New Media at George Mason University and provides users with automated access to bibliographic information for resources viewed online.  It is a free download that can be installed on any computer running Firefox for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as with the older 2.x (Mozilla based) versions of Flock.   I wish it could work on Google chrome as well, however, under the current version, it is not compatible with Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari.  However,  it seems like compatibility problem will be soon solved as Zotero announced that Zotero Stand alone Alpha works not only with Firefox but also with the Chrome and Safari browsers via browser-specific plugins.  However, it is still in test phase and there are still kinks being worked out.  So, I would wait until new version becomes more stable, till then, I recommend using the 2.0.9 version instead of 2.1, especially so if you are a current user who wouldn’t want to risk losing data saved in library.

Zotero actually has quite many functions: It mainly comprise of collecting, organizing, citing, synchronizing, and collaborating.  After browsing through Zotero, I thought it is somewhat similar to delicious in a way, but more focused for researchers and writers, providing more comprehensive collection of information.  Following is basics of how Zotero works.

Perhaps the most important feature of Zotero is its ability to sense when you search online.  Zotero senses information through site translators. The translators that allow Zotero to access web-based bibliographic information have been written for institutional libraries, the Library of Congress, databases such as LexisNexis, archiving services such as JSTOR, newspapers, and hundreds of other organizations around the world.  (more information on compatible sites list is available here).  If you are looking at the record for a book on an online library catalog, Zotero’s book icon will appear in Firefox’s location bar where URL appears.  You then have to simply click on the icon to save all of the citation information about the book into your library.  If a web page includes multiple sources, the application lets the user save some or all of the sources at one time.  Users can then add notes, tags, and their own metadata through the in-browser interface.   Selections of the local reference library data can later be exported as formatted bibliographies. Furthermore, all entries including bibliographic information and memos users added to the selected articles can be summarized into an HTML report.

Zotero library allows users to group sources in different combinations for different projects, review sources from varying perspective, enabling users to see interdisciplinary connections that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  Users may locate sources in library based on keywords found in any of the data fields or notes the user has added to that source.  Also, users can take a snapshot of an online resource and add highlights or annotations to these snapshots.  If there are sources that does not interact with Zotero, yet necessary for your research, you can manually add those items to library, allowing a centralized location for gathering and storing references, significantly streamlining the research process.

Since I was new to this online research reference tool, it took me a while to figure out how the system works.  But, it has very good tutorials under the support tab of the main webpage and walks you step by step to get accustomed to the system.  I was quite astonished by Zotero’s current service, yet it keeps surprising me with more tools.  Among many of development and upgrades Zotero is currently working on, Mutilingual Zotero really grabbed my attention.  Multilingual Zotero, which is in final phase of testing, is a groundbreaking tool that can automatically capture, organize and correctly format items enriched with translated and transliterated multilingual data.  When this service comes through, I am sure that it would make so many people’s lives easy, especially in this era where using resources from multiple countries became common.

Through this class, I realized how behind I was with current technology and learned how these new tools can really make difference in my work.  I am really glad that I learned of these wonderful, yet free websites, before I walking out of law school.

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In the future, will failure to appear really mean that Skype was down?

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

More and more of yesterday’s work and living can be done online and at home today.  We can pay bills, read, shop, buy and listen to music, watch movies, and socialize all over the internet.  These are all pretty important things.  I began to wonder that when so much of what we used to do  before the internet revolution has been so drastically changed, why the court house has not become less brick and mortar?  I wondered whether there is support for a move to virtual courts?

Well, as it turns out, my musings were pretty late to the show.  In 1994, the U. of Arizona Law school conducted a “courtroom of the future” project.  Through grants the Law School equipped a court room with the technology necessary to both transmit and receive video feeds.  The technology has since gone through several incarnations, as capabilities have increased.  Today the project serves as a functioning example of how people with disabilites may gain greater access to courts.  There is also the ability for academic interactive functions.  Administrators hope that the project will serve as a example of what technology has made possible and that the project may influence real courts in the future.

OK, so academia is pushing the envelope, but how close are we to a real ecourt?  Chris Travers argues in his blawg on Realverdict.com that the beginning stages are upon us.  Many arbitrations are already decided almost entirely virtually.  The success of online arbitration has encouraged in increase in virtual alternative dispute resolution.  The site that hosts Chris’s blawg is a forum for such dispute resolutions.  Parties plead their cases to a forum of jurors in cyber space and agree to abide by the verdict rendered.  Getting closer.

Travers argues that if a virtual court were to be adopted that dates could be obtained without long delays, court costs would be reduced because operating costs would diminish, and there would also be more time and attention to focus on the more substantial issues that would still require personal presence.

It seems that traffic court or some small claims disputes could be responsibly handled virtually.  And if there is a life of crime in my future, I hope that virtual prisons are just over the horizon.

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Privacy Rules for Online Court Records

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, the Court Technology Bulletin posted a blog about the Florida Supreme Court’s frustration over how long it’s been taking to come up with privacy rules for online court records. The court created a Committee on Privacy and Court Records in 2003, but the committee has only “proposed rules for excluding personal information such as social security and credit card numbers from court files if not required to resolve or manage cases.” Criminal and traffic cases would be exempt from these rules because they have their own separate committees working on proposed rules, though neither committees have submitted recommendations as of yet. With still many question before the committee up for debate, Justice Barbara Pariente asked committee members to “get on the stick and get the rest done.”  

Florida’s frustration with the issue made me curious as to what other courts are doing. Montana seems to have their act together. The Montana Supreme Court enacted Court Rules for Privacy and Public Access to Court Records in Montana in 2008 (only three years after a commission was set up). Their rules are governed by the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy, both of which are guaranteed in their constitution. The rules prohibit public access to “sensitive” personal information. Sensitive information includes complete social security numbers, complete financial account numbers, full names of minor children (unless required by state law), and full birth dates of any person. (See Rules Section 4.5 ). Parties can also request that other information not be made available to the public, though there’s little guarantee the court will rule in their favor. (See Rules Section 4.6).  

Litigants are warned that “all information that you file with a court is public information” which anyone can view and share. So they shouldn’t put sensitive personal information not required by law in a court document. It’s up to litigants to protect their privacy. If they put such information on court documents, court officials aren’t going to make sure it’s redacted before making it available to the public. (See warning.) 

On the federal side, in 2007 the Federal Rules of Appellate, Bankruptcy, Civil, and Criminal Procedure that implement the E-Government Act of 2002 became effective. It required the same type of sensitive information mentioned in Montana’s rule to be redacted from court documents, with addition of home addresses in criminal cases. (See http://www.privacy.uscourts.gov/.)

With such easy access to information these days, it’s good to know some steps are being taken to protect individual privacy. Let’s hope Florida “gets on the stick” to protect their citizens soon.

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Wikipedia for law– pipe dream or possibility?

March 3, 2011 5 comments

It seems to me, after this class of discovering all the free legal resources out there, that the one main weakness of the free sources compared to Wexis is that the free resources tend to be scattered all over the place and are relatively easy to find only if you know where to look (and what you’re looking for). Which is problematic for those lawyers– and non-lawyers– who did not happen to take this class in law school.) And even for those of us in this class, who know where to look, we still need to go through 4 or 5 (or more) different websites to find what we need, which can be both time-consuming and irritating. (I don’t know about you but I, for one, dislike having lots of tabs open on Firefox at any given time and having to switch back and forth to find what I’m looking for.) All of this brings me to wonder why there isn’t– or is there– a really comprehensive wikipedia for the law– a one-stop shop, essentially, for the law and legal analysis where lawyers and non-lawyers alike can quickly go to find out what they might need to know, at least as a starting point.

The “wikipedia model” has been talked about a lot– the idea of having users generate content and analysis that’s policed by other users to create a resource of information. But is it possible for something like the law, that requires more expertise and education to understand, than for the rather general knowledge available on wikipedia? Predictably, I suppose, right now the answer to this question ranges between “Yes, sure, why not?” and “No, what are you smoking?” (We’re lawyers-to-be so we know by now that, if you ask any given question to 4 lawyers, you’re likely to get at least 6 different “right” answers.) Whatever your answer to the question of whether a wikipedia for law is possible, it’s an intriguing idea.  I’ll quote from Professor Richard Susskind who has expressed his vision of what a wikipedia for law would look like (because he phrased it much better than I could): “a resource readily available to lawyers and lay people; a free web of inter-linked materials; packed with scholarly analysis and commentary, supplemented by useful guidance and procedure; rendered intensely practical by the addition of action points and standard documents; and underpinned by direct access to legislation and case law, made available by the Government…” that is “established and maintained collectively by the legal profession; by practitioners, judges, academics and voluntary workers.” Maybe due to the charm of his phrasing, it sounds like a brilliant idea, which begs the question of why it hasn’t already been thought of and implemented– and since it apparently hasn’t been, is it even possible?

There’s a beta, i.e. testing version of this idea for British law- Free Legal Web. Right now, it provides free access to statutes and case law (for the full text, it usually links out to the official Government site or to BAILII for the cases) along with case summaries, case comments, and articles written by a variety of contributors. The search function is rather primitive right now, but then this is a beta version, and people who use the site are encouraged to contribute to the site to add more information to it. In particular, I like the Case Comments that provide analysis of cases, along with a brief summary of the facts of the case, explaining the significance of the case in context- for example, this case comment on ZH (Tanzania) v. SSHD, a UK Supreme Court case. The site also has “guides” that provide neat introductions to procedures and other things, mainly aimed at a non-legal audience, for example the Novice guide to court hearings.

Given Free Legal Web’s existence among other things, I don’t see much of an obstacle to creating a wikipedia for US law. As Free Legal Web shows us, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel in providing free access to the full text of statutes and case law; creating a database of laws and cases with links to sites like LII shouldn’t strain our capabilities too much, I should think, although it would be a large project requiring the commitment of volunteers, but I can easily envision this as a project started by a law school and, initially at least, monitored by law students. As for providing Case Summaries and Comments, along with analysis, this would only seem to require combining and organizing the types of resources that already exist. Certainly, there’s a proliferation of blawgs that post case summaries/comments and legal analysis, on topics of interest to the blog contributors– and the blawgs aren’t (for the most part) written for profit, so it should not seem too difficult to get lawyers to contribute to the site in some way, especially as so many (apparently) already are willing to spend their free time talking about an issue of the law that interests them, through the form of blog posts. Any Free Legal Web equivalent for US law would, of course, be complicated by the existence of the 50 states and their different laws, but I don’t see this as an insurmountable obstacle. And, in the end, I’m not sure why a wikipedia for law shouldn’t be entirely feasible because after all, lawyers as a profession aren’t generally reluctant to talk/write about what they know or think, so finding people to contribute to a wikipedia for law shouldn’t be hard.

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