Notes from the Technology Trenches – October, 1997

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

In this month’s column, I’ve got several areas to cover and may have a rant or two, as well.

F irst up. I’ve just recently signed on to yet another listserv (you’d think I’d learn), called “Solosez”, set up for solo practitioners. Given the clientele we serve here at the Association, I thought it might be a good idea to see what the solo attorneys are concerned about and then how we might be able to assist them better with their research.

It’s an extremely active group so I am, of course, receiving it in digest form — the only way to go for an active listserv. Well, this group struggles with technology issues as much as we do. Trying to practice law in the face of technological glitches is, ahem, a challenge, to say the least.

Very recently, one attorney posted to the list, expressing great frustration with software that doesn’t work. In response, another attorney who is, basically, a reseller of PC products, noted that the big companies in the PC industry are making money hand over fist, “in spite of the fact that their products suck.” Pretty succinct, yes?

But he also stressed that consumers have a responsibility to let these companies know that their products are lousy and, further, that we won’t put up with their sloppiness and disregard for quality. Since many of us are not happy with the current state of affairs in the PC industry, I would advise that we do try, whenever possible, to hold the major companies responsible for, among other things, releasing their products in beta, foisting them off on the unsuspecting consumer as “ready for prime time” and then giving us “fixes” for bugs (which they refer to as “features”).

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S econd, I’ve written elsewhere of the desire most attorneys (and, I suspect, information professionals) have for the ability to conduct “seamless research,” meaning the ability to get all of our information from one source (mainly electronic) with minimal effort. We are certainly far from this ideal if, indeed, we’ll ever get there.

Case in point. Recently, I was asked to find as many decisions as possible of a New York Supreme Court justice. In New York, for those of you who may not know, the supreme court is the lowest state court, not the highest (the Court of Appeals has that honor). Consequently, finding the lower court cases, mainly unpublished, is not easy.

Since print sources will not allow me to find a list of cases organized by the names of individual judges (at any level) easily, I turned to our electronic sources. In our case, this means Lexis, Westlaw, the Internet and various CD-ROM products. Unfortunately, none of these sources is a one-stop shopping research tool.

I decided to look first at LJ Extra (LJX), the Internet arm of New York Law Publishing. LJX has been around since late 1994 and I’ve been a subscriber since then. It started out as a propriety service, offering daily online access to its newspaper, the New York Law Journal (NYLJ) as an enticement and using Pipeline as a platform (Pipeline no longer exists but has been replaced by another entity). LJX also had the intention to put online cases from the various lower courts.

Once the Web got going, LJX quickly became a Web-based subscription service and has improved its offerings greatly. Much of its material is available without subscribing, but you cannot access back issues unless you subscribe.

Since the NYLJ often publishes cases from New York Supreme, LJX was my first line of attack. Unfortunately, LJX currently uses Excite! as its search engine which leaves much to be desired. I understand that LJX is switching to Verity in the near future and I applaud that approach. In any event, by doing a variety of subject searches, I was able to find a number of cases decided by this judge. The results, however, did not cover the waterfront, by any means.

If LJX were to continue its project to put as many New York lower court cases as possible on the Web, it would truly be a “useful engine.” Perhaps with the advent sometime in the next century of electronic court filing, LJX (and others) will be able to provide access to practitioners and others to case law that we now find it difficult to access. From my own experience as a litigator in a small firm (and a researcher), there is a market out there.

Next stop was LEXIS-NEXIS. Since both of these large online service providers only put New York Supreme cases on their systems selectively, it did not surprise me that the bulk of the cases I found were from the Appellate Division (the interim appeals court in New York State). I fared no better with WESTLAW.

We also have West’s New York Reports on CD-ROM (formerly published by Lawyers’ Cooperative Publishing — all these mergers is the subject of another column). The results were even skimpier here, again with the bulk of the cases dealing with this judge coming at the appellate level, not the lower court level.

As part of the project, we also provided our requester with a bio of the judge. The entry mentioned several leading cases that the judge had decided — two of which had not turned up in any of the searches done previously! We were able to locate them, however.

So what does all this mean? Well, as I noted, neither “seamless research” nor the one-stop research shopping mall is here yet and, dare I say it, may never be. I predict that there will have to be a more “seamless” approach but it will not be Internet-based soon. LEXIS and WESTLAW are more likely to provide us with more in the way of lower court decisions (I hope) initially because of the resources they have at their disposal.

LOIS, is also a contender, but right now, they don’t even have New York up on their site at all yet and don’t, at this moment, plan to offer lower court cases. I suggested strongly to the rep I spoke to that they look at adding this material. If others also need their states’ lower court cases, call LOIS and ask them to consider adding them to their database.

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Anyone else have an example of how they tried to use the existing technology and it fell short? You can either send me an e-mail at [email protected] or send a comment to LLRX at [email protected].

Posted in: Notes from the Technology Trenches