T. R. Halvorson is a lawyer in sole practice in Sidney, MT, President of Pastel Programming Co. , a division of Synoptic Text Information Services, Inc., and author of Law of the Super Searchers: the Online Secrets of Top Legal Researchers , How to Avoid Liability: The Information Professional’s Guide to Negligence and Warranty Risks, and Legal Liability Problems in Cyberspace: Craters in the Information Highway.
Previously I reviewed the LOIS Law Library , 1 VersusLaw’s V. 2 Jurisline.com, 3 National Law Library 4 Quicklaw America 5 and EastLaw 6 applying the Southern California Online User’s Group Rating Scale (SCOUG Rating Scale). 7 The rise of alternative online sources of American legal information continued in the second half of 2000 with the introduction of LawProbe. For reasons that will become obvious, in this article I present a SCOUG Rating Scale review of LawProbe only in brief.
Questions about this service began to appear on law library lists in August 2000 8 , without public response. On the morning of December 29, 2000, a promotional email from LawProbe was quoted from STUMPERS-L to LAW-LIB:
From: [email protected]
Subject: Finally–Online Research you can Afford!!
To: [email protected]
Comments: STUMPERS-L – A Service of Dominican University
Has it ever occurred to you that Westlaw and Lexis are making a ton of money?
There is an alternative!! To find out how you can get GREAT online legal research for less than $300 a year, simply reply to this email with the words “More Info” in the subject line.
The domain lawprobe.com is registered to Allen D. Butler, PC of Tempe, Arizona. The service’s subscriber and license agreement says the website is “owned and operated by LAWPROBE. Inc.” It begins with a copyright notice: “Lawprobe and it’s [sic] website is Copyrighted (c) 1997 by NETPROBE, LP which copyright has been assigned to Lawprobe. [sic] Inc.”
After logging in, the system presents the user with a navigational link bar along the top of the screen. The links that lead to content (not to help, contact information, etc.) appear as follows:
The U.S. Code/CFR’s [sic], State Materials, Rules, Municipal Codes, Bar Links, IRS Bkrptcy, and Journals offerings are collections of links to offsite, free resources elsewhere on the web. None of that content is on the Lawprobe site and LawProbe does not offer a search facility of its own for searching those resources. The Search Engines page contains links to common web catalogs, search engines, and meta-indexes (e.g., Northern Light, Google, and AltaVista) with simplified search boxes for many of them incorporated into the page. The Journals page contains a substantial, annotated collection of links to law reviews and journals, along with the following search box driven by links to FindLaw:
Full Text Search of Law Journals on the Internet
The link for “Caselaw Research” brings up the following library selection screen:
Not only does this page show that the content is provided by VersusLaw, the page itself is much like the one on VersusLaw. After selecting a library and clicking on the Continue command button, the query page for the selected library appears. Each of the query pages is much like the ones on VersusLaw. All parts of the VersusLaw graphic except “Search” are hot with hyperlinks to pages at VersusLaw. The database coverage and scope pages both outside the service (i.e., before logging in) and inside the service (i.e., after logging in) show the same coverage as on VersusLaw and display the VersusLaw copyright notice. The Research Manual, Search Operator Comparison Chart, and Search Query Operators page all are the same as on VersusLaw, and on LawProbe the research manual is actually titled “VersusLaw Research Manual.”
LawProbe is a wrapper for VersusLaw. The pages, query processor, indexes, databases, hit lists, and documents are served from VersusLaw into the LawProbe screens. Thus, the points of the SCOUG Rating Scale may be presented briefly. The coverage and scope, the accuracy/error rate, timeliness, accessibility and ease of use (software required, hours of availability, search screen, navigating to a database, Boolean operators, operator precedence, etc.), Output (hit list, order of hit list, ranking, general appearance of documents, context of search terms, citations, pagination, paragraph numbers, printing, saving documents to local storage, etc.), consistency, integration, and documentation all are virtually the same as for VersusLaw. From what appears on LawProbe’s site, customer support and training are inferior to what is offered by VersusLaw.
VersusLaw charges a flat fee of $6.95 per month per user for unlimited access. LawProbe charges $40.00 per month per user for unlimited access. It offers discounts for prepayment: $30.00 per month with prepayment for six months ($180.00); and $25.00 per month with prepayment for one year ($300.00).
With a LawProbe subscription, a user can take advantage of the service’s collections of links to free web resources. The link collections are good. They are not superior, however, to the collections available for free at FindLaw, CataLaw, WashLaw Web, ALSO, AllLaw, Hieros Gamos, Internet Legal Resource Guide, LawGuru.com, Meta-Index for U. S. Legal Research, Legal Information Institute, and many other sites.
LawProbe offers a 72-hour trial account for $10.00.
1 T. R. Halvorson, “The LOIS Law Library: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses,” LLRX.com™, March 1, 1999. <back to text>
2 T. R. Halvorson “VersusLaw’s V.: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses,” LLRX.com™, March 15, 1999. <back to text>
3 T. R. Halvorson, “Jurisline.com: What You See … What You Don’t See,” LLRX.com™, January 17, 2000. <back to text>
4 T. R. Halvorson, National Law Library: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses, LLRX.com™, May 1, 2000. <back to text>
5 T. R. Halvorson, Quicklaw America: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses , LLRX.com™, October 2, 2000. <back to text>
6 T. R. Halvorson, EastLaw: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses, LLRX.com™, January 2, 2001. <back to text>
7 Reva Basch, “Measuring the Quality of the Data: Report on the Fourth Annual SCOUG Retreat,” Database Searcher, vol. 6, no. 8, October 1990, pp. 18-24. The SCOUG Rating Scale is the earliest full-orbed view of quality and value of information in the electronic age that I can find. It came out of the 1990 annual retreat of the innovative Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG). Despite its pre-web genesis, the SCOUG Rating Scale has enduring value today. There are a number of SCOUG-inspired rating systems being applied to web services. That’s why I previously proposed that searchers “use the Web to conduct and publicize SCOUG-inspired quality evaluations of selected Web resources.” T. R. Halvorson, “Searcher Responsibility for Quality in the Web World,” Searcher, vol. 6 no. 9, October 1998, pp. 12-20. <back to text>
8 See message posted to LAW-LIB by Kathy O’Quinn on August 7, 2000. <back to text>