Part I: Who Is Carole Levitt?
Jerry Lawson: I’m pleased to talk today with Carole Levitt, one of the country’s premier experts on Internet research, both legal and investigative. Her most recent book, coauthored with Judy Davis, is the second edition of her treatise Internet Legal Research on a Budget. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Carole Levitt: Glad to be here.
[JL]: How did you begin working with the Internet?
[CL]: I began using the Internet in the early to mid-1990s when I was a law firm librarian in Los Angeles. At one of my firms, which had 100 lawyers, I was the only person who even had access to the Internet. That meant that everyone had to ask me to do their Internet research. By early January 1999, it occurred to me that the Internet was becoming increasingly important to lawyers and that they needed to learn how to use it on their own. In between my Masters in Library Science, twenty-years of experience as a law librarian, my law degree, and as a formerly practicing lawyer and legal research professor, I decided I’d be the perfect person to teach them. So, I came up with the idea of Internet for Lawyers, a CLE company focused on teaching legal, business and investigative Internet research. It took me about six months to figure out how to start a business, beginning with learning how to write a business plan. I had the help of a wonderful SBA consultant (who worked with me for free).
[JL]: I used to work at SBA and I’m glad to see that in this case they did what they are supposed to do, help entrepreneurs who have a good idea.
[CL]: It helped. It then took me a month to write my first seminar book, which was 78 pages. (It eventually became a full-length book, The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, which is now in its 14th Edition at 543 pages long.)
[JL]:14 editions! That’s a perennial, right? Obviously, many people want to hear what you have to say.
[CL]: We’ve always had strong response to the books. We wanted to supplement the books with high quality presentations. Actually, Jerry, I wrote the book for the first seminar that I gave. It never occurred to me to sell it as a stand-alone book until my partner, Mark Rosch, came up with the idea to sell it on Amazon. It took me a month to learn PowerPoint to create a slide deck for my first seminar! I finally gave my first Internet research seminar eleven months after first envisioning my business.
[JL]: What are the most valuable things this experience has taught you?
[CL]: I learned a lot of valuable things in the first year or two of creating and building Internet For Lawyers. First, I learned that there are so many people available to help you. For example, I wouldn’t have even known about the usefulness of the Internet for legal research if it wasn’t for fellow law librarian Cindy Chick, who taught me (and many Los Angeles law librarians) how to use the Internet back in the early to mid-1990s. I couldn’t have even created a PowerPoint presentation without the help of my husband, who taught me how to use PowerPoint. But, neither of us knew how to grab a screenshot of a website to paste into a PowerPoint slide or a document. Once again, Cindy Chick to the rescue. She showed me how (alt print screen).
Second, although it took a long time to get the business off the ground, I learned that all the preparation work was worth it because I was extremely confident of my knowledge when I gave that first seminar in 1999. I wasn’t at all nervous even though I had never before given a CLE seminar to lawyers. (I had taught legal research and writing at Pepperdine Law School, but teaching lawyers is very different from teaching law students.) I realized right away that lawyers were more motivated to learn than law students and that they also liked to have fun at the same time, so I quickly integrated humor into the seminars by using humorous research scenarios (mostly true ones)
Third, I also learned to never allow anyone to assign a co-speaker to me. The lawyer assigned to me in my 1999 seminar knew very little about the Internet. I felt like it was a poor reflection on me and that it was unfair to the attendees.
[JL]: I’ve had similar experiences. Not fun.
[CL]: Tell me about it. After that, I insisted on choosing my own co-speaker and the person was always someone like me—someone who had gone to library school and law school and was working as a law librarian, and in some cases had also practiced law.
Finally, I also learned that you have to be ready to shift away from your business plan if you realize it’s not realistic. My business plan was to provide individual, one-on-one training to lawyers on how to use the Internet. After giving my first seminar to a large group, I realized that was the way to go.
[JL]: I remember awarding your business the “Netlawtools MVP” award years ago. The citation read:
Internet for Lawyers is Carole Levitt’s promising new California-based site: “Sole mission is to teach attorneys, paralegals, law librarians, law firm administrators, law firm marketing departments and lawyers to effectively gather information online, through individual, one-on-one training and seminars.
Pretty fair summary of what you were doing then, right?
[CL] Well, as I mentioned earlier, I had already shifted away from my 1999 business plan of one-on-one training because I realized it was not realistic.
[JL]: You have won quite a few awards, right?
[CL]: I’ve been pleased to receive a few: The California State Bar gave me their Lifetime Achievement Award. The ABA Law gave me the Practice Division Bestseller Award for The Lawyers Guide To Fact Finding On The Internet. I received the 2013 “Fastcase 50” award, recognizing “50 of the smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders in the law.” In 2012, I was inducted into the College of Law Practice Management, an honorary legal technology association and in 2015, I was elected to the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Women of Legal Tech.
[JL]: Nice list. I guess your mantle must be pretty crowded! By the way, what advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
[CL]: Assess your skills and passions and look for someone who has similar skills and passions who you can follow via their blog, website, podcast, YouTube channel, etc. To find some likely candidates to follow, do a keyword search on your topic using Lexblog or Justia’s Blawgsearch to identify the key people who are blogging in your area of interest. Once you’ve identified the key people and followed them for awhile, try to meet them—virtually or in-person. Ask them how they got involved in legal tech and see if they would be willing to give you tips or introduce you to other like-minded legal techies.
[JL]: How did you find the right legal tech people?
[CL]: For me, I found a website that aligned with my interest and passion, which was Internet legal research. I assume I did a web search for “legal research” back in 1999. I remember being completely blown away the day I “found” Findlaw. I immediately contacted the co-founders, Tim Stanley and Stacy Stern, because I just HAD to meet them. I was living in L.A. and they were in the Bay area. Tim and Stacy were the pioneers in creating a website for free Internet legal research resources. I learned so much from them and their site. (They eventually sold the site to Westlaw and then co-founded another of my favorite sites, Justia.) I later met Sabrina Pacifici, who founded and is still the solo editor and publisher of LLRX. I read everything on LLRX to learn more about Internet Research and offered to write for the site. That way I began to get my own following and find a national audience.
[JL]: Did you find it useful to attend legal tech conferences to meet key legal tech people?
[CL]: Yes. That was my next step. I attended Legal Tech conferences to watch some of the key people in action and to get to know them and also the legal tech conferences organizers, such as Ross Kodner, a legal technologist who helped conference organizers bring in speakers, and Monica Bay, who was editor-in-chief of ALM’s Law Technology News. I eventually began co-speaking with some of the people I had been following (virtually and in-person). Some of the legal tech conferences I used to attend have faded away, so now I only attend (and recommend) the ABA TechShow. I also hear that Clio puts on an excellent legal tech conference.
[JL]: You mentioned you offered to write for LLRX so you could become known. Did you write for anyone else?
[CL]: After meeting Monica Bay at ALM’s conference, I offered to write for Law Technology News and she accepted a few of my pieces. I also wormed my way into writing for the Los Angeles County Bar’s Los Angeles Lawyer magazine as their “Computer Counselor.” The editor-in-chief doubted I’d be able to come up with a monthly column, telling me I’d run out of ideas about the Internet in no time. How wrong he was. All of that writing led to the author of the first edition of The Lawyer’s Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet, published by the ABA Law Practice Division asking me to become his co-author for the second edition. That led to 7 more books.
[JL]: Just curious: What is your go-to social media platform and why?
[CL]: Facebook. I began using it to teach lawyers how to find evidence on someone’s profile and I still use if for that. But, then I started getting Friend requests and begrudgingly accepted them. Soon, I realized it was a great place for me to keep a travel diary, of sorts, with photos.
[JL] I really like your Facebook feed. Lots of great travelogue-type photos.
[CL]: We have been traveling all over the U.S. since 1999 presenting seminars (13 times to Alaska and a few times to Hawaii) and sometimes it’s hard to recall where we’ve been. Now I have Facebook to remind me, especially when it pops up Memories every day. My friends and family also began counting on me to show them the country, through my photos and comments.
Part II: What’s New With Carole?
[JL]: I guess the biggest news with you is your newest book, the Second Edition, Internet Legal Research on a Budget. I enjoyed your book and have already used tips from it. I received an ebook review copy, but decided to buy a paper copy as well.
[CL]: Glad to hear from another satisfied customer!
[JL]: At $99.95, just $67 for ABA members my impression is that this book is the best investment lawyers who want to improve their legal research skills could make. How can people get a copy?
[CL]: It’s available at https://ambar.org/research-on-a-budget.
[JL]: If you had to distill the message of your book to one or two sentences, what would you say?
[CL]: The easiest way to answer that question is to quote the Forward: “With cost-conscious clients scrutinizing legal bills, lawyers cannot afford to only depend on fee-based resources the way they used to, especially if there are reliable free resources available. Our goal in writing the second edition of this book is the same goal we had when we wrote the first edition: to point lawyers to useful and reliable free (and low cost) Internet legal research resources and to explain how to use them effectively so they can become more satisfied using these resources. In other words, our goal is to help you save time and money and avoid frustration in your legal research quest.
[JL]: Carole, this is not your first book, right?
[CL]: I’ve also written 7 other books for the ABA LPD and 14 editions of The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, which is my self-published seminar book, all of which I co-authored with my favorite CLE seminar speaking partner, Mark Rosch, who just happens to be my husband!
Part III: Tips from Carole Levitt
[JL]: What do you consider to be the most significant changes since you began working in the legal tech space?
[CL]: The Internet was the most significant change to legal tech and not just for research but for everything, from advertising your firm through a website, to communicating with clients and colleagues via email, booking flights, taking photos, texting, etc. And, now with the pandemic, the Internet, and the second most significant change in legal tech, cloud computing, have made it possible to work from home and carry on the business of running our law offices and the court system. We can conduct video meetings with clients and colleagues, take depositions, hold hearings, etc., thanks to Zoom and other sites like it.
[JL]: What are the most important things you could share with others who might want to emulate you?
[CL]: To emulate me? Well, my Internet For Lawyers in-person CLE speaking business is for sale and so is my Cybersleuth book, so to truly emulate me, it would help to have a Masters in Library Science (or whatever they’re calling it now…Information Science?) and a law degree. And, they’d need some speaking experience. Mine came from teaching law school and paralegal school. Finding a co-speaker would also be helpful because speaking all day by yourself is hard on the voice. It would be a really big help if their co-speaker was their spouse…that way you have company on the road and the clients get a two-for-one! If you know of someone, let me know. If you don’t want to emulate me exactly, but wanted to start a new legal tech business, identify a need that also aligns with your strengths and passions.
[JL]: You regularly teach CLE programs not just on legal and investigative research, right?
[CL]: That’s right. In our all-day program, we actually spend the entire morning on how to be a better Internet researcher. No lawyer I know has ever taken a course on how to research on the Internet and often, they will comment, “Where were you 20 years ago and why didn’t I learn this before today?” So, it might sound basic to you, but we do “begin at the beginning” before launching into teaching investigative research in the afternoon’s 3-hour session. I also teach social media research and social media research ethics.
As to legal research, I don’t usually teach that at our in-person seminars. Instead, I teach that topic on CLEwebinars.com, a division of Internet For Lawyers, which my husband and I co-founded in 2015. My co-author Judy Davis and I offer a one-hour webinar based on our Internet Legal Research on a Budget book.
[JL]: Tell me a little more about CLE Webinars.
[CL]: CLEwebinars.com offers both live and on-demand courses. “Only” about ten of the courses are mine, with the other courses taught by a variety of national speakers on a variety of topics (mostly law practice, technology, ethics, and bias, but also some substantive legal topics such as immigration law, contract drafting, and more).
[JL]: What factors should lawyers consider when selecting a legal research service? What to look for, what to avoid?
[CL]: It really depends on a lawyer’s budget and what type of law they practice. For the budget-minded, check out Casemaker or Fastcase, the legal research service that your bar association offers you for free. Every state bar offers one or the other (and some offer both, like Texas). Some local bars and some specialty bars also offer Casemaker or Fastcase for free. On January 1, 2021, Fastcase and Casemaker merged. I suspect it will take a few years for them to totally blend their services into one, so for now, lawyers will access one or the other. But, if I were an appellate lawyer or trial lawyer who had to write a plethora of briefs and memos and check citations to make sure I was citing good law, I might prefer to use Lexis, Westlaw, or Bloomberg, because their citator services are easier (less labor intensive) to use than the other legal research services. Also, be sure to check out the coverage of each service, from date coverage (e.g., Does it go back far enough? Does it add cases daily?) to practice area (e.g., Does it cover the practice areas I practice in? Tax law? Tribal law?), to the types of resources I regularly consult (e.g., statutes, regulations, treatises, etc.) and not just case law (Google Scholar only covers case law, but it does offer free articles). Artificial intelligence is playing more and more of a role in legal research services (current services and some new services), so I think the landscape will continue to evolve as will the selection decisions.
[JL]: Do you have any suggestions for teaching legal research to summer associates or other junior lawyers?
[CL]: My only suggestion is to also teach them about investigative and business research, which is something not taught in law school, but something they’ll need in the real world. If they have law librarians on staff, I assume they’ll teach some seminars. If they don’t, take CLE courses on this topic (even though they won’t yet need CLE, that’s the best place to learn). I’ve already mentioned my webinar company for that, but I’d also recommend checking out ABA Law Practice Division webinars and look for free company-sponsored webinars. Both Fastcase and Casemaker offer free webinars and many legal tech companies do too.
Part IV: What’s Next for Carole?
[JL]: You’re the type of person who is always working. What can we expect to see next from you?
[CL]: Ask me after the pandemic lifts.
[JL]: Looking forward, what does success look like for you?
The look on a seminar attendee’s face when you can tell that a light-bulb just went off in their brain and they finally understand something they’ve never been able to figure out. Whether it’s something as basic as learning that when you want to exclude a word from Google you must use a minus sign before the word (-lawyer) and not “NOT” to how to find something on the Internet you saw yesterday, last week, last month, etc. and now it has disappeared, and you need it for evidence (archive.org).
Part IV: Five Questions
[JL]: The late James Lipton (hilariously parodied by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live) always closed each celebrity interview with the same ten questions, including “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?” Here are my five questions:
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
[CL]: I’d like to have the ability to erase poverty, violence, prejudice, bullying, and hatred. That would be magical. And, I’d increase access to education, require that everyone learn about their country’s constitution (and pass a test like I had to in 8th grade!) and learn about their country’s form of government, and finally, learn how to reason things out by researching both sides to an issue and not following blindly. That last one also involves knowing how to ascertain which Internet sites are reliable.
- Which mentor influenced you the most?
Craig Ball. I used to co-speak with him at legal tech conferences. He was so knowledgeable about investigative research, yet he came across as down-to-earth and didn’t make the attendees feel stupid about the Internet. Most were in awe of it. Craig added humor to his seminars, which I also had done, but that encouraged me to keep it up. Craig coined the word “Cybersleuth” (at least he’s the first one I ever heard use that word) and when he left the world of cybersleuthing to enter the world of e-discovery (a much more lucrative choice than my choice of teaching CLE and writing books), I “borrowed” the word “Cybersleuth” (with his blessing) for my seminar and book titles.
- What personal achievement gives you the most satisfaction?
Teaming up with my husband for the past 21 years to write books and give seminars and webinars without hurting our marriage! Mark’s not a lawyer, but he is a self-taught techie, so we make a good team. I met Mark one week before I began studying for the California Bar, so I think he’s a lawyer by osmosis.
- What professional achievement gives you the most satisfaction?
Being able to hold an audience’s attention for an entire day when Mark Rosch and I conduct seminars and knowing that they each have a 500+ take-away (The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet) to help them with their future research.
- Finally, what is your favorite movie and why do you like it?
I could never answer that question. Mark used to be an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles, which means I’ve seen many, many movies…too many to choose a favorite. I will say that my favorite genre of movies are documentaries (or movies that teach me something) and that I avoid action hero movies and science fiction movies. However, I do like animated movies.
[JL]: This has been a fun interview. I wish you all the best and look forward to talking with you about your next book!