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Rosie's Ramblings

By Megan Kinneyn | Feb. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Feb. 2, 2007

Rosie's Ramblings

Legal-research services on the Web have matured. By Sandra Rosenzweig

By Sandra Rozsenzweig
      Legal Research Lives Online
      I'll bet no one noticed it's been years since we published how-tos and shortcuts for the Thomson West's Westlaw and LexisNexis legal research services?I certainly didn't. They used to be a staple in our pantry of common cures. We wrote about which one was better, which was easier to learn, how to conduct certain types of searches, how the online services compared with research by the book. (Can you believe there once were very heated arguments about whether online Westlaw ( and LexisNexis ( would ever come close to the thoroughness and depth or the editorial enhancements of hard copy?a term that, years ago, was probably foreign to 99 percent of all lawyers.) And we had a monthly column, Legal Sites, devoted to revealing the best sites for tax law, immigration law, and lower-cost online-research services such as Wolters Kluwer's Loislaw ( or the SEC's free EDGAR database of filings and other company information (www.sec. gov/edgar.shtml).
      These days attorneys, unless they're over age 93 or so, do much or all of their research online. We've found that online research is far better than hard copy?far more thorough, deep, and current?even up to the minute, sometimes. And we've learned that almost all lawyers need a subscription to either Westlaw or LexisNexis, and that large firms need both. (Loislaw, EDGAR, and many other low-cost or free online databases may provide the case law lawyers need, but not with the invaluable editorial analysis supplied by Westlaw and LexisNexis. Beware also that the cheaper services tend to be slower with updates about case law, codes, and other developments.) The trouble is, it's really hard to choose between the Big Two because, except for the different interfaces and a few functions buried deep in each database, they are indistinguishable. In my experience, your law school makes the decision for you: You tend to use the system you learned on. I would imagine the Thomson and LexisNexis sales forces already have noticed as much.
      As for cool and useful legal sites, you might expect that Google has made published lists of websites obsolete, but you'd be in error. Every weekday, Sabrina Pacifici's beSpacific website ( provides lists of active links and commentary about online and hard-copy legal and technology news. I subscribe to her daily email notices of the site's current contents and am frequently blown away. She's heavy into documents from government offices, such as the GAO's suggestions for oversight of the 110th Congress (GAO-07-235R, items/d07235r.pdf). And a U.S. Courts press release offers this wordy factoid: "A total of 117 languages required interpretation in federal court proceedings in fiscal year 2006. The overwhelming majority?95 percent?of the 205,550 language-interpreting events were in Spanish ... Other frequently used languages were Mandarin (1,480 events), Vietnamese (988), Arabic (908), Korean (871), Cantonese (868), Russian (610), Portuguese (492), Haitian Creole (447), and Punjabi (375)" ( language.html).
      Viewers Can Bridge Software Gaps
      There was a time when small runtime viewers were an essential part of a computer user's ... oh, someone give me a less hackneyed word than arsenal. We needed those viewers to open files that were created on other machines with programs we didn't own. The viewers were free for the download, and they let us read or execute the files in question but not change them ( aspx). Now, most of these sorts of viewers are built into the files themselves, so we aren't aware we're using them.
      For example, if warehouse workers need to see their unfilled orders, just install the Word or Excel viewer onto an old computer and connect it to the network. Or you can send the Word viewer to your parents so they can evaluate Baby Brittany's artwork on their cranky old system.
      In fact, you can use Corel's WordPerfect, OpenOffice, or SoftMaker's TextMaker to edit a Word file even if you don't own Word. They open almost all Word files, although they may not get some complicated formatting quite right. You can edit the word file, save it as a Word document, and then do whatever you want with it, including sending the edited Word file back to the sender.

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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