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Using the Internet for Substantive Legal Research
March 22, 2002
A. How to Put Internet Search Tools to Work for You
The Internet can be a fascinating place to visit but it can also be a frustrating place when trying to locate
information. Understanding how Internet search tools operate and how websites on the Internet are organized
aids in locating websites that contain relevant and useful information.There are several ways to approach the
large body of information found on the Internet. The four step approach outlined below provides guidance on
how an Internet user can locate legal information. Using one of these methods will increase user satisfaction
with the results obtained.
The four steps are searching the Internet when the address of a website is known; searching websites that
provide comprehensive access to a particular type of legal material such as court reports and statutes; using
legal subject directories and legal search engines that provide access to legal materials only; and the last,
perhaps least attractive option, searching the Internet using a general Internet search engine.
1. Known URL Searches
The easiest way to access materials on the Internet is through the address of the website. This address
is referred to as the website's uniform resource locator, or URL. URLs are not only unique addresses,
but they also provide information for the user about where the website is located. Because there is no
review process for materials appearing on the Internet, it always necessary to be sure that one uses
information from websites that have a degree of authenticity. One should be careful of web sites that
contain a ~ within their address as these websites are generally personal home pages and the
information presented may be skewed to reflect the owner's point of view. Efficient use of the Internet
dictates that one always approach websites with caution.
URLs will have a three letter extension as part of the address. Some common extensions include the
educational institution http://wings.buffalo.edu
commercial enterprise http://www.qvc.com
military establishment http://www.dtic.mil
government agency http://www.ssa.gov
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network provider http://www.adelphia.net
The bookmark features of Internet browsers such as Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer
allow a user to electronically record URLs. These URLs can be organized into subject folders allowing
the user to easily access the website without needing to remember a website's URL, or to keep a paper
file of URLs. Section C- The Art of Using Bookmarks and Links provides information on creating
Print sources will provide lists of URLs. In addition, several legal newsletters also provide URLs.
Often these newsletters will also review websites and provide annotations. See Appendix A for a list of
print sources for locating URLs.
2. Comprehensive Sites
Comprehensive sites are those websites that provide access to specific types of legal materials.
Comprehensive websites are maintained by commercial enterprises, law schools, law firms, and
government agencies. Finding comprehensive websites that contain, for example all court reports,
eliminates the need to access multiple websites to locate court decisions. A web page creator will often
provide linkages to comprehensive websites rather than link to many individual websites. Examples of
comprehensive sites are outlined in the table below.
Federal Court Locator http://vls.law.vill.edu/Locator/fedcourt.html
State Court Reports State Court Locator http://vls.law.vill.edu/Locator/statecourt/index.htm
Federal Statutes GPO Access http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/cong013.html
State Laws on the
State Statutes http://www.findlaw.com/11stategov/index.html
Municipal Codes Municipal Codes Online http://www.spl.org/selectedsites/municode.html
Good comprehensive websites have three common features. These features are regular updating, the
website is considered to be hosted by a reputable source, and the website provides an internal search
engine that allows a user to search the full-text of materials located at the website.
URLs for comprehensive sites can be found by using Internet search engines or by consulting
publications such as The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher. 1. See Appendix A for a listing of
print sources that identify URLs for comprehensive Internet websites in the legal area.
Once websites are located, their URLs should be stored in the bookmark files provided with Netscape
Communicator and Internet Explorer. An institution maintaining a web page will often include links to
comprehensive sites on its web pages.
3. Legal Subject Directory and Legal Search Engines
Legal subject directories provide a one-stop shopping option for those searching the Internet for legal
materials. Legal subject directories allow an Internet user to locate different kinds of legal materials.
The editors of legal subject directories organize their websites according to types of legal materials or
according to types of websites; i.e. educational institutions, commercial entities, and government
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Legal search engines operate in the same manner as general Internet search engines, but legal search
engines only search for particular kinds of information or at particular types of websites. A fuller
description of legal subject directories and legal search engines is provided in the section entitled:
Specific Legal Search Tools You Should Know About
4. Internet Search Engines
Perhaps the least desirable method for locating legal materials on the Internet is through the use of
general Internet search engines such as Infoseek or Alta Vista. Search engines are necessary and the
world wide web would be an impossible place to navigate without search engines, however, using
search engines requires an understanding of how each search engine operates and lots of patience.
Internet search engines are comprised of three different components. These components are a search
robot, a subject index and an internal search engine. A search robot or spider periodically travels the
world wide web from link to link gathering information about the web pages visited. The information
the robot finds and how the page is indexed depends on the html coding that underlies the web page.
Search engines will usually read the title and the meta tags.
Not all search engines are created equal. The amount of text and what html tags the search robot reads
are different from search engine to search engine. Some search engines look for the frequency of the
same word. Other search engines such as Alta Vista and Infoseek claim to index all words appearing in
the html version of the web page. This may account for the large number of search results that Alta
Vista and Infoseek provide. Copies of the pages that the robot visits are arranged in a subject index. An
internal search engine allows the user to search the contents of the index.
The user of Internet search engines should be aware that one is not searching the Internet in real time,
that web search engines do not index every web page on the world wide web and that how a document
is coded in html affects whether or not the document will be indexed correctly. Search robots do not
index every page on the world wide web because some websites have a firewall that prevent the search
robot from entering the website and some websites are password protected.
New search engines are being developed that enable an Internet user to search information that is not
indexed by traditional web search engines. This concept is referred to as searching the invisible web. A
new search engine, the Invisible Web includes databases, archived materials and interactive tools such
as calculators and dictionaries.
More information on the subject of general Internet search engines can be found by consulting the
following web page, Searching the Internet, Recommended Sites and Search Techniques 2 maintained
by the State University of New York at Albany University Libraries.
Recommended Search Strategy
The following is a suggested search strategy for locating legal materials on the Internet.
1. Check print sources for a website that contains the kind of material you are seeking. If you know the
URL or have located the URL of a relevant website then go directly to the website. Bookmark the site
using the bookmark feature of your Internet browser so that the URL is easily available for future use.
If the bookmark file is lengthy, consider arranging bookmarks in subject folders.
2. Use a print source to locate URLs for comprehensive sites that contain the type of legal material
desired. Be sure to check that the website is maintained by a reputable host, is frequently updated and
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has an internal search engine that allows full-text searching of materials available on the website.
Bookmark the website for future use.
3. If a comprehensive site is not located, use a legal subject directory such as FindLaw or Hieros
Gamos. Choose the type of legal materials desired. Be sure to check that the website is maintained by a
reputable host and is frequently updated. A legal search engine will provide the option to search the
entire Internet for specific types of legal materials or to search for specific information at different
kinds of sites ( i.e. government agencies, educational institutions).
4. If steps 1-3 do not result in needed information, or if the topic being searched is multidisciplinary,
use a general Internet search engine. Be sure to read the searching instructions for each search engine
as Internet search engines operate differently.
B. Specific Legal Search Tools You Should Know About (Legal Subject
Directories and Legal Search Engines)
The growth of legal materials available via the Internet and the popularity of using the Internet as a means of
accessing this information has resulted in the creation of legal subject directories by commercial and
educational entities. These sites differ from comprehensive websites because they provide access to a
multitude of legal materials, not just one type of material. They function as a one-stop source for legal
Legal subject directories contain a subject listing from which users can choose. These subject areas are
frequently subdivided into more specific files of materials. A search feature is often available and allows the
user to search for specific types of materials or to search specific Internet websites. It is a good practice to
use a legal subject directory to locate a specific website and then to use the search engine provided at the
website to search the full content of documents located on the website.
Selected Legal Subject Directories
This website is a "catalog of catalogs of law" located on the Internet. Legal and government indexes located
on the Internet are arranged in one searchable index. One can scan the Internet by specific topics of law
(legal topics); laws arranged by regions (regions) or on law-related topics (extra). A site map provides
additional access to materials located on the CataLaw website. When 5 or more results are retrieved, the
entries are rated according to their comprehensiveness, detailed of included resources, and their structure
(organization, and index navigation).
FindLaw is considered one of the best legal subject directories on the Internet. Materials available via the
FindLaw website have been organized according to the interests of lawyers, students, the public and business
users. Users can access legal materials by subject area. Full-text searching by keyword is available in the
following files: the Document Library, the Legal Dictionary, Legal News, Findlaw, U.S. Government Sites,
the U.S. Supreme Court, legal web sites, all web sites, and the United States Constitution.
Selection of Subject Areas Covered
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Topical Areas (Legal Subject Index) Law Schools
Legal Careers Legal Organizations
Law Office and Practice Consultants and Experts
Continuing Legal Education Laws: Cases and Codes
U.S. Federal Resources Foreign and International Materials
Reference Resources Forms
Lawyer Marketing U.S. State Resources
This is another major legal subject directory. Over 70 legal practice areas are represented. The website has a
subject directory that provides access to materials in specific subject areas.
Selection of Subject Areas Covered
International Law Law Library Center
Legal Associations Lifestyle Center
United States Law Law Practice Section
Employment Center Student Center
Business Center Consumer Center
Internet Legal Resource Guide
This website provides "a categorized index of more than 4000 select websites in 238 nations, islands and
territories". The selection criteria for inclusion on the website is the extent to which the resource is unique
and the value of the information provided. An "Annotated Index of Features" provides a quick guide to
materials available. This website appeals to the legal scholar as well as the lay person. An enhanced search
feature provides the ability to search only selected types of legal materials.
Subject Areas Covered
Forms USA Research
Academia Global Research
Professional Legal Indices and News
"Legal Resources on the Web" is the title of the website accessible through NetLaw Library. The subject
directory lists many legal areas of interest. In addition to topical areas, users can access the websites of news
organizations, newspapers, Internet search engines and many sources for locating people called "People
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Finders, dictionaries and thesauri, popular magazines, maps, quotes and many business resources.
Additional legal search engines are listed on the Legal Search Engines web page located at the Charles B.
Sears Law Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Legal Search Engines
Legal search engines provide the Internet user with access to websites that deal with legal materials. They
operate similar to general Internet search engines but are programmed to search only the contents of specific
types of websites. Results of searches using legal search engines tend to be more focused and relevant. If a
research topic has aspects that are not legal, then it is wise to use both a legal search engine and one of the
general Internet search engines. A general Internet search engine may also provide the ability to search
materials in ways that are not possible with legal search engines. Although Internet legal search engines
index websites according to different criteria, there are some common characteristics of legal search engines.
Internet legal search engines provide the user with the option to search using boolean logic and proximity
OR finds websites containing either word (securities OR stocks)
AND finds websites containing both words (stocks AND brokers)
NOT finds websites containing one word,but not another (stocks NOT brokers)
Proximity connectors, such as NEAR, provide a method for more closely identifying how far apart the words
being searched for should be on a web page. It may be assumed that the closer the words, the more relevant
the material retrieved. Some legal search engines also provide the user with the option of selecting from
topical categories of materials, thereby blurring the distinction between legal subject directories and legal
This legal search engine is a component of the FindLaw legal subject directory. The following files of
materials can be searched by keyword: legal Web Sites, a Legal Dictionary, Legal News, U.S. Government
Web Sites, the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
How to Input a Search Using LawCrawler
1. Select the kind of website to search using the pull down sites menu
2. Select search terms and connect with a boolean operator or a proximity connector, think of
synonyms for words
3. Submit the search
LawRunner is based on Alta Vista search technology. One can limit searches to a specific kind of website
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such as "All U.S. Sites with Legal Information" or one can limit searches by type of domain (i.e. .gov, .edu
.org). LawRunner uses the boolean connectors AND, OR, and AND NOT. The proximity connector NEAR
(words must appear within 10 words of each other) is also available. One can prioritize matches with law or
legal in the website's URL title or keyword index
How to Input a Search Using LawRunner
1. Select search terms and connect them using boolean connectors, remember to include synonyms
2. Select where to search using the pull down site menu
3. Click on Search using the pull down menu
4. The search will reappear in an Alta Vista search query template. Selecting a specific domain will
cause the three letter abbreviation for the domain name to appear as part of the search
5. Searches can be further restricted by language and date
Meta-Index for U.S. Legal Research
This website provides links to searchable websites for judicial opinions, legislation, federal regulations, and
other legal sources. Templates are provided for each search option.
Using A Legal Search Engine
The following steps should be used when searching the Internet using a legal search engine.
1. Read the searching instructions and tips supplied by the vendor
2. Identify the type of material needed (cases, statutes, law reviews)
3. Identify the concepts needed and translate into words
4. Identify alternative words for the concepts needed
5. Determine the relationship between words using a boolean operator such as AND, OR, NOT
6. Determine if a proximity connector such as NEAR would be useful
See Appendix B for a listing of useful guides to using the Internet for legal research.
C. The Art of Using Bookmarks and Links
There were over 1,600 million indexable pages located on the Internet as of December 11, 2001 3. Many
websites provide information of little research value and function primarily as personal home pages. Other
websites, however, are worthy of repeat visits because of their information content, their organization and
their currency. It would be a labor intensive task to keep a record of useful websites if the developers of
graphical user interface (GUI) software had not provided a feature called bookmarking.
The bookmark feature of the two primary Internet browsing software programs, Netscape Communicator and
Internet Explorer allow an Internet user to electronically record websites of interest. The address of the
website or its URL is stored electronically and a user can access the website directly. Using bookmarks
eliminates the need to remember URLs, however, it the URL of a website changes, the bookmark will not
work and it is necessary to determine the current URL and bookmark the website again.
A frequent user of the Internet will have many bookmarks. Bookmarks can be arranged into subject folders
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providing a topical approach to Internet websites. Pre-supplied bookmarks are available from software
developers and will appear in the bookmark section after the software is loaded. It is possible to delete these
bookmarks if one wishes. The steps for creating bookmarks, organizing bookmarks into subject folders and
editing bookmarks are outlined below. Although versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator
software will vary, the following procedures should be adaptable. These instructions are based on Internet
Explorer 5.50 and Netscape Communicator version 4.7.
Organizing Bookmarks : Creating Bookmark Subject Files
A. Netscape Communicator
1. Using the Netscape toolbar located at the top of the web page, click on Communicator
2. Click on Bookmarks
3. Click on Edit Bookmarks
4. Using the top menu bar, click on File
5. Click on New Folder
6. Name the New Folder
B. Internet Explorer
1. Using the Internet Explorer toolbar located at the top of the web page, click on Favorites
2. Click on Organize Favorites
3. Click on Create Folder
4. Name the New Folder
Filing Bookmarks After Folders Created
A. Netscape Communicator
1. Access the website of interest using either its URL or a link to it from another website
2. Using the Netscape toolbar located at the top of the web page, click on Communicator
3. Click on Bookmarks
4. Click on Add Bookmark
5. To move bookmark to appropriate subject folder, highlight, drag and drop
6. Bookmark should now be located in the appropriate subject folder
B. Internet Explorer
1. Access the website of interest using either its URL or a link to it from another website
2. Using the top menu bar on the Internet Explorer toolbar, click on Favorites
3. Select Add to Favorites
4. Click on Create in and select folder to in which to place bookmark
6. Click OK
Viewing and Editing Bookmark Files
A. Netscape Communicator
1. Using the Netscape top menu bar, click on Communicator
2. Click on Bookmarks
3. Bookmarks are listed
4. Subject folders containing individual bookmarks will have a graphic preceding the folder name
5. Click on the name of the website to directly access the website
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6. Clicking on the Edit Bookmark option will allow the deletion and display of bookmarks
B. Internet Explorer
1. Using the Internet Explorer top menu bar, click on Favorites
2. Bookmarked files and folders are listed
3. Click on the name of a website to directly access the website
4. To edit the bookmark file, click on Favorites, Organize Favorites, highlight the name of the website
and select the appropriate action listed in the left column of the box
One of the features of the Hypertext Mark-Up Language, or HTML coding is the ability to provide embedded
links within the text of web pages. These links generally appear on web pages in blue lettering and are
underlined. Links provide access to additional sources of information and clicking on a link transparently
takes a user to the web page mentioned. Links may be thought of as a big collection of bookmarks. After a
link has been used, the color of the link changes. This is a visual indication that the user has already visited a
website. The computer will record where a user has visited no matter where on the Internet a user may be.
This eliminates a user from repeatedly accessing the same website as the user travels the world wide web.
The html coding used to embed the link within the web page is structured as follows: the html code a href,
name of site, or type of information. The (a href) tag indicates that the reference is a link. The name of the
website is supplied by the coder of the web page and should be clearly identified for the Internet user.
The organization of links within a website will vary greatly from one website to another depending on the
mission of the website and on how the website creators feel the website should be organized. It is not
uncommon to find pages and pages of links on a website. Law schools usually maintain links on their
websites and organize the links according to subject matter.
Internet Resources Subject Listing
(partial listing from SUNY/Buffalo Law Library website)
Africa Alternative Dispute Resolution Antitrust Law Associations
Attorneys Australia Austria Bar Admissions and Examinations
Belarus Buffalo, New York Canada New York State
Clicking on a subject listed above, provides a link to a web page contains links to other websites
D. How to Use, Save and Send the Data You've Located
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Once materials of interest have been located on the Internet, several options for saving, sending, and printing
materials are available. One can download data to disk, e-mail the data, or print the material located. While
the mechanics of accomplishing each of tasks will vary from browser to browser, the general process is the
same. The following instructions are based on version 4.7 of Netscape Communicator as this tends to be the
most popular web browser.
Downloading to Disk or to the Computer's Hard Drive
Downloading to a floppy disk or to a hard drive allows the user to incorporate materials found on the world
wide web into word processing documents. The .txt extension, which stands for textual material, should be
recognized by the more common word processing software packages that are available today. Web authors
may code materials in such a way that it is necessary to download materials screen by screen.
1. Click on File/Save As on the Netscape menu bar
2. Choose where the file will be saved (A: or C:)
3. Save file asPlain Text using the .txt extension
4. Add .txt to the filename
5. Click on Save
Printing the File or Selected Pages
Reading long documents from a computer screen may be an unpleasant experience. All web browsers
provide the option to print. However, occasionally a web page creator will code a document in such a way
that it is impossible to download or print.
1. Click on the Printer icon on the Netscape menu bar
2. Click on OK
3. If wishing to print selected pages:
Click on File/Print Preview on the Netscape menu bar
Click through the document until the page that is to be printed is visible and note the page number
Click on the Printer icon
Click on the print option that allows selected pages to be printed
Type in the page number or page range
Many e-mail programs provide the option of sending materials located on the world wide web to e-mail
accounts. Binary files may be attached to e-mail messages and are known as Multimedia Internet Mail
Extension, or MIME attachments. These files can be read if the e-mail client recognizes a MIME attachment.
E-mail programs such as Mulberry, Eudora, Netscape Messenger and Outlook Express can handle MIME
Printing, E-Mailing and Downloading From Pages With Frames
1. Place the mouse in the frame where the material to be used is located
2. Hold down the right mouse key until a pop-up window appears
3. Select the option to Open Frame in New Window
4. A new page will launch with the frame appearing on the entire page
5. Follow instructions for printing, downloading or e-mailing
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1. Ken Kozlowski, The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher. 3d. edition. Teaneck, New Jersey:
Infosources Publishing, 2001.
2. Laura, Cohen, Searching the Internet, Recommended Sites and Search Techniques (last modified March 4,
3. Danny Sullivan, "Search Engine Coverage Sizes", The Search Engine Report, (last modified December 18,
2001) Located at: http://searchenginewatch.com/reports/sizes.html
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