Using the Internet for Substantive Legal Research


Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Using the Internet for Substantive Legal Research

  1. 1. Using the Internet for Substantive Legal Research Susan Dow 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 following. educational institution commercial enterprise military establishment government agency 1 of 11
  2. 2. network provider 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 bookmarks. 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 Federal Court Locator Reports State Court Reports State Court Locator Federal Statutes GPO Access State Laws on the State Statutes Internet Municipal Codes Municipal Codes Online 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 2 of 11
  3. 3. organizations. 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 3 of 11
  4. 4. 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 materials. 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 CataLaw 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 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 4 of 11
  5. 5. 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 Hieros Gamos 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 NetLaw Library "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 5 of 11
  6. 6. 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 connectors. Boolean Connectors 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 search engines. LawCrawler 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 LawRunner is based on Alta Vista search technology. One can limit searches to a specific kind of website 6 of 11
  7. 7. 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 Bookmarks 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 7 of 11
  8. 8. 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 8 of 11
  9. 9. 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 Links 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. Example 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 9 of 11
  10. 10. 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 Click OK E-Mailing 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 attachments. 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 10 of 11
  11. 11. ENDNOTES 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, 2002) 3. Danny Sullivan, "Search Engine Coverage Sizes", The Search Engine Report, (last modified December 18, 2001) Located at: 11 of 11