Authors offer a guide to investigative research on the web

By Correy E. Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

Everyone knows the quantity of information available on the Internet has grown exponentially.

But how can litigators find the most useful and cost effective sites for research?

Volume Two of "Find Info Like a Pro" may be able to offer some guidance.

In Volume One, authors Carole A. Levitt and Mark E. Rosch, the president and vice president of Internet for Lawyers, which offers Internet research training to legal professionals, provided tips on some of the best websites for finding information and how to use them effectively.

The second volume focuses on publicly available information on government websites such as PACER and state and local government sites.

Levitt and Rosch recently spoke with The Daily Record Newwire about their book and how litigators can get the most value out of Internet research.

NEWSWIRE: Why do lawyers need guidance in this area?

ROSCH: Just because more information is becoming available online hasn't made it any easier to find.

Very often government agencies do a very poor job of one, publicizing that information is available; and two, documenting how you dig that information out when you get to the site.

Practicing attorneys don't have the time to sift through a website, figure out what this search box does, or how to drill down to the information that is really useful to them.

The goal of this book is to show attorneys where to go to get the information that is most useful to them in the least amount of time.

LEVITT: The book is a cheat sheet!

NEWSWIRE: What is your advice on free versus paid information?

LEVITT: A lot of lawyers pay for information and don't realize they could get it for free. For example, Google Scholar offers free caselaw if you know how to search it.

The goal of our book is to tell lawyers where to find information for free or when to pay for it, as there are certain times pay databases are necessary.

ROSCH: Real property records are the best example of when paying for information makes sense.

Real property records are public documents, but local jurisdictions by varying degree may or may not make the information available on the Internet for free.

Some jurisdictions allow you to search by name and see all of the property records, but in others you have to search with an address.

So if you are trying to do a statewide or a national real estate search, looking for records from free sources online will be time-prohibitive and going to a paid database makes more sense.

NEWSWIRE: What is the best site for investigative research that lawyers aren't using?

LEVITT: When lawyers perform investigative research, most don't think about checking out the docket database and the caselaw database to search a person or a company by name.

I think most lawyers consider the caselaw database as only a way to search for caselaw when writing a brief.

We write about the very inexpensive government PACER database, as well as a number of state bar organizations that offer free caselaw searching in databases like Casemaker or Fastcase.

Most attorneys are familiar with PACER for filing documents, but are not familiar with using it as an investigative tool.

If you read a complaint or answers to interrogatories about a particular person or company, you can get valuable background information or leads -- remembering that a complaint contains allegations, not facts.

Lawyers are so wedded to using a pay database that they don't even explore free databases like these.

ROSCH: Similar to PACER, the Securities and Exchange Commission's database, EDGAR, can be very useful in the same way.

It used to require a company name or ticker symbol to search, but the SEC now allows full-text searching, so you can search by an individual or company's name and find all the company filings that mention them.

NEWSWIRE: How can lawyers best use your book?

ROSCH: The book is less of a cover-to-cover read and more of a desktop reference book.

Look through the table of contents, find the chapters that are most applicable to your practice, and become familiar with what's in the book.

Then, when you need that kind of information, use the book as a guide to dig it out.

We also continuously update the book via our blog, which highlights changes to sites or new resources.

LEVITT: The book uses templates to quickly show readers what each site is all about. From a lawyer's standpoint, it explains why [you] would use this particular site, talks about the contents of the site -- with lots of screen shots -- and our view of what we like about the site or what we might like to see improved.

There is [also] a CD included that gives you the ability to link to any site mentioned in the book, arranged alphabetically and by topic.

So if you are working on a bankruptcy case, you can look up bankruptcy and find all the related sites.

ROSCH: One of our pet peeves with other books is that you don't know whether or not a site is free until you dig into the description.

We wanted to make it as clear as possible, as early as possible, what readers were getting themselves into, so we included the "$" symbol to designate a paid site at the beginning of the description.

We also include real-world war stories, which are examples from lawyers who have used these resources. ... The war stories show exactly how other lawyers in similar situations used these sites and this information effectively.

Published: Thu, Aug 18, 2011

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