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Changing the Online Legal LandscapeIt's time to honor the five most notable legal Web sites of 2007. Lawyer and media consultant Robert Ambrogi highlights the sites that he says made, or should have made, the news -- not necessarily the best or the worst, but the ones that most altered the online legal landscape with lawyer rating systems and free access to case law as well as legal news and commentary. Each of these sites, in its own way, redefines the future for how lawyers and clients use the Web, writes Ambrogi.
Law Technology News2008-01-23 12:00:00 AM
Fire up the Klieg lights and tidy up your tux.It is time to honor the fivemost notable legal sites of 2007. We focuson the sites that madenews or should have madenews -- not necessarily thebest or the worst, but the onesthat most altered the onlinelegal landscape.
Where else to start thanwith Avvo?When it arrived in June, withits promise to rate and profileevery lawyer, it became thebuzz of the blawgosphere.
In fact, the buzz startedeven earlier, given advanceword of $14 million in venturecapital, a board ofdirectors that included LouAndreozzi (ex-CEO of Lexis-Nexis) and an advisory boardwith Robert Hirshon, formerpresident of the AmericanBar Association.
Avvo's concept of ratinglawyers from one to 10proved controversial at first,with critics citing examplesof convicted felons betterrated than renowned litigators.A class action was filedagainst it just nine daysafter launch, but that was recentlydismissed as a "case that never should have been filed," according to Mark Britton, Avvo CEO.
Avvo listened to the critics and made changes in itsrating system, assigning numerical rankings onlywhen certain information is available. Infact, none other than old-school Martindale-Hubbellhas since added the Avvo-like feature of clientreviews tacked on to law firm profiles.
Next on stage: Public.Resource.Org.Back in 1872, John West had a goodidea: publish and sell court decisions. His idea grewinto the National Reporter System and, a centurylater, into the online research service Westlaw.Now Carl Malamud and his nonprofit organizationwant to upset that private-enterprise applecart bycreating a public-domain repository of all federaland state case law.
In November, Malamud and the legal researchcompany Fastcase announced an agreement topublish 1.8 million pages of federal case law inthe public domain. The archive, to become availablesometime in 2008, will include all U.S. courtsof appeals decisions since 1950 and all SupremeCourt decisions since 1754. Notably, this publicdatabase will come about with the cooperation ofFastcase, which has agreed to sell this case law withno strings attached.
Malamud was not the only one striving todecommercialize access to case law. Another wasAltLaw, unveiled in August as ajoint project of Columbia Law School and the Universityof Colorado Law School. Its purpose is similar:make federal case law easier to search and freelyaccessible to the public. It contains nearly 170,000decisions dating back to the early 1990s from theSupreme Court and federal appellate courts.
The site's creators, Columbia's Timothy Wu andStuart Sierra and Colorado's Paul Ohm, said thedatabase will grow over time.
Next up for honors: the ABA Journal. In July, it revealed a head-to-toeredesign of its Web site. Of itself, the redesign wasso sweeping as to command attention. But the bignews was that, after years of allowing access onlyto ABA members, the magazine's entire site andall of its content became open to the public. Thatfreed a valuable resource that had hitherto beenbehind locked doors. The site added back issuesthrough 2005 and was slatedto include even earlier years.
The site supplements theprint magazine with addedcontent, such as court opinions,interview transcriptsand other materials. The sitealso includes two other notablefeatures: Law News Now,a continuously updated feedof the day's legal news stories,selected by staff editors;and the Blawg Directory, anindex of more than 1,000blogs written by lawyers, lawprofessors and law students.
Last but not least: A sitethat tends not to blow its ownhorn. Steadily, almost stealthily,founder Tim Stanley andhis crew have built Justia into one ofthe best free legal researchsites on the Web. After foundingFindLaw and then sellingit to West, Stanley started Justiamodestly. At first, its focuswas creating lawyer Web sitesand blogs. At the same time,Stanley and his staff workedon public interest projectssuch as the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Centerand RecallWarnings.com.
Later Justia added its Supreme Court Center,pulling together a searchable collection of casesalong with Supreme Court resources from all overthe Web. It continued to add innovative features,such as BlawgSearch for searching law-related blogsand Blawgs.fm for searching law-related podcasts.In February, Justia launched Federal District CourtFilings & Dockets, for searching and browsing federaldockets. Justia has expanded its offerings ofcourt opinions and expanded its collections oflinks to legal research and legal practice resources.
Each of these sites, in its own way, helped redefinethe future of how lawyers and their clients usethe Web.
Robert J. Ambrogi is a Massachusetts lawyer andmedia consultant. He writes the blogs LawSites andMedia Law.