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Former Houston solo Kathy Biehl always wished there was some way to get government documents for her clients without either spending the afternoon in line or leaving a message on an agency’s voice-mail system. Enter the Internet. Biehl maintained a solo practice in Houston for 16 years before moving to New York. By 1997 — when many lawyers were still discovering the joy of the plain-paper fax — Biehl had already become a master surfer. She soon began writing about legal research and the Internet, and this year she published “The Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research,” which she co-authored with technology writer Tara Calishain. “Internet research is a very cost-effective alternative or supplement to a law library,” says Biehl, who has taught legal writing at the University of Houston Law Center and business law at Rice University. “Solos and small firms can access a wider variety of material than they can invest in themselves.” The book provides sources, sites and techniques to find cases, statutes, regulations, legislative history, government forms, public records, plus other lawyers and experts. Biehl and Calishain also provide research sites, news sources, general reference aids, and an accounting of those agencies and courts that accept online communication and filing. Or, as Biehl explains, the book tells solos how to find for themselves the information they used to have to pay people to stand in line to get. � The book begins with a discussion of the online law library. What is this? The online law library is a list of sources — essential bookmarks. � Are there bookmarks that every solo practitioner should have? There are a few essential bookmarks that, no matter what your practice, are good starting points. One is FindLaw. It’s a gigantic index, the Yahoo! of legal research. It has an index of categories with directories of lawyers, bulletin boards and legal forms, including great transactional forms for corporate deals… . LawCrawler is another really good place to start; it has a legal search engine. If you are going to boil [the online law library] down to absolute basic research, a catalog of legal mailing lists for automatic distribution of e-mail is a good starting point. You can go through and find mailing lists for particular areas of practice. I am on a couple of them, most having to do with technology, and law practice and research. Attorneys are good with posting questions and coming back with suggestions. Also, there are mailing lists through other entities, such as the American Bar Association ( www.abanet.org). Another good Web site is an online research journal … originally called Law Library Research Exchange before they condensed it to the acronym LLRX ( www.llrx.com). This is a very good site for articles on a particular research topic… . It’s an easy place to find an answer to a particular problem, and it’s always up-to-date on legal research — it’s constantly being refreshed. It also can send you a notification of new articles. There tends to always be something about federal resources, international law and new aspects of technology. � What makes Internet research different from using a CD-ROM? It’s a whole lot cheaper than using a CD-ROM, and it’s a whole lot more current, especially when updates to the CD-ROM are annual or semiannual… . Another reason that a solo might want to use the Internet is that if you want to get the latest decisions by a specific court, you can often get notifications the day the decision comes out… . Many courts post their decisions the day, if not the week, they’re decided. It’s a way of hastening the information getting to you. [With the Internet] you can also track legislation in progress. � How does e-mail fit into online legal research? There are three main ways. The first would be using a mailing list, where you receive discussion topics in your inbox. The second way would be signing up for a slip opinion notification service. The third way would be newsletters. � What do solos need to be able to rely on the Internet for research? I would say get the fastest processor that you can afford. A lot of portal sites like Findlaw or Law.com are using increasingly glitzy graphics that eat your system resources. It seems that the faster the processors get, the more system code these sites use. If you’re not using DSL, a T1 or a dedicated line, get the fastest computer you can get to speed your download… . Anther recommendation would be not to rely solely on one browser. I use Netscape and Internet Explorer. There’s a disturbing trend among Web sites where you can’t get into some unless you’re using the latest version of Internet Explorer. There’s a publication out of Britain that you can’t see in Netscape at all. I use both, and I switch back and forth depending on [the ease] of loading. � What’s your top tip for searching the Internet? All my tips for searching boil down to this: The first time you go to a Web site, it always pays to read the “help file” or “search tips” file. The vast number of search engines are going to use the same Boolean operators, but not all of them do. If you’re just going to run one word, fine, but it always pays to scan the directions on a search engine. Some of them automatically insert the word “and” in between the words, sometimes you have to use quotes, some can’t recognize quotes and strange things will happen. So it’s always a good idea to read the help box — they tend to be short and give examples. It’s worth the three extra minutes.

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