Judicial System Finally Gets Web-Savvy

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By: Charles Bowen

The American judicial system was slow to embrace the Web. Even as the White House, the U.S. Congress, and state legislatures were becoming quite at home with their new home pages in the late 1990s, most federal and state courts remained aloof.

In fact, for years it fell to those outside the country’s courthouses — law schools, forward-looking law firms, enterprising court reporters, book publishers — to bring useful legal tools and reference material to the Internet. And even then, searchable databases of court decisions were very rare.

The legal community is now starting to warm up to the Web. These days, most of the judiciary, from the U.S. Supreme Court to state bankruptcy courts, have at least some presence online.

Nonetheless, the reporter on the beat continues to rely heavily on the private sector for up-to-date courtroom information. Here’s a case in point. The National Law Journal has just rolled out a feature devoted to helping us more quickly find court opinions filed all around the Web. This is a great one-stop wonder, a logically constructed gateway to legal resources, including the U.S. Supreme Court and individual federal district courts, as well as state courts and individual cases on a state-by-state basis. Of particular interest to the working press will be the site’s highlights of top decisions and major monetary judgments for the current year. Best of all, the site also points out cases to watch and summarizes recent court decisions and their potential impact on legal practice and legislation.

To check it out, visit the site at http://www.nlj.com/special/courts.shtml, where a long, detailed introductory page provides a well-organized list of links to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Circuit Courts, the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, specialized federal courts, and state courts. To browse, simply scroll the list.

Under each broad heading are relevant links both inside and outside the courtroom. For instance, in the U.S. Supreme Court section are links to the high court’s own site, as well as to FindLaw’s Constitutional Law Center, Northwestern University’s Oyez Project, Jurist: The Law Professors’ Network, the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School, and more.

Keep scrolling for some of the good stuff. The “Specialize U.S. Courts” section, for example, has links to sites with opinions from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Tax Court, the veterans’ claims appeals court, and other lesser known courts.

Also of interest at the bottom of the page is the site’s extensive collection of links to assorted state courts. Of course, some are more extensive than others. Ohio has more than a dozen links, including one to each of its appeals districts, its state Supreme Court, even one county’s common pleas court, and a municipal court. By contrast, there are only three links for California. Still, there’s something for everyone, so it’s worth scrolling to the bottom of the list to check it out.

Other considerations for using the site in your work:

1. Use links at the top of the screen to jump to the beginning of the page’s broad categories. Hyperlinks are provided to “U.S. Supreme Court,” “U.S. Circuit Courts,” “U.S. District Courts,” “U.S. Bankruptcy Courts,” “Specialized U.S. Courts,” and “State Courts.”

2. There is no handy search engine on this particular page of the National Law Journal site. However, you can use your browser’s built-in search facilities to locate features on the long, scrollable screen. In Internet Explorer, click the “Edit” option on the menu bar and select the “Find (on This Page)” option from the drop-down menu.

3. While you’re in the neighborhood, you might also want to explore the site’s main page (http://www.NLJ.com). The NLJ Litigation Services Network provides an array of litigation-related news and information resources. Besides the National Law Journal, it also offers the NLJ Verdict Reporter System, the NLJ Directory of Expert Witnesses and Consultants, the NLJ Litigation Summit and Exposition, and two other Web sites, www.VerdictSearch.com and www.NLJExperts.com.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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