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Freesearch Trails: Breadcrumbs for Recovering (the) Most of Your Research Buck

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Well, now, on second thought, I guess there was one thing about law school that didn’t suck, and that was that, if you had to be there anyway, they at least gave you free Lexis and Westlaw access. (Did you follow my links to the Westlaw and Lexis law school sites? P’wned! You can’t get in there anymore, try as you might.) But, shortly after you left the hallowed halls of your law school, access to the world’s premier legal research engines flitted away, from you. (Well, more like they took away your law school email so you couldn’t log in anymore; but, you catch my draft.) And, unless you’re working at a large firm (and if you are you’re likely not reading this blog (yet), because law practice management is all that stuff that other people take care of for you), are independently wealthy or your parents are and choose to share, after you get your JD, you ain’t seein’ Lexis or Westlaw no more. Don’t worry: it’s not you, it’s them.

Confronted with the situation, there are a number of alternative courses of action: You could write a stern letter to Lexis or Westlaw (your preference), demanding, in no uncertain terms, that they return to you free access to their service based on some convoluted adoption of a theory of promissory estoppal. (That’s bound to work.) You could rob a bank, to (1) pay off your student loans; (2) pay for Lexis or Westlaw (your choice). You could take the cellphone picture you snapped of your last free Lexis or Westlaw (your call) search screen from law school, blow it up, monitor-size, and paste it to your computer, to (1) stare at all day; (2) impress clients with.

Or, you could suck it up, realize that your days of sharing levels of responsibility with infant sea otters are over, and determine a true course of action.

The first thing to remember is that, if you choose to get access to Lexis or Westlaw, you don’t have to get full access. You won’t be able to do searches in obscure law reviews from Idaho(?) anymore . . . but, I think you’ll get by alright. Buy just the federal and your state package, and that may be an agreeable pricepoint for you. Learn improved search techniques, and spend less time researching, so that you can reduce, rather than rack up, minutes. Negotiate your contract. Neither Lexis nor Westlaw is selling one-size-fits-all packages. Because there is room for maneuver, there is room for negotiation, especially if you can get competing prices from adverse salesmen. Play Lexis and Westlaw offers against each other, to get the best price. This is how I finagled a full boat to college. I’m telling you: Negotiation. It’s not just for when a bear has trapped you in a tree and with god anymore. If you’re willing to travel to, you may be able to get your Lexis or Westlaw for free, or for the price of a law library subscription, and your time. Check with your alumni law library, Social Law Library, or your nearest trial court law library locations, to see what kinds of offerings they might have in the way of Lexis and/or Westlaw access.

As alluded to above, one of the best methods for reducing a Lexis or Westlaw bill is to reduce the amount of time you use the product. But, that does not necessarily mean that you are thereby reducing the total amount of time you spend researching. People like Lexis and Westlaw because they have the bells and whistles, i.e.–they are easier to use. (Nobody wants to try hard if they don’t have to; it’s part and parcel of the human condition: as baggage carriers.) But, you can access Lexis/Westlaw-type functionality through other services, if you’re willing to do a little, additional virtual legwork. For a local example, you should know that, if you’re a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, you get the Casemaker Massachusetts research engine (which is almost a misnomer, because with access, you’ll get caselaw and statutes from the other fifty states and the federal system, too) for free. What’s that? For free? That’s right. Now, is Casemaker Lexis? No. Is Casemaker Westlaw? No. (It’s more like Eastlaw.) But, you’ll be able to find cases and statutes on it. You’ll even be able to check for sessions law changes to the Massachusetts General Laws using Casemaker’s SuperCode system. And, you can also utilize Casemaker’s version of shepardizing (called CaseCheck), through which you can link to later citing references directly. Sure, there aren’t any flags. And, there are so many attorneys who scoff at the fact that there aren’t flags, apparently feeling that the function is then useless. But, c’mon, you can’t read the sentence and determine treatment? Really? Personally, I come close to feeling better that I am flagging for myself than trusting the judgment of some snot-nosed kid who gets paid to tell me what’s up while he’s GChatting. If you like the bells and whistles and flags–you really love parades, don’t you–you can still use your Lexis or Westlaw. Just use the big boys for shepardizing or for some of the other bells and whistles that you like, and that are unavailable through Casemaker. You’re still reducing your pay time, and reducing your overall bill. (Incidentally, you ain’t got no research bill whatever if you’re using Casemaker and researching more robustly on Lexis or Westlaw at one of the trial court law libraries. Just sayin’.)

I’m pickin’ on Casemaker. (Has the MBA paid me? Not for a while.) But, that’s because it’s a no-brainer; it’s remarkably robust for a free service. If you are licensed in Massachusetts, and a member of the MBA, you’d be foolish not to use it. There are, however, other free and cheap services available. Fastcase is Casemaker’s competitor, and similar sort of product; it’s free in some states, where it has been adopted as a bar association member benefit–just not in Massachusetts, and the other states where Casemaker has locked in the bar association relationship. You can find cases and codes on FindLaw and at the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School. You can find legal opinions and citation information through Google Scholar, and you can often find full text cases through a generic Google search.

And, there’s a lot more than that. I could likely write a whole book on it. Fortunately, I don’t have to. (God, I would hope I could pick a better topic.) Somebody else already has.

When you’re attempting the lay of the land for legal research options, your primary source should be Kendall Svengalis’ “Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual”. This book is a godsend for
the legal research researcher, which titled person should be every attorney trying to establish, or reestablish, his or her research posture. Most every legal research option is outlined in the pages of the Buyer’s Guide, including pricing information and handy charts. The latest edition, 2009, is currently in release. I feel like this is the time that the Svengalis children would have an overwhelming desire to raise up, and kill me; but, I have to say that I wouldn’t buy this book if I were you. The dang things costs $150. You’re only going to use it for a limited time and purpose. Cozy up to it at the library instead: borrow it from reference and find a comfortable chair. You may not get the most updated copy, but you will have something close to it. The beauty of easy-to-follow charts and guides is that, if you get that library drowse, you can copy sets of pages that you need, and take them home for review. This be the good book of legal research; use it to make your research platform more affordable, and, hell, I’ll say it, probably better.

To too many solo attorneys and firms, the research burden becomes a sunken cost; but, you can make some of that money back to the future. It’s just a matter of taking the time to research and to test out your options, and to actualize your plan for cost reduction in relation to your research.

Search and ye shall research.

. . .

Liner Notes

One of my new favorite websites is (“La La” . . . like “fa la la la la”, like singing. You know. . . . You get it.) LaLa has a pretty durn extensive collection of music for listening. Here’s the catch: After you sign up (that’s not the catch–just tell them you don’t want any emails), you can listen to full songs for free one time. Upon second and future listenings, you only get a 30 second sample, unless you buy the song. You can buy songs for the formerly universal iTunes price of about 99 cents apiece. But, if you buy web albums, you can get entire albums for less than a dollar, at least as far as I can tell. And, if that’s the case, that’s pretty ill (I’m not submitting credit card information to find out for sure). Of course, you have to listen to web albums on the web, I would suppose. But, at least the sound is good, better than I expected. Maybe this is the future of music, I don’t know.

I’m still not paying for it, though. If anything about the previous paragraphs have brought home to you a facet of my personality, it should have been that I game the system so I don’t have to pay for things. Unless they’re really good things. What are really good things? Jeeps and jewelry. That’s about it. Thanks for coming. Please tip your waitress on the way out.

So, I don’t want to pay a lot for that LaLa, and the system encourages you to focus on albums rather than songs (which is an interesting dynamic in this culture of immediate need fulfillment) . . . Whatever shall I do? Let me tell you: Listening Parties! Holla!! This whole thing is gonna make House Party look like House Party 2. Or House Party 3.

Over two days last week, I listened to all of James Taylor’s albums in reverse chronological order. Then Cat Stevens’ and Yusuf Islam’s. Then I found out that the site had roughly 3,600 songs from the “Pickin’ On” series. Now I’m set until about 2013. Roughly. You see, the fact of LaLa’s deep catalogue represents the seed of its downfall. I don’t like to be bored when I listen to music. With LaLa I can listen to new music everyday (in fact, I have to listen to new music every time, if I want full songs, which I do), as long as I can find it/come up with it. And, I never have to pay for anything. That’s a circumvention if I’ve ever seen one. Dave Trumble is laughing fiendishly somewhere right now.

But, geez, I mean, it would be asking too much for you to have a breadth of musical knowledge that is coextensive with mine, right? Of course it would be. So, let me give you some suggested albums to start. (It’s easier if you play albums through because you have to do less clicking to play on individual songs.)

Here they blow over the starbuck bow, like white whaling objectives of immortal achievement:

The Who’s “Who’s Next” (the best rock album ever)

The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” (not a huge fan, but my friends tell me it’s so)

Nirvana’s “MTV UnPlugged in New York

James Taylor’s “One Man Dog” (the best album ever . . . EVER)

The Allman Brothers Band’s “Eat a Peach

Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers

Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River

Neil Young’s “Harvest

George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass

Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison

That’s a solid ten to start with. After you get through those, hit up the “Pickin’ On” series . . .

CATEGORIES: Law Firm Management | Law Practice Startup | Planning | Technology

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