Biographical Research by Computer

Article excerpt

Consider a broad definition of the term legal research to include locating information on any subject or topic arising out of your legal work. Since your legal work can cover virtually any subject and involve just about anyone, biographical research is often one of the most important kinds of legal research you can perform.

Today the amount of information you can compile on people borders on frightening. In many instances I've been asked to compile detailed dossiers on individuals. These dossiers can be compiled in anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, and can cost a few bucks to hundreds of dollars, depending upon how much information you want and how much your client is willing to spend.

WESTLAW and LEXIS

While the majority of this article will address many of the biographical resources available through DIALOG, no law office should ever overlook the two most prominent computer assisted legal research services: WESTLAW and LEXIS. Among potentially relevant WESTLAW sources consider the WESTLAW Legal Directory (WLD), if you're looking for information on a lawyer. The WLD contains information on hundreds of thousands of lawyers from the U.S. and Canada, and on law school students, legal teachers, judges, and courts. Not only is the WLD becoming a very complete, authoritative research tool; it's also cheap. If you search it on WESTLAW you'll only be billed for communications charges. You can also access it for free via the Internet.

You can also access ALLNEWS, all of the Dow Jones databases through WESTLAW. All of these databases are accessible using WESTLAW's standard system search syntax. ALLNEWS includes things like the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and approximately 600 other business, scientific, and technical publications.

And of course if you want to be very specific you can always search the online version of the Wall Street Journal. If you're looking for information on a business person, the Wall Street Journal is one of the best, authoritative, and most interesting sources of basic newspaper-type information you'll find.

LEXIS has the industry standard Martindale Hubbel Law Directory--long a mainstay in the legal profession. This contains a great deal of abbreviated biographical information regarding the majority of lawyers in America, and many in foreign countries. LEXIS also provides subscribers with access to political biographical resources (e.g., Associated Press Political--contains information on a variety of state and federal issues, including candidate positions, congressional ratings, and POLBIO--which combines the Almanac of American Politics, and Congressional Member Information, Associated Press Candidate Biographies, and similar kinds of titles).

There's also the PEOPLE library, which brings together biographical information on all kinds of individuals by capturing what it describes as "people-related news." Some of the titles in the PEOPLE library include the New York Times Biographical File--Government, Los Angeles Times Biographical Stories, PEOPLE Magazine, and Washington Post Biographical Stories.

The LEXIS/NEXIS service also carries BASELINE, which contains celebrity biographies, GALE biographies, UNELECT (from The Almanac of the Unelected)--containing background information on key staff members of committees and subcommittees of the U.S. Congress, and several other biographicalrelated titles.

Of course, similar to the Dow Jones databases available through WESTLAW, don't forget NEXIS. A great deal of information can be found using general business and news information resources.

But often one of the most overlooked biographical resources are those available through DIALOG. DIALOG has a wide variety of biographical resources. Using DIALOG you've got approximately 7-10 good solid biographical research options--i.e., DIALOG databases that carry biographical information. While these databases aren't specifically legal, in many instances they contain biographical information that can't be found anywhere else. …