Internet Legal Directories: Choose Wisely

By Griffith, Cary | Information Today, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Internet Legal Directories: Choose Wisely


Griffith, Cary, Information Today


What is good for the Internet is good for the computer-literate attorney. Look no further than online directories of lawyers and law firms to find an excellent example of how the Internet is dramatically changing the face of publishing. Suddenly almost anyone can become a legal publisher, and suddenly everyone is. While the Internet creates a new paradigm for how attorneys acquire and use information, it also spawns slick marketing and ad campaigns. Sometimes these campaigns have more smoke and mirrors than substance. Consider the quickly changing field of legal directories.

Directories of lawyers and law firms have long been a staple of the legal publishing industry and the professionals for whom they are created. Their value is their ability to help anyone searching for an attorney find one--preferably with the right credentials and subject expertise. They can also be used for a variety of other purposes--everything from locating the phone number of an old law school classmate, to examining the credentials of an opposing counsel, to searching for a boutique firm specializing in employment law. With respect to legal directories, their two most important characteristics are comprehensiveness and content. The more attorneys and law firms listed, the better. And the more said about both, the better.

A Standard Is Set

Not long ago the industry standard for legal directories was the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. Available in print form and more recently as a searchable online database through LEXIS and on CD-ROM, Martindale-Hubbell is an excellent directory. Unfortunately Martindale-Hubbell is not available on the Internet. It can be accused through the Internet--along with the rest of the LEXIS service. But unlike other Internet legal directories, users are charged for using Martindale-Hubbell through the Internet at the usual LEXIS rates. Over the years directories have come and gone, but no one ever produced anything to rival Martindale-Hubbell until West Publishing created West's Legal Directory.

Three aspects separate the West directory from others: its availability in a variety of electronic media, its content, and its cost. The directory is also an excellent example of what we can anticipate as a new wave of publishing--the service that has no print counterpart.

Begun in 1990, West's directory now contains nearly 900,000 attorney and law firm listings from the U.S., Canada, and England (sources estimate 865,000 attorneys in the U.S.). The directory also lists attorneys and barristers from countries throughout Europe (eastern and western) and identifies U.S. and international attorneys who practice international law.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of West's Legal Directory (WLD) is that it is not available in print form. Subscribers can acquire the title on West's CD-ROM libraries ($245--Attorney Library on two CD-ROM discs), which use West's powerful PREMISE search engine, or they can search it through WESTLAW using the familiar WESTLAW commands. The best way, however, to search WLD may be on the Internet.

Taking It to the Net

There are a variety of ways to access WLD on the Internet; probably the simplest is by its World Wide Web URL (http://www.wld.com). Enter this address and you'll be taken to an introductory directory screen. If you want to search WLD you can click on a link that brings up a search form. If you want more information about performing a search you can click to a search tips screen that describes how to perform Boolean or field searches of WLD.

Field searches can be one of the most powerful ways to search WLD. Using field searching you can locate an attorney in Providence, Rhode Island, who specializes in medical malpractice law (ST(RI) & CY(Providence) & PRA ("Medical Malpractice")). And you can do it for nothing more than the cost of your Internet access.

That's one of the beautiful aspects of WLD--its cost. …

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