Current Awareness in the Law: Legal Listservs

By Ebbinghouse, Carol | Searcher, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Current Awareness in the Law: Legal Listservs

Ebbinghouse, Carol, Searcher

In my January 1997 column, I discussed current awareness services for legal periodical literature: Tables of Contents and selective dissemination of information services, as well as the databases that support them.

The next logical progression is to discuss listservs (also called discussion groups, newsletters, and news digests) in the legal field. In this article I will explain listservs and describe how to locate a listserv in your field of interest, how to find archives (databases of previous listserv communications) so you can search for previously-raised issues without bothering current subscribers, how to subscribe so you can keep up or even ask a question yourself, and how to avoid onslaughts of irrelevant messages flooding your e-mailbox.

Listservs are basically collections of electronically mailed correspondence or discussions and broadcasts of information in response to requests for information. Each listserv is topically limited to a particular subject or directed to a particular type of correspondent. Listservs exist covering agricultural law, the death penalty, and trademarks, to name but a few. There are law related listservs for trial attorneys, attorneys in a specific state, law professors, law librarians, paralegals, Westlaw and LEXIS-NEXIS users, etc.

How to Use Listservs as a Current

Awareness Tool

Simply by subscribing to a listserv you will get a flood, a stream, or (on little-used lists) a mere trickle of information from others interested in your field of interest.

If the current discussion threads (the subject lines in the e-mail headings) on a particular list do not interest you, you can customize this current awareness tool by asking a question of the members of the list. I did just this to prepare for my last article -- asking one listserv's readers to complete a survey of what current awareness tools they and their organizations use to keep up-to-date. The response alerted me to one table of contents service I had not heard of On inquiring I discovered that it was going out of business, so I did not include it in the article. However, having conducted that listserv survey of many law librarians gave me confidence that I was providing you with the best and most thorough information.

For one of my articles on copyright, I searched the archives of the CNI copyright listserv quite easily using their BRS search software. I located others who had already posted requests for the information I needed and communicated with them directly to discover what they had learned from their respondents. That got me lots of recent information without needlessly bothering the current subscribers.

These "customizable" features of listservs allow you to get the exact information you need, almost immediately. Few other services give you such immediate gratification coupled with the opportunity to make new friends online.

How to Find Listservs

"Law Lists" by Lyonette Louis-Jacques

This listing constitutes a specialized lists of listservs, electronic mailing (e-mail) lists, and Usenet newsgroups that cover law and law-related subjects. This law list also provides information on discussion groups, electronic journals and newsletters, news digests, and every conceivable kind of law list. The service omits listservs on CompuServe, ABA/Net, America Online, Prodigy, Lexis Counsel Connect, GEnie, and other such commercial services.

The list explains all about the different newsgroups and how to subscribe (and unsubscribe) to lists. It describes how to manage information overload by requesting a "digest" of list messages, how to locate and search Web and gopher archives, and how to observe the rules of "Netiquette." It provides cross references in English, Spanish, and French.

My favorite list of law-related electronic mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups is called "Law Lists" and is compiled by Lyonette Louis-Jacques at the University of Chicago. …

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