Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research
Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research

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Build Your Own Electronic Library

This article has been archived and may no longer be updated.


Genie Tyburski, Web Manager, The Virtual Chase


   Originally published by Law Office Computing (Apr/May 2001) under the title, "Have Library, Will Travel." Revised to reflect resources and strategies current as of the date appearing at the end of the page.


Updated 23 May 2007. Lawyer X nearly jumps out of his skin as M slips quietly into his office, walks up behind him, and whispers, "Busy?"

Turning abruptly, he retorts in a less than steady voice, "No, I just felt like hanging around."

It's early. Lawyer X thought he was alone.

"Hmm," M replies watching him pick up the book he dropped. "Reverting to book research?" she teases.

Straightening, and taking on a somewhat comical pedantic pose, Lawyer X admonishes, "You don't want my lecture on the value of books."

"No, X," she agrees, "I don't." Then quickly, she adds, "But I have come to pick your brain. Do you have a few minutes to spare?"

"I'm not sure," he deadpans. "You just shaved about ten years off my life."

M laughs. "Come on. Let me buy you a cup of coffee. Reduce your longevity some more."

In the coffee shop, M explains that she has been traveling with frequency lately to various area school districts on behalf of a partner, who became ill suddenly. She must advise the clients on various aspects of education law. M admits that she's not as comfortable with the law as the partner, who, she jests, has practiced it for more than one hundred years. She complains that she has to lug a library of books and papers with her.

"Isn't there a CD-ROM program that has all these laws? If I could just look them up quickly using my laptop..." she finishes wishfully.

While Web-based resources provide ready access to many of the statutes, regulations, and court decisions M needs to advise the partner's clients, she wants those she relies on available instantly without the pain of searching for them. Moreover, she wants an online source that she can access offline from time to time. She wants only the information she requires, but her needs change with the needs of the clients. Moreover, she wants to share some of the information with the clients.

An impossible request? No, but, in essence, M must build and manage her own electronic library.

How will she accomplish this task? M could handle a small collection of legal documents simply by bookmarking them. To refer to them without an active Internet connection, she would configure the bookmarks for offline browsing.

For a collection that requires organization beyond the capability of a browser, M could purchase a Web capturing program like NetAttaché Pro or WebWhacker. These grab single or multiple pages from a Web site and store them for offline browsing.

But neither solution fully satisfies M's situation. Bookmarks require either an online connection (Web-based bookmark service) or access to the computer on which they are stored (browser bookmarks). Web capturing programs also store what they grab on a single computer. Some further experience difficulty in dealing with scripts (Java, VBScript) and other technologies. And most cannot grab the results of a database research session.

Lawyer X considers M's question, and then suggests she explore CatchTheWeb, a Web application service that facilitates storing, accessing, managing, sharing, and collaborating on Web-enabled documents.

Later in her office, they download and install the CatchTheWeb "pushpin" utility, which resides in the PC's system tray whenever it senses an active Internet connection. Then Lawyer X asks about the documents M wants to store.

M tells him she frequently advises on various issues involving special education. She would like the complete text of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA) as well as various codified sections of IDEA from the United States Code. She also wants key provisions of other related federal laws, the Department of Education final regulations published in the Federal Register on June 24, 1999, relevant Pennsylvania state laws and regulations, and select important court decisions.

They find the text of IDEA as enacted, as well as the 1999 regulations, at the Department of Education's IDEA '97 Web site. They display the PDF version of each, and then drag the pushpin to the browser window to capture them.

Upon releasing the pushpin, a dialog box appears. After creating a folder (e.g., Education Law), they name the first document, add a note, and save it. If the Web page shows some interaction (e.g., a form with data entered in the fields, or a query in a search box), CatchTheWeb will capture the user-generated input. To add a note to a document, click the paper icon with a red "n" found in the dialog box.

Now M's "library" - called Education Law -- contains two documents. Next, they connect to Cornell's USC site to capture sections of IDEA as codified. M wants a table of contents and several sections rather than the entire Act. The lawyers capture the table of contents for Chapter 33 of Title 20 plus the text of various sections.

Next, they connect to the Code of Federal Regulations to capture the table of contents for 34 CFR Part 300 as well as several sections.

Now M wants Pennsylvania state law. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania statutes do not reside on a free government Web server. To capture them, the lawyers connect to Westlaw. Using the "find" command, they retrieve 24 P.S. §13-1371 and various other relevant sections of Pennsylvania's Public School Code. To display the statute text in a large window (frame), Lawyer X clicks the icon for viewing a statute section in full screen mode.

While here, they also collect about a dozen important federal and state cases for the library. Finally, they access the official Web sites of the Pennsylvania Code and Pennsylvania Bulletin to capture relevant state administrative regulations.

M's education law library resides in a database available via CatchTheWeb's secure Web server. She may share the library with clients and colleagues by assigning them passwords. Later, if she wants to collaborate with a client regarding research documents in a specific matter, she may keep the documents and collaboration confidential by restricting accessing to this portion of the library.

While creating and managing the library takes place online, M may access it offline as well. To do this, she creates an archive of the Education Law folder. Once she downloads the archive, including supporting files, she may display the contents of the library from any computer with the Internet Explorer browser whether connected to the Internet or not.

Moreover, creating an archive does not affect the online library. M may continue to add, discard, rearrange, share, and collaborate on documents within it. Readers, who want to see a prototype of the library mentioned in this column, may display an archived version of it at The Virtual Chase. It may require that you install supporting files (fast small download). (23 May 2007: We removed the archive because the technology to display it no longer exists.)

M dashes toward the elevator and manages to catch its doors with her briefcase before they close.

"Dangerous move," Lawyer X cautions.

"Not as dangerous as being late for this meeting," M quips.

After a moment, M says, "X, the CatchTheWeb service you showed me has helped tremendously. I have my own library of materials right here," she continues, pointing to her laptop.

"I can load it wherever I am. And the clients like the instant access to legal documents. The library has even prompted some of them to post questions about the materials."

The elevator's doors open. M calls out to Lawyer X as she hurries out, "Have library. Will travel!"


* According to an archive copy of the software maker's home page, dated 21 July 2001, Netattache Pro is no longer available. Also, the Web site at tympani.com seems to have disappeared on or around 25 September 2001.


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Created: 10 December 2001
Revised: 23 May 2007 (see note)
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/archive/e-library.html

Suggestions: Genie Tyburski, tvceditor [at] virtualchase [dot] com