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

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Listserv Tips and Other Research Tips

This article has been archived and may no longer be updated.


Genie Tyburski, Web Manager, The Virtual Chase


   Originally published by Law Office Computing (Feb/Mar 2003) under the title, "On the Fast Track." Revised to reflect resources and strategies current as of the date appearing at the end of the page.


5 March 2004. "You hung up on me," chides Lawyer X with a look that demands an explanation.

The friends meet for lunch at a nearby deli. Lawyer Y attempts innocence, "Moi?"

"Uh-huh," X insists. "You said that I 'should have asked for dinner' and then you hung up. That implies that you're about to get off cheap." He waits a moment and adds, "Again."


"X, would I do that to you? Must have been a bad connection," he reasons.


The waiter appears as if on cue. X drops the subject.

After ordering, Y tells X about a challenging research matter. His client heard from a friend that an email message posted to a discussion group falsely accused her of plagiarism. A respected lecturer and author, the client was outraged. She wants to address the accusation, but doesn't know who sent the message.

"Do you mean she thinks the sender spoofed the email address?" X asks for clarification.

"No, nothing so technical as that. She just doesn't have a copy of it."

"And this is your research challenge?" X asks in disbelief.

Y quickly continues, "The friend says she forwarded the email, but my client never received it. The friend also says she deleted it, and either she doesn't know how to find it in her trash or sent folders, or it's really gone."

"You did say the original sender posted the message to a discussion group." X muses.

The waiter brings their meals. Lawyer X smiles as he sits back and makes room for lunch.

Lawyer X tells Y that because some email discussion groups maintain searchable archives, it might be possible to retrieve a copy of the message without having to find a subscriber who saved it.

With the name of the group, Y will check various directories to find out what software powers it. Then after subscribing to the group, he will use the software's commands, or a Web interface, if available, to query the archive for the message.

First, he connects to CataList, an official directory of public discussion groups powered by listserv. Other directories include Tile.net and Topica.

He finds the discussion group at CataList and reviews its descriptive record, which links to an option for examining the group's configuration. Y discovers that it maintains a searchable archive (Notebook=yes), but no Web search interface.

To query the archive, Y must subscribe to the group. He uses a throwaway free email account to avoid the inevitable onslaught of spam.

Then referring to the cheat sheet Lawyer X provided, he sends a query by email to the listserv address (listserv@; not the address for posting messages to the group). Like this:

SEARCH 'name of client' IN list-name

The software responds with a list of messages that match the query. It might look like this:

000332 01/03/05 10:14 226 actual subject line
000334 01/03/07 10:13 195 actual subject line
000380 01/06/07 11:04 234 actual subject line
000389 01/07/09 10:49 197 actual subject line

The leading numbers comprise individual message identifiers. Read the date as year/month/day. Retrieve the messages with this command to the listserv address:

GETPOST list-name 332 334 380 398

Thrilled with the results of the search, Lawyer Y later asks X to share more of his Internet research tips and tricks. X tells him about the Web page monitoring service TrackEngine and shows him how to track the status of a federal bill at Thomas without making a daily connection to the site.

To do this, retrieve the bill status information for the legislation you want to watch using the following URL format:


Replace 108 with the number of the current Congress and h.r.02215 with the relevant bill number. Zeros must lead any numbers below five digits (e.g., 10 becomes 00010), and remember that a Senate bill begins with "s." while a House bill begins with "h.r."

After confirming that the Web address retrieves just the bill's status information, invoke the TrackEngine bookmarklet. A bookmarklet is a tiny javascript program that resides in your favorites folder like a bookmark.

A tracking report configuration screen pops up. Set it up to monitor the Web page as often as you want. (To track pages more than once a day, send an email request to the site's feedback address.) To sort the reports into special folders when they arrive by email, be sure to give them a unique title.

You can also use TrackEngine to run search engine queries automatically. First visit the search engine and set your preferences to allow the maximum number of results per page (e.g., 100 at Google). If available, sort your results so that those pages recently added to the engine's database appear at the top of the hit list. If the purpose of your query is to track Web pages mentioning your client, competitor, trademark, or the like, you should also turn off the content filter.

Next, run the query. Then from the results page, which should display a unique URL in the browser's address line, invoke the TrackEngine bookmarklet. Configure your report, and await notification about new matches.

Refer to the TrackEngine tutorial for other Web page monitoring ideas, such as tracking product launches and new partnerships and alliances.

In addition to TrackEngine, check out WebSite-Watcher, InfoMinder and WatchThatPage. WebSite-Watcher is a software program that matches TrackEngine in power and reliability. For those who regularly work from one computer, it presents a less costly alternative.

Currently, WatchThatPage is a free Web monitoring service while InfoMinder, a commercial service, offers some free tracking options. Neither supports all of the features available on TrackEngine, but may suffice for basic monitoring tasks.

Lawyer X shares a final tip about a free site similar in concept to the Web tracking services. PubCrawler runs MEDLINE (medical literature database) queries automatically and notifies users about new search results by email.

Test your query at PubMed first, which integrates MEDLINE with bibliographic citations from other medical literature and full text articles from select life sciences journals.

Lawyer X, for example, tries to keep up with new literature about scientific misconduct. He watches for additions tagged with the relevant MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) descriptors. His query looks like this:

fraud [MeSH Terms] OR professional misconduct [MeSH Terms] OR deception [MeSH Terms]

Upon confirming that the query retrieves relevant article references, X enters it at PubCrawler. PubCrawler then runs it according to your frequency settings and reports the new results to email, to a PubCrawler account, or to both. It also keeps a running tally of new hits since the original search.

"Do you have any more tricks up your sleeve?" asks Lawyer Y, eager to learn more.

"Always," answers X, digging into his salad.

Y waits for him to continue. Then impatiently, "Well?"

"It's good," replies X, pretending to misunderstand him.

"Good? I'm not talking about the food!"

"You're not," X repeats agreeably.

Y opens his mouth. Then reconsidering, he closes it.

"You're not going to answer me, are you?"

Lawyer X chews another bite of salad.

"Is it because I hung up on you?" Y persists, now teasing him.

That gets X's attention. He glares at Y. "You did hang up on me! I knew it!"


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Created: 29 July 2003
Revised: 18 October 2007 (no text revisions)
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/archive/research_tricks.html

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