Bacal's Internet Legal Research Guide

Why Some Law Firm Websites Can Have Value

It has become accepted gospel that lawyers and law firms must have a presence on the web whether through their own sites or as part of a collective or association site. In most instances, that presence is still merely a web-brochure, with information about the firm, but few substantive up-to-date attractions. Indeed, the initial lure of the web as a dumping ground for out-of-date publications was apparent in the 1990s, and it still poses some dangers for the unwary researcher.

Promises of weekly or monthly or even quarterly updates by web pioneering firms in a particular area were often not fulfilled, and consultants to law firms have obviously warned against being overambitious. Most law firm websites in the 21st Century promise less, but deliver more faithfully on what they promise.

Where substantive articles are posted, pay attention to the date when the information was posted or updated. Some general articles can be priceless and timeless, in that the advice holds true regardless of the date it was first given. However, most articles regarding or including case law can become less reliable over time, if not updated.

Some current offerings are mixed in with less up-to-date materials. The most useful law firm sites seem to be those that focus on recent developments in a very narrow area of law, with limited goals that are effectively met, so as to allow for quarterly or bi-annual updating. One should also be aware of the bias of some firms, who purport to be reporters. For example, a law firm that primarily represents plaintiffs in product liability litigation may not provide balanced information from the point of view of manufacturers. Remember that even lawyers and law firms bitten by a promotional bug will still want to avoid alienating their client base.

For litigators, who ordinarily find themselves in more openly adversarial relationships with other counsel than non-litigators, the web can be a significant source of intelligence gathering. Websites of opposing parties can provide corporate histories as well as information about a company’s products and services. Websites of opposing counsel and/or their law firms often provide rich biographical information about attorneys beyond that provided in traditional directories like Martindale-Hubbell. Remember that directories like Martindale traditionally have limited the amount of information a lawyer can provide at the basic price. Lawyer and law firm websites are not so constrained, and include more credentials and more resume items. But these are not screened by any third party and may not always be accurate.

Law firm and lawyer websites can also provide copies of unpublished articles and other source material that might be otherwise wholly unavailable. Occasionally pleadings from interesting cases are posted. In short, the desire to market oneself sometimes fuels an uncontrollable urge to share and disclose views and strategies and information that might be of great interest to adversaries. In a competitive world, any websites featuring opposing parties and opposing counsel should not be overlooked in the course of pre-litigation and litigation investigations.

The Reliability of Information

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