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Free Legal Research With Google Scholar

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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It is indisputable that the internet and advances in technology have leveled the playing field, making it easier than ever for solo and small firm lawyers to compete with larger firms. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the field of legal research.

Affordable, or even free, legal research tools can make all the difference for solo and small firm lawyers. The trick is knowing which legal research platforms make the most sense for your law firm. These days, there are more tools available than ever, with Google Scholar leading the pack when it comes to free legal research tools.

It used to be that the only legal research options were either to head over to the closest law library or maintain a costly and space-consuming library on your law firm's premises. Along came electronic research capabilities, but even then, it cost an arm and a leg to subscribe to the two most popular platforms, Westlaw or Lexis. The high subscription costs often made these platforms unpalatable for many solo and small firm attorneys.

But this was back in the good ol’ days when Lexis and Westlaw had cornered the legal research market. How times have changed! The internet age ushered in a new era in legal research, making legal information available to everyone at little to no cost. The Cornell Legal Information Institute was one of the first online platforms to make legal information free and easily accessible to lawyers and legal consumers alike--and it continues to do so to this very day.

But it was the launch of Google Scholar's fully searchable legal case database in November of 2009 that truly revolutionized legal research. Suddenly, lawyers everywhere could search vast caselaw databases for free. Since then, Google Scholar’s research capabilities have improved substantially, making it easier than ever to conduct legal research and check the citations of relevant cases.

So what's covered in Google Scholar's database? A lot. It includes court opinions from all 50 states and all federal courts, and even provides links to relevant law review articles in citation check results. The specific jurisdictions covered are described in Google Scholar’s FAQ as follows: “Google Scholar allows you to search and read published opinions of US state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950, US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923 and US Supreme Court cases since 1791. In addition, it includes citations for cases cited by indexed opinions or journal articles which allows you to find influential cases (usually older or international) which are not yet online or publicly available.”

To use Google Scholar, simply head over to the Google Scholar home page (online: https://scholar.google.com/) and check the "legal documents" category under the search box and select the courts you’d like to search.

From there, searching Google Scholar is as easy as searching Google. Simply enter natural search terms into the search box and in no time flat you’ll have your results. You can then limit the results by court or date. You can further refine your search terms using advanced search functions, and can even enter boolean search terms. Google Scholar also includes the ability to perform fairly sophisticated cite checks of caselaw, which include information on the relevance of citing cases to a specific legal issue.
Every year since its roll out, Google Scholar’s legal research capabilities have improved and new features have been added, with the end result being a robust, easy-to-use legal research tool. It may not have the bells and whistles of some of its more costly competitors, but for lawyers seeking to conduct legal research on a budget, it’s worth looking into.

Interested in learning more about using Google Scholar for legal research? You can find a full tutorial with screenshots here.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, legal technology journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


New Jersey judge permits service via Facebook

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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New Jersey judge permits service via Facebook

If you’re a litigator, then I can only assume that by now you fully understand how social media platforms impact your practice. At this point in time, one way or another, you’ve undoubtedly encountered social media issues while representing your clients. Whether it’s crimes being committed using social media platforms, mining social media for evidence, researching jurors on social media, or using social media as a method for service of process, social media crops up in a multitude of ways during the litigation process.

This trend began in approximately 2010, when social media use began to appear in criminal cases as the basis for criminal acts. From there it took a few years before lawyers began to affirmatively use social media on their client’s behalf during litigation matters. I’ve been tracking those trends for some time now, including the use of social media platforms for service of process.

For example, in October 2014, I wrote about two judges who had issued orders permitting service upon litigants using Facebook: a U.S. Magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Virginia (Whoshere, Inc., v. Gokhan Orun d/b/a/ WhoNear) and a New York family court judge (Noel B. v. Anna Maria A., Docket No. F-00787-13/14B). Then, in March 2015, another New York judge jumped on the bandwagon and permitted service via Facebook in a matrimonial case (Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku (2015 NY Slip Op 25096)).

Last year, I wrote about Ferrerese v. Shaw,15 CV 3738 (ARR) (CLP), where United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, Cheryl L. Pollak permitted an alternate method of service via Facebook, but also required the plaintiff to attempt to effect service using other methods as well.

The issue was addressed even more recently in Axberg v. Langston, Docket No. MRS-C-157 (2016). In this post-adoption case, as reported in the New Jersey Law Journal, Judge Stephan C. Hansbury, Morris County P.J. (ret.), considered the issue of whether service of process could be effected via social media - specifically using Facebook.

In this case, the plaintiffs filed an order to show cause and a verified complaint seeking to restrain the defendant, the purported biological father of their adopted son, from contacting them and/or their son on social media. According to the complaint, the defendant had reached out to their son, his sister, and his adoptive father on Facebook and Instagram, claiming to be his biological father.

After unsuccessfully attempting to serve the defendant via more traditional methods, including regular and certified mail, the plaintiffs sought permission to serve the defendant using Facebook. In reaching its decision, the Court applied the 3-prong test established in Baidoo (above) and determined that the Facebook page in question was the defendant’s, that it appeared to be regularly updated, and due to the unique nature of this case, no other supplemental service method was necessary. Accordingly, the Court concluded that service via Facebook, and Facebook alone, was a sufficient method of service.

Following the Court’s decision, service of process using Facebook was thus accomplished and the defendant soon replied, sending a private message to the plaintiffs counsel on Facebook indicating that he’d received it, stating “I’ll see you in court.” He subsequently appeared via telephone on the return date of the matter.

Another court, another day. Service of process using social media platforms is becoming increasingly common, which is not unexpected. After all, the practice of law can only resist societal changes for so long. Social media is a force to be reckoned with and it’s not going away. Rather than turn a blind eye to it, learn about it and use it to the benefit of your clients. After all, knowledge is power and you have an obligation to provide zealous representation to your clients - something that is impossible to do if you’re not adequately armed with the tools needed to do so.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, legal technology journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She can be reached at niki@mycase.com.

 

 


NYSBA issues updated social media guidelines for lawyers

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

NYSBA issues updated social media guidelines for lawyers

I’ve always believed that social media use by lawyers should be treated no differently than any other type of communication by lawyers. After all, online interactions are simply an extension of offline interactions, and the medium doesn’t change the message. For that reason, it has pained me to see so many ethics committees issuing so many opinions over the years on the many perceived nuances of online communication by lawyers.

Many of these opinions are simply unnecessary and constitute knee jerk reactions to a new way of interacting. And many are based on faulty reasoning grounded in the assumption that online communications are somehow different than those occurring offline and thus warrant the application of new, more stringent standards. Others, however, necessarily address issues that are unique to online communications. One good example is opinions that address the issue of whether the passive notifications received by LinkedIn users (who also happen to be jurors) which indicate that a lawyer has viewed their profile constitute impermissible juror contact.

Regardless of whether I agree with the sheer volume of opinions or their merit, the end result is that lawyers are left to their own devices when it comes to reviewing the many opinions and deciphering which types of on online interactions are ethical. Navigating the maze of ethics opinions can be a difficult and overwhelming task and for that reason, some attorneys simply choose to forego using social media altogether.

That’s where the recently updated “Social Media Ethics Guidelines,” issued by the the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association, come in.


These guidelines were first released in 2014 with the intent to provide lawyers with guidance in navigating the many ethical issues encountered when using social media in a professional context. The Guidelines were revised in 2015 and, then, just 2 weeks ago, a newly updated version of the Guidelines was released.

Some of the more notable revisions include:

  • Attorney Competence (§ 1.A) reflects that 27 states have adopted some duty of technical competence.
  • Maintaining Client Confidences (§ 5.E) offers information on how an attorney can respond to online reviews as well as services that offer to import contacts.
  • Positional Conflicts (§2.E) is new and discusses DC Bar Ethics Opinion 370 regarding whether social media posts adverse to a client’s interest may present a conflict of interest. The revised appendix describes social media terminology and some of the more popular social media platforms.
  • The newly added social media definitions are particularly useful, and I have to admit that although I’ve always considered myself to be more social media-savvy than most lawyers (having written a book on lawyers using social media), even I learned a few things after reading through the definitions.

So, if you haven’t yet read the updated Guidelines, make sure to set aside some time in order to do so. They provide a very useful, extensive round up of how ethics committees across the country have approached lawyers using social media. The Guidelines are a great resource that will serve as a handy reference guide for your professional online social media activities.

 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, legal technology journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She can be reached at niki@mycase.com.