From Due Diligence to Corporate Intelligence

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Say you're working on a big case, and you need as much information on the opposing company as possible. Or perhaps you're pitching a potential new client, and want to know everything about their business for your presentation. Maybe your client’s competition is developing a new product or you want to read all the news stories about some development that will affect your business or your clients’. Do you know how to get that information quickly? And for free?

There was a time not so long ago when a law firm would have to use an "information specialist" to find this information, or in extreme cases, hire a "corporate spy" to dig up the most sensitive competitive business information. But today, with so much business, legal and news information available on the Internet, getting this kind of "business intelligence" is infinitely easier. If you know where to look, you too can be a corporate 007.

To locate company background and financial information via the Internet follow these steps:

  • Review the company’s own web site
  • Search company directories
  • If public, review SEC filings
  • Review state corporate records
  • Review county fictitious business name records
  • Obtain news about the company and its executives
  • Ascertain whether any federal or state agency regulates the company and review records
  • Locate opinions, briefs, complaints and settlements concerning the company

Company Web Sites

Locating a company's web site should be the first step you take to learn information about the company. By using a company's own site, you'll be able to obtain information that you normally would have to spend hours surfing the net for. Just like most people, companies like to talk about themselves. It's amazing how much a company will tell you about themselves and their products (sometimes, right down to the technical specifications) on their own web sites. Company sites may provide their SEC filings, press releases, background information about company executives, other financial information (stock quotes and history) and even some information not available anywhere else on the net (such as job openings and salaries). After discovering what the company has to say about itself, you can then search the Web for outside "objective" information about the company in order to compare the data and draw your own conclusions.

Locating Domain Names (URLs)

If you do not know the company’s URL and have not been able to guess it, there are many ways to find a public or private company's domain name (URL). In the past you could search domain name registries using a company's name but none of the major registries offer this feature any longer. Luckily. locating web addresses for companies is often as easy as searching for the company by name with a search engine such as Google. Once you have located a company's web domain, you can use a registration database such as
Search Network Solutions at http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois to locate additional contact and registrant information, with addresses and phone numbers.

Company Directories

Company directory sites compile background information (for public and private companies) and provide links to SEC filings, news articles, stock quotes, research reports and financials. Some of the company directory sites are free and others are either subscription based or pay-as-you-go (use your charge card on the Internet).

However, even the fee-based sites provide a great deal of free information. Hoovers at http://www.hoovers.com, offers a serchable database of more than 85 million companies. The free company search on the site's homepage returns a company snapshot, industry rankings, address and phone information, the company domain, and other relevant information. You can also search for individuals by name, as well as searching for information on an industry in general. has free business news (click on "news center"). If you scroll down to the bottom right of the page, you can link to the Dow Jones Publications Library for articles about private and public companies culled from 6,000 journals (fee).

For more detailed information such as analyst reports, subscribe to Hoovers for $99.00 per year. Hoovers also sponsors IPO Central at http://www.hoovers.com/ipo-central/100004160-1.html.

CompanySleuthathttp://www.companysleuth.com/newspaper.cfmcompiles information about U.S. public companies, providing links to a general company overview and also links to very specific types of information about the company such as real time news, rumors, insider trading information, trademark and patents owned by the company and SEC filings.Site No Longer Available!

CorpTech at http://www.corptech.com/ profiles 50,000 high-tech companies, 80% of which are private. Two highlights of this site are the ability to search by executive name (to learn their position in the company) or search by product name to find companies that manufacture your product. You can register as a free member to access basic information and links to news about the company, but you must pay for more detailed information. (If CorpTech is inaccesible, note that it has been down "temporarily," for some time, but promises to return.) Now called InfoUSA; http://www.infousa.com, the site assists companies with their marketing activities.

Private Companies

While some of the above directories do provide information about private companies, CorporateInformation at http://www.corporateinformation.com/ is a useful (and interesting) site for private company information. Search by company name using the entire name or just a partial name. If you limit your search to companies located in a specific state, you will be brought to a page listing state-specific corporate information web sites to choose from. This site purports to contain 20,000 company profiles and links to a search engine of 300,000 public and private company profiles found at other sites. My search of E! Entertainment Television brought me to the Vault at http://www.vault.com which not only provided a company profile but a link to their unofficial company message board where you can have more fun than…

Foreign Companies

For detailed analysis on over 18,000 American and foreign companies (in English), seeWright Research Center Company Reportsathttp://profiles.wisi.com(merged withCorporateInformationin January 2001).CorporateInformation offers "free corporate profiles on 31,000 global companies. Search by company name or ticker symbol. Basic earnings and stock information is provided for free.

Quicken.ca at http://www.quicken.ca/ provides information on Canadian public companies that includes a brief company profile, officer names, stock performance, quarterly results and a financial summary.

Japan Financial at http://www.japanfinancials.com/ contains translations and originals of official financial statements of all firms on the Tokyo stock exchange and major OTC firms.

Credit Ratings

Moody’s Investor Services at http://www.moodys.com/ provides credit rating and research and financial information about companies. Standard & Poor’s, at http://www.standardandpoors.com/ratings/index.htm, also provides some of this information, but its site seems to be more of an advertisement for its fee based services.

Stock Quotes

Market Guideathttp://marketguide.com/MGI/offers company reports, real time stock quotes (but you must register and can only view 50 per day), news and price charts. Also seeThomsonRTQ’ssite for real time stock quotes athttp://www.thomsonfn.com. Microsoft's Money site offers free real-time stock quotes (provided by Thomson). A free live.com registration is required.

Yahoo Finance at http://finance.yahoo.com provides current stock quotes (but delayed by 15-20 minutes) and at http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp you can now find historical U.S. stock quotes (back to 1970), quotes from Canadian and other foreign exchanges, mutual and money market funds, corporate bonds and precious metals. Yahoo also has a multitude of financial and general company information in a very user-friendly format. Yahoo offers real-time stock quotes as part of its premium service for as little as $10.95 per month.

SEC Filings

While the SEC's EDGAR site at http://www.sec.gov/edaux/searches.htm provides free access to all public companies' filings. In recent years, the SEC has overcome many of the shortcomings that made its own search of the EDGAR database not the first choice for locating information on US public companies. Access to filings is now in real-time and full-text searching is now available for the most recent four years of filings. Annual reports are not available (see http://www.annualreports.com/ for annual reports) and the text documents retrieved from the SEC may not be formatted well.

Before the EDGAR site offered full-text searching, I preferred 10KWizard at http://www.tenkwizard.com/ when I needed a copy of a filing that was filed five minutes ago. Don't be mislead by its name. It delivers much more than just 10K’s - the reason I say "preferred" in the past tense, is that in September 2001, the site began to charge a $99.95 subscription fee for content it had previously offered for free. Subscriptions now range from $249 to $2275 per year depending on usage. A free trial is available.It still provides free, full-text searching to all forms filed with the SEC - but users must pay the subscription fee to actually view/download the SEC filings. 10-K Wizard also offers (free) the ability to search by ticker symbol, company name, SIC code, type of form. The search can also be limited by date.See this articleto learn how you can still use 10-K Wizard's robust search engine AND retrieve SEC filings for free.

 

State Corporate Records

From state to state, the depth of corporate information varies from as much as full reproductions of the actual documents filed with the Secretary of State (Florida), to as little as a mere list of company names incorporated in the state (with no contact or registered agent information). For a comprehensive list of all Secretary of States' web sites, see the National Association of Secretaries of States' site at http://nass.stateofthevote.org/sos/sos.html. Only some states have placed corporate records on the Internet. Unfortunately, Delaware is not among them. In California, the Secretary of State placed corporate, limited partnership and limited liability company records on the web in December of 1999 (http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/list.html). They are updated weekly, are searchable by partial names and include the agent for service of process.

 

County Fictitious Business Names

Whether you will be able to find Fictitious Business Names records on the Web varies county to county. In San Francisco, you can perform a free fictitious business name (FBN) search at the County Clerk's website, using either the fictitious business name or the owner's name (http://cityservices.sfgov.org/serv/clerk_fbn). In other counties, such as Los Angeles County, one can search free, but only by the fictitious business name (http://www.lavote.net/Clerk/FBN_Search.cfm) and even then, there is no ownership information provided. In Orange County, California you can conduct a fictitious business name search via the Web onlyby using GovernLink, a private company that charges $4.00 for one hour of continuous searching. The site is at http://cr.ocgov.com/fbn/welcome.asp. Coverage is for names on file back to 1994.

News About Companies

Local business journals, general and legal newspapers and wires are an excellent source of information regarding companies and executives. Some helpful links can be found on Internet For Lawyers' News pages at http://www.netforlawyers.com/news.htm.

News Meta-Sites

There are several meta-sites that link to general and business news and wires web sites. Major market newspapers, television and magazine news links can be found right here on Internet For Lawyers' News pages at http://www.netforlawyers.com/news.htm. Search the Drudge Report at http://www.drudgereport.com; which links to major national and international newspapers and wires, such as Reuters and AP newswires (that you can search together), wires from China and Japan, Bloomberg and the National Enquirer.For other comprehensive lists and links to newspapers, seeEditor and Publisher’ssite athttp://www.mediainfo.com, NewsLink at http://newslink.org/news.html (both list newspapers by region) or CEO Express at http://www.ceoexpress.com (lists news sources by subjects).Northern Lightathttp://www.northernlight.comprovides free real-time news (covering the past two weeks) from 33 newswires.

General and Business News

For articles about private and public companies culled from 6,000 journals, go to the Dow Jones Publications Library at http://www.hoovers.com. For local business news from 35 local business journals (San Francisco and San Jose are the only California cities available here), check out http://www.bizjournals.com.

The Orange County (California) Business Journal is at http://www.ocbj.com/.

The New York Times’ site is http://www.nyt.com. The Wall Street Journal’s is http://www.wsj.com and the Los Angeles Times is at http://www.latimes.com.

Legal News

For links to legal newspapers, Law.com (formerly American Lawyer Media’s online division), provides a search engine to their 21 legal newspapers (including the American Lawyer, National Law Journal and the New York Law Journal) at http://www.law.com.

Use FindLaw to search legal news at http://news.findlaw.com/.

See Callaw at http://www.callaw.com for California legal news (only part of this site is free).

Hieros Gamos at http://www.hg.org/newschart.html provides hourly legal news updates in 60 practice areas.

Bookmark Internet For Lawyers' Legal News page at http://www.netforlawyers.com/ifllegalnews.htm for links to all of these sources and more.

Mailing List News

To find off the beaten track information about a company or executive, try searching mailing lists at Google Groups at http://groups.google.com (formerly Deja News)

Pictures

Need a picture to go along with the news article? See Ditto.com at http://www.ditto.com or Google's Image Search at http://www.images.google.com.

Government Agencies Regulating Companies

Many government agencies provide information about companies that they regulate, including any legal action taken against them. For example, check the Federal Communications Commission web site at http://www.fcc.gov if you are researching a merger in the telecommunications industry.

You can locate the URLs for agencies by using Louisiana State University’s U.S. Federal Government Agencies Directory site, where you can search by keyword. It can be found at http://www.lib.lsu.edu/gov/.

Opinions, Briefs, Complaints and Settlements

Besides searching commercial databases for lawsuit information about a company that you are researching, see theDelaware Corporate Clearinghouseathttp://corporate-law.widener.edu/case.htm,which posts selected opinions, briefs, complaints, settlements, motions and other documents filed in business law matters in the Delaware Court of Chancery (but only as far back as March 1999). Delaware Chancery Courts Opinions database at http://courts.state.de.us/opinions/(sivgfe45ffbvqzmakk2zpyas)/list.aspx?ag=court%20of%20chancery. Opinions are searchable by party name or full-text, but you must know what year the case was decided. Opinions go back to 2000.

Now that you've read this article, you're armed with many of the tools of a good corporate spy and it didn’t cost you a cent. The resources discussed in this article are just a small part of what you will learn if you attend one of Internet For Lawyers' in-house or off-site training seminars or purchase our reference manuals.

Contact us for more information regarding our one-on-one or group seminars, reference manuals, or MCLE credit for California Attorneys.* Or, see our Seminars-Events page for a schedule of our upcoming events. Good luck and happy sleuthing!

A complete list of links to sites mentioned in this article can be found at http://www.netforlawyers.com/articles_coresearch_links.htm.

* Internet For Lawyers is a State Bar of California approved MCLE provider.

Locating Domain Names (URLs)

Company Directories

Private Companies

Foreign Companies

Credit Ratings

Stock Quotes

SEC Filings

State Corporate Records

County Fictitious Business Names

News About Companies

News Meta-Sites

General and Business News

Legal News

Mailing List News

Pictures

Government Agencies Regulating Companies

Opinions, Briefs, Complaints and Settlements

Internet For Lawyers Information

In-house or off-site training seminars - http://www.netforlawyers.com/training.htm

Reference Manuals - http://www.netforlawyers.com/products.htm

Upcoming seminars & events - http://www.netforlawyers.com/seminars-events.htm

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