Free High-Tech Tools from FindLaw.com

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by Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S. This article originally appeared in the Research Advisor, Issue 19, June 2000. Reprinted with permission.

Have you found FindLaw.com? I discovered it in the fall of 1999 while researching web sites for a book on Internet legal research I was writing. If you think I am going to start proselytizing, you're right. I admit it; I'm a FindLaw groupie, and maybe even a junkie. When I log onto the Internet, my connection opens directly to FindLaw—not my website! Now, that's FindLaw fervor.

My enthusiasm for FindLaw is more than just a law librarians' zeal for the ability to access 60,000 law and government web sites with the click of a mouse or to launch a law-only search engine (LawCrawler). I am also an attorney ,and it is FindLaw's Small Business Center and virtual office, with its wide choice of law practice management services, nearly all free, that really got me going.

Introducing FindLaw

FindLaw is the largest, free, legal portal in the Universe, or at least in Internet space-my universe, the. The “who” behind FindLaw are the visionary co-founders, attorney Stacy Stern, and her attorney/engineer husband, Tim Stanley. It all began with Tim's one page list of legal web sites, compiled in 1996 for a presentation he made to the Northern California Association of Law Libraries.

When I first spoke to Stacy Stern, the three-year old FindLaw had a staff of ten (mostly attorneys) and was housed in temporary office space (the apartment that she and Tim lived in, or attempted to live in, and the one next to it and the one next to that). You get the picture. They had just received an infusion of $10 million in venture capital financing. Obviously, someone else besides me had found FindLaw--@Ventures, the funding arm of CMGI, Inc. You may have heard of two of CMGI's companies that comprise its modest network of sixty companies, the search engines AltaVista and Lycos.

Three months later, I made my pilgrimage to the FindLaw shrine. But, instead of a shrine, what I found was raw space (not to mention raw energy). FindLaw was in the midst of a build-out to accommodate a staff that had now grown to 35 (today, six months later, the staff is at 75 and growing daily).

What are all these people doing at FindLaw? They are there to help you establish your new law practice or to grow your existing practice, and it's all free. All you need is an Internet connection and the ability to type “” into the address box on your browser.

Using FindLaw As Your Small Business Advisor

For those of you opening a law practice for the first time, and requiring some business start-up advice, FindLaw's Small Business Center can serve as your in-house corporate counsel, gratis of course. Advising you on how to set up your firm is the author of the “Legal Small Business Book”, who explains why a LLC is the way to go. Then, the author of “The Soho Guidebook” provides you with thousands of pages of information on how to start, finance and manage your business.

Finally, for the coup de grace, click on “Business Tools” in the FindLaw Small Business Center for downloadable business plan examples and forms that you can fill in today to begin your law practice. The forms cover everything from recruiting and hiring employees to a balance sheet template. You can also get free business tips by subscribing to FindLaw's Small Business E-mail newsletter and joining their Small Business Discussion List.

Using FindLaw As Your “Virtual Office”

Whether you have just opened your new law practice or decided to grow your existing practice, consider partnering with FindLaw Office. If you do, you will have free access to some of the same leading law-practice technology used by large firms. Hard to imagine, but it is true.

Free E-mail: Register for a free E-mail account where your domain will be “justice.com” instead of the embarrassing “aol.com” that you're currently using. You can access your E-mail from any computer by entering http://mail.justice.com.

Free web site: Can't afford a web site designer and no time to design your own? FindLaw Office comes to the rescue with free web sites for all legal professionals (not just attorneys). It's nothing fancy, but you can at least choose the color scheme. Your site on FindLaw can be as simple as one page or include full text articles and memos that you have produced. Anyone can figure out how to fill in the blanks to create their web site on FindLaw. I did it in about five minutes. I designed a small, plain site.

Free “E-fax” technology: Try out the FindLaw Office e-fax technology. It allows faxed documents to be received in your e-mail account. What are the benefits of this feature? By re-directing a fax to your e-mail account, you have the flexibility to download it, save it, or forward it without having to re-type the fax into your word processing program. This feature is also handy if the sender does not have e-mail access or if you don't have fax access. The downside is that you may be assigned a phone number outside of your area code, thus the sender will incur a long distance charge when dialing your E-fax number.

Free forwarding of voice mail messages to E-Mail: Give out your free password-protected FindLaw Office phone number, which can be used to forward voice mail messages to your e-mail in-box. Wouldn't this be useful when your cell phone battery dies at an inopportune moment, but you still have access to your laptop and e-mail?

Free extra-net: Hold on to your technology seats for this one. How would you like to have your very own extra-net, free? In other words, a secure place to store documents on the Web and share them with clients or co-counsel. Thank you, FindLaw Office for providing the NetDocuments Service.

This basic free service gives you 10 Megabytes (about 7 disks) of storage space to manage your files over the Internet. You can create an unlimited number of secure and encrypted documents, place them into “NetEnvelopes”, grant access to anyone you select and have everyone receive e-mail notification when any involved party makes changes to the documents.

Additional Cost Savers

Use FindLaw's free Law Dictionary instead of supplying every member of your firm with a hard copy. Try FindLaw's free legal jobs and résumés database to staff your office before paying costly headhunter fees. Do you really need a subscription to the legal newspaper? Instead, you can read FindLaw's Legal News section every day (or subscribe to a free daily e-mail newsletter, “Legal Grounds”), for an irreverent look at legal news. And you do not need the legal newspaper to keep up with caselaw when you can just as easily read the courts' daily opinions by using FindLaw's Directory to visit your federal and state court web sites (where opinions are generally posted as quickly as your legal newspaper postings).

There are even more cost saving measures: You might consider canceling your general newspaper subscription too, as long as you can click on FindLaw's “Top Headlines” for free general news instead. Save 20-30 percent by ordering law books from the FindLaw bookstore or better yet, save 100 percent by reading law books free in FindLaw's 20,000 document Publications Library.

Finally, even though you are saving money, you still need to grow your business. But instead of hiring an outside marketing firm; click on “Lawyer Marketing” to educate yourself about how to handle some of the firm's marketing in-house.

The End is the Beginning

Now that I've shown you how to grow your practice into a technologically advanced “virtual” practice without spending the thousands of dollars typically required to do so and provided you with other cost saving ideas, you might want to thank me with a unique gift from at . But, don't even think about sending the everyday, ho-hum scales of justice or the unique (but somewhat strange), Amish-crafted lawyer birdhouse (with a screw for a chimney). Actually, I'm thinking more along the lines of the 1567 English real estate document being offered for $495!

Carole Levitt is president of Internet For Lawyers, an Internet legal research training and seminar company, in Culver City, CA. Her e-mail address is clevitt@netforlawyers.com.

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