Free Monitoring and E-Alerts to Keep a Step Ahead
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E-alerts can be a way for a busy attorney to stay ahead of the competition by Carole Levitt J.D., M.L.S. & Mark Rosch

Being proactive rather then reactive requires attorneys to stay a step ahead on the issues that affect their firm, profession, and clients (including current, past, and potential clients). Setting up online e-monitoring and e-alert services can be a secret weapon for the proactive attorney. Instead of trying to scan myriad news, legislative, regulatory, and docket sites, an attorney or firm can establish an e-monitoring service to keep track of an assortment of information. Some e-monitoring services require the user to go to a Web site to view new alerts, while others automatically send e-mail alerts. While there have been subscription-based e-monitoring and e-alert services for years, with the rise of the Internet, free services came into existence.

Federal legislation offers an example of how e-alerts can benefit the practice of law. The official federal legislative site, Thomas, does not have an e-monitoring or e-alert feature for pending legislation, but GovTrack does. (This site, www.govtrack.us, was developed by a graduate student at the University of Penn-sylvania’s Department of Linguistics.) At GovTrack, information from a variety of official sources—including Thomas (for bills and committee reports) and the U.S. Senate and House Web sites (for voting records)—is integrated into one database for ease of monitoring legislation and sending e-alerts. Thus, an immigration attorney who has clients claiming they would be tortured if returned to their country of origin may use GovTrack to research pending legislation on this topic. If a relevant bill is found, the attorney can request that GovTrack monitor it and send an e-alert when action is taken.

GovTrack is easy to use. For example, to find pending legislation on torture, click on the “Legislation” tab and either select “Search Legislation” from the drop-down menu and enter the word “torture” into the search box or click on the “Topic” tab, select “T” from the alphabetical list and then click on “torture.” In both cases, 15 bills appear. If you are only interested in one bill, such as Senate Bill 654, click on it, and a screen will be displayed that shows the origin of the information, the status of the bill, and links to the full text of the bill. There is also a tab labeled “Monitor” that can be selected to monitor Senate Bill 654. (To end the monitoring, click “Stop Monitoring.”) To monitor all bills under the topic “torture,” use the topic search.

To receive an e-alert from GovTrack about Senate Bill 654, go to GovTrack’s home page, scroll down to “Track,” and then click on “Sign Up.” Then enter an e-mail address and select a password. Then, back at the home page, click on “Your Settings,” select “Your Monitors,” and then select “General.” From here, the user is able to select from a drop-down menu. One setting is “Send Me Daily Updates,” and another is “Send Me Weekly Updates.” Once a selection is made, click on “Update Settings.” Do not choose “Activity on All Legislation,” committee hearings, votes, or blog entries unless you really want e-alerts for all congressional bills.

If an attorney’s practice involves federal regulatory law, subscribing to a free daily e-alert for the Federal Register’s table of contents is in order. Sign up by entering your name and e-mail address into the form found at http://listserv.access.gpo.gov and selecting “FEDREGTOC-L Federal Registers Table of Contents” from the drop-down menu. Unfortunately, there is no option to limit the alert to a specific agency’s regulations. Each day subscribers receive a nicely formatted e-mail containing the table of contents of that day’s Federal Register. Next to each entry are links to access the entry either as text or PDF.

An attorney monitoring a California state bill can take advantage of a free e-monitoring service by visiting the Assembly site (www.assembly.ca.gov) or the Senate site (www.sen.ca.gov) and clicking on “Legislation.” Then, enter a bill number, key word, or author into the search box. After finding a relevant bill, link to it and click on “Subscribe” (located on the left side of the Senate page and at the bottom of the Assembly page). On the next screen, enter an e-mail address into the “Enter E-mail” box and click “Submit” on the Senate site and “OK” on the Assembly site. The Legislative Counsel site, LegInfo (www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html) also offers this feature for Assembly and Senate bills.

An added feature at the Assembly site is the ability to send a comment via e-mail to the member of the Assembly who authored the bill. Click on the “Comment” tab located at the top of the screen (it is also located at the bottom) of any displayed Assembly bill. Although Assembly bills are also searchable at the LegInfo site, the “Comment” feature is not available there. The Senate site does not have this fea-ture for Senate bills.

The California Court of Appeal’s official site offers a free e-monitoring e-alert service of its docket. To search for the case to monitor, a user may for example visit http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search.cfm?dist=2. Once the case is selected, the user can request an e-alert by entering an e-mail address and the case number. The user then selects the case activities for which notification is to be

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