The Los Angeles Daily Journal is on the Web Part I

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by Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S.

After 15 years of anticipation and demonstrations of online databases in beta-test, it has finally happened. The Los Angeles Daily Journal (and indeed all of the Daily Journal Corporation's California Newspapers and most of its other products) is now online at http://www.dailyjournal.com.

Cybersleuth's Guide to the Internet

Other legal newspapers were online since the 80's: In 1985, after relocating to Los Angeles (from Chicago) to take a position as a law librarian at Pepperdine University School of Law, one of the first online resources that I looked for was the local legal newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily Journal (DJ). In Chicago, I was used to accessing the city's daily legal newspaper online via Lexis. However, I soon learned that the Los Angeles legal newspaper was not available via Lexis. Instead, the DJ had a plan in place to create a searchable database of its own.

Expert Witness profiler

So I waited for the online DJ. Some years later, I saw a demonstration of the Daily Journal's proposed dial-in service (pre-Internet). So I waited. Then, in late 1999 I was invited to a demonstration of a web-based Los Angeles Daily Journal that was supposed to be available to the legal community in Spring 2000. So, I waited. Then it was postponed until summer 2000. So, I waited.

Then it was coming in fall 2000. In fact, while I was at the Daily Journal/Glasser Legal Works Conference in October 2000, I saw a demonstration of the DJ's online site, now known as the perennially “coming soon” service. I even knew librarians who were actually using it in San Diego (where it had been in beta test). So I waited.

On Monday, December 4, I knew the waiting was finally over. Near the bottom of the DJ's front page, I noticed a small article under the inauspicious headline “Website goes online." With so many web sites being added to the web on a daily basis, I nearly skipped over the story, thinking it was just another web site and not THE web site that the Los Angeles legal community has been waiting for. If I had not been anticipating the launch of the Daily Journal's web site, I might have missed the story altogether. This was the announcement that the DJ had officially entered the digital age? The next day, when I recovered from the shock, I tested out the site in order to write this review.

But, first you need to register: The DJ sent letters to all print subscribers of the newspaper to inform them of the site's existence and the need to obtain passwords. (See the “Note to Readers” below) Passwords were then mailed to each subscriber who took the time to register via postal mail, and then a brief online registration procedure was required. One password is issued for each subscription to the DJ newspaper. Subscribers to the print version of the DJ's Court Rules can also receive passwords, but only for access to the Court Rules section of the site.

Free or Freely Accessible? While the online site has been touted as “free” to those who pay for a subscription to the print newspaper, it would be more accurate to say that it is freely accessible to print subscribers. Because there is no option for an online-only subscription, the print subscription charge may be considered by some as payment for access to the online site. And, print subscribers do not have a total free ride once they've gained access—certain sections of the site are fee-based. There has been much confusion over this. For example, one has free access to the online Court Rules if one subscribes to the print Rules. On the other hand, there is no free access to the online “Judicial Profiles” even for print Judicial Profile subscribers. Even those (users and potential users with whom I spoke) who understand the need to charge still thought that the DJ's $15 per Profile was very high. Finally, subscribers to the print newspaper can search and view only selective current news articles free. To view a story from the archives the fee is $2. The charge did not seem too high to many librarians I spoke to, though they would have preferred free, or at least a pricing structure more in line with the Los Angeles Times' archives where any story up to 14 days old can be viewed and printed free (even by non-subscribers). Based on the confusion I encoutered in my conversations with researchers over these pricing and access structures, it is clear that the Daily Journal needs to do a better job of explaining its access and pricing policies.

Warning: Charges Apply: In the fee-based sections, such as the “Verdicts & Settlements” section, a message to “Click on case name to view case report” also includes a warning that “Charges apply when case report is viewed”. But, the warning is at the bottom of the screen, and could easily be missed by someone who clicks to view a story at the top of the page. To avoid sticker shock when the invoice arrives, the warning should be prominent at the top of the page, in addition to the bottom.

Initial reaction: Chock full of content. There's so much there, I immediately realized that this review would need to be written in two or three installments. While the site has excellent content, a fairly robust search engine, straightforward instructions about how to search each section of the site and clear notice about the date coverage of each of its sections, there were many aspects of the site that confounded me (more about that later). First let's take a look at the content:

Site Content:

The following sections are accessible only to print newspaper subscribers and are also free of charge to them:

  • The Daily Journal newspaper - selective current articles and job ads only
  • The Daily Appellate Reporter (DAR) – current (last 3 days) and archives (back to 1997)
  • California Appellate and Supreme Court cases - back to 1934, but one month behind
  • California Codes
  • California Legislation
  • Directory of Attorneys

The following online sections are accessible only to print newspaper subscribers but are NOT FREE OF CHARGE:

  • “Research” - which consists of “News Publications” (the Daily Journal newspapers, special supplements such as Cyber Esq. and House Counsel and also the California Lawyer) - $2.00/Story
  • Settlements & Verdicts - $3.00/Verdict
  • Judicial Profiles - $15.00/Profile

The following online sections are accessible only to print Court Rules subscribers and are also free of charge to them:

  • Court Rules
  • Court Forms

The scope of the site's content confounded me. From a researcher's viewpoint (and I've been one for 23 years), it is incumbent upon a database provider to alert researchers to the scope of the database's coverage (both content and date). While the DJ clearly delineates the date coverage of its new database, it does not do the same with the scope of its content. After two days of intensely studying the site, I finally phoned the Project Manager, Sherri Salzman for illumination as to the scope of the site's content which was not clearly delineated anywhere on the site. Sherri immediately explained that the site should be regarded as “added value” to the print version of the Los Angeles and San Francisco DJ, and not a mirror image of the print newspapers. In fact, it is a selective amalgamation of the Los Angeles DJ and the San Francisco DJ, with several other DJ products added to the mix - some free, some not.

To help other DJ researchers avoid the confusion I encountered, I have compiled the following information about the site's content coverage which is not listed anywhere on the site itself:

The most important information relating to content coverage is that the database is NOT comprehensive in its content coverage. It is comprised of selective stories only. There are a few rules of thumb that I can pass along to help you predict content coverage:

  • AP stories found in the DJ print newspaper will never be found in the online DJ.
  • Even stories from the print newspaper that are written by DJ staff writers do not necessarily make it into the online version. On Dec. 19, 2000, I searched the online Newswire for DJ staff writer Karen Coleman's “Douglas Young Leads...” story that I had read in the Dec. 19, 2000 print DJ earlier that day, but did not find it there. I also did not find it in the Research section.
  • Some current stories are placed directly into the Research (archives) section, even though the Newswire section, which is where most current stories are found, is where one would expect to find the current story. Thus, if you don't find a current story in the "Newswire" section of the DJ, be sure to check the Research (archives) section. (The DJ considers the Research section more along the lines of a search engine rather than an archive.)
  • Because the online site is not a mirror image of the print newspaper, some sections from the print newspaper are not included in the online database, such as Legal Notices or the Calendar of Events.
  • Staying with the “not a mirror image” theme, story headlines and even lead sentences are sometimes changed when entered into the online database. This complicates online searching. For example, in the Dec. 19, 2000 print newspaper, the headline reads "Child Advocates Sue to Improve State's Shelter" while the database headline reads "State Sued Over Shelter Conditions". You'll need to avoid searching by the exact title used in the print story, and instead use a few keywords from the title or, better yet, from the body of the story.
  • Because the database is a selective amalgamation of the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journals, one cannot search each newspaper separately.

Lack of standard search parameters between the different sections of the site may cause confusion: While punctuation is IGNORED when searching in the “Publications” section of the web site (which includes the Daily Journal, House Counsel, Cyber Esq. and California Lawyer), it is NOT ignored in the California Opinions, Codes, Constitution and Rules of Professional Conduct sections of the site. For example, a search for “health providers” in the Publications part of the site will also bring up results that include “health provider's”, but the same search run in the California Opinions section of the site would not bring up “health provider's”. Another non-standard aspect of the site is the use of date restrictors. They can only be used in the "Publications" section of the site.

Note To Readers: In attempts to include everyday experiences of Daily Journal web site users into this review, I called several law firm librarians for their opinion of the site. One librarian said, “What site? I've been waiting all these years for the online Daily Journal and now that it's finally online, I didn't even know.” I sensed resentment in her tone.

Although the Daily Journal sent letters to all print subscribers, this librarian claimed not to have received one. The same goes for a law firm administrator in Pasadena who asserts that the print subscription is in her name, meaning that she too should have received the notice. Another firm librarian stated that she never received a return call about obtaining her password.

And, when I finally did locate a law firm librarian who had seen the site, it turned out that she was referring to the beta site in San Diego and her only comment was “The DAR did not look comprehensive online" (it is, I checked the online vs. the print DAR).

Track and bill back the cost of searches? We'll end Part I with the question that comes up most often: “Can the searches be tracked by client and billed back?” Yes. However, there does not appear to be a way to track the amount of time spent on each search, only the dollar amount spent on each search. To charge back searches, fill in the client name (or number) and the matter number in the box located at the top of the search screen, entitled “Search Title (optional)/Matter #”. I found this awkwardly phrased and would suggest it be re-worded to say “Client Name or Number” / Matter Name or Number.”

Part II (coming in February): We'll take a look at the following sections of the DJ's site: Current News Publications, “Research (archives), the Current DAR, the DAR archives, California Cases (back to 1934).

Part III (coming in March): We'll focus on the following sections: Court Forms (interactive), Court Rules, California Directory of Attorneys, Verdicts & Settlements, California Codes, California Legislation and Judicial Profiles.

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