Free New Web-based Legal Library

An article in today’s NY Times reports on JDSupra, a website that began in February 2008 where consumers can do preliminary research on legal issues before seeking help from a lawyer. The site is free of charge but requires users to register in order to access documents. Lawyers and law firms can use the site as a marketing tool to promote their practice by uploading legal documents, memos, forms, filings and briefs for use by the legal community and the public.

The site is searchable by keyword allowing refined searches by jurisdiction, court/circuit/region, type of filing and subject matter. The number of organizations and firms that have contributed documents to the site is small bit growing. The firms with the largest number of contributions to the website are the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Morrison & Foerster.

There is a Hot Docs section of newsworthy filings, for example an April 21, 2008 NJ Supreme Court decision in State v. Reid (that ISP subscribers have a privacy right in their internet data and that law enforcement officials need a grand jury warrant to have access to their private information) and a newly posted U.S. Department of Labor – Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board decision on an employee’s claim that exposure to Agent Orange caused cancer. While these documents are available on commercial databases, the FAQ section on the website states:

Today there are millions of court filings, decisions, and articles on the law sitting idly in the various hard drives and filing systems of the legal community. Only a fraction of these documents are on Westlaw, LexisNexis, and other expensive services.

Given the limited number of participating lawyers and law firms registered with JDSupra and the fact that the accuracy of material posted on the site is dependent on users to flag questionable documents, it is not likely that JDSupra will provide competition for paid legal research providers like LexisNexis and Westlaw. But tech-savvy researchers now have a new web-based library tool.