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JILT 1997 (3) - Chris Chang

Don Macleod's

The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher (2nd ed)

Infosources Publishing, 1997, US$55
xiv + 385pp, ISBN 0-939486-46-6

Reviewed by
Chris Chang
Middlesex University
C.Chang@mdx.ac.uk

Contents
1. Introduction
2. Using the Internet
3. Law Related Index Pages and Search Engines
4. Federal and International Resources
5. State and Local Resources
6. Reference sources, and glossary
7. Conclusion

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This is a Book Review published on 31 October 1997.

Citation: Chang C, 'Don Macleod's The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher', Book Review, 1997 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/bookrev/97_3chan/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_3/chang/>


1. Introduction

This is the second edition of Don Macleod's book which has gained popularity amongst legal researchers interested in using the Internet as an additional resource base. Although this book contains substantial material relevant to legal research, its scope is disappointing, given its emphasis on US based web sites. This is a major limitation for readers intending to use this book as a guide to legal research.

Two thirds of the book consist of a directory of numerous web sites but given the pace of change on the Internet, the risk remains of web sites being out of date. An attempt is made to obviate this problem by the provision of two updates in 1998, but at a price! For a book retailing at US$55, the cost to subscribe for the updates at US$42 (US) and US$49 (foreign) is prohibitive. The difference in the price does not seem to be justified given the possibility of using E-mail to send the updates.

The book is divided into nine chapters - chapters 1 to 3 covering the technical aspects on the use of the Internet, chapter 4 is on law related index pages and search engines, chapter five covers federal and international resources, chapter six deals with state and local resources, chapter seven is on other reference resources, with the glossary and index being chapters eight and nine respectively.

2. Using the Internet

New users of the Internet who intend to use it as a legal resource tool will find the first three chapters of the book helpful. Chapter 1 explains the technical aspects of using the Internet including what the TCP/IP is, how to connect to the Internet, the differences between dialup and ISDN connections and choosing an Internet service provider. However, all the examples are US based including the rates for connecting to an ISDN service, and selecting the Internet service provider. The non US based reader may find this a bit off putting. If the author intended this book to have a world wide appeal, the examples should perhaps have been generic, with specific advice on checking with the Internet service provider or telecommunications provider in their own country. In Chapter 1, a warning is given by the author with respect to the reliability of the material posted on a web site. This is an issue which should be of concern to any user of the Internet as a research tool. Chapter 2 seeks to explain the various communications protocols including the use of E-mail, Usenet, listserv and Internet relay chat (IRC) whilst chapter 3 explains how the world wide web works, the use of web browsers and other retrieval protocols. Although the chapters are set out in a clear and logical manner and the technical concepts explained in a user friendly language, there are some omissions. For instance, on the use of E-mail, the author presupposes that the reader knows what an E-mail address is. Other omissions include the failure to highlight the problems that arise when using web browsers, and the inadequate coverage of the liability that can arise from the use of E-mail.

3. Law Related Index Pages and Search Engines

The first section of chapter 4 is contains a brief explanation of law related index pages, again predominantly of US based web sites. Perhaps, it would have been useful to refer to other web sites containing an index of legal related web sites like Faris Law or Information for Lawyers . This would have given the book a more international perspective.

The second part of the chapter provides a useful explanation of search engines and the various methods of searching. It then proceeds to set out the web addresses of the most popular ones including Alta Vista, Lycos, Yahoo, Infoseek and Magellan, highlighting the functionality of the individual search engine and providing a picture of the home page of the search engine. The latter is useful as it enables the reader to see what the relevant web page looks like.

4. Federal and International Resources

It is perhaps a bit disconcerting to find a chapter entitled federal and international resources containing only a page dedicated to international resources whilst the preceding 143 pages cover US federal resources. On the page dedicated to international resources, reference is made to six web sites only. This fails to bring across the availability of international resources currently on the Internet. For instance, it fails to highlight the excellent Australian Legal Information Institute web site which provides a searchable database of Australian cases, legislation and other materials, or the English Parliament web site where, amongst other things, full text of English statutes (since 1996) and House of Lords judgments (since 1996) are available. However, its coverage of US Federal Resources is excellent. It sets out the main important websites, provides a brief but clear explanation on the usefulness and limitations of the site and as in the preceding chapter, has a picture of the home page of the relevant web site.

5. State and Local Resources

In Chapter 6, the author concentrates on the state and local resources available in the US. He covers each state by subdividing it into executive resources, legislative resources, judicial materials, Bar Association, local and municipal resources, state library and miscellaneous resources. This is an invaluable reference to anyone seeking to research into the law of a particular state in the US. However, unlike the previous chapter, the author does not provide a picture of the home page of the relevant web site and the description of each of the site is brief. This is inevitable given space constraints.

6. Reference sources, and glossary

In chapter 7, the author attempts to provide details of web sites of other reference sources which might be of interest to the legal researcher. The web sites referred to in this chapter contain more general reference material including books and literary sources, news sources, and dictionaries, most of which the serious legal researcher may not require.

Given that the Internet has its own jargon, the provision of a glossary in chapter 8 is welcomed. It provides the new user of the Internet with the help he or she needs in understanding the terminology, acronyms and language of the Internet. Although it is not as complete as it could be, it is an adequate starting place for learning the language of the Internet.

7. Conclusion

Overall, this is a book to be recommended only if the legal researcher is undertaking research in US law. It is user friendly, clear and logical in approach in that respect, with very good coverage of the important web sites in the US. Perhaps consideration should be given by the author or publisher to retitle the book so that it is clear that the emphasis is on US law only and that any reference to international sources is peripheral. Although the first three chapters may be useful to the newcomer to the Internet, if the intended scope of research is non US law, he or she would be better off looking elsewhere. Further, given the speed in which things change on the Internet, and hence, the need for constant updates, the cost of subscribing to the updates is also prohibitive. Since the material could be supplied via E-mail, thereby removing the need for paper copies, the cost of subscribing to the updates could be cheaper. However, the use of updates to overcome the problem of out of date websites is welcomed.

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