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The West Group Debuts LawOffice.com, a Free Service for Consumers and Small Businesses
by
Posted On July 6, 1999
West Group, a provider of legal and regulatory information to the U.S. legal market, has launched LawOffice.com, a free legal portal for businesses, professionals, and consumers (http://www.lawoffice.com). In creating the new portal, West built upon an earlier Web product, West Legal Directory (http://www.wld.com), which provided profiles of lawyers and law firms, plus a limited number of legal articles and definitions. The directory is still included, and it now provides over 1 million listings (searchable by legal practice, state and city, and name) with a simplified user interface and links to law firm sites.

While the service's main goal is to help users find lawyers, it does provide authoritative background information to educate users. The new portal adds a significant amount of content—totaling over 1,600 pages—and offers an extensive database of information on legal topics, as well as links to other law-related Web sites and publications.

The portal offers Oran's Dictionary, with over 5,000 searchable legal terms. The site's Legal Guides are topic-driven information resources covering 400-plus legal topics organized by 51 practice areas, complete with commonly asked questions and corresponding answers. The Guides, which are concise and authoritative resources, are provided to West by an outside vendor.

The Law Knowledgebase consists of several thousand articles and newsletters written by law firms throughout the U.S. about developments in the law, also organized by the 51 practice areas. Topics from these and from the Guides are selected by users from lists and are not keyword searchable. This could be a useful future enhancement. Carol Ebbinghouse, the legal columnist for Searcher and the director of the library at Western State University College of Law, pointed out that a consumer looking for copyright information might not know to select Intellectual Property Law from the list.

Kevin Ritchey, general manager of LawOffice.com, said: "People are often overwhelmed by the complexity of the law and its far-reaching implications. LawOffice.com is designed to help you clarify complex legal issues. We provide tools and information to help you develop an understanding of the law, identify potential legal issues that may affect you, and find the most appropriate legal counsel for any and every situation. LawOffice.com enables you to make the best possible decisions when it comes to the law and legal representation."

According to a company representative, the new portal name and URL should create a much higher brand recognition and recall among non-lawyers than West Legal Directory at http://www.wld.com. The company plans to market the site in a number of general-purpose business publications. Obviously, attorneys and law firms should love the increased exposure and marketing. This service is designed for those who want to understand the law and find appropriate legal counsel. It is not aimed at the do-it-yourself crowd. Other sites, such as FindLaw (http://www.findlaw.com), Law.com, and the Self-Help Law Center from Nolo Press (http://www.nolo.com), will provide additional tools and information for the self-sufficient (including lawyers themselves).

Headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota, West Group is a division of the Toronto-based Thomson Corporation and was formed when West Publishing and Thomson Legal Publishing merged in June 1996. Other online products from West Group include Westlaw, westlaw.com, KeyCite, West Intranet Toolkit, The West Education Network, and KnowX (an Information America service providing public-records information on the Web). According to the company, the West Legal Directory site was recognized as a leading site on the Internet and acknowledged as one of "The 50 Most Incredibly Useful Sites" by Yahoo! Internet Life, the "best place to find a lawyer" by PC World, and "the grandpa of legal sites" by Fortune.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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