Law students build virtual communities on the Internet: Seek and ye shall find.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 1/1/1998; Student Lawyer magazine, “Online” column; publisher: American Bar Association
Activities, interaction, entertainment – these are both the means and the ends of communities. Whether you live to work or work to live, you do so in the confines of one ore more physical communities.
With the Internet revolution now about five years old, it is the rule – rather than the exception – that Internet connectivity is likely to be available to your fellow and sister community members. And so the time is ripe to use Internet technologies to extend our physical communities into cyberspace.
Communities on the Internet can supplement how we interact with members of our physical communities. But they can also extend those communities to include members who otherwise would not participate. In addition, entirely new communities can develop on the Internet, communities whose members may not ever meet face to face. For example, there are foreign nationals in the United States who have benefited from Internet communities dedicated to keeping cultures and languages alive.
The law student community is one that stands to benefit greatly from Internet communities. Imagine a forum where you could hang out at a virtual lunch table and discuss the latest Supreme Court case – not just with your classmates from law school – but with law students from all over the country and the world. Imagine an online bulletin board where you could post your course outlines, writing projects, and resumes. And imagine having it all in one place in an easy-to-use format.
There is good news and bad news regarding law school communities. The good news is that there are a wide variety of Internet resources dedicated to building a sense of community amount law students worldwide. The bad news is that Internet communities for law students do not come in neatly wrapped easy-to-use packages. But that’s not really bad news, is it? After all, variety is the spice of life.
Legal publishers have been at the forefront of producing Internet resources for law students. It is in their best interest to educate law students about the Internet so that they develop a brand-name preference for legal products and services. Three companies stand out as leaders in this area: American Lawyer Media (whose products/services include American Lawyer magazine and Counsel Connect), Thomson Publishing (whose products/services law books and WESTLAW), and Reed Elsevier (whose products/services LEXIS-NEXIS and Martindale-Hubbell).
American Lawyer Media’s flagship law student service is Law Students Online, a version of its Counsel Connect (http://www.counsel.com/) Internet service. Counsel Connect members tend to be from the nation’s largest 100 law firms, so if you’re interested in networking with lawyers from those firms, Law Students Online would be a good fit.
West Publishing dipped its toe into the Internet law student waters recently with its lawschool.com Web site (http://www.lawschool.com/). The site’s initial content focus was bar exams, with West’s Bar Review the service West hoped to promote with the site. As of August 1997, however, West Bar Review ceased operation of its live-lecture bar review program, and the site is now basically a pointer to The West Group, a Thomson company. Keep the site bookmarked, however. The domain name “lawschool.com” is far too valuable for any company in the legal market to ignore. I’m sure that Thomson will make good use of this asset in the future.
Reed Elsevier’s entry is the latest – and greatest – from a legal publisher. Reed’s LEXIS-NEXIS Xchange service (http://lawschool.lexis.com) is designed to provide law students, law faculty, and librarians a single source for law-related information. With the huge LEXIS-NEXIS database at their disposal, it’s no wonder Reed has been able to publish such a content-rich site.
The Xchange site is divided up into two main sections, “Research” and “Neighborhoods.” The “Research” section is a password-protected window into the vast resource that is the LEXIS-NEXIS database. See your law school’s LEXIS representatives for a username and password. The “Neighborhoods” section is divided into four subsections for law students, law school faculty, law librarians, and pre-law. Note that you should access this site from your law school’s high-speed connection to the Internet, not from home, because it’s painfully slow over a 28.8 modem. That said, the “Neighborhoods” section looks a lot like what we’d expect from any online community.
Of particular interest is the “Course Outlines” section (under Student Center/Course Materials/Outlines). As of this writing, no outlines were available, but 20-40 page summaries from Emanuel Publishing Corp. will be online soon. There are also sample resumes and cover letters under “Career Development.” Under “Forums” (which is under Student Center/Meeting Place/Forums), you’ll find threaded discussions groups on a handful of topics, including surviving your first year in law school.
All in all, Xchange is a very useful service, especially if your law school provides you with a LEXIS-NEXIS account. The sites organization and navigation could stand improvement. As you can see from my descriptions above, it’s difficult to describe how to get to various resources, in part because the hierarchical organization is needlessly complex. But the site is also Java-dependent and graphics heavy, which makes it nearly unusable (page load times of nearly a minutes are not uncommon) over a 28.8 modem.
Push or Pull
Interactive discussion groups are an essential elements – and perhaps the most important element – of online communities. But most online communities also want their users to come to the community Web site so that traffic (and advertising revenue) can be generated. There are two problems with Web-based discussion groups. The first is that a community must have critical mass (i.e. enough members) and name recognition in order for its members to CONTINUOUSLY generate enough compelling content so that members use the community’s Web site. The second is that e-mail has been around a lot longer than the Web, and people are used to Interacting via e-mail. E-mail is push technology, the Web is pull technology. If you publish it, they might not come. But if you e-mail it, they’ll receive it.
The preferred technical solution is to have Web-based discussion groups that are mirrored to e-mail discussion groups – and vice versa. In other words, if you post a message to the Web-based discussion group, all members of the group will receive the message. Similarly, If you e-mail a message to the group, it will be published on the Web site. Although the technology exists to do this, neither Law Students Online or Exchange works in this manner.
Good Old E-mail
Fortunately, there are many law-related e-mail-based discussion groups. Several of these are specifically tailored to law students. There is also at least one commercial Web site that has artfully archived the best of the law-related e-mail discussion groups.
The kind of all directories of law-related discussion groups is “Law Lists” (http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/~llou/lawlists/info.html), which is maintained by University of Chicago Law School’s Librarian and Lecturer in Law Lyonette Louis-Jacques. Searching “Law Lists” for “students” yielded 34 interesting lists, including the following:
ANGLES@lists.stanford.edu (American Network of Gay and
Lesbian Law Students; homosexuality)
subscribe angles Your E-mail Address
ENVIROLAW@lists.uoregon.edu (list for environmental law students
around the world; was on firstname.lastname@example.org until
ILSA-L@chicagokent.kentlaw.edu (International Law Students
subscribe ILSA-L Your Name
INETemail@example.com (American Bar Association
seminar/discussions on use of the Internet in legal and practice-related
research, communication and education; to discuss development of
on-line legal resources and plan Internet-based continuing legal
education (CLE) programs; for practitioners, professors, librarians,
students, legal and technical support professionals)
JLS@austin.onu.edu (The Jewish Law Students List; including
Jewish law professors interested in assisting students & organizations)
subscribe jls Your Name
LAWSCH-L@american.edu (US-based Law School Discussion List;
mainly law students)
subscribe lawsch-L Your Name
LAWSTUDENTS@law.wuacc.edu (Law Students list)
subscribe lawstudents Your Name
NET-LAWYERS@peach.ease.lsoft.com (Lawyers and the Internet;
moderated list for lawyers, librarians, law professors, paralegals, law
students, and others interested in law to discuss issues related to the
use of the Internet in the study, practice, development, and marketing
subscribe net-lawyers Your Name
XXANDLAW@law.wisc.edu (closed list for women law students)
Send subscription request to Liza Kessler
at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Of the above lists, Net-Lawyers is perhaps the most popular and well-known. Its worth subscribing to Net-Lawyers just to see how an online community can feel. Other lists may not have as much traffic as Net-Lawyers, but quantity does not mean quality. And if any of the above sites appear to be dormant, it may take nothing more than you and a couple of friends to post some messaged to jump-start the group.
A hybrid e-mail/Web site is maintained by FindLaw’s LegalMinds service (http://www.legalminds.org), which is a Web-based archive of popular law-related Web sites. From the LegalMinds sit, you can see, for example, how many postings have been made to Net-Lawyers in the past weeks and months (http://www.legalminds.org/listsaver/net-lawyers/). As of this writing, 230 lists (http://www.findmail.com/lists/Law/) are mirrored to LegalMinds, including 164 from Washburn (http://lawlib.wuacc.edu/), which has established itself as a reliable provider of free list services to the legal Internet community.
And isn’t that what it’s all about? Give to you community, and you’ll get something back. Don’t ask what your Internet community can do for you, ask what you can do for your Internet community. Or something like that!