More Follow Up Webinar Questions:
You Asked, Carole & Mark Answered!

InternetLegalResearch_CoverDuring our most recent webinar, “Legal And Investigative Research On A Budget,” you learned the ins and outs of conducting cost effective legal and investigative research from Carole Levitt, Esq. and Mark Rosch, principals of Internet For Lawyers and co-authors of six ABA Internet research books, including Internet Legal Research On a Budget and The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet.

During the webinar, there were a number of great questions asked from attendees that Carole and Mark didn’t have sufficient time to answer. Fortunately, they were kind enough to provide us with half of the answers here and the remainder of the answers can be found below:

[Editor’s note: Most of the answers to these questions can be found in Carole Levitt’s new book, Internet Legal Research on a Budget (2014), published by the ABA LPD. To order the book at a 37% discount, follow this link and use the discount code: mycase. If you already own the book, they have indicated on which page their answers came from so you can read a fuller explanation.]

1) I am not an attorney. I recently had some bad experiences with an attorney I hired. I want to do due diligence before hiring someone else. How can I find case history on an attorney before I hire them to find out both their success rate with their own cases as well as any cases filed against them?

Just like with financial investments, “past performance is no guarantee of future performance,” a lawyer’s track record in court is not necessarily an indicator of how they will perform if they are handling your matter. That said, all Federal court dockets are searchable simultaneously by using the fairly low-cost PACER Case Locator. It is hit or miss as to whether local and state courts offer dockets online. If they do offer them, every jurisdiction is different in terms of whether they are free or pay, how the dockets can be searched (e.g., by party name, attorney name, case number), and how much information is available (only a summary of the docket vs. the full docket vs. actual images of all the case documents). Generally, you would have to search each state court individually and sometimes each local court within that state. For instance, in California you can search all the appellate courts together for free, but you will only see the docket (not the case documents) and you must search all the county trial court dockets individually while in New York, you can search all the county courts’ dockets simultaneously. If you have a subscription to LexisNexis, Westlaw, or Bloomberg, you can search some, but not all, state and local court dockets simultaneously.

This information is adapted from Carole Levitt’s new book Internet Legal Research on a Budget.

2) How can you find out about a business in CA if it is not incorporated?

If you are referring to California business entities other than corporations, such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships, you can search them at the California Secretary of State’s site. To obtain additional information about entity addresses and the names and addresses of the principals of the entity, you can order a copy of the last complete Statement of Information (for corporations and limited liability companies) or formation and amendment documents (for limited partnerships) here.

If you are referring to sole proprietorships or private companies, it is very difficult to get “official” information about them. Dun & Bradstreet is a well-known paid resource. They literally have their employees telephone private companies and ask questions about the company. D&B reports can be expensive though. Two free alternatives are ReferenceUSA and A to Z Databases. Both have information on millions of private companies. The information is gathered from public records and publicly available information found on the Internet, in addition to self-reported information from the company owners. Many public libraries offer their patrons access to one or the other of these for free, via the Internet. Visit your libraries Web site to see if they offer ReferenceUSA or A to Z Databases.

This information is adapted from The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, 13th edition (currently being written)

3) Any suggestions for finding employment of an individual for a writ of garnishment?

There is no available database of where people work. A number of pay investigative databases like Accurint and TLO have marketed the fact that they are developing such products but none are ready for primetime. Social media can be an excellent source of self-reported employment information. Many people include their current and past employment history in their Facebook, LinkedIn, or Classmates profiles.

This information is adapted from The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, 13th edition (currently being written)

4) What is the best way to determine if you have the correct person on a search?

There is no fool-proof way to guarantee that the information you have found (either from a free or pay source) is absolutely about the person for whom you are searching. The best way is to look for clues about the person in the results and match those to information you know, such as, cities where they’ve lived, schools they have attended, date of birth, Social Security Number—full or partial), names of relatives.

5) What free or low cost online resources are useful in performing asset searches on individuals?

The first thing to know is that financial information is protected by several layers of federal and state law including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Generally, financial institutions will not release information about customers’ assets without a signed release form the individual or a court order.

There was a time when an investigator could contact a financial institution and pretend to be the person whose assets they were trying to determine, to trick the institution into telling the investigator information about the person’s accounts. This is called “pretexting” and it is now illegal.

There is no database that contains information about where a person banks and what their bank account balance is.

The best sources for determining assets is searching public records for indications that real or personal property assets exist. These include: real estate, mortgages, cars, airplanes, boats, UCC filings, litigation (e.g., divorce or other civil actions). The availability of these public records online will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Use a directory like Search Systems to locate links to the public record resources in the jurisdictions where you need to search., discussed in the next question, is an inexpensive investigative database that may include information about some of the assets listed above. You will need to be pre-approved to use TLO. If your subject’s mortgage or UCC filings are found in their TLO report, they will list the bank name, which will then give you a possible clue about where your subject may have other accounts.

This information is adapted from The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, 13th edition (currently being written)

6) How do you find people (that may not want to be found)?

One low-cost source for locating people is It is a pay investigative research database (similar to Accurint or West’s PeopleMap) with no monthly subscription fee and low per-search charges. TLO aggregates information from multiple sources to create a profile of the person you’re searching for. The most informative and up-to-date source they draw information from are credit headers (literally the head of a credit report that includes, name, address, social security number and date of birth).

7) Do you think the information we learned today should be used to obtain information about clients?

Yes. Conducting due diligence on potential clients could save you a lot of headaches if, for example, you learn through docket research that the potential client has filed numerous frivolous suits with numerous other attorneys. Or that that the potential client has sued other attorneys who used to represent them.

Research through a potential client’s social media postings might uncover information, or evidence, that might lead you to refrain from taking their case.

This information is adapted from The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, 13th edition (currently being written)

8) Aren’t there ethical rules involved in the use of social media to investigate a case?

Because the ethics rules, generally, predate the Internet and social media, they do not directly address using social media for the investigative and background research we discussed in the presentation. However, more and more jurisdictions are addressing these issues in Formal ethics opinions like California’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 11-0004 and the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility Formal Opinion 466. Generally, jurisdictions are advising that it is permissible for lawyers to review the public portions of social networking profiles of parties, witnesses, jurors, etc. so long as the lawyer does not make contact with those persons or instruct others to make contact.

We have compiled a list of ethics opinions on these topics with links to the full opinions (where available) here.

This information is from The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, 13th edition (currently being written)

9) Can you provide information about free sites for land records, deeds, soil maps, and aerial photographs?

Because land records and deeds are maintained at the county level, there is no free option for a national, multi-jurisdictional source for real estate records. Some states do provide a free state-wide real property search, but most do not.

If you need to retrieve records in one county only, you may be able to locate the records from the official county source, but every county offers varying levels of search capabilities (some offer an address search only and others offer a name search too) and varying amounts of information (summaries vs. actual images). Some official sites are free and others charge a fee. We like to use’s directory of links to locate the web sites of the Recorders of Deeds, Assessors’ Office, or County Clerks’ offices in a particular county. Some pay databases, such as Lexis and Westlaw, offer the information for a fee.

If you need to conduct a multi-jurisdictional search (more than one county), then a pay service is usually going to be your best answer. Many other pay databases, such as TLO, Lexis, and Westlaw offer multi-jurisdictional and multi-type record searches.

This information is from The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, 13th edition (currently being written)

There are numerous free and high-cost sources for aerial photos online. There are few low-cost options. Resolution and available information about the images (e.g., the date image was captured) vary greatly. Both Google Maps ( and Bing Maps ( offer free aerial views retrievable by street address. While most free aerial images do not include the date and time showing when the image was captured, Google Maps’ Street View is an exception because it does show the month and year their images were captured and occasionally offers the ability to look at Street View images of the same location Google has captured over time.

Sites like MapMart charge $50 (or more)/100 square miles for their imagery. Other commercial options for satellite imagery include TerraFly, Terraserver, and Pictometry.

Soil surveys of particular properties are not usually part of the public record. There may be some exceptions where surveys for commercial projects or subdivisions are submitted and/or recorded as part of the development process. If that occurred, the documents might be available from the local recorder of such documents, such as the Recorder of Deeds or the County Clerk. The USDA breaks the country into 12 soil survey regions. Soil Surveys are performed on areas of varying sizes (and do not necessarily follow county boundaries). Links to the available soil surveys in a particular state can be accessed here

10) Do you know of any website that compiles a list of dockets for state courts?

No. There is no single site on the Internet that allows for multi-jurisdictional, state court docket searching. That’s where some of the value remains for services like LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law. Sites like Search Systems do a pretty good job compiling links to courts that offer docket searches online.

This information is adapted from Carole Levitt’s new book Internet Legal Research on a Budget.

11) Where can I find a useful list of all the terms and connectors that are available on Google (e.g., how to exclude a word from a search, the equivalent of the “!” mark on WestlawNext).

Google has done a poor job of compiling and documenting the search connectors it recognizes. Google lists some here.

We have compiled some of the most useful Google Boolean and proximity connectors in our book The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet and we have also compiled an online chart comparing connectors at Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Our book and chart discuss a proximity connector for Google that Google fails to document…but it works. We update this chart regularly as we learn that new features become available or (as is more likely) features are taken away.

12) How does Casemaker compare to WestLaw/WestLawNext?

If you have free access to Casemaker (or Fastcase) and a pay subscription to WestLaw/WestLawNext (or Lexis or Bloomberg Law), you should run identical searches on each database to make your own comparison. Every lawyer has different research needs, so what works for one may not work for the other. For example, if you have the need to cite check briefs often, you will probably prefer using WestLaw/WestLawNext (or Lexis or Bloomberg Law) over Casemaker (or Fastcase) because their citator services are better (because they include editorial treatment). If you never or rarely cite check, you might be just as satisfied with Casemaker (or Fastcase). If you do a lot of statutory research, in the past you might have preferred WestLaw/WestLawNext (or Lexis or Bloomberg Law) because they offered annotated statutes, but Casemaker and Fastcase now both offer annotated statutes, so Casemaker or Fastcase might satisfy your research needs.

This information is adapted from Carole Levitt’s new book Internet Legal Research on a Budget.

13) How would you create a foundation for admission of evidence from a blog that you, as an attorney, found? You do not want to be a witness in your own case.

If the blog was written by the opposing party, you could request that they stipulate that they wrote the blog. If they won’t stipulate, you could ask a member of your firm (e.g., secretary, librarian, paralegal) to conduct the research and write an affidavit attesting to how/when they found the blog and that the material presented is a true and correct copy of the information they found.

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