Legal media company ALM has rather quietly launched a new Web resource for litigators, Smart Litigator. The site is intended for litigators in New York state but will become the template for the eventual roll-out of similar sites in other states where ALM has offices.

ALM will formally unveil Smart Litigator in late January at two back-to-back events, the New York State Bar Association annual meeting Jan. 25-30 and LegalTech New York Jan. 31 to Feb. 2. The site is up and running now, although without the full array of features and content types ALM expects to have added by the launch date.

Even so, Smart Litigator is already a full-featured product that any New York lawyer who goes to court will want to check out. A free, 90-day preview is currently being offered to anyone who subscribes to either the New York Law Journal or VerdictSearch.

Smart Litigator is heavily integrated with the New York Law Journal, the daily legal newspaper that reports news, court decisions and court information. It relies heavily on content from the NYLJ and VerdictSearch, and also from an editorial board and roster of contributors, both composed of prominent New York litigators.

In addition to that content, Smart Litigator has a full, 50-state case law and statute research database. Even though the site is focused on New York, its users can research cases from any federal court or state appellate court and statutes from every state. (For the eight states that claim copyright in their statutes, the site links to their official versions.)

The site is designed to have a simple interface and to be easy to use, and it accomplishes both of these goals. One way it does this is with a universal search feature. At the top of every page throughout the site is a search bar that lets you search across all of its content types. Results are organized by content type, so you can easily narrow your search results.

The home page shows your recent activity.

After you log in, you arrive at a home page personal to you. It features five components:

  • My Briefcase. This shows the folders you’ve created to save and organize your research.
  • My Practice Area. This section shows brief descriptions of recent decisions of interest from the NYLJ. You can customize the cases it shows by selecting your principle practice area. You can click through to a more detailed summary or to the full decision.
  • My Site History. This shows your recent activity, so you can return to where you left off. You can set this show all activity or narrow it by document type.
  • Documents. A list of documents you recently viewed. Again, you can set this to show all documents or narrow it by type of document.
  • Featured Case Files. This highlights a featured set of documents from an actual case. (More about this later.)
  • Featured Practice Q&A. A featured question submitted by a site user and the answer given by a prominent trial lawyer. (More about this later.)

Also on the home page is a simple index to the site’s content. All of it falls under one of three umbrella categories: Research, Draft & Prepare and Additional Resources. This same index (along with the universal search bar) remains at the top of every page. That makes it easy to get around.

Search cases from all 50 states and browse cases by CPLR section.

Under Research, you find the links to the case search and statute search I mentioned above. New York lawyers will appreciate the ability to browse cases according to the CPLR section they relate to. Two other types of research are offered here:

  • Analysis. This allows you to search a seven-year archive of litigation columns from the NYLJ. Cumulatively, these columns by various authors add up to mini-treatises on such topics as New York practice, trial advocacy, commercial law, evidence and trial practice, and the like.
  • Verdicts & Settlements. Here you can search verdicts and settlements from the most-recent 12 months, drawn from the VerdictSearch database.

Under Draft & Prepare, you have two options:

  • Forms & Checklists. These 1,200-plus forms and checklists are contributed by actual lawyers and cover a variety of litigation-related practice areas. You can search the collection or browse them by the phase of the case (pleadings, discovery, etc.).
  • Featured Case Files. Smart Litigator is steadily building a collection of documents from actual court cases. These are complete or nearly complete sets of pleadings, motions and other documents. Many of these case files are made available by the site’s editorial board and board of contributors.

Under Additional Resources, you will find:

  • News. Here you can view recent litigation news from the NYLJ or search a seven-year archive of stories.
  • Practice Q&A. Users of the site are invited to submit practice-related questions and have them answered by experienced litigators. These are lawyer-to-lawyer questions, not to be confused with the consumer-to-lawyer questions often seen on other sites. Most questions are answered within a couple of days, I was told.
  • Web Links. A collection of links to litigation blogs, expert witness information, investigatory tools and other Web resources. So far, this is a fairly paltry collection. It either needs to be built up substantially or abandoned altogether in favor of existing legal portals.
  • Board & Contributors. Information on the site’s editorial board of prominent litigators and on other lawyers who contribute to the site’s content.
  • Help. A basic help section.

Universal search shows results by document type.

The developers of Smart Litigator plan to add additional content before the site’s formal launch in late January and then continue to add content thereafter. This will include biographies of New York judges and a selection of transcripts.

As I noted above, a free, 90-day trial is available to NYLJ and VerdictSearch subscribers. After the trial runs out, the subscription price is $695 a year for NYLJ subscribers and $895 a year for all others. That’s an all-you-can-eat price; there are no extra charges for viewing particular libraries or types of content.

ALM plans to roll-out similar sites in other states in which it publishes legal newspapers. Next up will be New Jersey, followed by Pennsylvania, both during 2011.

(I would be remiss to conclude this review without noting that I was formerly employed by ALM and that this blog continues to be part of the ALM-owned blog network.)

ALM has done a good job creating a simple and useful site for New York litigators. You get access to a useful set of core resources that includes cases, statutes, verdicts and settlements, forms and checklists, actual case documents, analytical articles and news articles. The cost breaks down to either $58 or $75 a month, depending on whether you are an NYLJ subscriber. If you do any amount of regular practice in the New York courts, that seems like a fair deal.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.