The Internet for Pennsylvania Lawyers

Written Materials by Daniel B. Evans (

[This page was created for an educational program presented as part of the Fourth Annual Solo & Small Firm Practice Conference of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.]

Copyright 1997 Daniel B. Evans

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Internet Basics

What Is The Internet?

The Internet (or "Net") is a global network of networks. It is not owned by any corporation or government, but arose out of an experimental project of the Department of Defense to create a network of computers that could survive the disruptions of a war or other calamity. Although it has been dominated in the past by universities and other educational organizations, who used it to share computer resources, more and more commercial organizations have tapped into it as a cheap and efficient way to send electronic mail and other information around the country and the world. It is now the closest thing we have to an "information superhighway."

What Does The Internet Do?

The Internet provides several different types of services to its users. Different services can be used for different tasks, and serve different functions.


The most common service provided by the Internet is "electronic mail" (or "email"), which allows individuals or groups to send messages accross the country. Every service that claims to provide access to the Internet should be able to send and receive email.

In the world of the Internet, all people who send and receive email have an address in the form of a "user id" and a "domain name," separated by a "@" symbol. The domain name is usually (but not always) the name of the on-line service or Internet service provider ("ISP"), and has an extension like ".com" or ".edu" or ".org" which specifies whether the domain is that of a commercial company, an educational institution, or another type of organization.

Sending and receiving email requires software to read, print, compose, and otherwise deal with email messages.

List Servers

List servers are a type of email service. They are computers (or computer programs) that maintain mailing lists automatically, allowing groups of users to share messages among themselves through email. The advantage of a list server is that users can subscribe (or unsubscribe) to the list by sending a message to the list server, and email messages sent to the list server can be copied and distributed automatically to everyone on the mailing list.

Newsgroups (Usenet)

Newsgroups serve a purpose similar to list servers, because they allow large numbers of people to send and receive messages to and from a large group. However, the technology is very different. Instead of sending individual messages to each member of a group, news servers collect all messages for all groups and only distribute messages to individual users when asked to do so.

There are newsgroups devoted to tax and legal issues, as well as political, social, religious, and recreational subjects. However, the discussions are rarely focused or technical enough to be of value to practicing lawyers.

File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

The Internet File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a way of transferring files between computers on the Internet. It is most commonly used by vendors making software "patches" or "drivers" available to customers, or for distributing other kinds of large binary files.


A "gopher" is a simple menu-driven way of locating and displaying text files. It has been largely eclipsed by the World Wide Web, but there are several gopher sites that are still active.

World Wide Web (WWW or the Web)

The fastest growing service on the Internet is the "World Wide Web" (usually just "WWW" or "the web"). In fact, for many people "the Internet" is synonymous with the web, because of all the publicity (some would say "hype") that the web and web sites have received.

Using special software called "web browsers" (or just "browsers"), users can view documents through the Internet which include both text and graphics, and can move from document to document with a click of a mouse. Movement from document is possible because most documents contain "hypertext" links to other documents. While viewing a web document with hypertext links, a user can use a mouse to click on a word, phrase, or picture within the document and cause a linked document to be loaded that provides more information about the word, phrase, or picture. The next document does not have to reside on the same computer as the document to which it was linked, so clicking on a menu found on a computer at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) can automatically load a document from a computer at the University of California at San Diego (or Cambridge University, England). It is not at all unusual, while looking for information on the web, for a user to jump from computer to computer, across the country, or even around the world, without ever being conscious of it.

The addresses used to locate web pages (and other Internet services) are called "Uniform Resource Locators" or "URLs." For a web address, the URL will be in the form:

where "http:" signifies that a web page is being requested, "" is the address of the web server (the computer that handles requests for web pages), "/dan/" is a subdirectory within the hard disk of the web server, and "otherpa.html" is the name of the file being requested.

Once a connection is made to the Internet, and a web browser is running on the user's computer, an address can be entered into the browser and a connection made to any web page from anywhere in the United States.

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What Good Is It?

So what can a lawyer in Pennsylvania do on (or with) the Internet?

Client Communications

Some clients (particularly business clients) view email as a quick, inexpensive way to communicate, and will actually prefer conducting some business through email rather than regular mail (sometimes called "snail mail").

Professional News/Contacts

List servers can be a good way of learning about new developments in the law and discussing technical issues with other lawyers. The most comprehensive list of law-related mailing lists is maintained by Lyonette Louis-Jacques of the University of Chicago, and can be found at A searchable index of law lists is also maintained at

There are also at least two lists devoted to issues of Pennsylvania law and Pennsylvania lawyers.

The Pennsylvania Attorneys List
This list is sponsored by the Washburn University Law School. To subscribe, send a message to with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe pennsylvaniaattorneys-l <your name>
(Do not include the brackets around your name.)
The Pennsylvania Law Net List
This list is sponsored by Legal Communications, Ltd. To subscribe, send a message to with no subject and only the following text in the body of the message: subscribe palawnet-l <your name>
(Do not include the brackets around your name.)


Another use of the World Wide Web is for lawyer marketing or publishing (subject to various local regulations and ethical restrictions).

Just as lawyers give firm resumes or brochures to prospective clients, or distribute firm newsletters to past, present, or prospective clients, law firms are using the web to describe their firms and make information available to the public on legal issues on which the firm has some expertise. However:

Just like lawyers donote time to educating the public on legal issues and answering general legal questions in public forums, partly as a service to the public and partly to increase their own visibility, some lawyers will spend time time answering legal questions of the general public through legal newsgroups on the Internet.

There are occasional opportunities for referrals from other lawyers on some of the legal list servers.


Another use of the Internet is tracking down legal and factual information, usually through the World Wide Web.

Federal/National Resources

A number of governmental agencies, courts, and other organizations have begun publishing useful information on the Internet, including the following:

U.S. Code
There is a copy of the entire U.S. Code online at:
Warning: These statutes, and other legal materials on the Internet, may be old and may not include the latest legislative changes.
Code of Federal Regulations
The complete Code of Federal Regulations (including IRS regulations) can be found at the Internet Law Library of the U.S. House of Representatives:
Federal Register
The Federal Register (and other publications of the Government Printing Office) are now available from two different sites: or The Federal Register can be searched to find recently proposed or final tax regulations, as well as other notices from the Internal Revenue Service.
Texts of bills, statutes, and legislative histories can be found through "Thomas," a project of the Library of Congress,
The White House
In addition to White House press releases, the White House web page can serve as a way to find various federal agencies. Go to
Other Federal Agencies: FedWorld
Publications of a number of different federal agencies can be found through FedWorld,
Federal Court Decisions
There does not seem to be any index or digest of tax decisions, although there are ways to find federal court decisions generally. Supreme Court decisions are available within one day after they are announced, through a program called Project Hermes. Although the decisions are available from a number of cites, a good starting point is: The Supreme Court decisions collected at Cornell Law School include decisions from 1990 through 1995, and the syllabi of the decisions can be searched for key words. Supreme Court decisions from 1937 through 1975 (volumes 300-422 of the U.S. Reports) were recently made available at
Decisions of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are now beginning to be published on the Internet. Only current decisions are available. There is also very indexing of decisions, so don't cancel your Lexis or Westlaw subscription just yet. For a directory of the circuits, see: or
Internet Law Library of the U.S. House of Representatives
Another interesting source of legal resources online is the Internet Law Library of the U.S. House of Representatives,
American Bar Association
The web sites maintained by the American Bar Association,, can also be useful in finding legal materials.

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Pennsylvania Resources

Despite the presence of several large law schools in Pennsylvania, including a major Internet site at Villanova Law School (, there are very few Pennsylvania materials presently available on the Internet. For example, some states have published the full text of all statutes and court rules on the Internet (such as California, Colorado, and Florida, among others), but the Pennsylvania materials now available on the Internet are scattered and still being developed.

Pennsylvania Government

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Home Page
Pennsylvania Department of Revenue

Constitution and Statutes

Many of the statutes below are maintained by individual lawyers, not the state government.

Pennsylvania Constitution
Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act
Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Protection and Consumer Protection Law
Pennsylvania Local Government Laws
Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax
Pennsylvania Bills
Several Pennsylvania legislators have established their own pages with information on pending or enacted legislation. For a good example, see the web page of Representative Lawrence Curry (Mont. Co.) at

Courts and Courthouses

Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts
(Supreme Court and Commonwealth Court)
Bucks County Courts Home Page
Chester County Judiciary
Clinton County Courts
Delaware County Courthouse

Court Opinions

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decisions (November 1996 - present)
Pennsylvania Commonweath Court Decisions (January 1997 - present)
Allegheny County C.P. Decisions (Pittsburgh Legal Journal)
(Allegheny County Bar Association members only)

Rules of Court

Erie County Local Rules
Mercer County Local Rules
Pennsylvania Orphans' Court Rules

Bar Associations

Several bar associations have been publishing information on the Internet that can be valuable, both original information and pointers to other relevant information on the Internet.

Pennsylvania Bar Association
Allegheny County Bar Association
Delaware County Bar Association
Erie County Bar Association
(Includes a copy of the Rules of Civil Procedure for Erie County, as well as pointers to other sources of information on Pennsylvania law on the Internet.)
Lancaster Bar Association
Mercer County Bar Association
Montgomery Bar Association
Philadelphia Bar Association
Westmoreland Bar Association

Other Resources

ErieNet Legal Resources Gateway
Legal Research Resources - Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Legal Electronic EMail Directory
Pennsylvania Bar Institute

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Search Engines

In addition to legal sites that have attempted to organize legal information, there are web sites that include searchable indexes of the entire Internet (or at least large parts of it). For example, the Alta Vista site established by Digital Equipment Corporation has the full text of at least 16 million pages indexed, and more are indexed every night, so a user can find any of those web pages based on a search of combinations of key words. As judicial opinions and statutes are added to the World Wide Web, it should be possible to use these search engines to find judicial opinions, statutes, and other legal materials based on a search of the words used in the materials, just like legal materials can be searched in Lexis or Westlaw.

Some of the more popular search engines are:

Alta Vista

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How Do I Start?

One of the nice things about the Internet is that it's not owned by anyone, so you can get access to the Internet through any email system or service provider you want.

If you want subscribe to a service like America Online, Compuserve, or Prodigy, it will provide you with either a local or 800 telephone number for your computer to use, and all of the software you need for both email and web access.

If you feel more confident, or want more services (such as your own domain name, your own web pages, or an ISDN connection), you can subscribe to a national or local Internet service provider ("ISP"). The ISP will give you the information you need to configure your software, and will either give you public domain (or "shareware") software, or tell you how to get it. (The new operating systems such as Windows 95, MacOS 7.5, and OS/2 Warp, also include built-in Internet access software, so an increasing number of people can access the Internet through an ISP.) National ISP's include Pipeline USA (703-904-4100) and Interramp (800-774-0852). A local Philadelphia area ISP is Net Access (215-576-8669).

For a computer running Windows 3.1x, you really need at least four pieces of software: a dialer program to communicate with the ISP using either SLIP ("Serial Line Internet Protocol") or PPP ("Point to Point Protocol"), a file called "WINSOCK.DLL" that allows Windows programs to communicate with the dialer program, a mail program to read and send email, and a browser program to view documents on the World Wide Web. Most ISP's should be able to supply inexpensive shareware software for these functions, or tell you how to get the software you need.

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For Further Reading

For additional information on the Internet and how to use it, see:

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Evans Law Office
Daniel B. Evans, Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 27370
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Telephone: (866) 348-4250