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[Note: This column was originally published by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the American Bar Association in Probate & Property, Vol. 14, No. 2 (March/April 2000).]
An Internet Resources Update
By Daniel B. Evans, Technology-Probate Editor
The growth of the Internet, both in the volume of information it transmits and in its economic importance, has become a cliche. A parallel development has been the growth in volume and importance of communications by lawyers through the Internet and the legal resources available to lawyers through the Internet.
Although the World Wide Web, with its colorful graphics, sound effects and hypertext links, gets most of the publicity, "old-fashioned" e-mail and mailing lists that can automatically distribute e-mail to large numbers of subscribers are still a valuable resource for trust and estate lawyers. Through the contributions of subscribers to the list, a mailing list can serve as a news service for the latest legal developments, as a quick "reference desk" to answer difficult questions and as a "virtual colleague" with whom to discuss tax techniques and legal strategies.
The dark side of mailing lists is that they can be boring and annoying if subscribers are not considerate and do not follow standard e-mail practices and mailing list "netiquette." Wading through large numbers of poorly written messages can be time consuming and frustrating. Although a single message might waste only a few seconds of someone's time, multiplying those few seconds for a badly written message by thousands of subscribers can waste hours of colleagues' valuable time.
Some standard mailing list guidelines include the following:
Before sending a question to the list, make sure you have done your homework. Do not bother all of the subscribers to a list with a question that can be answered in the Code or regulations. If possible, also check the list's archives to see if the question has been discussed recently.
When sending a message, make sure it has a descriptive subject line and summarize the question (or comment) at the beginning of the message (not at the end of a long, complicated recitation of facts that might or might not be relevant). That way, readers can decide quickly if the question or comment is of any interest.
Before sending any response or other message to a list, stop and consider whether what you have to say is really useful or constructive. Messages that begin, "I agree with . . . " are rarely useful because they fail to contribute anything new. Messages without citations of authority and speculations about what the law should be are similarly useless most of the time. Consider whether to respond to a message privately, directly to the original author, rather than responding to the whole list.
When responding to a message, quote only as much of the original message as necessary to make the context of the response understandable. Do not force thousands of subscribers to waste time scrolling through a long quotation just to find your comment at the end.
Always send "subscribe," "unsubscribe" or other administrative commands to the manager of the list software, not to the entire mailing list, who can do nothing with the request but delete it and silently curse your ignorance. The difference in the e-mail addresses is easy to understand. Messages that are to be distributed to all of the subscribers are almost always sent to [listname]@[domain]. Commands to subscribe or unsubscribe are almost always sent to [software]@[domain]. So, for example, messages to the ABA-PTL list (described below) go to email@example.com, while subscribe and unsubscribe commands go to firstname.lastname@example.org. lsoft.com. If you have a problem or complaint, send it to the list owner (usually [listname]-owner@[domain]), not the entire list.
Do not send out e-mail messages that have been MIME or HTML encoded. Many e-mail readers cannot display them as intended and will see pages of confusing symbols instead of text. Even if the text is displayed as intended, it may turn out to be a font that is too small or too big to read comfortably. Stick with plain ASCII text messages.
Do not send messages to a mailing list to promote a product or service (although some lists are amenable to occasional announcements of products or services that are squarely on-topic for the list).
Be tolerant. Do not attribute to malice anything that can be explained by stupidity; do not attribute to stupidity anything that can be explained by ignorance; and do not attribute to ignorance anything that can be explained as humor.
Lists for Lawyers
For a list of law-related lists, try http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/-llou/ lawlists/info.html. Some of the more popular and useful lists for trust and estate lawyers include the following:
ABA Probate and Trust Law List. The Section's Probate & Trust Division has been sponsoring an open, unmoderated mailing list since 1995 that is probably the largest and most active of its kind. Unfortunately, the increase in the number of subscribers also seems to have decreased the signal/noise ratio. Still, if you can tolerate the large volume of messages (often 50 or more a day) and pick out the wheat from the chaff, this list is a prime resource. To subscribe, send a message with only subscribe aba-pti [your name] to email@example.com.
ABA Deals, Dirt, Death and Taxes (3DT) List. Another list that the Section sponsors combines discussions of estate matters with real estate, transactional techniques (such as limited liability companies) and tax issues in one list. It is not as active as the ABA-PTL list, and there is some occasional overlap between the two lists. To subscribe, send a message with only subscribe aba-tax [your name] to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABA Tax List. The ABA Tax Section also operates a list that discusses tax questions generally and often includes discussions of estate taxes, as well as limited family partnerships, limited liability companies and other corporate and partnership issues of interest to estate lawyers. To subscribe, send a message with only subscribe aba-tax [your name] to email@example.com.
One-site shopping for trust and estate law does not yet exist, but the following sites can be useful:
IRS. The IRS web site (www.irs. gov) can provide a variety of materials, such as IRS forms and publications in PDF, Postscript or PCL formats (www.irs.gov/forms_info/ bullet.html), a searchable copy of Publication 78, "Cumulative List of Organizations," (www.irs.gov/bus_info/eo/eosearch.html), and the full text of the Internal Revenue Manual (www.irs. gov/bus_ info/tax_pro/irm-part).
U.S. Tax Court. The Tax Court has now created a web site (www. ustaxcourt.gov/Taxcourt.htm) and is publishing its decisions daily (searchable only by party, judge or date).
State Tax Forms. Most states now publish their tax forms and instructions on the Internet, and most can be found by starting with the state's home page at www.state.XX. us, where XX is the two letter postal code for the state, (e.g., the California home page is at http://www.state. ca.us). There is also an index of links to state forms at www.irs.gov/prod/ forms-pubs/ ftaframes.html.
Findlaw. Findlaw (www.findlaw.com) has become one of the most popular sites for finding federal and state statutes, case decisions and other materials. The site includes a collection of materials and links on wills, trusts, estates and probate (www.findlaw.com/ 01topics/31probate/).
Internet Law Library. Formerly hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives, the Internet Law Library has been copied to a number of different sites, including Lawguru.com (www.lawguru.com/ilawlib/112.htm for the estate and trust law links).
Cornell Legal Information Institute. This site also has an index to estate and trust cases and statutes (http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/ estates_trusts.html), estate planning materials (www.law.cornell.edu/topics/estate_planning.html) and gift and estate tax (www.law.cornell.edu/ topics/estate_gift_tax.html).
A number of lawyers and law firms also maintain web pages with articles on trust and estate law, as well as links to other resources. Many of the more informative sites can be found through the Findlaw and Lawguru sites listed above.
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