This post is based on materials created and presented for a CLE presentation (Find it Fast and Free on the Web) in King of Prussia, PA in December 2015.
FINDING “PRACTICE” TOOLS
A key part to any practice is the ability to produce quality work product in an efficient manner. You not only need to be sure that your legal authorities and citations are correct; you need to make sure that you include all of the relevant information and documents. This is important for several reasons; a sloppy filing will reflect on you and your case; missing sections or documents could cause a Court to deny your motion or other request for failure to follow the rules; the Prothonotary could reject your filing if you do not have the proper forms – this could lead to delays, compounded filing fees or even missed deadlines; finally a poorly crafted document could be distracting to the reader, and may make them lose focus on your arguments. For these reasons, it is helpful to review documents from people who have been there before. Remember, you don’t have to copy everything that they did. These documents should be used to help guide you. If you don’t like the style that one person used, you can probably find someone with a style you like. But, maybe you will see something on there that will cause you to review a part of the local rules you may have overlooked and realize that you need to include it.
As an example, Lancaster County local rules require that the Docket Number be printed in the upper right hand corner of every page of a document. If you see a document from Lancaster County, you should notice that and hopefully investigate why it is there. If you don’t include it, your pleading won’t be thrown out; but if you do include it, it shows that you have paid attention to every detail.
It will also be helpful to you to save the sample documents in a folder on your computer. As you file more of those kinds of documents, and see what other attorneys file in your cases, you will have the opportunity to add to your baseline document and continually make it better and more convenient for you. Hopefully, at some point down the line, you will have your own set of sample briefs, complaints, motions and contracts to access whenever you need to produce a document on the fly.
Finally, remember that just because someone filed it, it doesn’t mean that it was done properly. So make sure you can trust the source of your guide documents.
Sample Briefs, Motions, Complaints and Settlements
The first place you should look for sample documents is within your firm. Ask a partner or another attorney if they have drafted something similar to what you need. Paralegals are often as connected as anyone in the firm and may remember a similar case that can guide you. If your firm has a centralized network (and you are permitted to access it) check through some of the pleadings that other attorneys in your firm have drafted and see what works for you.
If you do not have access to anyone else in your firm who has drafted what you are looking to file, then check with attorneys you trust outside of your firm. The first divorce case I ever did was for a friend of a friend. I asked an attorney I knew to help guide me, and he gave me all of the filings that he had used for a similar no-fault case.
Another helpful resource is your local bar association. While they don’t always come out and say it, the bar association’s goal is to have their local attorneys look good and to make the life of the Judges (who are also bar members) easier. The bar association will be able to provide you with sample documents or direct you to other attorneys who will be willing to help you out. Don’t be afraid to ask.
With all of that said, this CLE is about finding materials on the internet, so we will provide some of those locations as well. A lot of these sites have been previously mentioned in this program.
A. Meta-sites – places like FindLaw (www.lp.findlaw.com) and Justia (www.justia.com) offer sample documents.
B. Court websites – These were covered more specifically in section IV. The Federal Court websites offer many sample forms that can be used to file the most common types of actions in those courts. State Courts have self-help packets for pro se individuals, which can also be used by you.
C. Court Dockets – How to access these was also covered in section IV. If you use one of the Courts with searchable dockets, you should be able to find what you need. PACER has searchable functions, but you are charged $.10 per page. However, if you are in a bind, you can find everything you need there to draft the document.
D. Google – If you simply search for whatever kind of document you are looking to draft, you are more than likely to find what you are looking for within a couple searches. Sometimes you will even find links to law school or bar association materials that you otherwise could not find. I even once used Google to find a Maryland firm that put a variety of car accident case materials on the internet. I had to adapt them for use in Pennsylvania but it was a great starting point in how to draft the complaint, prepare for depositions and what to ask for in discovery.
E. Rules of Civil Procedure – for most motions and proposed orders, a basic template is available in the Rules of Civil procedure. Be sure to check the local rules as well to include anything specific to your particular court.
F. Westlaw and Lexis – They aren’t free, but most basic plans do provide access to forms and sample documents.
Sample Forms and Contracts
We have already covered how to find forms a few times in this program. Many of the same kinds of places are also going to have standard contracts. While many of the locations we discussed had forms that were court or jurisdiction specific, contract materials on the web are usually more universal. So, you will need to make sure that anything that is required by your jurisdiction is included. Also, delete anything that is not necessary. Longer doesn’t always mean better; especially if you cannot explain to your client what a clause means.
A. FindLaw – in addition to the other materials on FindLaw, you can search for specific contract language. So, if you have a specific clause that you need to know how to draft, you can find that here.
B. www.Lawguru.com; www.rocketlawyer.com. These sites charge a fee to create a contract, but if it is something that you will use often, it may be worth it to pay the onetime fee and then reuse some of that language in future contracts.
C. http://www.commondraft.org/ – This website offers some standard contract language and clauses that you can use to put together what you need. It also provides some explanations of why certain sections are included. This is created for non-lawyers, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use it.
D. http://web.law.columbia.edu/keep-your-copyrights – This is the website for the Columbia Law School and offers contracts related to copyrights. It also includes notations on what clauses are good for the creator, bad for the creator or just plain unreasonable.
E. Google – There are thousands of draft contracts and real contracts available on the web. You just need to type in the kind of contract you are looking for and sort through the results.
F. Dockets – This will take a little work, but if you know the case information, you should be able to find the contract. In Pennsylvania, a complaint based on a contract must include that contract attached to the complaint. So if you find information through a Google search about a lawsuit involving a contract dispute, go to that court’s docket and have a look at the contract.
G. Trade Associations – if you are drafting a very specific kind of contract, you can check the trade association for that industry to see if they have any kind of specific language that they use. Often, you will require a membership to access these materials, but depending on the association you may find what you need for free.
H. Company websites – Most companies will put their warranties and other kinds of sales contracts on their websites. If you need to draft a warranty, find a similar business and see if they have language available on their site.
Uncover Jury Verdicts
Most of the services that offer information on Jury Verdicts charge a fee to get the full details. However, you can search on several of these sites to narrow your field and determine if it is worth it to pay for the full information.
A. Zarin’s Jury Verdict Review and Analysis – www.jvra.com – offers a free verdict index search. Charge $30 for full article or $99 for a plan giving you ten articles per day.
B. VerdictSearch – www.verdictsearch.com – offers a 24 hour free preview and 3 cases or a day pass for $395 and up to 75 full cases.
C. National Association of State Jury Verdict Publishers – www.juryverdicts.com – This site offers links to publishers of verdicts from around the country. The specific publishers may charge fees, but it at least provides a way to narrow your search.
D. Westlaw and Lexis – These sites also offer access to jury verdicts, but you will want to ensure that such information is within your plan.