Bar’s website becomes more interactive
Bar’s website becomes more interactive December 1, 2000 Regular News Bar’s website becomes more interactive Amy K. Brown Assistant Editor Want to get in contact with your old law school buddy? Need to get some information about CLE seminars? Can’t remember when or where the Bar’s Midyear Meeting is? Need to find an old Bar News or Journal article? You can find answers to all this and more on The Florida Bar’s website, www.FLABAR.org. Since its inception in 1996, the site has grown by leaps and bounds. What started as a basic informational website maintained by an outside vendor has now become a major focus of the Bar’s Communications Division. The site is continuing to become more interactive, allowing members and consumers to use a number of specialized search engines, and plans are in the works to add even more interactive features. The Internet is becoming a more useful tool for attorneys, as an increasing number of legal organizations offer information in the virtual realm. Split-second information transfers, court records searches from the office and attorney-client communication via e-mail allow deskbound attorneys to do in minutes what used to require hours of travel and extensive searching. FLABAR ONLINE is among those legal websites that can provide a wealth of information. Recent additions to the website include: the Daily News Summary, an overview of news pertinent to the legal profession; address change forms, which can be completed directly on the website; and president’s postings, a description of President Herman Russomanno’s daily activities. The scrolling headline on the homepage provides a direct link to the latest edition of the Daily News Summary (DNS), a summary of news from across the state, covering articles and opinions that are important to lawyers in Florida. The summary is updated daily. It has been used by a teacher at the Florida Judicial College and has proved invaluable to Florida Lawyers’ Assistance, Inc., in locating attorneys who may be experiencing emotional or substance abuse problems. “The DNS is very popular with Bar members. The Public Information Department receives compliments often,” said Francine Walker, the Bar’s public information director. “Putting the DNS online also helps us reach a larger audience than just Bar members.” Articles from both the Bar Journal and News can also be found online. Plans are in the works to change the format from basic text to a full “e-zine,” complete with headlines and pictures. Currently, users may access articles dating back to January 1999. The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, which are printed annually in the Bar Journal Directory, are available online and updated when action is taken — not just once a year. The rules are separated by chapter and provide a valuable, easily accessible desktop reference. “We post the rules in PDF format from Adobe Acrobat, following the lead of the Florida Supreme Court. All of the court’s opinions are posted in PDF,” noted Patricia Hohman, coordinator of the Bar’s website. That particular format preserves the original appearance of a document without requiring the viewer to possess the software that created that document. In response to suggestions from members, the Bar has made address change forms available online in the Member Services section of the site. Previously, members had to print out the form from the website then mail or fax the changes to the Bar. Now, changes can be made directly on the website, making the entire process easier for members and, ultimately, more efficient. “The membership search feature and the electronic address change form should make it easier for members and the Bar to maintain accurate and up-to-date information,” said Park Trammell, Bar communications director. Attorneys searching for research tips will find links to over 170 legal organizations at their fingertips on the Bar’s site, including sites for national and state legal research, Florida and federal government, Bar sections and committees, Florida and federal courts, Florida law schools, and state and national legal organizations. Although available in different sections of the site, they are listed collectively under “Links and Resources.” Searchable Florida statutes are available via links on the website, as well as U.S. Supreme Court cases and Florida Law Weekly, which reports within days of filing the full text of the opinions of the Florida Supreme Court and Florida’s five district courts of appeal. Users can also access the “WWW — Virtual Law Library,” maintained by the Indiana University School of Law, where pull-down menus allow for searches by topic (e.g., administrative law, environmental law or contracts) and information type (e.g., law firms, state government or organizations). One of the most widely used and popular new features of the site, the attorney search page, allows users to find Bar members in good standing by name, location, board certification or section membership. The results of the searches are drawn from the membership records database, which is updated daily. The online search provides for more timely records than the Bar Journal directory issue, which is only updated once a year. Also, the online search is available to both members and nonmembers at no charge, and the online version includes a member’s section membership, if any. Many Bar publications, previously available only in print, are now being posted online. This reduces the money spent on printing costs and staff time, in addition to bringing the information to a larger audience. Publications like the Bar’s consumer pamphlets, which cost 25 cents each in printed form, are available at no charge on the website. Users can print the pamphlets directly from the site and attorneys can distribute copies to their clients with the click of a button. Online registration for meetings and CLE seminars has been discussed as a possible addition to the site, though users can currently view regularly-updated Bar master calendars, Annual and Midyear Meetings calendars, and search the CLE seminar database. A redesigned, user-friendly master calendar will soon replace the current online master calendar. The addition of other interactive services, including enabling Bar members to pay fees and make purchases online, is in the planning stage. There has also been talk of assembling and posting both the state and local court procedural rules online. But it’s a case of so many great ideas and so little time, said Hohman. Taking the next step to become interactive requires funding to provide secure transactions, ensuring the safety of members’ credit card numbers and managing staff time spent on the projects. “We are working closely with the Information Systems Department to address the security issues,” said Trammell. “Member suggestions have resulted in many of the new and upcoming additions. The new features will help the state’s lawyers practice in a more efficient and effective manner.” Not only does the Bar’s website aid attorneys, but it also helps to educate the public and erase some of the mystery that surrounds the legal profession by giving the public a home-base for legal information. FLABAR ONLINE is among the most comprehensive bar association websites available today, and these additions to the website could rank it among the most technologically advanced bar sites in the country, Hohman said. In the first three years of existence, the Bar’s site received more than one million “hits” — the number of times pages on the site were accessed. But in the past 12 months alone, the site has received in excess of 5.6 million, and the number of hits is still increasing exponentially.