There are now thousands of legal web sites on the Internet that range from non-lawyer web sites that offer legal information and legal forms to law firm web sites. To help users evaluate the quality of the legal information offered by these web sites, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association approved in 2003, best practice guidelines for legal information web site providers. These guidelines apply to both law firms and non-lawyer web sites, from state-wide legal information web sites operated by public agencies, to court web sites, to legal sites run by profit-making companies.
The guidelines can be found here. Many legal information information providers embrace and support the guidelines either explicitly or in principle. Even though the guidelines were published 9 years ago, they have stood the test of time and are common sense rules to guide non-lawyer users on how to evaluate the quality of a legal information web site.
Here is a quick summary of the best practice guidelines:
- Full and accurate contact information should be available on the site.
- The date that substantive legal content material was prepared or last review should be available.
- The jurisdiction to which the site’s content relates should be clear.
- There should be a disclaimer that legal information is not the same as legal advice.
- There should be links to other resources that will help a user solve their legal problems, and where appropriate citations to relevant case law and legislation should be available.
- Where appropriate, site should provide users with information on how and where to obtain legal advice and further information.
- Providers should obtain permission to use content from other providers.
- There should be a clear terms and conditions of use available on the site.
- Sites should clearly and conspicuously provide users with their privacy policies and policies on security of communications.
These best practice are really minimum standards. Credible legal information web site providers will satisfy these standards whether they explicitly state their support for the ABA Guidelines or simply incorporate these principles into their Web site design and publication process.
We would be wary of legal information web sites that don’t at least try to comply or support these these best practices.
To these best practices, we would add the following:
- Look for a BBB – Better Business Bureau Seal which will act as a verification of the business practices of the vendor and an avenue for registering complaints.
- If services or information is sold from the site, in must be from a secure web space. Look for https:// in your web browser to make sure that you are in a secure web space that requires a user name and password for log-in. Look for the display of an SSL Certificate which means that all communications between the web site and the server are encrypted and secure.