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Legal documents ideally suited for Internet's World Wide Web

STANFORD -- Law Professor Joseph A. Grundfest recently added a novel electronic twist to the process of filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thanks to a paper submitted by one of his students, the former Commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Comission supplemented his filing of the required paper version of a friend-of-the- court brief with an electronic version posted on the World Wide Web, the Internet's new graphical interface.

As far as the law professor can determine, it is the first Supreme Court brief that has been prepared in this fashion.

The Web version of the legal document contains special "hypertext links" - citations displayed in blue - that with the click of a mouse transfer the reader to information stored at another location of the Web. That location can be on the same computer system or on a machine in another part of the world.

In the hypertext brief, the reader can click on any citation to any case law precedent and immediately be taken to the full text of the precedent cited, opened to the very page cited.

"The entire process of legal argument is ideally suited to hypertext and the Web," Grundfest said. "Much of the law is based on precedent, and the Web allows these precedents to be made an integral part of a legal document. Putting this brief on the Web is a 'proof of concept.' "

According to David Johnson, head of Lexis Counsel Connect, an online system for lawyers, "this puts Joe into rarified company. Very few law professors are exploring the potential of this new medium. There is a real prospect for creating a shared electronic workspace - a courtroom without walls, as it were - where lawyers can place legal documents of all sorts and link them together."

The inspiration for the innovation belongs to recent Law School graduate Alex Benn. Instead of submitting a 30-page paper as a course requirement, Benn simply handed Grundfest a note with the address of his hypertext paper posted on the Web.

"It was a joy reading the paper because all the supporting material was right there at my fingertips. It was also very easy giving Alex a high grade for the effort," Grundfest said. "Alex's paper made the next step obvious. If hypertext could bring a student paper to life, imagine what it could do for a legal brief!"

Grundfest's brief asks the Supreme Court to address a case (Montgomery Securities vs. Dannenberg) that deals with the specific state of mind that a person must have before he or she can be charged for securities fraud. He filed the document on behalf of the American Bankers Association, the American Electronics Association, the Association of Publicly Traded Companies, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Securities Industry Association, all of whom argue that resolving this question is important.

The actual programming to create a hypertext version of the brief was performed by Craig Jacoby, a second-year law student at Stanford.

"I get all my good new ideas from my students," Grundfest confessed.

The links were made possible by a special arrangement with West Publishing's WESTLAW, one of the two largest computer- assisted legal research services in the country.

"Providing links for Professor Grundfest's brief is an ideal implementation of the dynamic capabilities of the World Wide Web." said Laurie Hansen, West Office Automation Manager. "West created hypertext links to the 27 cases, five statutes and two rules referenced in the brief. To do so, we loaded our editorially enhanced versions of these documents to our Web server, and added extra display features, such as the centering of titles and italicizing of cited references."

Grundfest also would have liked to link other material, such as excerpts from books, but the sources were not available online. "The information highway doesn't lead to everything yet, but soon it will," Grundfest said.

"This is the future," he predicted. "The legal system will initially learn about the Internet through supplemental postings that don't replace paper. Gradually, we may evolve to an environment where hypertext postings on the net are the rule, not the exception."

The brief can be found on the World Wide Web at:




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