Apr 10 2012
A favorite mantra amongst many law librarians is “It’s not all available online.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this in legal research classes during law school. Although this statement is true, and it’s also true that Google does not crawl the entire universe of information, I think these messages are sometimes interpreted as an intent to create forbidden resources. The truth is, Google Scholar can be a great source for patents, and online research can be a lot more efficient than print. The key is knowing when to use one source or version over another. This judgment has to be made by the researcher.
Another fear librarians have for their legal research students is over-reliance on keyword searching. Google has conditioned all of us to expect the answer after entering a few words related to our query. Unfortunately (or fortunately), legal research is not always that simple. Why, you might ask, would it be fortunate that legal research is not simple? (Overlooking, of course, that I’m a librarian and helping people navigate legal information is what I’m paid to do) It’s fortunate for you for a similar reason; if legal research was simple, anyone could do it, and clients wouldn’t need to pay you to do it for them.
These issues become even more important in practice. I am going to leave you with a quote from Greg Castanias, the head of Jones Day’s Federal Circuit Practice, in response to a question about legal information vendors (for the entire interview, click here): “[I]f young lawyers understand that legal research is a human act, based on judgment, then they can see the suppliers of legal information for what they are — sources of legal data that may or may not be available in other places, in other mediums, at lower or no costs. They are not ‘magic machines’ into which a young lawyer types a few words and gets output that justifies his or her $160,000 per year starting salary.”
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