The legal profession is built on one’s ability to carefully research facts and interpret law. Researching case history takes time, but reading is much of what an attorney does for a living. Some firms still maintain law-libraries with texts to work from the office, but most have moved their research to the Web.
Academic resources like Google Scholar and other free databases have made more information available to people without the need for travel. There are also changes to how attorneys access data that encourage offices to get more done with less.
Basic Research Methods
Before you get started with your research, Cornell University recommends that you first define what you are researching. Once you have figured out if your case pertains to state, federal or administrative law, you can target the texts most applicable to your case.
Once you’ve found the applicable text, you should turn to a secondary text to help explain what you’ve found and aid in your interpretation. Define the boundaries of your project and be specific about what your research will cover, like an appellate brief for a client appeal, and then work on articulating your argument from there.
Google’s Scholar search tool allows attorneys to access case law from the past, without having to pay for it. Visit the Scholar home page and click on the bubble for “Case Law,” and then check the boxes applicable to your search. Next, click the court that applies to you (Google will use your location to serve you relevant state level case law, or you can choose “Federal Courts”). You can also search other states and courts with “More Courts.”
Mastery over search parameters will help:
· Use quotes to define exact match text. For example, you may want to know all “Assault” cases in “Michigan.”
· Use negative keywords to filter out unintended results and specify your query. For example, “manslaughter” –first –second –degree.
· Broad match terms (terms you type without quotation marks) for the search: Assault Michigan, may returns results related to Michigan or assault, not necessarily in Michigan. Use negative keywords with broad match to cast a wider search net.
Today, attorneys can bring their laptops to a conference room and conduct collaborative research. Using different queries, a team of two or three people can uncover information much faster than using a legal library.
Crowdsourcing has become a great method to conduct research and marketing all in one. Professionals are using question and answer websites like Quora and Yahoo to request and offer advice for free. You may not wish to base your case law on public opinion, but you can crowdsource smaller decisions that save time. For example: asking professionals about how to simplify billing or which legal publications are best for those who wish to learn more about the law.
Public data is merging with the digital realm, and the result keeps smaller firms competitive with larger ones. Today a criminal defense attorney can use public internet resources and databases to help strengthen a clients case by finding more evidence in support of their innocence.
Improvements to broadband have also increased download speeds and improved information retrieval. Brand names often come with support that is included with the cost of the hardware, but some firms maintain an IT staff to fix hardware as it goes down. Depending on your size, it may be more beneficial to purchase the brand name.
The bottom line is that better technology is becoming more affordable. Legal offices are finding middle-grade computers at a reasonable cost, and the portability of laptops lets workers bring work home with them. Legal research is more collaborative than it has ever been, and professionals can search a wider library in minutes.