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LEGAL RESEARCH AND THE IMPACT OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Posted on October 18th, 2010

The term “googled” has become as much a part of the English language as any other commonly used verbiage. In fact, I find myself “googling” all the time when I am unsure of something. Google is set as my homepage on my web browser for all my computers. The question should not be, “how has the web affected legal research?”, but rather “how has the web NOT affected legal research?” My grandfather, who graduated from law school in 1954, still recounts having to drive to the law library and do legal research using a catalog system and spending hours going through countless legal case books.

The times my grandfather recounts are almost non-existent today. With the advent of legal research sites, such as lexisnexis.com and westlaw.com, there is almost no need to step foot in a law library other than to see how much dust has collected on archaic casebooks. However, there are still times that I find myself consulting law review textbooks and other hard copies when doing legislative research. Accordingly, even though the web has drastically changed the landscape of doing legal research, the use of hard copies may still have its place for a few minute reasons.

Over the years, more and more attorneys and doctors consult google when not sure of something that they are researching. Google will even find case law now if there is a published opinion. Although websites like google and wikipedia.com have become common, nothing is more important or prevalent today in the legal profession than westlaw.com and lexisnexis.com. The two premier legal researching websites currently available offer everything an attorney will ever need when conducting legal research. In fact, both lexisnexis.com and westlaw.com are taught to law school students starting the first day of their first year of law school.

One may ask, “so how has the web and information technology changed legal research?” An attorney can access case law via his mobile device on demand. Attorney’s can research ALR’s, journals, AMJUR’s, case law, and a multitude of others with just a click of the mouse. Boolean searches are slowly becoming outdated, and natural language searches have taken over. With the ability to have interactive discussion through a live chat window with a legal research assistant, the use of paralegals or law clerks to do legal research is slowly becoming obsolete. A lot of old school attorneys are still adjusting to doing legal research via websites, and a lot of older attorneys have just sworn off doing any legal research because of the confusion associated with computers and research in general. However, doing legal research could not be easier as a result of introduction of westlaw.com and lexisnexis.com.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS), pod casts, and online law journals allow any attorney to pick and choose whatever aspect of the law they’re interested in and receive constant updates. Moreover, there is no longer any concern that an attorney will not know if a specific issue has been overturned on appeal or whether there is new case law, or when the Supreme Court denies cert. or issues an opinion. Attorneys can subscribe to countless journals to get real time updates on any legal issue or topic. In the end, the web and information technology has changed the way attorneys do business from legal research, to advertising, and even to offering legal services. Accordingly, attorneys must adjust if they don’t want to be swallowed up and spit out.

Written by: Kevin Stern