The academic year ended a few weeks ago and as I wrote my regular farewell note to the finalists, I started to muse on the information related facts I hope they carry with them into their academic, professional and online lives post Oxford.
Here is a list I made in my head. I have added hints/links to some points that might be useful for SLAW readers. If you have other golden rules to add to this list, please do. BTW, I use the term ‘Wexis’ to denote commercial legal databases, and not to promote one over another!
- Sometimes there just is no relevant case. The answer can be NO.
- Not everything is on the internet and, amazingly, not all cases are available online.
- Not all books have been digitised (yet…)
- Lots of online legal resources are not free.
- The firm you go to might not subscribe to many commercial resources such as the Wexises; know where to find free online resources, eg in LibGuides
- Google is not the alpha and omega of searching; Google web search does not search everything it has in its database. It has two indexes: main, default index and the supplemental index which comes into play if you have too few results. It changes the algorithms regularly; remember that Google sells advertising space! Look at other search engines like Duck Duck Go, or some of those listed here, such as Bing and Ask.
- Sometimes a book is quicker and easier than the web –for example, a Digest, organised into legal topics by intelligent and knowledgeable humans is often an easier way to find key cases on point than any Wexis search.
- Citators (eg, US , Canadian, Australian , UK examples) are a good way of tracking history of cases, but they won’t tell you if subsequent legislation has invalidated a judgment. Sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious.
- The red flag/green flag for good and bad law on sources such as Wexis is not always right – you actually need to check it out yourself!
- Facebook and Twitter are not private musings; those graduate recruitment folk know how to use them to find out about you. Articles such as this explain this more fully.
- Privacy in searching can be achieved. You can use Google Incognito and not leave a crumb trail of all your searches which can then be mined for advertisers via clever algorithms. You can ‘unpersonalise’ a search. Using the following commands in your browser removes past search and browse history:Chrome – New Incognito window Ctrl+Shift+N
FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
Opera – Ctrl+Shift+NA good summary of these options, with a video, is here
- There is a hidden web – and not all of it is nasty; eg, any paid for databases are part of the hidden web, because they are not freely accessible.
- Sometimes you just need to deconstruct a section of an Act manually, because the online version can’t go always back to the version at a point in time that you need.
- Official government websites disappear when new governments come to power, and even non-official but useful sites can be taken down with no rhyme nor reason.
- Website are not always what they seem to be – check validity and authority
- The ECJ ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling does not remove information. It just removes links to information (if implemented by the search engines when people appeal)
- Judges expect lawyers to have done the research – see Mary Whistner’s article from 2004 : “Cases in which judges point out weaknesses in lawyers’ research and writing provide vivid examples of the “real-world” impact of lawyering skills (or the lack thereof).”
- Librarians know shortcuts and can save you hours of frustration. If you are lucky enough to have one in your workplace, get to know her/him!
These may all seem common sense to SLAW readers, but it does not hurt to revisit and reinforce that the warning bells which apply to us in our ordinary lives need to be front of mind even more when dealing with the interests of clients.