21st C Lament

Earlier this week I had one of those discussions/debates with a friend of mine whereby neither of us could remember a certain point. However, our discussion was quickly laid to rest with a quick perusal of the nearest search engine. In our particular case we were trying to remember all the characters that have been in KISS (avec make-up). Trust me, it is not as easy to recall as you might think (absent enlistment in the KISS army).

This occasion brought home a lament of mine, that the interweb has killed the bar stool argument, one no longer goes back and forth with their friend over the course of several hours regarding some point of trivia, they just look it up. And let’s be honest, how many people reading this watch a movie with IMDB open beside them or hit IMDB within 10 minutes of a movie ending?

Of course the wide accessibility of information on the internet is a development that rivals the arrival of the printing press for the liberation of information and advancement of society or as some say, the democratization of information (a phrase I dislike btw, I understand the phrase, but I always have an image of voting when someone says it and that doesn’t equate with information being at one’s fingertips in my mind, but I digress).


This all gave me pause to think about possible negatives from the democratization (….) of legal information which has been undeniably a positive development; however, I have been able to identify a few negatives.

Firstly, as an educator, I find myself constantly fighting against the notion that “it is all online”. Quite honestly, it is not, at least not yet, and law will be one of the last subject areas where it will all go online; and an inability to conduct research absent the interweb remains a significant liability.

I would also add that this belief that “it is all online” has contributed to the dearth of a badly needed revision of federal statutes but that is a post for another time.

A corollary to the belief that “it is all online” is unwavering faith in keyword searching in just about every individual who brushes their fingers across a keyboard believing that their abilities to keyword search are well above average. Which makes me think of one of my favourite wrestling gimmicks ever: Above Average Mike Sanders, his gimmick being that he never claimed to be the greatest, he just claimed to be above average, which, of course, he was not. So, to bring this home, just about everyone who does any searching thinks that they are: Above Average Keyword Searcher. The point being, that sometimes, indexes, hierarchical menus, cross-references and other such search tools are far more effective that keyword searching but many searchers shun anything that doesn’t resemble the well known search box.

Another development I have noticed that I seem to have to fight against more now is the shunning of legitimate secondary sources. It seems that some believe that they can find the authoritative commentary they seek online rather than simply heading to the well established text on the topic. In fact some researches seem surprised when I send them to a Fridman or a Waddams rather than help them construct an effect web search. Far be it from me in my blog post to instruct people to shun blogs, there are a number of high quality legal blogs that have added another valuable dimension to legal research. But blogs have done just that, added another dimension, the older dimension of high quality secondary sources, is still very important.

There are a myriad of reasons that self-represented litigants have risen in recent years with the issues that are attendant; however, I would submit that a contributing factor to the rise in self-represented litigants is that belief that legal info is all readily available now.

I want to reiterate that I am no way arguing against the democratization of legal information, it is unquestionably one of the more positive developments in legal circles in some time. However, to every yin there is a yang and the above are some of the negatives that I thought of, in relation to the democratization of legal information when my mind went off on a spin inspired by KISS. Can you think of any others? I wouldn’t go so far; however, as to say that lawyers don’t have friendly arguments over points of law that last for hours, it would take far more than the internet to stop that particular aspect of the profession.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the KISS Question here is the: answer. And don’t tell me that you got the final two.


  1. The urge to go straight to the LexisNexis search box was definitely a hard habit to break after I left law school. But once I started articling and legal research became not just about finding the right cases but about doing so efficiently, I very quickly learned the value of secondary sources. Half an hour in the library with a good selection of secondary sources provides far better value-per-minute-spent then throwing terms into a search box and hoping something useful falls out.

  2. “The point being, that sometimes, indexes, hierarchical menus, cross-references and other such search tools are far more effective that keyword searching but many searchers shun anything that doesn’t resemble the well known search box.”

    CanLII’s new home page supports your point.