Class Notes 1: Mining Social Media for Legal Research
By this point in the term, our advanced legal research and writing class has covered all the favourite usual suspects: research plans, research records and journals, secondary research using legal and library databases, federal legislative research, provincial legislative research, primary research using the big three, UK research, US research, and so on. We’re saving EU legal research for next week.
But this week we took a small detour and looked at the use of social media as a resource for legal research. For instance, we examined the strategic use of Twitter as a legal research source, mainly for secondary information (what are some interesting and informed opinions about that Supreme Court of Canada decision from the morning?), but also for primary information (what factual information can I discover about where a person was that evening?)
Twitter as a legal research resource
This post outlines what the class discussed in respect of Twitter. In a later post I’ll outline our thoughts on using blogs for legal research and maintaining privacy in searches and web activity. As usual, any feedback, tips, and suggestions from the learned Slaw crowd will be appreciated. (And our readings from the class included some posts from Slaw or Slaw authors.)
Here’s what we looked at in preparation for the class:
Alternative sources of legal research: blogs and other social media
- Mandy Ostick, “New Electronic Research Strategies: Blogs, Social Networking & Wikis for Lawyers” in Legal Research (CLEBC, 2008) [or from CLEBC Online]
- David P Whelan, “Social Search to Find Online Commentary” Law Society of Upper Canada Library Blog (December 18, 2013)
- Ellis, Patrick M., 140 Characters or Less: An Experiment in Legal Research (October 1, 2013). (Briefly review this, or read a blog post summary of it.)
- Tiffany Wong, “Using Social Media for Legal Research: How Google and Wikipedia Are Not “Just Noise”, Slaw (October 22, 2012)
- Review Lawblogs.ca, The Canadian Law Blogs List, to get an idea of the kind of content available in some of the blogs listed.
- Review American law blog collections ABA Blawg Directory and Justia’s BlawgSearch Directory to get an idea of the number and scope of US law blogs.
We looked at some useful Twitter accounts for legal research purposes, and @UVicLawLib’s lists of useful Twitter accounts on @UVicLawLib (any Twitter login required to see that page).
We also compiled a few hashtags that are useful for following Twitter discussions in or about the Canadian legal profession. It used to be that we went to hashtags.org, I think, for an official list of hashtags, but that was long ago. Hashtag creation is often on the fly and some valuable ones in the legal arena have short life spans but revive a few months later. Some other social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook) have adopted use of these and other hashtags also. And, yes, we recognize hashtags can be well overused and some people can be very funny about that.
Below are the hashtags we noted in class, and my best sense of their use. If any are glaringly missing, if different or topically specific ones are used in your field, or if if others simply come to mind, please offer them in the comments.
- #SCC — for Supreme Court of Canada discussions, particularly as cases are heard or decisions released.
- #SCOC — as above, but used more by journalists and non-lawyers.
- #CSC — as above, but for French tweets
- #cdnlaw — for discussions of anything pertaining to Canadian law, usually substantive topics.
- #law — for discussions of law and legal developments generally, including the profession, study, and publishing of law.
- #conlaw — for discussions of constitutional law
- #adminlaw — for discussions of administrative law, practice, and study in law school (#lawschool)
- #criminallaw or #crimlaw — for discussions of criminal law, practice, and study in law school
- #abolaw — for discussions of aboriginal law, practice, and study in law school
- …and similar such combinations
- #law used in combination with any of these; e.g,, #criminal #law (though less useful for clickable searching)
- #BClegal — for discussions about legal practice, legal developments, the legal profession in BC and BC legal organizations
- #cbafutures — for discussions, usually led, hosted, or moderated by the CBA, about the future of the legal profession in Canada
Twitter—a few interesting accounts for legal research
We looked at and brainstormed a few specific Twitter accounts, all of which are in our @UVicLawLib Twitter lists (as are many others). Though this doesn’t even scratch the surface of useful Twitter accounts for legal research, below are a few offered by the students and me:
- @supremeadvocacy — tweets about #SCC appeals, from a well-known Ottawa-based firm that specializes in Supreme Court of Canada advocacy
- @feministlawprfs — the Twitter feed of the Feminist Law Professors blog, which presents feminist perspectives on legal topics and developments and to which some #UVicLaw professors have contributed
- @legalpost — the Twitter feed of the National Post section, the Legal Post, which offers frequent updates of and links to articles on the profession and developments in it, as well as substantive legal news. (And we noted other legal profession publications similarly have Twitter accounts.)
- @CanLII — the Twitter feed of CanLII, with links new high-profile new cases, new features and developments at CanLII, and links to articles of general interest to legal information communities.
- @UVic_BLC — the Twitter feed of UVic’s Business Law Clinic
- @UVicLaw — the Twitter feed of the Faculty of Law at UVic
We explored the search function on Twitter—which is pretty much limited to the past 10 days, given that Twitter is meant to be a real-time medium. However, it has also become a rich source of information, and we explored Topsy.com to run some date-limited law-specific searches. For example, we ran date-limited searches to reveal discussion of keywords tagged to a recent Supreme Court of Canada appeal hearing. We also learned how search Topsy keyword searches can lead to discovery of further useful hashtags and tweeters, in the same way that traditional database or catalogue searches will reveal informative authors.
This class was a first for me, and I hope it was somewhat informative to the students. We do know that Twitter use is a distant second to Facebook use among our law students, though it is increasing. On the other hand, Twitter use is pronounced in several corners of the legal profession and, as an open, asymmetric source of information, is one it seems unwise to ignore.
[Note: This post is adapted from content written by me and published on our private course blog.]
A friend of mine with an interest in critical infrastructure security said one could get an excellent history of Hurricane Sandy as it approached the New York City area, then hit, then was cleaned up after, by reading the tweets from Con Edison, the power company.
The twitter stream included the early estimates of harm, the preventive measures, the reports on power outages, the recognition that things were worse than expected, then the pressure to bring power back to gas stations (when the better priority was doubtless communications networks).
Since the tweets are not changeable once sent, it’s a good record for basic history or for looking for traces of negligence, or competence.
I suppose corporate tweets may become less frank once they’re lawyered before being sent. (Government tweets already are …. or at least politically screened.)