Monday, March 11, 2013
From an article by Professor Alena Wolotira (U. Washington) called Googling the Law: Apprising Students of the Benefits and Flaws of Google as a Legal Research Tool and available at 21 Perspectives 33 (2012). An excerpt:
We all use Google in our daily lives to quickly find answers to our simple questions. Google has made it so that it takes mere seconds to find, for example, the schedule for the bus home, the definition of an arcane word, or a recipe for hollandaise sauce. It seems, however, somehow unrefined to use the free Internet for the purposes of legal research and even more indecorous to instruct law students to use Google in completing their research assignments. Don’t we have sharper and more specialized tools for performing legal research than the blunt object that is Google? Of course we do: the resources that we traditionally use for legal research continue to serve our purposes well and allow the well-trained researcher to locate primary and secondary legal materials quickly and effectively. On the other hand, law students are likely to start the process of legal research with Google because it is what they know, it is fast and easy, and it sometimes does yield usable results.
Legal research and writing professors might, therefore, consider their students’
likely propensity for using Google (and their likely progression to using its costly imitator, WestlawNext) when creating lesson plans for teaching basic legal research. While Google has some serious limitations when it comes to performing organized and thorough legal research, it is a legitimate and useful tool that can easily be discussed and explored in legal research classes. In this article I identify some useful features of Google. Unless otherwise qualified, “Google” is synonymous in this article with any free Internet search engine, such as Yahoo, Bing, or Ask in performing basic legal research, as well as some weaknesses that I think law students should be made aware of before they depend on it entirely for their research tasks. By explaining the pros and cons of using Google (and the free Internet in general) in performing legal research, we can create more informed and savvy researchers who will use the free legal information on the Internet to their best advantage and who are not quite as dependent as they might have been on expensive and harder to use commercial databases.