Saturday, June 21, 2014

An Empirical Study of Print vs. Electronic Legal Research

How do differences between print research and electronic research affect the substance of legal research?

Accessing Law: An Empirical Study Exploring the Influence of Legal Research Medium by Stefan H. Krieger & Katrina Fischer Kuh.

 Abstract:     

"The legal profession is presently engaged in an uncontrolled experiment. Attorneys now locate and access legal authorities primarily through electronic means. Although this shift to an electronic research medium radically changes how attorneys discover and encounter law, little empirical work investigates impacts from the shift to an electronic medium.

This Article presents the results of one of the most robust empirical studies conducted to date comparing research processes using print and electronic sources. While the study presented in this Article was modest in scope, the extent and type of the differences that it reveals are notable. Some of the observed differences between print and electronic research processes confirm predictions offered, but never before confirmed, about how the research medium changes the research process. This Article strongly supports calls for the legal profession and legal academy to be more attentive to the implications of the shift to electronic research."
 
From the conclusion:
 
"The purpose of this study was to compare the conduct of law student legal research using print and electronic media. The study’s comparison reveals substantial differences. Researchers using different media not only used different physical mechanisms to conduct research, but they conceived of and structured their research differently. Print and electronic subjects framed their searches differently, researched different legal concepts, accessed different types of sources and in different order, reviewed the sources that they accessed differently, and discussed different legal concepts when describing their research conclusions. Although the study focused on and its findings speak primarily to the research process, the extent and breadth of the differences observed in the research processes engaged in by print and electronic subjects suggest that the research medium may influence research outcomes and legal reasoning strategies more broadly, particularly when considered in light of the interconnection between reasoning and analysis and sound legal research. . ."

In particular, "Some scholars, for example, have argued that electronic researchers will have a harder time than print researchers developing a sense of the structure of law (recognizing the relationship between legal concepts) and crafting sophisticated arguments in part because electronic researchers are exposed to fewer secondary sources that organize law by concept. Many scholars have similarly postulated that a relative focus on facts and cases as opposed to legal concepts and secondary sources could negatively affect research outcomes and legal reasoning and analysis. . . .  These assertions about differences in the research process, which appear to be supported by this study’s findings, formed the basis for two predictions about the influence of electronic legal research: (1) that print researchers were likely to show greater uniformity than electronic researchers with respect to the legal theories that they identify as relevant; and (2) electronic researchers are more likely to unknowingly advance long shot or marginal arguments."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2014/06/an-empirical-study-of-print-vs-electronic-legal-research.html

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