Legal research has come a long way in recent years. In addition to traditional sources for legal research, lawyers now have access to a wealth of new information distributed via sources that have not traditionally fell within the realm of ‘legal research’.
Below, we cover six of these new avenues.
1. Source materials
Legislatures and courts are publishing their own materials, which are sometimes available online as downloadable PDFs—a convenience that until recently has never existed. However, keep in mind that some online versions are not considered “official” and can be refuted by the print version, even though they come from the same source.
Here are some resources you can access directly online:
- US Office of the Law Revision Counsel
- Bound Volumes of the Supreme Court
- Rulings from regulatory and administrative agencies like, Social Security Administration, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
2. Local and state resources
Older legal information may not be available online yet. In this situation, visiting a library may be helpful as you will be able to find archived legal information that is unavailable elsewhere. Also, you may find potential collaborators in your colleagues (and the librarians) who will be researching there as well. These collaborators will be a great source for information on what arguments worked in the past, and may help you find local knowledge you might not be able to uncover yourself.
If you are a member of a bar association, you should also make full use of the resources available to you through your member benefits, such as:
- Law schools
- Bar Association headquarters
3. Non-profit sources
Legal Information Institutes (LII) are a global resource that offers open access to law knowledge. There are over 46 LII associations around the world that publish source law through their own search engines, providing freely accessible case laws, regulations, and statutes unique to those countries.
4. Non-academic writing
One of the most controversial avenues of legal research is non-academic writing. A good example of non-academic writing in the legal space are law blogs. An extremely useful (and regularly updated) research tool, law blogs’ topics range widely, from criminal law to practice management. The best law blogs tackle new rulings, proposed regulations, and apply law to novel situations. They are an excellent way maintain competency in different areas of law.
The American Bar Association (ABA) runs a yearly contest, nominating the best 100 Blawgs each year sorted by topic. They also have a Blawg Hall of Fame, for those blogs that consistently provided great legal content for audiences to consume.
Organize these blogs using a reader, like Pocket, Feedly, or Flipboard, and you can easily scan through a day’s worth of high value blog posts just like you scan a newspaper. You can also sent these reader apps to monitor the blogs of publications you follow as well. This will bring all of your materials to one easy-to-access place.
5. Non-legal search engines
Today, there are a variety of search engines, both legal and non-legal. One non-legal search engine is Google Scholar, which applies Google’s natural language search across articles, patents, and case law. It is important to note that these search engines may not be as accurately or regularly maintained as legal search engines, and should be viewed as a place to start, rather than comprising the bulk of research.
Crowdsourcing is rapidly gaining steam as a reliable research source. It’s been around for quite some time; Wikipedia (incidentally, a crowdsourced platform) defines it as “opening labour, decision-making, or information gathering to an undefined public.” Although we see it commonly today in forms such as American Idol and Kickstarter, crowdsourcing also form the basis for sports odds determinations and the stock market. Services like Casetext, Mootus, and LawGenius (you may recognize them from their lyric-annotating counterpart RapGenius) seek to bring the combined wisdom of the crowd to legal citation.