Legal practitioners of every sort are using the Internet daily to supplement their traditional research. While the Internet is not the be-all and end-all of legal research, it can provide information that is not available elsewhere.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 8/25/1997; LegalResearcher.com; publisher: New York Law Publishing Company.
For litigators, several interesting sites are available for factual research. Whether you are preparing for trial or trying to find a colleague’s phone number, the Internet has a wealth of helpful sites that you may want to try.
But where do you start?
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the information that is available. Quite easy. I remember the first time I saw the Web. I spent several hours navigating from site to site. I lost track of time. That’s OK when you’re starting out, but when you’re trying to find a specific piece of information, losing track of time can be frustrating.
Here are some specific tips that can make your time online more productive.
1. Don’t get overwhelmed by the seemingly endless information available on the Internet. How would you have solved the problem of information overload before you were connected to the Net? Many of the individuals and organizations that you’ve relied on to help you weed through the chaff to get to the wheat have set up shop on the Internet to do the same thing. Encyclopedias, newspapers, legal publishers – they are all online.
Many of the organizations that are on the Net have guessable domain names, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica (http://www.eb.com/), The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/), and Martindale-Hubbell (http://www.martindale.com/). And if you are unable to guess the domain name of the organization you’re looking for, simply search Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com/) for the name of that organization. Yahoo is the Internet’s most popular Web site. Chances are that if a name-brand organization is on the Net, it’s listed in Yahoo.
2. Bookmark your favorite starting points, and then bookmark your bookmark file. For example, if you enjoy reading LegalResearcher.Com, select “add bookmark” from the “bookmarks” menu of Netscape Navigator. (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer works similarly.) Your bookmark file itself is an HTML file that can be bookmarked. If you select “open file” from the “file” menu, you can find your bookmark file (usually in the Netscape directory for Windows, or in the System folder for Macintosh) and add it to your bookmark file. This will allow you to browse your bookmark file just like you would any other HTML page. You can even make your bookmark file your default starting page, so that it is the first file opened by your browser on startup.
3. Use Yahoo to find related Web sites. If you’ve read about a particular Web site that interests you, but it’s not quite what you’re looking for, search for the name of that Web site in Yahoo, and then go to the Yahoo subdirectory that contains that listing. Chances are you’ll find related sites, some of which may be better than the one you first browsed.
4. Rely on brand names. Look for organizations you’ve heard of first. And read LegalResearcher.Com to find out brands – such as Yahoo – that have established themselves as reliable sources of information.
5. Consider the source. Even though government organizations and educational institutions were among the first to publish information on the Internet, commercial organizations – who have a vested interest in being accurate, timely, and complete – are generally more reliable.
6. There are exceptions to every rule. Although government agencies are not financially motivated to provide good information, they are often legally required (or politically motivated, take your pick) to do so. Similarly, educational institutions often vie for position, trying to best their rival schools for the fame that accompanies good Internet publishing.