[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. This short list of legal research tips was written in mid-2004. I have not updated references for historical reasons. These are meant to be simple, handy tips for the average Internet user. I hope you find some of these tips useful.]
15 Internet Legal Research Tips
1. Keep Adding Tools to Your Toolbox. The Internet is not static and your use of it should not be static either. The best legal researchers are constantly adding new tools and techniques and evaluating their existing approaches. If anything is clear at this point, it is that no one has all the answers. New tools become available all of the time.
2. Subscribe to the Email Legal Research Email Newsletters. The Virtual Chase Alert and The Internet Legal Research Weekly are just two examples of the great, free email newsletters that cover developments in legal research and consistently provide new resources and tips. There is no reason for you to try to keep up with all of these developments on your own when great resources like these are available to help you.
3. Soup Up Your Knowledge of Google with Google Hacks. For better or worse, most people use Google as their primary search tool. Soup up the Google search engine by learning some of the hidden features of Google. Tara Calishan’s book Google Hacks describes one hundred ways you can use these features and make better use of Google.
4. Use Quotation Marks to Enhance Your Results. For the non-Booleans, nothing is simpler and quicker than improving your results by putting quotes around a name or phrase. For some names, you need to use quotes to bring up relevant hits. A great, but underused, technique is to put quotes around a phrase that you might expect to find in the best hit for your search. For example, a search for “the capital of Alaska is” may bring you the result you want better than a simple word search.
5. Use Special Words to Locate Good Introductory Materials. When looking for good introductory or comprehensive materials on a topic, especially one for which a search on the phrase might turn up thousands of hits (e.g., “intellectual property”), do a few quick searches in which you add a word like “primer,” “overview,” “resources,” “guide,” “faq” or something similar. By doing so, you can often locate a great introduction that will lead you to some of the best resources and experts.
6. Use File Types to Find Presentations, Handout Materials and Articles. Many of the most comprehensive legal resources take the form of extended articles, seminar slides, handout materials and outlines. In a great number of cases, these materials are not put into HTML. Instead, they are placed on the Web as PDF files or PowerPoint files. Adding the additional search term of “pdf” or “ppt” can bring you right to many of these excellent resources.
7. Bring Information to You With News Aggregators. It’s no secret that RSS feeds and news aggregators are becoming the primary way to get current quality information delivered directly to you. Do not miss this train as it leaves the station. Feeds and aggregators promise to change legal research for the better.
8. Add Blawgs to Your Search Lists. Legal blogs, or “blawgs,” especially the law librarian blogs (e.g., BeSpacific.com), are tremendous resources for current developments, news and commentary. Many are written by leading figures in their fields and have a timeliness that print publications cannot match. Using Technorati, Feedster or other blog search tools is all but mandatory today.
9. Create Google Alerts and Other Automatic Searches. Probably the hottest area in search today involves the notion of “saved searches,” in one form or another. From RSS tools to Google email alerts, you can set up standard searches and have them automatically run with the results sent to you by email or RSS feeds. These are very powerful tools that just keep working for you with no additional effort.
10. Make Use of Links Collections. Since the earliest days of the Web, nothing has been more helpful that an updated, well-chosen list of links on a topic chosen by a person knowledgeable in the field. The practice of creating links pages has diminished greatly over the years, but there are many still out there. It’s also worth finding and collecting them.
11. Look for Specialty Search Tools. You can get better results by narrowing the field. Specialty search engines are great tools. From FindLaw to very specific search tools, you can find many specialty search engines, each of which allow you to dig deeper and locate more relevant resources on your topic by reducing the amount of “noise” you find in the general search engines.
12. Use “News” Search for Current Issues. It can take a long time for items to show up in search engines such as Google. As a result, search engines are not the best place to look for information on breaking stories. Simply switching over to the “news” search engine on Google will give you dramatically better results. Blogs are another set of great resources on breaking stories.
13. Don’t Overlook Law Professor Pages. Many law professors today have web pages with heavily annotated syllabi for their courses. These pages are tremendous resources for anyone wanted to learn about certain areas of law. They also give the most important cases and note trends and areas of contention. Law professor blogs are also good sources of information.
14. Keep Up-to-Date with Search Engine Developments. Search engines change their search algorithms, spidering practices and even their underlying database technologies on a regular basis. These changes can produce unexpected results. Staying familiar with these developments, such as by visiting Searchenginewatch.com, will definitely improve your techniques and results.
15. Collect Tips, Tricks and New Techniques in a Way that You Can Use Them. You might well be able to collect ten or more new research tips, tricks, tools or techniques in an average week. They won’t do you much good if you don’t use them.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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