As legal researchers, we know we need to validate our research to make sure we are relying upon good law. We update and validate authorities online using Shepard’s Citations or Westlaw’s KeyCite. But how do we know other legal information we find online is reliable and current? Is it fabricated or fake news?
Before even thinking about citing or relying upon legal information found online, ask yourself what you know about the website. Do you always evaluate the website before relying on the information you found?
Librarians at the University of Maryland created a comprehensive, easy to use checklist for evaluating websites. By taking just a few minutes to complete the checklist, you will have considered important factors in determining: the quality and accuracy of a site, authorship, qualifications of the author or group that created the site, the purpose and content, bias or objectivity, and information currency.
Think that your information is accurate or current because you found it on a .gov or .org site? That’s not always correct. Take a moment to see when the information was updated and look for a disclaimer that the information on the site is not official.
The American Association of Law Libraries created a Guide to Evaluating Legal Information Online that gives a great overview of how to evaluate legal information online. The Guide covers the three main factors to consider when evaluating legal information found in online sources: content coverage, currency, and reliability. Take a look at the Guide and bookmark it so you review it often.