Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Law Firm Blogs

I’m aware that Google is usually the first (and too often only) stop for many novice legal researchers. However, it never dawned on me that seasoned professionals are making this same mistake, until I came across Matt Kaiser’s How Not to do Legal Research post. I was surprised to read that many attorneys stop researching once they find another law firm’s post on the topic. This is startlingly on a few levels, but mainly because if you are not familiar with an area of law, how do you know the information is accurate. Maybe that attorney found his/her information on another blog and didn’t bother to verify it.

Search any legal issue and you are bound to come across numerous law firm blogs/sites in your results. I did a quick search for “Legal issues involving falling tree limbs and Massachusetts."

I'm not saying that researchers should disregard any information they find on the internet, but the information should be critically reviewed. At least a few of these results may be reliable, and there are a few things to look for to help identify those sources:

Look for recent posts or sites that are updated regularly. Depending on your issue, there may be recent changes to the law that will not be reflected in older posts. A quick scan of the results from my search revealed posts from 2003 to present.

As with any topic, length varies widely. For my search on falling tree limbs, I came across some posts as short as a few paragraphs and others that were a few pages long. Longer posts generally mean more content, but not always meaningful content. Look for posts that contain citations to the primary authority governing that issue. 

Publishers rely on subject experts to write books, so should you. Look for posts by attorneys or firms specializing in that area of law. This may mean doing a little more research.
Are you done once you've located a reliable source? No! It’s best to think of posts as secondary resources that point you to the law, but then you have to read the actual authority. Do I even need to mention validating your research? Even if you do not find a post containing citations to relevant authority, you can still use posts to identify keywords before you jump on a fee-based database. For my search, I found "nuisance," "Act of God," "encroachment," and "self-help" before even logging in to Lexis or Westlaw.

The rise of the Internet for legal research has provided more venues for legal experts to dispense their
knowledge. By all means, take advantage of this resource, but always make sure to critically review the source.

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