Near the end of our Advanced Legal Research course, we like to bring in a small panel of legal practitioners, ideally representing different types of legal jobs and at different stages of their legal careers, to discuss their legal research practices with our students. It is typically a well-liked event. Our students probably pay better attention to our guest speakers than they do to their instructors (!) and they generate good questions during the Q&A.
While I won’t say that we “coach” our speakers per se, we do suggest talking points such as the types of resources they use (print v. electronic, Westlaw v. Lexis), the typical time spent on research, and their approach or strategy when confronting a research task. In general our panelists do an excellent job discussing these topics (although we did have one speaker tell our class she “doesn’t really do legal research.” *facepalm* With some coaxing, she (a very new associate) came to realize that she in fact does quite a bit of legal research, just not of the cases/statutes variety. She spends the bulk of her day with form books and practice aids. Oy.). This year, one of our panelists admitted to the class that she heavily uses Google in her research. *double facepalm* She quickly qualified her admission by emphasizing that her research does not begin and end with Google, but that Google is often a quick starting-off point and can in some cases be a time saver when you’re in a crunch. She then went on to discuss her equal use of Lexis, Westlaw, and her favorite bankruptcy treatise.
Like many, perhaps most, research instructors, I try to steer my students away from Google in our course, admonishing them not to use it at all in their assignments. It’s not that I feel that Google should be looked down upon—I use it quite often for reference questions—but the purpose of our course is to help them master a variety of legal research resources, not Google. Toward the end of the semester, I include a lecture on free and low-cost legal research tools, focusing on Fastcase, Casemaker, and Ravel Law. But because I know the reality is that they will continue using Google in their research practices in addition (I hope!) to the resources they’ve learned in our course, I have recently wondered whether Google and integrative browser add-ons like Lexis Views and Bestlaw ought to be incorporated into our course in some fashion as a topic of their own. Why daydream of a world in which lawyers never use Google? Better to embrace the reality and improve upon it.
When Lexis Views first came out, I added it to Chrome to see how it worked. For anyone unfamiliar with Lexis Views, it is a browser add-on for Chrome or Safari (Firefox coming soon) that allows you to search and access Lexis Advance content while you’re researching on other websites. For instance, if you have Lexis Views activated while running a search on Google Scholar, results from Lexis Advance will also display in your results list. If instead you were reading an article in Wikipedia, a pop up at the top of the screen might tell you that Lexis Views has found a matching document for you. If, like our panelist, our students are most comfortable beginning their research in Google (and provided they subscribe to Lexis at their place of work), Lexis Views could prove a useful tool for getting them to reliable legal information once they’ve used Google to get a preliminary framework for the research topic.
Going in a completely different direction, Bestlaw is a browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox that integrates into both Lexis Advance and Westlaw. In addition to adding certain usability features to the document you’re viewing in Westlaw or Lexis Advance, such as a distraction free reading display or adding a table of contents, Bestlaw also includes a Search feature that allows you to search for the document you’re viewing in Casetext, LII, CourtListener, Google, Google Scholar, Wikipedia, or Ravel Law.
While I have found both tools to have their usefulness in research, I’ll admit I’ve had to disable them after learning the hard way that they’ll pop up even when you don’t want them to, for instance in front of a classroom of confused students!
Beyond these two research enhancement tools, there is something to be said for including Google in your legal research instruction rather than banning it altogether. (I should qualify that by saying that I still firmly believe it’s useful to ban Google from assignments, where the purpose of the assignment is for the students to practice using the legal research tools you have been teaching in class.) And of course, you could always plug one of the Google-related books out there, such as Google for Lawyers. With our course drawing to a close in just a matter of weeks (where did the time go?!?), I don’t think I’ll be making any changes for this year’s class, but I am considering adding a lecture in the Fall, when all substantive topics have been covered, that brings everything together and discusses Google’s appropriate place in legal research—not as a crutch, but as a stepping stone. Do you incorporate good Googling practices into your legal research course? Please share!
Editor’s note – republished with the permission of the author from the RIPS Law Librarian Blog.