Posted in Research

Crowdsourcing in Law? My June Post as a Ms. JD Writer in Residence

Ms. JD LogoIt’s hard to believe I’m half-way through my year as a 2014 Writer in Residence for Ms. JD!  It certainly goes fast, and it can be hectic at times, but I am grateful for the experience.  For my June post, I reviewed Mootus and Casetext, and discussed how crowdsourcing seems to be making its way into legal practice…or at least, legal research.

A couple of posts back, I talked about Jurify, a new website where attorney-members contribute cases, legal forms, and other legal documents that they have found particularly helpful in their own practice.  This type of pooled-resource contributions is commonly referred to as crowdsourcing, defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” (, “crowdsourcing,” obtained June 5, 2014)  Traditionally, the legal industry is not known for its collaborative environment.  Of course, this is a gross generalization, but after all, associates are competing against each other to make partner, and opposing parties want to keep their case strategy close to the vest; this profession, therefore, naturally lends itself to an individualist work ethic.  Yet I believe that the legal industry is changing, starting to embrace collaboration as a tool for accuracy and efficiency in legal practice.  This transition is evident through the recent emergence of legal resource platforms, like Jurify, that utilize crowdsourcing to build their collections.  For this month’s post, I thought we would look at two more such sites: Mootus and Casetext.

You can read the full post here.  Thanks for reading!

Posted in Research

Unravelling Ravel Law

My February post as a Ms. JD Writer in Residence is up! (This is my rudimentary method of re-blogging it!) The following is an excerpt from my post, which reviewed Ravel Law, a new case law database. Following the excerpt is a link to the whole post on Ms. JD’s site.

In the world of electronic legal research, two names have always dominated the market: Lexis and Westlaw. There are others of course, such as LoisLaw, Fastcase, and Casemaker, and a couple of years ago, Bloomberg Law entered the market. The trouble with these databases is that they’re subscription-based, and even those that tout themselves as low-cost will set you back a hefty sum. Luckily for us, the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM) has spawned and inspired a variety of legal research platforms that offer access to statutes and cases without a costly subscription. These platforms range from official codes posted on state and federal government websites to law school born databases, such as Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (an official member of FALM). For this post, I’m going to focus on another, very new, legal research platform born out of a law school and inspired by free access to law: Ravel Law….

Read the rest of this post on Ms. JD’s website.

(This is also cross-posted on my other blog, Legal Research Redux.)

Posted in Professional Development

Overlooking Legal Research as an Essential Lawyering Skill

Happy 2014, everyone!  With a new year comes a new adventure for me – I’m participating in Ms. JD‘s Writers in Residence program.  Essentially, I have committed to writing a monthly column for their blog: “Research Makeover: The Tips, Tricks, and Trade of Legal Research in the Digital Age.”  My first post is up, and both introduces who I am and why I thought a column on legal research was important.

Essentially, I discuss legal research the way many have before me – as an overlooked, but essential, lawyering skill.  I cite to AALL’s recent task force survey of practitioners and the research faults of their summer clerks and new hires, and I allude to several other studies as well.  Given all this evidence that legal research is an essential and lacking skill, I postulated two main reasons I see for why such an essential skill is so commonly overlooked: Assumption of Skill and Information Overload.  I hope you’ll read the post (and my next 11 as well!), but I thought I’d flesh this out a little further here.

Assumption of Skill – I think it is easy for anyone today, not just law students and not just in the legal profession, to assume s/he has solid research skills.  In the Ms. JD post, I cite one reason for this: that most of us have had to do some kind of research during our education, for a paper, an article, or something similar.  Therefore we know how to research, right?  Unfortunately, there is a critical distinction to be made here between academic research and client-based research.  Sure, you might use some of the same resources and materials for both, but the strategy is necessarily different.  Academic research can be a little more exploratory without causing any significant problems; you can wander between resources, run a thousand different searches, and download hundreds of documents without worry.  When you’re researching for a client, however, you have to know the best resources for finding your answers, you have to have the confidence that the answers you’re finding are complete and accurate, and you have to complete the research process efficiently, both for time and financial concerns.    With many subscription databases, opening documents, downloading documents, or even running multiple searches can rack up your costs without you knowing it until the bill arrives!  The stakes are high in client-based research.  You need to have a plan; you need to know what you need to know; and you need to know where to find it.  All that issue-spotting ingrained into you in your substantive law classes is a critical component of your research strategy, and an important first step in the process.  You don’t want to go in blind.

In addition, I think today especially it is easy to assume that legal research is a no-brainer because of the Google world in which we live.  Even the legal research databases we’ve been accustomed to for years have begun migrating to a Google-esque platform.  With the “world at your fingertips” mentality, it is easy to assume you’re finding everything there is to find on your subject by running these catch-all searches.  But I must reinforce my earlier point: you still have to know where to find the answer.  Even if you’re running a whole-database search, if you don’t know that you need to be looking at regulations instead of statutes, you may end up looking at the wrong search results.  Legal research is just as much about knowing where to look as it is about finding the right answers.

Information Overload – This point has already been touched upon as well, but, ironic though it may seem, having easy access to so much more information than before may actually make it harder to find answers.  There is so much more to sift through, and evaluating the validity and reliability of electronic resources is not always an easy task.  Like many librarians, I find value in both print and electronic research.  One of the characteristics I value most highly about print research, and something I find lacking in electronic, is the ability to always know what I am looking at and how the information is organized.  I try to emphasize to my students that, with electronic research, you need to always be cognizant of what you’re looking at; with a few tabs and hyperlinks, I may go from looking at one case to looking at a citing decision without realizing it.  That makes it awfully easy for me to misappropriate references in my briefs and memos.  And when dealing with statutes and regulations, it’s so much easier to understand these materials when you can see how they’re arranged; yet many databases post these materials without posting their finding aids, such as tables of contents and indexes.  Information is only as good as what you can comprehend.

This discussion is a little more fleshed-out than in my Ms. JD post on the subject, but I am hoping that it will prompt devoted followers of the blog to tune in to my future posts.  Like any law librarian, I am passionate about legal research, and I am so happy to get to share this with others.