Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Research Tip – Think Small

The number and variety of legal research resources available today is good news for researchers, but there is a down side to this wealth of information. With so many places to look for legal information, research can sometimes seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. In the coming months, we will post research tips here to help legal researchers deal with this information overload and find what they need efficiently and cost-effectively.

Our first Research Tip of 2005 is: "If you have to look for a needle, look for it in the smallest haystack possible."

One of the first steps you will have to take in any research project is deciding where to look. To save time and money, you should start with the smallest or most specific resource. For example, if you are looking for Illinois state court cases, search a LexisNexis or Westlaw database of Illinois state cases, use a print digest such as the Illinois Digest that only includes Illinois cases, or go to the web site of the Illinois Supreme Court. If you start in a more general resource, you will waste time going through search results that include information you don't need.

Choosing the right place to start your research is especially important if you are using an online service like Westlaw or LexisNexis, because starting in the wrong place can waste your client's money as well as your time. Larger databases, such as combination databases that include cases from many courts and many jurisdictions, are frequently billed at a much higher rate than smaller databases.

Finally, there are special considerations when doing research on the web. Using a general search engine to search the web for cases would likely retrieve hundreds or even thousands of documents, and most of them would not even be cases. More importantly, before you rely upon legal information you find on the web, you need to be sure that it is accurate and reliable. One way to save time retrieving cases on the web, and to be sure they are accurate and reliable, is to retrieve them from an authoritative site such as the court's web site.

We will return to the topic of evaluating internet information in later research tips.

Previous Research Tips:

Searching Is Not Research
Don't Get Caught Without a Search Engine

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