Bacal's Internet Legal Research Guide

The Need for a Focused Strategy

The Internet is comprised of a very large number of services, as discussed below, that are potentially useful in conducting pre-litigation investigations and second tier legal and business research. Because pursuing even a few of these resources in a single session can be extremely time consuming, it becomes important to develop a disciplined strategy for your research topics before you enter the Net.

Welcome to the Circus

For the unfocused researcher, the opportunity to digress, to scurry down paths that seem interesting if not relevant to a particular search task, will be overwhelming. The Internet is to the intellect what the circus was to entertainment. Each home page deliberately beckons with a barker’s promise: "Come right in. Welcome. Right this way." Each site is anxious to get you intellectually enticed enough to visit, and to visit often.

Many sites feature and prominently display "visitor counters," often with a large number of visitors being displayed. This might convince the new visitor that this site must be worth the visit, just like a full parking lot at a restaurant might appear to be assurance of the quality of the food. But site visitors beware. First of all, these counters are often not a measure of the number of unique visitors, but the number of "hits" on each page at the site. A single visitor to a site who clicks on 10 pages might be recorded on a counter as 10 rather than 1, depending upon how the counter works. Furthermore, it’s obvious that certain website counters are not accurate, some are frozen and some may have been manipulated. Manipulated website counters are to gullible consumers in the early 21st Century what some manipulated automobile odometers were to gullible consumers in the 1950's.

Therefore, be wary of the signage that might entice you into a particular website. A legal researcher must be savvy enough not to go everywhere that a cyber pied piper beckons.

Wandering Into the Wrong Tent

As a result of the psychology of the Net sites, sometimes you will not realize where you really are until you are well inside the tent. So you thought when you clicked on that new site advertised as "Recent Case Law and Legislative Developments in Copyright Law In the United States," that you were going to a neutral site with that information. Surprise! There is a cost to this admission. You may find yourself in a law firm’s home pages. These pages might contain the desired information on a topic you are interested in—but this information will not be generously offered at the door. "Grab a drink, sit down and meet our lawyers." That is the message of the initial pages of the presentation of most law firm home pages. Only after you have pushed your way through a number of screens containing S.P.S. (self-praise stinks) information about the law firm, then sometimes you will finally get to where you need to go. Is that a fair price to get free information? In some instances, it is, but often it is not. But if you’re prepared for it, it will be less taxing.

Why Some Law Firm Websites Can Have Value

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