Legal research on the Internet
There are several general search engines on the Internet that you can use to locate sites of interest.
- Google is the favourite of most general searchers because of its consistent success at generating results lists with the highest quality sites at the top of the list. Although you can just type words in, try some of the search techniques in the Google Cheatsheet and the Google Advanced Operators page to take full advantage of Google’s capabilities.
- To improve your searching on Google, check out Google Search Education.
- The University of California provides information about three recommended search engines.
- For a broader range of search engines, explore some of these popular search engines.
Legal research on the Internet is best conducted using specialized sites with legal content, rather than conducting searches of the web using a general search engine such as Google. The leading Canadian site is CanLII. This is a collection of the case law and legislation from all Canadian jurisdictions, with several value-added features. DRAGNET is a custom Google search of selected legal sites developed by the library staff at New York Law School.
Some courts prevent their judgments from being indexed by general search engines for privacy reasons, so decisions of those courts will not be located in a Google search. In addition, decisions on CanLII are not indexed by general search engines. As a result, a general search engine will not retrieve this type of legal information. Furthermore, the scope and currency of the indexed content will be uncertain if you use a general search engine.
Despite these drawbacks, you may find it worthwhile to augment your legal research with some searches in a general search engine to locate material such as law firm newsletters, company information, news articles, blog posts, government publications and Google book search results that pertain to your research.
See Whelan, Finding & Managing Legal Information on the Internet (Aurora, Ont.: Canada Law Book, 2010) and the companion blog: Finding legal information for an excellent guide to using the Internet to find and manage legal information.
A good legal bookmark list, such as the list maintained by Legal Tree, Ted Tjaden, Courthouse Libraries BC, or Zimmerman’s Research Guide, provides a starting point to explore legal information sites on the Internet.
For a basic list of legal bookmarks, see the bookmarks list for this site.
It is estimated that search engines currently locate approximately 20 billion pages, but that the “invisible” or “deep” web contains around 900 billion pages. Deep Web Research and Discovery Resources 2013 provides a bibliography of resources that discuss how to access online information that the current search engines either cannot find or have difficulty accessing, and provides links to research tools.
Google Coop allows creation of a customized search engine that will search specified Internet sites. Some useful adaptations of this in the Canadian legal context are
- Legal Research page where you can search within Canadian legal research guides
- Canadian Government Documents where you can search across websites of federal, provincial and municipal governments
- Canadian Law Schools page where you can search within the websites of Canadian law schools
- Canadian Law Firm Websites, Blogs & Journals where you can search within the websites of leading Canadian law firms
Blogs are websites containing a series of postings. They range from personal musings to the views of experts in a particular area. The latter type of blog is useful for keeping current on specialized topics. Individuals can often contribute their views by posting comments in response to blog entries.
A good search engine for the general universe of blogs is Technorati. Another option is Google’s blog search. To restrict your search to legal blogs, use BlawgSearch. In addition to being searchable, BlawgSearch has a directory with categories. Several Canadian legal blogs are listed under the category for Canada.
Blogs for Canadian legal research include
- Vancouver Law Librarian Blog
- Library Boy
- Connie Crosby Law Librarian Blog
- Shaunna Mireau on Canadian Legal Research
There are several Canadian law blogs in substantive areas of law. These include
- Canadian Privacy Law Blog
- Michael Geist’s Blog (technology law)
- Law of the Land: Canadian Commercial Real Estate Law Blog
- Canadian Trademark Blog
Instead of checking each blog for new entries, you can subscribe to an RSS feed from the blog that will notify you when new postings are added to the blog.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It allows you to receive information feeds from various Internet sources so that you don’t have to visit individual sites to obtain the information. To use RSS, you need to subscribe to an RSS feed. You can subscribe using an RSS reader, such as Feedly, or subscribe to receive feeds in your email program.
For a good discussion of RSS and how it can be used in the law firm context see the following:
In addition to sending you blog postings, RSS feeds can be used to send you news articles, government information, journal articles, and new case law and legislation. Instead of cluttering your email box, the feeds are collected in your RSS reader and can be reviewed at your convenience. This is a superb current awareness tool.
A wiki is a website that is created collaboratively using software that allows individuals to add and edit content. One of the best known research sites created this way is Wikipedia. Just as when evaluating the content on web sites, care must be taken when relying on content published in a wiki.
Wiki technology is being used in British Columbia to create legal publications like JP Boyd on Family Law.
Whelan, Finding & Managing Legal Information on the Internet (Aurora, Ont.: Canada Law Book, 2010). Companion blog: Finding legal information.
Whelan, “Getting to S: Securing Lawyer Online Activities” (15 September 2010) online: slaw <www.slaw.ca>