This article has been written by Bavya Songara, pursuing a Diploma in Technology Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts and edited by Shashwat Kaushik. The article delves into findings from surveys and studies to provide compelling evidence as to why lawyers need to embrace web research.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
Legal research is an integral part of the study and practise of the law. Before the digitalization of legal resources, it was a strenuous task to find relevant material from the plethora of books, journals, statutes, judgements, and other sources of information. Now, due to readily available online sources of information to conduct research from, the very nature of legal research has evolved. Researching on the web is faster, more efficient, and more accurate. The importance of being well-versed in using the web to our advantage is felt now more than ever. As the legal profession is rapidly evolving in the digital age, web-based legal research is becoming the norm. The internet has become a primary platform for legal research, which is causing lawyers to shift from print to digital sources. This switch is lucrative as it offers to enhance the competence, efficiency, speed, and accuracy of legal research. The article delves into findings from surveys and studies to provide compelling evidence as to why lawyers need to embrace web research. A proactive approach to integrating web-based research into legal education and practise is advocated by exploring the benefits, downsides, and transformative potential of using technology in the legal field. With data indicating the increasing popularity of online research among legal professionals, lawyers need to leverage digital resources to add value to their organisations, provide competent representation, and adapt to technological advancements.
Reasons to use web for legal research
The saying that “Research on the internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity” proves true in the 21st century. But before legal research professors and law school librarians completely abandon the effort to get students to learn how to research offline, we will determine whether the print primary sources, secondary sources, and finding tools on which many of us have been primarily trained are truly becoming an endangered species. The Internet is increasingly becoming a primary platform for conducting legal research. Findings from a variety of studies and surveys point towards the same conclusion as well. So, There are various compelling reasons for lawyers to make the switch and start doing legal research on the web.
Convenience and efficiency
Web-based legal research is extremely helpful because it’s easy and convenient. It has decreased the need to go through hundreds of journals, newspapers, or printed copies of recent judgements, statutes, and regulations. Lawyers can now easily type a relevant keyword in an online search engine to produce multiple findings to support a specific legal issue or decision. This expedites the research process and efficiency of legal research, making it easy for lawyers to amass a wealth of relevant information quickly without breaking a sweat. Surveys conducted by the ABA show that the majority of lawyers use the internet for legal research, whether from paid or free sources online. The results of the survey showed that 42 percent of lawyers start research with search engines like Google, while 34 percent start with paid online resources and Only a small minority of 37% said they still regularly use print materials for legal research. Seven percent said they never use printed materials during research.
Legal resources online have an edge over their printed counterparts as they are more readily edited and can be trusted to cite the most recent authority on a topic. Nowadays, even amendments and changes in law are quickly made available online. Such prompt updates make online legal research a faster and more convenient way for lawyers to ensure that a case has not been reversed or overruled. Thus minimising the risk of relying on outdated or overruled facts. Moreover, there have been increased instances of government entities and courts posting information directly on the web because of the low cost of digital publication. This, in turn, has raised expectations for competence in research. In such an environment, a lawyer must use some form of web-based research to make sure that the primary sources that he cites are up to date and have not been overruled.
Addition of web-based legal research to the college curriculum
Increasingly, even the curriculum of law schools includes tutorials and classes on how to do online legal research through platforms like SCC, Manupatra, etc. Law schools around the globe have recognised the dire need for young law students to be proficient in web-based research. This change in college curriculum reflects how the world around us has changed and how the need to make students tech-savvy is felt by law schools producing young professionals to meet the demands of the legal profession.
Economics of law publishing
Another reason why lawyers need to learn how to effectively use the web is due to the high cost of acquiring printed legal sources. The high costs of printed legal sources, coupled with cheaper access to digital publications, are leading to a paradigm shift in the way lawyers perform legal research. This shift can be seen in the way government and official platforms publicise information strictly online to reduce costs, as making and distributing printed versions of official legal sources is more expensive compared to publishing the material online. People are likely to continue replacing printed official versions with online versions. So, if a lawyer decides to abstain from using the internet for research, he will likely miss key sources that a judge expects to see cited and will fall below the standard for competence.
Access to a broad range of documents
Another advantage is the broad range of documents that are available on the internet that are not easily available in print. Such obscure documents include policy statements, forms, studies, reports, and smaller information collections. Law libraries do not necessarily carry these documents in print within their collections. They rely on the Internet as the major source of access to these materials. Such documents have the potential to add strength to a lawyer’s case if used correctly.
Citing non-legal sources
There has been a substantial increase in instances where a wide variety of non-legal sources like dictionaries, news articles, and academic journals from a variety of disciplines are cited. So, a competent lawyer must be up-to-date with both legal and non-legal sources. A lawyer is more likely to come across such non-legal sources online through a relevant internet search than in real life through a printed copy.
Competence and ethical duties
A lawyer has some ethical duties to fulfil and should have a basic level of competence to handle a case. The model rules of professional conduct guidelines issued by the ABA emphasise that lawyers should be competent and possess knowledge about technology to effectively represent their clients. The ‘duty to Google’ has become increasingly important due to certain information being readily available on the internet, which creates an expectation that it must be discovered and examined. Many states in the US have included in their rules that “lawyers must stay abreast of relevant technologies” as it helps them improve their practise. In the future, we may see the Bar Council of India impose such requirements on lawyers as well.
Increases chances of competing with big-law firms
A small law firm or solo practitioner can benefit from web-based legal research, as these digital platforms help speed up time-consuming and laborious tasks. Larger firms often have an advantage because of the extensive number of paralegals, associate partners, and clerks working for them. But small law firms and solo practitioners can easily compete with them by harnessing technology. Technology enables lawyers to accomplish more with fewer resources, which helps them thrive in their law practise.
Important to stay relevant
The ability to use technology in everyday practise is essential for lawyers as the legal landscape is changing rapidly, especially with the rise of AI technology. The need for lawyers to be able to utilise AI in their practise is essential to remaining relevant. For example, Machine learning models like GPT-3 can assist lawyers in legal research by quickly scanning the data and providing relevant information.
It gets difficult to articulate a fixed standard for legal research as the nature of law and legal research is very dynamic. But, from the above discussion, we can safely conclude that legal research on the internet will continue to be important for lawyers. There is a dire need for lawyers to become efficient with doing legal research online, as it has many potential benefits, like ensuring that the information that you cite is recent. Also, there are a plethora of legal and non-legal sources available for free on the internet that a lawyer can use to increase the strength of their case. So, any lawyer hoping to avoid public ridicule should review the online resources. The researcher must also be aware that web research has its pitfalls because not all the material published online is fact-checked and accurate. The reliability of the material can vary depending on its source. Sticking to a reputed online source is better to ensure the reliability of the material. A safe option will always be to opt for paid services, as the information on such platforms gets thoroughly checked and reviewed to ensure accuracy. In conclusion, integrating web-based legal research is pertinent for lawyers striving for accuracy, reliability, and fast access to information. The findings from surveys conducted by the ABA and other resources also agree that web-based research is the predominant way for lawyers to conduct research. As the legal profession continues to embrace technological advancements, lawyers must acknowledge the power of web-based research and proactively incorporate it into their practise and education.
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