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... and Justice for All
NOTE: Reading this essay and reviewing the bibliography, hereinbelow, will alert you to ways of approaching the vast array of external sites you unveil by entering the research rooms. . Good Luck!

INTERNET TRAINERS' STOP & SWAP
  • Internet Search Tips and Strategies and
    Evaluating Internet Research Sources
    by Robert Harris

    Avoiding the "Yahoo Effect" in Internet Legal Research
    By Peter Krakaur[November 18th 1996]

  • Course Bibliography: Ascertaining Information Quality | Developing Research Strategies | Using Search Services | Building Technical Skills | by Sheri Lewis [Created:  May 29, 1997 Revised:  August 8, 1997]
  • Boston College Research Guides
  • More Practice Aids For Attorneys
  • More Practice Aids For Everyone
  • Peter R. Krakaur is the head of Internet Legal Services, a consulting company to the legal profession assisting with the integration of the Internet into the practice of law. ILS offers law firms and attorneys non-legal advice on all aspects of Internet use. Mr. Krakaur publishes Legalethics.com and The Practicing Attorney's Home Page, and offers the Intralaw(sm) legal research service.

    As an attorney, my take on the Internet has always been the same: (1) what value does it offer, (2) is it reliable; and (3) is it quick and easy to use? I will use the Internet if it can get me information to stay proficient in my practice and can get me valuable legal resources. If it simply repeats information I can get off the shelf and proves unreliable or time-consuming to use, it is not worth the bother.

    I've been in the Internet consulting business for about two years. Needless to say, I think the Internet is worth the bother. Like any other research tool, it will take time and effort to understand how things work and what will help you with your practice. A typical shortcut to Internet legal research is to locate one of the major legal research sites (see. Unfortunately, the current structure of many of these sites does not ensure that you will retrieve current or useful information.

    Many existing compendiums of legal resources on the Internet follow the pattern established by Yahoo. That is, they try to catalog all resources relating to a particular topic (e.g., corporate law) or jurisdiction (California). I call the pattern of creating laundry lists of resources the "Yahoo Effect."

    In the early days of the Internet, this approach did not present much of a problem. When I started cataloging Internet legal resources two years ago, it was relatively easy to locate resources and to maintain a useful set of links. It was easy because, quite frankly, there were not that many good ones around. As an example, I recall that only the 3rd and 11th Circuits were on line along with the Supreme Court in early 1995. There were a few statutes and databases of legislation available and there was no Altavista or Excite search engine.

    Today, it is not uncommon for existing legal compendiums to offer over 100 links for a particular practice group. This highlights one of main problems with the "Yahoo Effect" -- more often than not resources are added to a legal compendium without any real screening to determine whether the resources are of any practical use to an attorney. Will an attorney go through all 100 links? Will they all be useful? I think not. If an attorney accesses the Internet, he or she is there for a purpose -- get the information and get out. Laundry lists of resources frustrate that process. I offer a short description of some of the problems caused by the "Yahoo Effect" as demonstrated by running a simple search at a major legal research site.

    The best way to avoid the "Yahoo Effect" is to create a set of select, useful links to resources relevant to your practice. This has been my general approach to cataloging Internet legal resources for the past two years. For example, I do not create a link to a state attorney general page if it simply gives a telephone number or brags about recent accomplishments. By contrast, if the page offers AG opinions or useful publications, the site is worth cataloging. This assures me that when I need a legal resource, it will be at my fingertips. Moreover, I will not waste time exploring a site that sounds good but offers little value.

    A drawback to this approach for attorneys is that it takes additional time and effort to locate resources, to organize resources, and to update links to the resources. Additional time is spent monitoring existing Web resources to see if they have been updated with useful, relevant content (e.g., did the attorney general finally release a database of opinions?) In part, that is why some of my law firm clients hired me to design custom Intranet interfaces to access directly a core set of legal resources broken by practice area and jurisdiction. I've recently enhanced that process and now offer clients the ability to download to their computer these Intranet legal research interfaces off the Web (http://www.intralaw.com/).

    If you rely on legal compendiums to access legal resources, make sure you know who chooses the links and examine whether the resources collected to date are current and practical. The Internet offers a wealth of information and valuable legal resources are added every day. If you don't watch out, your shortcut to research could prove unreliable and too time-consuming to use when you really need it.

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