One of the most frustrating things to encounter in your legal research is a reference to a case with either a) no link; or b) a link that doesn’t work. It’s something that plagued me for years and continues to plague many of the lawyers I work with.
But instead of cursing the resource you’re using, the person that requires the research or you general choice of degree/profession until everyone within earshot is blushing due to your choice of colourful words, read on and learn what I wish I had understood (or perhaps, had listened to) in first year law school.
Legal publishers don't tend to play nicely with each other
The answer as to why this happens is simple: legal publishers are competitors – so they’re not going to link to each others’ products.
If you keep in mind that legal publishers are competitors, the reasons why they don’t link to each others’ report series and other products can often be easily explained and worked-around. And violent expulsions of expletives avoided.
February 7, 2011
Thanks a million to Chris McLean, founder of the Australasian Legal Technology site for blogging about LRR here!
Chris mentioned that he found the LRR Legal Research Library on Google Books of particular interest – see my original blog article on the topic here – which is really encouraging! I’d better go and make sure the library is as up to date as it should be – I have at least one reader now!
Before you visit the LRR library to curl up and read Black’s Law Dictionary (you know you will), be sure to check out McLean’s site – he describes it as “dedicated to providing information about technology used by the legal industry in the Australian and Asia Pacific market”. I am absolutely hooked – it’s an incredibly comprehensive, up-to-date and topical site for Australian legal professionals.
February 27, 2009
Just a quickie this week – have been swamped preparing and presenting training presentations on using Google for legal and business research…
Have you often spent hours flipping through text books and thought “I wish you could hit Control+F in real life!”…Well now you can kinda do that! Oh, you’ve never thought that? Right, it’s just me then. What a nerd. Ok, carry on.
I’ve started putting together a library on Google Books which includes texts on legal research (I’ll probably expand this to Australian legal texts). The beauty of Google Books is that even if the full text of the book isn’t available online, you can still search across the full text of the books. So you can find out whether a book contains your search terms, without having to read the book cover to cover, before you borrow or buy it.
Find it here: Legal Research Rescue – Library on Google Books. (I love the RSS feed feature – I’m off to find some Google Books library feeds to subscribe to!)
Some books are available in full text, some are limited view (only a part of the book is available), some are snippet view (so you’ll just see your search term in context) and some are bibliographical information only. If you can’t access the full text online, use Google Books in conjunction with your uni or organisation’s library catalogue, or the Libraries Australia catalogue, to find out where to get a hard copy from.
Let me know what you think and how you use Google Books – I’d love to hear!
Do you have any other ideas for using Google Books in the legal profession?
January 28, 2009
Do you currently type in a party name, or a keyword or 10, and hope that a relevant case pops up in the first page of results? Do you spend hours reading all 8 million cases on “directors’ duties”, desperately hoping you’ll come across one that relates to your case or assignment? Do you worry that you haven’t covered the field when looking for a case?
The type of database you use for any given legal research task can make all the difference when time is of the essence (and when is it not?). There is one sure-fire way to drastically reduce the time spent on case law research – and it doesn’t involve inaccurate recording of billable units, warping the space-time continuum or ‘delegating’ to someone with less of a clue than you. The answer? Know what you’re searching across. Understand the difference between case citators and full text databases.
Case law research sending you crazy?
Which products are citators? Which are full text?
There are many examples of both types (none of which I endorse, nor have an affiliation with) but I will stick to a few well known examples. LexisNexis’ CaseBase and CaseSearch (UK), AustLII’s new LawCite and Lawbook/Thomson’s FirstPoint are the case citators that most Australian lawyers and law students would be familiar with.
Resources such as the LexisNexis Cases database (within the LNAU online service), Thomson’s Lawbook Online, the cases in CCH and any “unreported cases” databases such as AustLII are generally full text services.
Where do they look for my search terms?
Case citators: Case citators, AKA case digests, don’t search across the full text of case. They simply search across that citator, or summary, document that you are probably be familiar with. The details you are most likely searching across include party names, case citation, court, jurisdiction, judge etc. Other details such as keywords or catchwords, references to other cases, legislation or journal articles (which, in my experience, may not be comprehensive or even correct in some cases) may be searchable, depending on the database you are using and the age of the case.
Full text databases: You guessed it – full text databases search across the full text of judgments. So you can plug in quite specific search terms and, as long as those search terms appear somewhere within the text of the judgment itself, you’ll usually get hits on your results pages.
So, plug a long, specific phrase into a case citator and chances are you won’t get any hits. Why? Because it is not searching the full text of the judgment, only the summary/citator document.
What cases are included when I search?
Case citators: Generally, case citators will have an entry for all reported cases (and sometimes unreported ones), regardless of which publisher publishes the report series they appeared in (sometimes they do play nicely!). This is the reason why citators are great for locating cases… case citators are the place to go when you need all cases in one, searchable, spot.
Full text databases: Most full text databases will search across only those cases that are published by that publisher. For example, when you search LexisNexis Cases, you are not searching across those cases that have only been reported in a Thomson-published report series. And vice-versa. When you consider that legal publishers are business competitors, it makes sense as to why they don’t always play nicely with each other.
Unreported databases are the exception to this limitation – they include all cases released by the relevant courts before they are “reported” in one or more of the publishers’ report series, but their databases don’t often go back as far as the publishers’ databases do.
When would I use each type of database?
Full text databases: Use full text resources when you need comprehensive research on a topic, issue or phrase judicially considered - it’s the only way to make sure you are searching the entire text of the case. Full text is perfect for searching for specific words or phrases within a case that are not likely to be picked up in the keywords/catchwords part of a citator document. If you run the same, well structured, search/es across each publisher’s case database, you can usually feel confident you have conducted your research thoroughly.
Case citators: Citators are great for locating cases when you already have some detail that is likely to be in the citator document - eg. a party name, a judge’s name, a citation etc. You can also usually use the search functions within the citator to narrow your search by date range, jurisdiction and more. In short, citators should be used for locating known cases and not for researching a topic from scratch.
Case citators are also good for locating alternate citations (eg. when you need a version of the case as reported in an “authorised report series” for handing up in court).
- Case citators such as CaseBase and FirstPoint are not full text and are best used for locating cases.
- Full text databases such as LNAU Cases and Lawbook include the full text of cases published by that publisher only and are best used for research on a phrase, topic or concept.
Do you have any other tips or tricks when it comes to using case law citators or full text databases?
January 4, 2009