27 July 2006. Jerry
Lawson (NetLawBlog) comments on Google's edge over the
long-standing research systems Lexis and Westlaw. He points out that
it's easier to use and does a better job of keyword ranking. Picking
up the conversation, Tom
Mighell (Inter Alia) remarks that "any research
project should begin with a determination of whether the information
can be found for free on the Internet."
While valid observations, I caution anyone against becoming completely
reliant on any one utility, whether Lexis, Westlaw, Google, or the
next search tool to win the public's favor. As Jerry indicates, no
resource answers all questions all the time. Moreover, technical
strengths or weaknesses should influence your decision to use a search
engine only after you identify the potential source of the information
you seek. Then, if all things are equal, by all means, begin with the
easiest, fastest, cheapest resource.
Tom relates a story about a group of summer
associates, who experienced difficulty answering five research
questions. Four of the five were factual questions. Only one student
answered three of the four questions listed on Tom's site correctly.
All missed the final question. Tom observes that knowledge of Internet
resources would have aided the students tremendously.
Indeed, knowledge of sources -- whether on the
Internet or a bookshelf, or in a commercial research database or
CD-ROM -- is the key to becoming a successful researcher.
Unfortunately, many students never learn about the importance of this
step in the research process.
They learn about encyclopedias, case reporters,
treatises and other sources of information, but fail to make a
connection between the question at hand and a potential resource.
Instead, students and many beginning researchers immediately convert a
question into a keyword search. They do this before giving thought to
whether the information ought to appear in the database.
I'm glad lawyers are thinking about research systems
and technology, and testing the knowledge of future lawyers. But
debating who's bigger, faster, easier or cheaper overlooks the more
important question: Who has the answer?
Tom Mighell: Now that I see my comments
again, I regret my "any research project" remark -- I guess
my (artlessly worded) point was that if it's easily available on the
Internet for free, then why pay West for the same thing? I suppose the
comment should be reworded to say "any research project should
begin with a determination of the resource where the information can