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Free Legal Information, Research, and Food: Think About It


If you’re not a lawyer, law librarian, or have never researched the law, where do you begin?

No, it’s not enough to find cases and statutes online. It’s also not enough to toss a question into cyberspace and expect someone to answer it with anything more than research tips.

Think about it.

Let’s use food as an analogy:  If you’d never cooked a meal, or anything that needed more skill or effort than the press of a microwave button, would you be able to prepare a 3 course meal (for someone whose opinion matters to you, maybe, um, a judge) by using information online?

Yes, you might, assuming you give the meal preparation a lot of attention, perhaps by reading voraciously about ingredients and the art of cooking, searching for recipes, buying or borrowing the kitchen tools you need, watching online videos about making the recipes you selected, and then testing those recipes to make sure they will come out the way you want on the Big Day.

It would be nice to have some hands-on guidance from someone who does know how to cook. (Or you can order out, e.g. not unlike hiring a lawyer.)

Legal research is not unlike cooking. Yes, if you want to do it yourself, go it alone, it can be done, but you can save yourself oodles of time, burnt offerings, and mysterious icky gray lumpy stuff in the saucepan on the day of the big meal if you ask for help.

Librarians and information geeks eat, breath, and drink “information,” how to find it, how to verify its authenticity, how to preserve it, and how to make efficient use of it. (There are few things more satisfying to a librarian-info geek than to write the perfect search that drags up from the deep the exact document(s) we need in the shortest time possible.)

In order to save you time, money, and icky gray stuff, we read things like these articles I came across recently (and there are tens of thousands more where these came from – after all, it’s all online, isn’t it) and we share with each other:

From Joe Hodnicki’s Law Librarian Blog, his May 15th blog post: “Now You See It, Now You Don’t, Part I: Free Legal Research Services on the Web

From Greg Lamber’s 5/14/12, post at the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, “The Next Generation of Computers Practicing Law,” and his 5/16/12, post, “Creating a Disruptive Innovation – Disrupt Your Own Beliefs First”

Think about it.

You can also keep current with the law and read cases, statutes, constitutions, law review articles, legal newsletters, bar journals, attend lawyer legal education classes, etc., etc., etc. (And librarians also read things like this: WILL UNWOUND #754: ‘Fingernail on the Chalk Board”)

So,if someone ever says “you just need to file a form” or “you don’t need to talk to a lawyer,” consider the source, do a little research, and ask a librarian.

Bon appétit.

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