All Our Research Tips
Say Thank You
When someone does or says something nice to, for, or about you, it is appropriate to express your gratitude.
This holds true for someone who goes out of their way to assist you with your legal research problem. I am not especially advocating a regular contribution to the wine fridge of your local law librarian who helps you all the time – I leave that to you.
Today’s Tip is particular to those (unexpectedly) wonderful public servants who call you back with information in a timely fashion, the colleague down the hall who saves you with a precedent, the partner who takes a bit more time to educate you about their strategy…moments of assistance that stand out. Be mindful of the assistance that others go out of their way to give you and thank them for it.
I believe that by recognizing others with thanks, we add a little bit of happiness to the world.
Readers of Slaw Tips – thank you! Have a happy day.
Legal Research Technology Concepts
Last week I posted about Legal Research Technology Skills. After reading Sarah Glassmeyer’s post on Slaw about The Future of Legal Practice and Technology for Law Professors. Today’s Tip is about technology concepts that I think are necessary for legal researchers. Concepts are things that a legal researcher should understand and have a rough idea of how they apply to legal research.
- Document automation (including software and word processing tools like fields and macros)
- Document management (what is kept within your organization) and content management (how are web sites, intranets and other content rich sources built)
- Open source publishing and Open Access
- Social media (Sarah included this as a skill for law professors!)
- Cloud storage
- Search engines other than Google and web browsers other than Internet Explorer
- Project Management
- Tags and hashtags, taxonomies
- The costs associated with legal research sources
- Research sources (fee based and free) that your organization does not subscribe to or have an access account for
The idea of understanding these concepts so that the legal researcher can pull them out or add them to the toolbox at the appropriate time is implied with this list.
Remember that individuals don’t necessarily need to carry their own toolbox, they can always call a carpenter (or a law librarian :-).
Legal Research Technology Skills
Sarah Glassmeyer recently posted on Slaw about The Future of Legal Practice and Technology for Law Professors. Her opening salvo:
One of my pet peeves is when people throw around the word “technology” as a catch all to mean anything that can or will involve a computer. A common pattern is “In X number of years, this task will be replaced by TECHNOLOGY.” The speakers very rarely get into specifics as to when technology they mean. Personally, I like to amuse myself by replacing “technology” in these statements with “magic fairies.” Actually, I think fairies are more likely to exist than some technology that is universally adopted and solves myriad problems.
Sarah’s post goes on to focus on technology skills and technology concepts that she recommends for law professors. I think that there are technology concepts and skills that legal researchers should have. Today’s Tip is about technology skills that I think are necessary for legal researchers. Skills are things that a legal researcher should be able to do or use.
- Search a library catalogue database to find an appropriate set of textbooks on a topic
- Note up cases for judicial history as well as consideration of decisions by other cases and legal commentary using multiple database sources (fee and free)
- Copy and paste with keyboard shortcuts
- Sort in word processor tables and spreadsheets and be able to use methods other than eyeballs to identify duplicates in lists
- Add hyperlinks to documents
- Read a URL and understand where it is going
- Create documents answering a research question that make use of styles
- Search statute databases to locate current and historical legislation
- Use RSS feeds to keep current
- Use advanced search techniques of Google and other search engines (search within a site, by date, for words in page titles)
Next week’s tip will be about the technology related concepts a legal researcher should be able to understand.
Which tech skills should be added to this list?
What Is Your Legal Research Project Status?
I despise long deadlines for legal research projects. Give me a complex project that has to be completed by the end of the week over a complex project that I must pick away at over a month or two any day. Why? With a longer project I must use formal project management – on myself.
Project managing a short deadline individual research question is easy to mentally manage by scripting the activity as “the research process”. To be clear, I am speaking of the type of legal research that is often assigned to junior lawyers, law students or law librarians. In reality, the legal research process that is used to answer a specific assigned question IS project management. There is a defined objective, scope, constraints, a plan, execution of the plan, monitoring of performance of the plan through the activity, and reviewing the completed product.
A longer deadline often indicates a more complex task so there is a compelling reason to lay out the project management piece of the action in a more formal way. Writing down the plan for a multi-pronged piece of legal research, checking in with delegates (and yourself) to ensure scope and timelines are in line, and all of the other bits of the project management diligence FEEL like they get in the way of doing the work which is the fun part for most of us.
Today’s Legal Research Tip: remind yourself that every legal research question is really a project; let the project management – managing the process of getting to an answer – be part of the fun.
Don’t Assume Too Much
A post from the daily blog from Harvard Law Schools Program on Negotiation offer this advice regarding when negotiators assume too much:
One pitfall is that decision makers often overlook others’ viewpoints. When we do take others’ thinking into account, we tend to assume that they know as much as we do. For this reason, marketing experts are generally worse than non-expert consumers at predicting the beliefs, values, and tastes of consumers.
Similarly, individuals who correctly solve a problem overestimate the percentage of their peers who will be just as successful solving the same problem .
This advice resonates for answering a legal research question as well.
- how much data is the asker looking for
- what is the depth and breadth of the answer expected
- where is the starting point that is expected
Everyone knows how the word ass+u+me breaks apart. Make sure you manage expectations by not assuming too much.
I’ve been travelling in the Maritime this pas week. Like many places, if you are unfamiliar with the particulars of a place, sometimes signs make absolutely no sense. For instance, the subtle differences in Sydney River, North Sydney, Sydney Mines and Sydney can be just a bit confusing when viewing a map that shows New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Quebec.
One of the best ways to navigate is to ask directions. It helps put the scale and scope into proper perspective.
This works for legal research too.
Lawyer CPD Credits
Today’s Tip, with thanks to Michel-Adrien Sheppard for the idea, is a reminder to lawyers looking for CPD opportunities to look to law librarians. We can help with identifying interesting opportunities that cross our desks via publishers blurbs, calls for conference papers, media and social media monitoring. In addition to those indirect, guide on the side types of aid, we are also offering CPD credits to lawyers at OUR educational conferences.
The final Keynote Session at the recently concluded Canadian Association of Law Libraries Conference was an address on cyberbullying by Wayne Mackay. An excellent discussion with lot’s of additional commentary provided through attendee tweets at #callacbd2015.
Yesterday at Slaw, I wrote about preparedness. Today’s Tip is to be perfectly prepared before you start your legal research question. I think that there are two steps to perfect legal research preparedness. Please comment if you agree or disagree!
Preparedness Step 1 – Understand the question.
- put the question in context by review text books, loose-leaf services (or – my preference – eBooks that started out as loose-leaf services) and other secondary sources of words you should be using
- check for legislation by reviewing the footnotes of those secondary sources
- look for key cases referenced in those same footnotes
Preparedness Step 2 – Use the right search language
- Place the output of step 1 in your legal research memo so that you have everything ready for writing
- You will have to find the current law on the topic, so, write out your search in advance (keep it in the memo so you can copy and paste into the search boxes you are using on various sites
Legislative History in Case Law
I was reminded that sometimes you can find a decent review of the history of a piece of legisaltion within written decisions. For instance, a discussion of the Election Act for Alberta was published in Engel v Alberta (Executive Council), 2015 ABQB 226 and includes a bit of legislative history.
Point, Click, Hover, Interact
Today’s Tip is about interacting with your research world.
We are involved in an increasingly complex universe of data that has increasingly complex functionality. In order to get the most out of what is in front of you I suggest that you engage with the data. Mouse over text and images; set your browser status bar to visible so that you can read the URLs that hyperlinks will send you to; watch for functionality hint pop up text; in short – interact.
The print version of this is following the footnotes, index, table of contents, table of cases or statutes, adding sticky flags, making notes, and highlighting. In short, interacting with the research world.
You may find something neat. You may learn something new. You will be engaged.
Related post: Read the Screen