Public Interest Law Section Blog
Tip of the Month:
Research Resources for Public Interest Attorneys
Susan M. Fisher
In the January 2018 Tip of the Month, Susan Fisher shares resources and tips for electronic research for lawyers with limited access to commercial legal research platforms.
As an attorney practicing in areas of public interest law, I have not always had the variety of search mechanisms available to me as other attorneys may have had access to.
Yet, like any other attorney, I still have the responsibility to effectively and efficiently conduct electronic research.
With this in mind, here are several research tips I have learned along the way:
- If you typically work on cases where you look at government websites (and really this is helpful to other sites as well), attempt to learn how the site recognizes and organizes its data. Once you know this, you may be better able to narrow or frame your search queries.
- Use Google and become familiar with its search features. While discretion should be used to determine case strategy, a general Google search may provide relevant legal blogs, previously filed documents in similar cases, may show documents removed from pertinent sites because the site was reorganized, and more.
- Use Google Scholar. It is a free mechanism available to perform searches for cases as well as providing some access to treatises. (I personally do not use this mechanism for searching treatises but like to use the case search function.)
- Consider using the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, if you cannot find something that was previously on a website. This site periodically captures sites, essentially taking a snapshot on a given date, which may allow a researcher to review previously shown information. This can be particularly helpful when new policy is introduced on government-run websites.
- Become familiar with what is provided freely on government websites. Statutes, administrative codes, local law such as ordinances, archived law, certain opinions, and certain congressional documents are available through government websites to the general public.
- Become familiar with the services provided by the Wisconsin State Law Library.
I anticipate the above list is not exhaustive of the (likely more) creative ways others have found to conduct research within limited means. With this, I invite other attorneys to share what they have discovered on the PILS elist to continue this discussion and to provide others with the opportunity to benefit from their experience.
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