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22 Apr 2020

Why Attorneys Shouldn’t Use Internet Search Engines for Legal Research

A lot of lawyers list an internet search engine as one of their go-to online legal research tools. While that’s a handy way to research your favorite 1980s TV show, it may not be prudent to rely on Google™ for legal advice.

Why?

It’s a simple question of trusting the data. You may be shocked (gasp!) to discover that not all the information on the internet is reliable. An attorney’s legal research tools have to serve up reliable legal records and court documents from a current online law library.

Note: When this article states “Search Engines,” it’s referring to any number of the free, open online internet search engines available to the general public, like Google for instance. It does not refer to the subscription-based dedicated online legal research providers—most of which feature strong online law libraries as well. You’ll read more on that distinction later in this post.

Imagine having your case strategy unravel because of some wrong precedent, or missing a deadline because of outdated materials. It’s not a good feeling—and it’s something that experienced lawyers avoid by using a proven legal research provider with a robust online law library.

But Wait, Doesn’t Google Have a Specialized Online Legal Research Tool?

Yep, it sure does. If you’re searching Google for legal content, you can use the handy Google Scholar™ resource. It contains case law at both the state and federal level, and features a familiar, user-friendly interface to help you scour the legal research content it contains.

Though Google is pretty-dang awesome at search engine algorithms and all-things internet, there are some noteworthy shortcomings to using Google Scholar for online legal research. And, as of the time of this writing, Google isn’t shy about telling folks that it’s not intended to replace bonafide legal research either. It says so with a clear disclaimer at the bottom of its “About” page.

“Legal opinions in Google Scholar are provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed lawyer. Google™ does not warrant that the information is complete or accurate.

If you’re an attorney, that’s a pretty big alert that you could potentially be jeopardizing your legal research. For starters, its case coverage isn’t complete and it’s often missing the latest court opinions. No offense to the fine folks at Google, but lawyers should rely on an online legal research tool that’s designed precisely for law professionals.

Better Ways to Do Legal Research Online

The good news here is that there are plenty of online legal research tools that provide the higher level of content and reliability that attorneys need. Most of these legal research providers are upfront and clear about the content they offer and the frequency in which their respective law libraries are updated—both go a long way towards giving you peace of mind that your legal research is solid. 

And the better news is, that since these online legal research tools are designed specifically for lawyers, they boast many handy features that can help attorneys conduct faster, more thorough research.

Thanks to breakthroughs in technologies like legal analytics and artificial intelligence, lawyers can do things that were previously the realm of science fiction. For instance, AI can “understand” what you’re searching for and offer suggestions to help steer your research path.

What Online Legal Research Tools Should Attorneys Use?

While the legal research providers alluded to above boast impressive capabilities and content platforms, the tradeoff is cost. Using a standard internet search engine for your legal research has one big advantage—it’s free.

But here’s the rub. Like pretty much everything you read on the internet, you have to question it’s reliability. To most lawyers, having uncertainty or a lack of confidence in their research is an alarming, almost unthinkable scenario. So, regardless of the cost, having a reliable, reputable legal research provider is an essential component of any successful law practice.