I came across NWD Publishing and their Rolls Reports recently when one of the parties mentioned in their case law summaries was none other than David Whelan. Not me! While NWD is a subscription-based service for the daily and weekly case law summaries, you can follow their case updates for free. Their site uses WordPress to protect its premium content, which means you can follow their RSS feed at the typical WordPress location.
Sites like this one often extol the virtues of the many free case law sites on the Web. But the reality is that the free case law sites are just like their paid peers and no site has a comprehensive collection of every opinion. Whether they are omitted because of age, failure of the courts to make them available, or editorial decision, not all opinions make it into legal research databases.
What do you do if you can’t find it? The first thing is to make sure you have simplified your research as much as possible. If you are using a free site like CanLII or LexisNexis’s free case law, review your search query. Law librarians can probably all remember a time when a lawyer asked for a case and the party name was incorrectly spelled, or it was in the wrong court.
Before you bail out on the free sites, confirm party names or use just one part of the name (“Dominion”) rather than the entire name (“Dominion Coffee Beans, LTD”). Just because there is a corporate name doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been abbreviated in some way. A quick search on CanLII for Dominion Bridge returned 21 cases. But if you search for Dom’n you get 2 additional cases that do not appear in the original 21.
Some cases de-identify cases, so Smith v. Smith becomes S. v. S. Your case may be there but just not using the term you are looking for. The same thing goes for legislation. Statutes and regulations may have popular names that do not actually appear in the language of the law, and so a search using those will fail. For example, the USA PATRIOT Act is often called the Patriot Act in Canada, but USA is part of the acronym, not a country identifier. Focus on the content of the law and see if you can find it by using specific keywords rather than popular names.
The same goes for specific key words in cases and legislation. If you find that you are searching for a phrase and not getting results, try starting with a single word or two. Then slowly expand your query to fine tune your results. This is particularly true when you are using a legal term of art, like “time is of the essence”. There are good chances that the phrase are used just as expected, but opinions are written by individuals and they may not always use the term in the same way.
One of my favorite examples is marijuana, also known as mary jane, or spelled as marihuana. If you are looking for cases based on a word that might have multiple spellings, see if your search site allows for wildcards to replace part of the word. For example, if you search on CanLII for mari*uana, with an asterisk replacing the j or h, you will retrieve cases with both spellings.
If you still can’t find the case, call a law librarian and see if they can help you. Many Canadian provinces and U.S. states have law libraries that serve the local or provincial bars. Academic law libraries take calls from alumni. See if someone can confirm that the case isn’t available for free, and perhaps direct you to an alternative site with the case or provide the case to you directly.
This page was inspired by a recent conference presentation I saw that focused, like much of this blog, on extensions and tweaks for Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome Web browsers. The legal profession is predominantly using the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, however, probably at even greater levels than the general population. It is sometimes hard to determine what add-ons or extensions work for Microsoft Internet Explorer, because there is no comprehensive central marketplace for available resources.
Here is a chart with a list of free extensions that can help your online research and the browsers for which they are available. It’s not comprehensive, but it has a number of resources that are available to 3 or more browsers.
I have made a selection for each category and browser but there may be other options. Keep in mind that the add-on may be for a particular version of the Web browser or require a particular operating system, so they may not install for the version you are running. You can also go directly to sites like IEAddons.com for Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Add On site, Google’s Web Store (or the old extension site), Safari Addons, and the Userscripts.org site to find tweaks for all major Web browsers.
Feel free to add your own favorite research-related extensions or add-ons in the comments!
- Click the icon that matches YOUR browser to go directly to an available extension. If the icon is grayed out, then I didn’t provide a link.
- Hold your mouse pointer over the icon before you click it. I have added a tool tip for each icon to try to help you before you click away.
|Access Internet Explorer-designed Sites without Internet Explorer|
|Case Law Citation Locator|
|Citation Management with Zotero (free)|
|Diigo Web Highlighter and Research Manager [FLI post on Diigo]|
|Evernote Web Clipper [FLI post on Evernote]|
|Google Search Result Term Jumping / Highlighting|
|Google Scholar Star Pagination for Cases [FLI post on pagination]|
|Greplin Personal Cloud Search [FLI post on Greplin]|
|Instapaper Deferred Reading|
|Surf Canyon Personalized Search Results|
It has never been easier to find out the meaning of a word from the legal lexicon. NOLO Press is teaming up with the Legal Information Institute to supplement LII’s Wex online dictionary with their Plain English Legal Dictionary. When you look up a word on Wex, you will find both the community definition and the definition from NOLO’s dictionary. Continue reading
The House of Butter notes that Qudoc, a new Australian legal search resource, has run into problems accessing AustLII content. Like many of the legal information institutes or LIIs, CanLII and BAILII included, AustLII blocks external organizations from using search spiders to index its case law. These blocks include Google and other common Web search engines.
I had a short post last week about some of the strange content discrepancies you can find on the regional sites powered by LexisNexis and Westlaw. In the meantime, the Findlaw UK site has debuted so I decided to take a look and see how it was different from its US and Australian brethren.
I won’t pretend to have spent much time on it but all the content I did look at (particularly in the real estate (conveyancing) area) was either sourced to freely available government content or was unsourced. At least with the other sites, you had identifiable content owners so you could get a sense of the reliability of the information. Compare this Advice for First Time Buyers with its original at Direct.gov.uk. The former is really just a cut and paste of text, while the latter, original, has additional cross-linking so that a reader who gets there might be able to click through to other Directgov content. Even in the Ask a Question forums, you find that Findlaw staff are asking AND answering the questions. I appreciate that new Web sites, particularly those developed primarily as marketing resources, need content, but this seems to take it a bit far. When you click on contributor names, there is no information about what their qualifications are to answer the questions. Legal researchers interested in UK legal issues would be better off going directly the Direct.gov.uk site, where there appears to be far more content and you are not one step removed from the publisher.
These sorts of sites can make Internet legal research much more difficult, since they are likely to be optimized to appear higher in search engines or else why would they be marketing sites? But if their content is dated, or sourced from reliable sites and then not kept current with the original site, it means that you start to have unnecessary noise in legal research, particularly for non-lawyers researching on their own. Legal research is enough of a bramble without adding confusing, duplicated and potentially dated content.
The UK FreeLegalWeb.org is now in beta and is an interesting looking alternative to BAILII, the current go to source for free UK case law. As their About page states, the problem is that the law just isn’t practically accessible.
FreeLegalWeb works like a library discovery tool. It is not hosting the content. It is aggregating links to the resources, so a single search will retrieve information about content from multiple sources but you will eventually link to the primary document on that source. This means you still need to know something about the sources and what their scope is.
This resource has a lot of nice features in place already – a retrieved result has links to the full text and supplemental tools, like a citator to note up cases – and the development of subject classification through crowd sourcing will make the content aggregated that much richer.
The case law search on FreeLegalWeb relies on BAILII for case law and LawCite for its citator service. This is a huge improvement, since you can now view both the BAILII text and run the link through LawCite, something which is not possible if you start your search directly on BAILII.
It will be interesting to watch this site develop and move from beta to a full online product. It will be a huge time saver for legal researchers looking for UK primary legal information.
[thanks to the Legal Informatics blog ]