Internet Research Tips

Scribes Board Member Ann Taylor Schwing spends countless hours and energy writing the Scribes Tips. Thank you, Ann!

April 03, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 128: Meta Search Engines

Some search engines search other search engines instead of the web directly. Two of these are and These meta search engines are initially daunting because there is little more than a box awaiting entry of search terms. But we've been putting search terms into Westlaw and Lexis for years. The large collection of materials will include some that would have appeared with a Google search and others that are new. 

March 20, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 127: Harvard Free Legal Research Resources

The Harvard Law School Library provides a guide with links to free Internet Legal Research Resources. The links access state, federal, and international cases and materials with explanations for each link as to what it can provide: Secondary sources and empirical data or statistics round out the materials. This wonderful collection is updated regularly. 

March 06, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 126: Research Guides

New York Law School offers 22 research guides online. These cover, for example, Bankruptcy Law Research, Legal Ethics, and Tax Research. Others include Books and Films on Law and Law School, Guide to Government Information, and materials that don't seem like research guides although these are interesting to have. 

February 20, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 125: Blogs

The ABA Journal keeps track of its best 100 blogs and provides links and descriptions of content at  

February 06, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 124: bepress Legal Repository

The bepress Legal Repository provides drafts in progress and pre-prints from top law schools at One can browse or search by institution, author, and subject; and check the all-time top 10 downloads and the 20 most recent additions. Although many subjects are included, law is by far the largest. For example, 12,880 works are on environmental law.  

January 23, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 123: "Fun & Interesting Sites for Lawyers"

The Oklahoma Bar Association has gathered "Fun & Interesting Sites for Lawyers" at This site offers links for

  • online manuals for appliances, home and office devices;

  • geographical names (all streams named after a famous person, links for maps and aerial photographs;

  • rules for all sorts of games, sports and activities; and

  • information on ensuring that pets are cared for after your death.

January 09, 2018

Internet Research Tip No. 122: Visual Dictionaries and Thesauri

A modest number of books provide visual depictions of definitions or synonyms.  These may be especially valuable when English is a second language, but they can readily assist anyone who has somehow become confused about a word or series of words.  The following provide only a sampling, as many of these are available on the Internet.

December 26, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 121: Thesauri

Older attorneys and judges often grew up with only a single thesaurus, Better than nothing, it had the bias of the relatively few individuals who created it and often contained words that were on the brink of being obsolete.


Today, a wide variety of thesauri exist, in hard copy and on the Internet.


This list barely scratches the surface, and writers should sample the available thesauri for the ones that are intuitive and suitable for easy use.

December 12, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 120: Weather Statistics

Clients and attorneys occasionally need weather statistics, usually for watersheds, regions, states or municipalities. Many forms of statistics are available on the Internet. Official government information is most likely to be admitted and most likely to be suitable for judicial notice. The gold standard is the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), previously the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation's climate and historical weather data and information. The website provides access to ocean carbon data, a drought monitor, satellite data, weather balloon data, and so on. Quick links make readily available local to global climate data, maps, precipitation, wind data, and substantial other information. There may be a charge, depending on the information sought.


International information varies as some countries are diligent while others appear not to place whatever information is collected on the Internet.

November 28, 2017

​Internet Research Tip No. 119: Contractor Licensing Requirements Online

All or almost all states have requirements for building or construction contractors to be licensed. The requirements vary widely, based often on the dollar value of the job. License requirements may be enforced by forbidding the unlicensed contractor to sue, so it is always valuable to check the status of your client or opponent.


The states vary significantly, and laws are amended with some frequency, so it is best to get an overview and then focus on the laws of the particular state of interest. States may leave regulation of certain contractors to the county or city.

November 14, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 118: Corporate Records Online

Corporate records and corporate filings with the offices of state secretaries of state, the SEC, and the like can provide the names and addresses of corporate officers for service and a variety of other interesting data, some or all of which may be current or out of date. In addition to checking the specific state of interest, it may be worth checking other states to identify a pattern of behavior and other information of interest. Here are some general websites providing good searching, varying somewhat from state to state:

October 31, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 117: How to Do Internet Research

Wikihow offers a detailed set of directions on how to do Internet research.  This wiki is largely too basic for most readers of these Tips, but it can be a refresher and a reminder of the steps to take.  The wiki reviews the following steps: Knowing Where to Begin; Getting Good Sources; Evaluating for Credibility; and Compiling and Saving Your Sources.

October 17, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 116: Gallagher Law Library Research Guides

The Gallagher Law Library at the University of Washington has prepared and made available a wide variety of Research Guides. The legal and general writing materials include:


  • General dictionaries & thesauri

  • General grammar & usage guides

  • Legal citation guides

  • Legal dictionaries & thesauri

  • Legal writing guides

  • Legal writing websites & blogs

  • Other legal writing resources

October 03, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 115: Lawyer's Guide to Legal Research

This 10-page document is available from Clio, purveyors of cloud-based law practice management software, in exchange for your email address and general job information.  In addition to more common search methods, there is information on Clio and Fastcase (with a 25% discount on Fastcase).  There is also a 2-page legal research plan for a sample law firm.  Links are available to a variety of LII sites.


Three other documents are also available: Flexible Practice Models for Flexible law firms, Why You Need a Legal Practice Management Solution, and Do not Print: The Lawyer's Guide to Going Paperless.

September 19, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 114:  Harvard

Harvard provides impressive sets of databases for legal and law-related research and for statistical and data-related research.  The legal research databases span far and wide, with federal and state materials, historical materials, and substantial international documents.  Some documents or sites require entry codes, but not all.  The extensive statistical and data-related research materials are much less likely to require entry codes, and these materials are very comprehensive.  Just the names are listed below:

  • American FactFinder

  • CESSDA (Council of European Social Science Data Archives


  • Eurostat

  • FedStats

  • Frequently Used Sites Related to U.S. Federal Government Information


  • Internet Crossroads in Social Science Data

  • IQSS Dataverse Network

  • National Statistical Offices

  • OECD Data

  • ProQuest Statistical Abstracts of the U.S.

  • Statista

  • UNdata

  • Web of Science Data Citation Index

  • WolframAlpha

September 05, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 113:  Where Did That Link Go?

These Internet Research Tips can be frustrating to write and difficult to use because many links are here today and gone tomorrow.  Addresses change, names change.  Often content does not change, so a search for a distinctive phrase may reveal the new link.


Know that we routinely check links before sending Tips.  If a link fails, you can typically locate the material by searching for unusual names and phrases.  Good luck.

August 22, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 112:  Duke Law Library and Doublechecking

Duke Law Library provides an excellent list with links of sites for general legal research, government information (federal and state courts, federal and state legislation, regulations, and legal periodicals):

Many law schools provide research guides for specific topics, and Duke is no exception:  If Duke does not have a guide, you can check the law school websites using the custom search tool that Duke provides:  Duke also provides legal databases and links in an alphabetical directory:  The latter links will take you to trial transcripts and brief from 1600 to 1926, mobile apps for law-related purposes, and links to web portals.


The variety of Internet materials brings the law to our fingertips, but what we see is not always correct.  A court decision may be modified on rehearing in small or enormous ways, and the Internet source may not reveal that there was a motion for reconsideration.  As a result, the farther we are from holding the actual book in our hands, the more we need to doublecheck and triplecheck the accuracy and completeness of what we are relying on.

August 04, 2017

​Internet Research Tip No. 111:  Citing Internet Sites

Locating a great Internet site means one must figure out how to cite the site.  The critical characteristic of any citation is that it leads the reader to the right location easily and consistently.  For court decisions, statutes, and other legal sites, the Bluebook, the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, and similar sources should be consulted.


One source of guidance for non-legal sites is by Corey Wainwright, How to Cite Sources & Not Steal People's Content on the Internet, posted July 7, 2015:


Whenever citing something other than a case, statute or the like, drop a footnote to explain why the source is authenticated, why it is not hearsay, and why any other evidentiary barriers do not pose a problem.

July 21, 2017

​Internet Research Tip No. 110:  Sample Answers to Complaints

The Internet offers a wide range of sample or template documents for many routine uses.  Thus, a search for sample answers to complaints will produce many samples applicable to many circumstances.  Focus on a single state simply by adding the name of the state to the search.  Focus on the kind of lawsuit by adding negligencecontractmalpractice or other cause of action.  Add defenses to focus on the affirmative defenses.


Of course, you cannot simply block copy a sample answer or defense that looks good and paste it after the caption in your case.  Does the sample state the law of your state?  Does it suit the facts of your case?  Does using this sample and its assertions or admissions foreclose use of a better answer or defense for your client?  Is there a step you should take before answering the complaint?

July 07, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 109:  Military Records and More

The National Archives makes a vast collection of military records available, sometimes by email and sometimes by written communication.


The Archives provides numerous resources for genealogists and those otherwise interested in researching individuals, including census and ethnic heritage records, military records, immigration and naturalization records, land records, passport applications and passenger lists, State Department records, prison records, vital records, and more.   Black history information is also substantial, including African-American Women, Civil War, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Emancipation & Reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction; World War I Era, and World War II Era.


The National Archives provides the blog of the Public Interest Declassification Board,, established in 2000 to promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities. 

June 23, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 108:  Jury Internet Research

Jurors must not engage in Internet or other research or even look up terms in a dictionary. This prohibition appears in every state, by statute or court rule, and is clearly stated by trial judges to juries and by supreme courts to trial courts. The prohibition does not arise because jurors are unsophisticated or unable to do Internet research, but from the due-process requirement that the verdict be based on evidence presented in open court, not on outside sources.  Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 351 (1966); Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454, 462 (1907).

An ambitious and inquisitive juror can find a great deal of interesting and seemingly or actually relevant information on the Internet. That information is not tested in the adversarial system with attorneys for and against admission of the information able to argue and a neutral judge able to decide whether the information is or is not admissible, to be countered or not by other information, and to be considered in light of appropriate instructions.


Most judges have their own instructions warning jurors not to use the Internet. Judges who have encountered problems often give the instruction every evening during trial. The court clerk or judge's secretary is likely to be able to give you a copy of this instruction if you have concerns about its wording.

June 09, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 107:  Internet Choices

The Internet offers a vast buffet of information.  Some Internet choices are much higher or lower quality than others, but the quality is not immediately obvious.

Few would buy a book for $40 or $200 without some investigation or advice from a friend or colleague.  Why rely on an Internet source with less recommendation?  Internet sites can mimic other sites, so there is some danger in relying on a recommendation that may be based on use of a site several months earlier.  The following links provide some questions to ask about Internet sources before relying on them:

May 26, 2017

​Internet Research Tip No. 106:  Search Engines

Information on the Internet is so vast that search engines have been developed simply to locate the relevant websites.  The right search engine is a doorway into the source documents, so knowing the search engines can be the key to success.  Check your list of search engines every four to six months, because new ones appear and others disappear with little notice.

May 12, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 105: Quotations

Sometimes the right quotation can make all the difference in writing or speaking.  The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is in its 7th edition, and it is only one of many books collecting quotations.  The Internet provides multiple collections of quotations that may stimulate creative juices without the need to leave your office.  The following is a tiny sampling-websites focus on a particular author, a specific subject, a category of knowledge, era, and so on):

April 28, 2017

​Internet Research Tip No. 104: Google Scholar

Launched in 2004, Google Scholar offers cases from United States courts as well as articles from multiple countries.  The articles cut across disciplines, with medical, legal, scientific, and other content.


Absent specific interest in patents, it's often best to unclick the box for including patents.  Specific states may be searched under cases, but searching the cases of a particular state does not identify the federal cases discussing the law of that state.  As a result, a double search is required.  One can also search by year.

Any case or article located on Google Scholar must be checked and updated on a service that the judge would accept as reliable.  Google Scholar may not pick up modifications made on reconsideration of a case or a later article criticizing the earlier one.  The service has improved in accuracy and updating since 2004, but careful attorneys would never rely on it as the sole source.

April 14, 2017

​Internet Research Tip No. 103: Blogs

There are at least 4472 legal blogs in the United States.  Injury and accident law account for 1165 of the blogs, criminal law for 870, business law for 464, and technology for 329.  h  The number drops off so that election law accounts for 12, art law for 16, and evidence 17.


An individual attorney could easily find a dozen blogs to follow.  After identifying the subject areas of practice for the first several, the attorney could easily find benefit in legal marketing, law practice, insurance law, appellate law, judiciary, legal ethics, law librarian, and perhaps legal humor.


The frequency of reading blogs varies with content and workload.  An attorney might read one daily and another monthly, not necessarily linked to how often the blogs issue new material.  A number of blogs might be skimmed while eating lunch or waiting for a late client.  Since the blogs are often enjoyable as well as educational, they usually provide a break in the day rather than another burden.

March 31, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 102: Templates

No competent lawyer would take a template off the Internet, add the names and dollar amounts and a few other details, and call the deal done.  That said, reviewing several templates or sample documents prepared by others can improve the quality of the final document.  If several templates for the same transaction list six requirements, an attorney should take that as a sign that a statute, regulation or policy imposes at least six requirements.  What statute, regulation or policy is it?  Are there other requirements applicable in some or all cases?  What more needs to be learned about the statute, regulation or policy to do quality legal work for this client?  This example is just one illustration of the benefit and danger in relying on templates.


The Internet offers many sources for templates and samples.  Searches for "free legal forms online," "free legal documents templates," "legal documents examples," and "legal pleading templates" as well as their various recombinations, will bring up many websites.  All sites should be used with care. Does the site claim to follow the law of the relevant state? Why does this template differ from that one on the same subject? What point of view does the author have? How does it differ from the client's point of view?

March 17, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 101: Discussion Groups and Listservs

An astonishing number of discussion groups and listservs exist and often thrive on the Internet.  Most are focused on a specific subject matter, practice area, or jurisdiction. Some are open to all who wish to participate, while others are open to a more limited group, such as those who represent debtors, local governments, hospitals, personal injury victims, or the like.


Naturally, no one who participates can claim any right to privacy or confidentiality.  Whatever is said and sent to the group is available for members of the group to use as they see fit, subject to whatever ethical or moral restrictions they may follow.


Those who participate in closed groups—for example, a national group of attorneys representing hospitals--may feel somewhat more safe, especially if they have been in the group for substantial time and have come to know the other members.  The value of sharing ideas, templates, and experiences is significant, and the identifying particulars may be made vague enough to be safe.  Nevertheless, the safety is only as great as the quality of the vetting process.


Despite the danger, discussion groups and listservs develop their own culture over time.  Friendships can develop among individuals who have never met, and the practice of law can be greatly enhanced.

March 03, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 100: Google

Many start their research with Google, and it's a rare topic for which Google will fail to provide valuable information.  Even if Google is not specifically a legal-research tool, it can provide statutes, speeches, federal and state government research papers, and a variety of other information.  Google's intent is to make information available, not necessarily to guarantee the accuracy or completeness of that information.  As a result, much Google research is a beginning, not an end.


Google research can be focused using various techniques described in the following websites:

February 17, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 99: Early Internet Research Articles

In the relatively early days of the Internet, a number of comprehensive articles were published addressing the use of the Internet for legal research.  These include:


Some links will have disappeared or moved, but these articles have much to offer today.

February 03, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 98: Free and Low-Cost Research

Although the gold standard is the book, followed by Westlaw and Lexis, there are legal research materials on the Internet that are from not bad to quite good.  Sites describing the content and characteristics are set out below.


Always Shepardize.  You do not want to learn about the reconsideration or subsequent appeal when you're standing before the judge or, even worse, when the partner comes back from arguments.


Always check the quotes.  Court decisions are not fixed in stone the day they are issued.  The judge may have second thoughts and tinker with the language here and there.  The official publisher may propose corrections for the judge to consider.  Changes can occur in many ways; never assume that what looks like a final decision can safely be quoted.


The following are a sampling of the sites collecting free and low-cost legal researchwebsites and materials:

January 20, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 97: What Internet Tools Does the Judge Use?

Judges and individuals may or may not have low- or no-cost access to Lexis and Westlaw.  They may use only one by habit even with access to two.  They may use one or more of the free research websites available on the Internet.  The more you know, the better able you are to protect your client and yourself.


Google Scholar is free, for example, but it is not enough.  It may have the decision, but not the revised decision after rehearing.  It may fail to provide the decisions on further appeal.  It may not provide cites to all the cases that cite the decision.  One solution is to do wide-ranging research on Google Scholar and follow with a search on Westlaw or Lexis; if the decision is especially important, it's safer to search both Westlaw or Lexis.  Trust but verify is the frequent adage, and it is fully applicable to legal research. 


A judge who uses Google Scholar without informing litigants risks making decisions based on bad law.  Worse, the litigants and appellate court may be unable to discover the reason for the ruling, and an injustice may be done.  The same situation can arise with other Internet sources.  For example, the Secretary of State may maintain a listing of all companies qualified to do business in the state or all companies in good standing; other agencies may providing listings of all licensed contractors, all attorneys, or other categories required to be licensed.  Qualification to do business, good standing and current licensure are routinely prerequisite to the right to sue and to defend.  A judge who relies on these Internet listings without informing litigants may create an injustice because the Internet listing may have errors, may not be updated regularly or otherwise.

January 06, 2017

Internet Research Tip No. 96: Jurors and Internet Research

Years ago, the danger was that jurors might visit the physical location at issue in a trial. Today, the availability and functionality of the Internet present the serious risk that jurors may look up what they think is relevant to the trial on the Internet. Even brief searching reveals numerous cases in which jurors have done so.


Judges routinely instruct jurors not to conduct research of any kind relating to the trial and not to use the Internet to look up words or information relating to the trial. The costs to the parties of an inadvertent or deliberate violation of the instruction can be huge, depending on the length of the trial, the timing of discovery, and whether the entire jury must be dismissed. As a result, counsel are wise to avoid any references that might cause a juror to do Internet or other research. Counsel could also urge the judge to enhance the instruction.

December 23, 2016

​Internet Research Tip No. 95: U.S. Attorneys' Manual

Anyone involved in litigation against or with a United States Attorney, Assistant United States Attorney or Department of Justice attorney should be aware of the United States Attorneys' Manual, which is a ready reference guide for these attorneys. The Manual contains general policies and some procedures relevant to United States Attorneys' offices and to their relations with legal divisions, investigative agencies, and other components within the Department of Justice. It is available on the Internet at 


The Manual is not intended to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. No limitations are placed on otherwise lawful litigative prerogatives of the Department of Justice. Nevertheless, an adversary that perceives improper behavior can use the Manual as evidence that the behavior fell below standards set in the Manual. Moreover, the Manual reveals likely arguments that may be made and permits the adversary to prepare.

December 09, 2016

Internet Research Tip No. 94: Statutes at Large

The Government Printing Office offers the Statutes at Large for 1961 (Volume 65) through 2011 (Volume 125) at  


The Law Library of Congress has digitized the Statutes at Large from Volumes 1 through 64 and directs readers to the GPO for the remainder through Volume 125 at  The Constitution Society has an unofficial set of the Statutes at Large for 1789-99 (Volume 1) through 2015 (Volume 129) at, plus statutes relating to the income tax from 1917 (Volume 41) through 1954 (Volume 68A).


Why do the Statutes at Large matter?  Title 1, U.S. Code section 112 provides, with added bold:

The United States Statutes at Large shall be legal evidence of laws, concurrent resolutions, treaties, international agreements other than treaties, proclamations by the President, and proposed or ratified amendments to the Constitution of the United States therein contained, in all the courts of the United States, the several States, and the Territories and insular possessions of the United States.

Following this directive, the Court of Claims held: 

errors do occur in codification and where there is a conflict between the codification and the Statutes at Large, the Statutes at Large must prevail. We held in American Export Lines, Inc. v. United States, 153 Ct. Cl. 201, 207, 290 F. 2d 925, 929 (1961):

It is well settled that "the Code cannot prevail over the Statutes at Large when the two are inconsistent." * * *


Abell v. United States, 207 Ct. Cl. 207, 221-22, 518 F.2d 1369, 1376-77 (1975).  Lest there be any misunderstanding, 1 U.S.C. § 204(a) provides that the U.S. Code and any supplement "establish prima facie the laws of the United States."  An exception exists for the titles of the Code "enacted into positive law."  Id.  A list of titles enacted into positive law appears in the history following 1 U.S.C. § 204 and at the beginning volume of each title. 


Now that the Statutes at Large are available online, federal research can easily include a check for variances between the U.S. Code and the Statutes at Large.  A variance can sometimes win the case or reveal the benefit of a quick settlement.

November 25, 2016

Internet Research Tip No. 93: National Databases

Many industries and groups of all sorts seek to maintain a national or statewide database of subjects of interest to the group members. Some examples include:

  • National Conservation Easement Database, providing statistics by easement holder, location, ecoregion, bird conservation region, type of easement, landowner type, availability of public access, acquisition date, name of easement holder. Searchable maps.

  • Major Dams of the United States,  showing over 8100 major dams based on size (50 feet or more in height) and capacity, along with substantial descriptive information and maps.

  • Dangerous Times and Places to Drive, analyzing fatal crash total, deaths by road user, types of crashes, alcohol, restraint use, rural or urban events.


Virtually any subject that lends itself to creation of a list or statistics can be described in some form of database on the Internet. Existence of the database does not establish its reliability. Always consider the date of creation and manner of updating, the identity of those creating the database, the reasons for its creation, and so on. Compare sites offering similar data to identify their reliability or resolve their differences. Consider whether judicial notice will suffice or more authentication and exceptions from hearsay will be needed.

November 11, 2016

Internet Research Tip No. 92: Webinars

Webinars are increasing in availability and breadth of subject matter.  On subjects that are fast developing, webinars may be significantly more current than published articles.  Simple searches for "webinar" and the subject matter will bring the range of available materials forward.


Depending on the subject matter and identity of the organization producing the webinar, access may be free, available for a few clicks.  The additional materials distributed to webinar participants may also be available to you if you look for them.  Webinars reflect the views of the presenters; parties, witnesses, and expert witnesses who have presented webinars may have revealed themselves in ways that should be known and might be exploited.

October 28, 2016

Internet Research Tip No. 91: Peer-Reviewed Law Journals

A wide range of law reviews offer the article author's views on an amazing number of topics.  Some articles are closely vetted by the law review before publication; others are not.  Some are shared with colleagues for critical review; others are not.


Peer-reviewed law journals publish articles that have been reviewed by knowledgeable scholars in the field.  In an imperfect world, all other things being equal, peer-reviewed articles are more likely to be valuable and accurate than other articles.


The Peer Reviewed Scholarship Marketplace is a consortium of student-edited legal journals that believe that double-blind peer review can enhance the quality of the articles that journals select and ultimately publish.   Harvard Law School has a large number of peer-reviewed journals. Others can be located with easy searches.