Research Tips From A Canadian Lawyer

Nada Khirdaji, a partner in the Research Department of Osler’s Toronto office, focuses her practice on legal research.  Sounds familiar to me. Ms. Khirdaji shares some of her suggestions for effective legal research in this article (link here) included in CCH’s January, 2010 Law Student Monthly column. She covers many excellent points – all focused on providing the researcher plumbing a new area of law with the world-view first and the finer points second. Her suggestions include: avoiding the case law databases as a first step and turning instead to general resources and texts; reading all cases cited in the notes; assuming application of a statute until proven otherwise, and performing a thorough review of the statute’s structure, location, table of contents and index; reviewing predecessor sections of statutes, related statutes from other jurisdictions and similar provisions in other statutes; avoiding journal articles for practical legal research; and, using firm-specific resources and consult ing colleagues.

Really, all very good advice. However, the suggestions seemed penned by an attorney from the 20th Century. Here in the 21st Century, there is another, important means for achieving a broad, world-view that Ms. Khirdaji omits. Consider looking at all available on-line resources as well, including the newly-fortified Google search, book searches, semantic search engines, and other curated legal databases and resources. Consider crafting your own custom search engines of pertinent governmental agency websites using Google Custom Search. Use the deep web search engines to find unconventional web documents. You never know what you may find.


Microsoft Bing Master Class – Still Feels Like Recreational Search

Computerworld has compiled an article it calls Microsoft Bing Master Class – Top Tips & Tricks. With a title like that, who could resist?

So, I hurriedly made my way over to the Master Class to grab up hot information on manipulating Bing to do my bidding.  And this is what I found.

Bing, as many are aware, does not rely on keywords, but instead applies its own internal processes to guess at what you are looking for based on the terms entered into the search box. This is still my big beef with Bing.  I want a more objective criteria in securing my results. Perhaps this is a relic-like by-product of my Boolean upbringing.

Much is made of its “colorful design” and splashy background with links to more information on the pictures displayed. Bing automatically displays certain links that it “thinks” you might find interesting. Seems these characteristics appeal to the Web surfer who is looking to be entertained rather than informed. By default, Bing will offer suggestions for your search as you type (this feature can be turned off, as Computerworld points out).

Results are shown based on popularity, although I am not sure how that is defined. There are advanced search settings, and here is what Computerworld says about those:

You can further refine your search using the Advanced Search button located to the right of the main window. This lets you search for results that include a specific phrase, web pages that are listed at a particular site, domain or country, or those written in a particular language. Alternatively, you can display UK-only results by typing loc:UK in the search bar.

The Related Searches box on the lefthand side of the search results window can be used for refining searches with other popular phrases. Click the Images category and a list of related people will be displayed on the lefthand side of the window.

These advanced parameters feel a bit thin to me. If you search intitle: and add a word, Bing will pull sites that only include that word in the site title. Typing maps in the title with a search term will display a tiny map of the area, with link to a bigger Bing  Map. Hovering over a blue arrow to the right of the search result will show a preview of the identified page. I do like the preview feature.

Depending on the terms you employ, Bing can serve as a calculator, a dictionary, a weather forecaster or a currency converter. Combined with Microsoft’s new Silverlight program, you can access enhanced map data with local weather, street view, and a compass. Finally, Photosynth allows you to view stitched digital images that combine to create a 3D effect of your location of interest. There are features that overlay local twitter activity and local blogs in certain specified areas.

While all of this is indeed interesting, none of this has convinced me that Bing is a viable competitor to Google when it comes to more academic web research. Bing’s bells and whistles appear designed to attract the web surfer seeking entertainment or simply passing the time.

To be fair, on my iPhone, I am alternating my searching between the Google Mobile and Bing apps. Of course, these search tasks are more of the recreational variety. In my own informal analysis, Google still appears superior to Bing in delivering the result I am looking for. In my most recent example, Google identified a restaurant I was looking for at the top of the results list, while the restaurant was nowhere to be found in Bing. While  Bing has managed to outshine Google a couple of times by a slight margin, overall Google still feels more reliable to me.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf on the Computerworld article.