Information resources for lawyers - free vs fee

How can the information team help lawyers understand the features and benefits of free vs. fee resources - and support them in making the appropriate choices?

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It is our responsibility as information professionals to keep up to date with new products, trial and improve information resources, negotiate with providers and promote these services and products to our users.

But is the Google concept so engrained in our users that, whatever we try to promote, the lure of that single multicoloured box is too strong?

The use of Google by lawyers searching for legislation just does not make sense to the information team.  Why, when you are provided with an up-to-date and respected resource developed and managed by professionals - a service that we pay for specifically to provide accuracy and efficiency- would you go elsewhere?   Yet, for many people - and not just lawyers - their first step remains that Google box.

We may have to make a choice: to continue training, promoting and pushing the paid for services or to better educate users on the varying quality and benefits of free resources.

The growth of enterprise searching might help information teams exert increased control over the resources searched but the technology remains an expense many firms cannot afford in the current climate.  Rather than playing ‘big brother' and in effect censoring information, I believe providing user education is the way forward.

Of course not all free resources are potentially dangerous. Many chambers provide useful updates and newsletters.  BAILLI  is an excellent resource on which I have relied in the past.  Blogs and other sites created by legal professionals providing news and updates on cases can assist users in their current awareness and research. Indeed, many teams rely heavily on subject specific free resources, such as Daniel Barnett's Employment Bulletins or the Costs Blog run by Gibbs Wyatt & Stone. Both of these sites clearly state their expertise and as such make it easier for fee earners to judge the level of trust they put in each resource.

Conversely, the proliferation of opinion via blogs may well lead to fee earners having to evaluate the difference between reliable and useful blogs and more self-serving blogs that focus on promotion rather than informing readers.  The increase in the number of resources may contribute to information overload which in turn might lead to more reliance on free, 'opinion' sites.

Online providers clearly recognise the user preference for Google searching, boasting that they are moving towards a more 'Google-like' one-box search. However, the complexity of legal research means that queries cannot generally be answered from a one box search.  Users will have to become used to filtering results. This means another level of user education, following on from our previous focus on Boolean connectors and search strategies.

It could be argued that it would be pointless to try to prevent Google searching. However educating users on filters - such as restricted date ranges, viewing time lines, UK only sites, setting up a saved search - could help prevent users relying on out of date and poor quality results.

Information teams will have a role in promoting the features and benefits provided by free resources. These include; alternative views, though-provoking statements, comments from experts and up-to-the-minute reaction. However, these must form a complement to our paid for services which represent quality, culpable, consistent information. For information teams, this means a renewed focus on wholesale information literacy.


After graduating in English Studies, Helen worked as an Information Assistant for BPP Law School, Leeds for two years. She then completed her masters in Information and Library Management at Loughborough University in September 2010.  She is now Information Officer at Harvey Ingram LLP.