Bookmark? Must be a boomer who wrote this, you are thinking–now we have Google, and we don’t need long nested lists of bookmarks. Just tell Google what you want and it will take you there, at least most of the time, right?
While that is often true, as paralegals we are in the information business. If attorneys need non-legal information about anything, I’m sure to find an email asking me to find it, and yes, they’ve usually already tried a Google search. Research skills are one of the top 10 things attorneys look for in a paralegal.
The trick to being an expert at research is knowing who has the information you want and where they keep it. Most of the sites listed below will give you information that Google won’t.
It should go without saying that you should have easy access to your local court and federal courts’ websites. In some states, there are also statewide searchable databases of at least recent filings. Even if you have to subscribe to such websites short-term (some offer 24-hour subscriptions) they are invaluable when researching opposing parties, or even your own client.
PACER, the system for Federal Courts, has a very reasonable pricing schedule, with one exception: search results are billed based on the number of pages generated in the search, and there is no maximum fee. To get around that, if you are happy with results going back only to 2004, use the free Justia Search Interface. Then you can go to PACER to pull the records you need.
Government Agency Websites
Do you know where to get a copy of a dashcam video from your local police department? What about the investigation into the leak at the chemical factory down the road?
Government agencies spend a lot of time and money investigating and many of their reports and materials are public records. Many agencies that get a lot of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests have set up online portals where you can request information.
While Google will not give you a link to a list of all police incidents on a block, knowing which agency has that information, or other types of information often used in your practice area is invaluable. Bookmarking these websites once you have found them helps you to remember to use them.
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State Boards and Associations
In most states the boards or associations that license professionals have online databases giving member business addresses and, sometimes, disciplinary information. You can find Medical Boards here–and if you schedule the deposition of a doctor, take a quick look and see if any disciplinary information is available.
Your Public Library
Libraries are no longer just buildings filled with books. Most give patrons access to a wide variety of digital material for only the cost of a library card.
My library (yours may be different) offers searchable access to newspapers from all over the country back quite a few years. I can see when my now-adult children made the honor roll and when our newest client got a newspaper mention ten years ago. The search tools are more powerful than those on newspaper websites, and you don’t have to deal with ads. You can print images of the papers from many years or format printed copies of articles.
If you need a legal form, they have a large selection in many different areas of law. You can research local (and non-local) businesses, get help with your resume, and even practice interviewing online.
My library also subscribes to Linkedin Learning, which offers video training courses in a variety of business-oriented subjects. Do you want to branch out into marketing your firm? Linkedin Learning offers courses on email marketing, social media marketing, and more. You can take courses in Word or other programs in Microsoft’s Office Suite. Or, if becoming independently wealthy is your goal, check out the courses on finance and investing.
If you have not been to your library’s website lately, take some time and explore it.
Did you see it on a website last week, and now it isn’t there anymore? There is a good chance that the old version of the website still exists on the Wayback Machine. Just enter the URL of the website, and often the Wayback Machine will pull up a calendar showing when the website was updated. Click on an update date, and you can see the site as it was way back then, whether last week or five years ago.
I’m working on a case involving an accident from 2018. Yesterday at a deposition, it was said that someone from the news media was on-scene, but the witness did not know who. Frankly, this case isn’t all that interesting, nor does it involve famous people. The last names of the people involved are pretty common. Using the search feature on the various media outlet websites would have given me a lot of irrelevant hits to comb through. However, by pasting the outlet’s URL into the Wayback Machine and then selecting the date of the accident, I was able to find the article I was looking for. Even if I had to try the other TV stations as well, it would have been quicker than reviewing all those irrelevant hits.
LLRX was one of the pioneering blogs in the legal information space, and its founder, editor, and publisher, Sabrina I Pacifici, continues to share the information legal professionals need to stay current on technology and how it affects our field and our world.
As I write this article, the most recent post at LLRX links to articles on internet privacy resources, using news and social media to find financial assets, Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and articles about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. While you may not find something of interest every week, the archives are a treasure trove of information on topics such as medical research, legal ethics, writing skills, and even travel.
Paralegal Boot Camp
And last, but by no means least, don’t forget about Paralegal Bootcamp where you are reading this post. Paralegal Bootcamp offers online training for paralegals who want to become indispensable members of the legal team. Every week they put out blog content and podcast episodes on topics that are specific to the paralegal profession. They offer Bootcamps on Litigation and Trial Prep, for Paralegals involved in cases where eDiscovery is the rule of the day, personal injury, and even have a course on that most dreaded function of defense paralegals–billing. You can also join their upcoming live workshop for Mastering the Art and Science of Drafting Time Entries. Their audio and video presentations are augmented by downloadable forms and checklists that will help you put your new learning into practice right away.
Are there any websites you think should be in most paralegal’s toolboxes? Check out these 10 Paralegal Technology Tools to increase productivity and efficiency wherever you work.
Meet the Author
Ruth W. Curcuru, N.P. has over thirty years of experience as a litigation paralegal and recently passed the examination to be named a Louisiana Notary Public. At Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann, and Papale, L.L.P. in Metairie Louisiana she works in the fields of criminal defense and insurance defense. Her specialty is making molehills out of mountains of records.