Libraries Are For Hobos: New Resources For Legal Research

Category: Bankruptcy Law Published: Wednesday, 31 December 2014 Written by Admin

A few weeks ago, I was asked to substitute teach a paralegal class. The regular instructor told me that we would be going over legal research and that the class was going to meet at the library and grab a reporter and sit at the big conference room table at 6:30.

Not only can legal books make good decorations, but in a bind, they can also be burned for warmth.

I got there at 6:00. Not because I'm extra diligent, but because I have no idea how to do research out of the books and I needed to familiarize myself with what the books looked like before I taught the class. For me, and probably (hopefully) most of the first world, when someone says "bring out the books," that would be like going to a hospital for high blood pressure and they say, "bring out the leeches."

I spent about five minutes looking at the books, and decided that I just couldn't do it. Class started and I said, "Class, libraries are for hobos. Let's go back to the classroom and I'll show you how to do legal research like an adult." I showed them how hyperlinking works, what red flags and yellow flags mean, and all of the other good things that make legal research tolerable.

I don't even think books are good as backdrops for professional photos. It would be like if your CPA posed in front of a big abacus.

There Is Real Competition For Online Legal Research Tools

When people think about electronic legal research, most people think about Lexis and Westlaw. There are a couple of other good state-specific resources out there also, but certainly Lexis and Westlaw have the lion's share of the market.

A few weeks ago, Bloomberg BNA announced a new legal research tool for Bankruptcy. It offers over 600 chapters of analysis of bankruptcy law, written mostly by judges and lawyers at top law firms. Unlike most other resources, which are updated quarterly or annually, the Bloomberg BNA treatise is updated almost real time with new updates (click to enlarge):

It also offers a one-stop solution for things like local rules, legal news and commentary, and court docket searches. Docket searches can be one of the most valuable, overlooked online legal research tools. Not only do you find out how the judge in your case has ruled in similar matters, but often, the orders will cite case law that the judge used to reach that decision. Knowing the specific cases that a judge relies on obviously gives you a huge advantage as you prepare your oral arguments. With Bloomberg BNA, once someone does a docket search and downloads a certain document (you have to pay for that), it becomes part of the Bloomberg library and everyone can access it (again, click to enlarge):


When most people in the legal field think about rapidly evolving legal technology, they think about cybersecurity, e-discovery, or practice management tools, but don’t give a second thought to online legal research. Even people who consider themselves current with technology trends don’t think about legal research beyond the basics. The truth is, there are many good tools out there. If you don’t branch out and see what else is available, you are losing out on a lot of excellent resources.

Jeff Bennion is a solo practitioner from San Diego. When not handling his own cases, he's consulting lawyers on how to use technology to not be boring in trial or managing e-discovery projects in mass torts/complex litigation cases. If you want to be disappointed in a lack of posts, you can follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. If you have any ideas of things you want him to cover, email Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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