Computer Aided Legal Research – Public Records
Lovingly referred to as CALR…
First – let’s review some search strategies:
- Plan your search. The Internet is a great place to get lost and waste more time than you intended. Know exactly what you are after.
- Learn to use advanced search options.
- Make your query more specific by learning the basics of boolean: +, -, quotation marks, and a combination of those.
- Put your most important words first.
You can find a plethora of legal information on the Internet if you know where to look. There are free sites that are really good. There are free sites that are really bad. There are paid sites.
You can find FRCP, FRE, Criminal Procedure, and Bankruptcy procedure all online…in addition to federal district and appellate cases, and your state cases. You can also find EOs, statutes, legal forms, and references. You simply MUST consider your source.
The Internet is best suited for factual research. You need to take time to become a good researcher. You need to learn how to verify credible sources and how to discredit websites.
Some public records are available online. You can buy books that list public records websites. That will cut down on your search time. I purchased my book from Half Priced Books. Every level of government will have their own rules as to what will be made available to the public…particularly online. If you subscribe to a website that allows you to search a lot of public records at once, make sure you know how to sift through the information to find what you need.
A not-so-all-inclusive list of public records:
- Corporate records (secretary of state)
- Court records (not all)
- Criminal records
- Property information
- Sex offenders
- Adoptions (limited)
- Bankruptcies (PACER)
- Copyrights, TMs, and patents
- Building permits and zoning
When you look for public records you can use a lot of different sites:
- Court websites
Just, again, know what you are looking for…have a research plan. Make sure you know the spelling of the name. Also remember that typos on public records can and do happen.
Use a browser that allows you to use multiple tabs (which I think as of the day I am putting this together is most of them).
Find and bookmark databases that pertain to your area of law, expert witnesses, and that hold good paralegal information (like this one). Check them. Add them to your feed reader or subscribe via email.