Fact or fiction—Is your legal research legit?

Fact or fiction—Is your legal research legit?

When I wanted to find out the history of Google, I Googled it.

It might sound crazy, but it is an apt reflection of the world we are living in. For many of us researching information no longer comes down to picking up an encyclopaedia or consulting a dictionary, but doing a quick online search. As the world becomes more tech savvy, information becomes quicker to source and newspaper circulation declines, we have come to rely on information from the internet. Whether you are an avid subscriber to BBC news bulletins or take to twitter to get the inside scoop, it is easy to overlook where the information you digest is coming from and whether it is factually correct.

With the ease of access to content the digital revolution has presented, we have become complacent with our trust. This could be, as I experienced when trying to track down the true source of Google’s history, because it takes so much time trawling though multiple websites to personally fact check what you are reading—and we are no longer patient. Technology has created a greater demand for the ‘I want it now’ attitude, whereby it is so quick and easy to search for the specific information you need, the moment you need it.

Not only do we lack patience to fact check, but the rise of social media platforms has dramatically changed the way we receive our news. Having personalised feeds where we follow the people and pages we like sucks us into a ‘news bubble’. If, for instance, those people or pages are pushing out ‘deliberate lies’ or ‘inaccurate facts’, we may just believe them  as they are sources, we ultimately ‘trust’ or ‘agree with’.

This seems like an amateur excuse for not spotting fact verses fake. In the legal profession being factually correct is not just a job, but a lifestyle. Understanding the source of legal research is key to the profession, especially with the extra pressures of reputational and financial damage. However what if the sources you are reading, that you trust and know are verified, fail to correctly interpret the truth or overlay their own opinion on the facts?

This is where things can get tricky and it becomes harder to spot fact from fiction.

How to stay aware

As the lines become blurred, and ‘fake news’ becomes harder to spot, here are some tips to help you stay aware.

Always check

It may sound simple, but often we can be too quick to believe the first source we find is correct. Always make sure to check the source of your legal research.

Use tools you can trust

Google may be the first and most used choice when you need a query answering, but if you want to be certain what you are reading is factual and unbiased, it is vital to invest in the correct tools.

LexisNexis has 200 years of experience providing information services to the legal sector and offers a multitude of software tools that includes coverage across the legal sector.

LexisLibrary is the only place which houses sources such as Halsbury's Laws of England, Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents, All England Law Reports, Atkin's Court Forms and more. With more than 700,000 case law documents it enables you to advise with confidence knowing you have access to authoritative content.

LexisPSL includes comprehensive resources for 35 practice areas. This tool enables you to refer to tool kits, checklists and practice notes to ensure what you are researching is correct and you are following the right processes.

Ensure fact is fact

In a LexisNexis webinar: 10 Tips for Fighting Fake News: How to Fact Check Like a Pro, Barbara Gray, associate professor and chief librarian at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, outlined ten top tips you can follow to ensure your legal research is smart and efficient:

  • be sceptical
  • create your own habit of fact checking
  • ask yourself "who says" and "are they biased"?
  • use your gut
  • look for citations of sources of information
  • be aware of your own confirmation bias
  • take notice if you are feeling emotional after reading the information—it could have been manufactured to exploit your bias
  • write fast, but fact check slowly
  • check primary sources such as government reports, court documents, and scholarly articles found in databases such as those provided by LexisNexis
  • always give attribution, and be transparent about where you get your information

For more information on how LexisNexis can help you stick with the facts click here.

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About the author:

Hannah is one of the Future of Law blog’s digital and technical editors. She graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in History and Politics and previously freelanced for News UK, before working as a senior news editor for LexisNexis.