Save money and time.
by Christina de Castell
With perpetually less time to invest, what can you do to improve your non-legal research? Take a sound approach to unknown subject areas and use key social media tools. The best part? The right approach and the tools are free.
The Right Approach
When you tackle legal research, you know the process to follow. Unfortunately, your research may also take you outside law, to a field with its own terminology and history. Research librarians understand that there’s a process that works for every field.
1.Get a general overview. Wikipedia may not be the most accurate source, but it’s a great place to start. It gives you enough information to start talking intelligently, and points you to the next place to go. You can also use a specialized encyclopedia – have you checked your local library’s databases for free online access? With your Vancouver Public Library library card, for example, you have access to over 20 specialized encyclopedias online.
2.Check an industry source. Professional and industry associations are incredible sources of information. Their websites often hold career sections that explain the field in detail. Their staff love talking about the industry and will happily answer your questions, even without knowing why you want to know.
3.Find a specialized database. For health and medical topics, the free abstracts on PubMed are often all you need to understand current research. For other topics, your local library subscribes to databases, and you have free access from your desktop after you login with your library card. Some great sources to try are Academic Search Premier, Business Source Complete and AccessScience.
4.Follow links and citations. When you find a good article, whether in Wikipedia or a library database, follow the links to find more material on the same topic. Like cases cited in a judgment, the citations in an article lead you to new knowledge.
5.Seek outside help. You won’t always have time to follow this process yourself. Call a librarian at a public or university library for help. When budget allows, consider enlisting a professional research firm, like InfoAction, the fee-for-service division at Vancouver Public Library.
The Right Time for Social Media
Researching a person? Social media can give you an understanding that you could never get otherwise. When people don’t turn on their privacy settings, they put their world on display.
Stuck with a client or witness who’s reluctant to share? Check out their Facebook profile to find out about hobbies, pets, relatives, problems at work, and even to see photos of their weekend activities. One research subject hiding a criminal past had married and taken his wife’s name, but created two profiles on Facebook and linked them with a comment to friends on his wall. Suddenly the two names were connected, and his past revealed.
Looking for current or past employees of a company so you can get an insider’s perspective? LinkedIn profiles include a work history. It’s critical to create your own profile in LinkedIn now – the more people you’re linked to, the bigger pool you get to search.
With the full resources of the Internet and library at your disposal, and the right approach, you’ll save both time and money, and arm yourself with the knowledge you need for every argument.
Christina de Castell is the Manager of InfoAction at the Vancouver Public Library.
This article was published in the October 2009 issue of BarTalk. © 2009 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.