Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Legal research changes, and changes

          Legal research changes, as landforms do, by different processes and at different rates. Some changes are fairly minor, as when the wind creates shifting patterns on the surface of the sand—for instance, when the U.S. Government Printing Office began releasing the 2012 edition of the United States Code, there was little that someone familiar with the 2006 edition needed to learn in order to use it effectively. Other changes require some addition to our knowledge, as when a familiar source becomes available on an online platform; think of a river that carves a new channel while the original channel remains. But when familiar sources cease to exist or totally new platforms are introduced, it sometimes feels as though the legal research landscape has been affected by an earthquake that shifts the ground we stand on or a volcano that creates totally new features. We don’t want to carry this metaphor too far—we believe that many of the changes we see in legal research are salutary, not cataclysmic—but the field is dynamic and the resources used to teach it must also change. 
          The changes in the legal research landscape have been and will continue to be dramatic. Here are a few changes since the prior edition of Fundamentals. Industry giants Westlaw and LexisNexis restructured their search interfaces, creating WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. Bloomberg Law made a strong entrance into the law school market. The Government Printing Office revamped and expanded its website, introducing FDsys. After twenty years of developing the very useful THOMAS, the Library of Congress replaced it with Congress.gov. And, although many researchers won’t be as astonished as we were, the IRS stopped compiling the Cumulative Bulletin. Oh, and Scotland nearly left the United Kingdom, a move that would have changed the research in the law of those nations in multiple ways.
Steven M. Barkan, Barbara A. Bintliff & Mary Whisner, Fundamentals of Legal Research (St. Paul: Foundation Press, 2015), p. vi.

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