Friday, August 05, 2005

Print versus Electronic Debate continued

The articles by Jim Milles and Joan Shear that appeared in AALL Spectrum, Out of the Jungle and Elevating Form Over Substance were picked up by a French blog on legal research:

Quite aside from the surprise that their debate should matter to French legal researchers, and pleasure that my colleagues have become international celebrities, I am pleased that the discussion is continuing in a broader venue.

I enjoyed reading all the e-mail messages and the affilated articles, some of which were quite thought-provoking. We have galloped along, as a profession, pursuing the unquestioned good of computer-assisted legal research, for all the years I have been a law librarian or a law student either. And I certainly recall the good things we advertized to the skeptical masses to entice them into using Lexis or Westlaw, all in good faith. I am beginning to wonder why I never wondered whether searching electronically would fundamentally change the way that we analyze the information we find. When I speak with colleagues about changes in legal research, this is what I hear over and over.
I was very struck by the letter from James A. Gardner in the AALL Spectrum June issue where he says "Basic legal research is more difficult and less efficient electronically. The problem is mainly one of format: there is a huge, and highly important, difference between looking at the portion of a case displayed on a screen and looking at the same case in a book. The book display communicates far more information of the type that is crucial to fast, targeted, and efficient legal research." Gardner goes on to say, "When you look at a statute in a book, you can immediately discern the hierarchical relation among the provisions and the interrelationships among the various provisions. Screen-by-screen display invites students to think about statutory provisions in isolation from one another, which can be deadly to acquiring a three-dimensional understanding of the statutory scheme. In fact, electronic research is insidious, because it gives the misimpression of having a complete view of the content." Well said, Professor Gardner!
This is the point that I am trying to research with the AALL grant. Together with Susan Vaughn and 2 law students, I am reading briefs and decisions from all the Massachusetts appeals levels in cases of first impression for the years of 1950 - 1960 and 1994-2004. We are looking at whether there was any difference in use of reasoning by analogy, in a period when there were no computers versus a period of frequent use.

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