As a law student you probably need all the help you can get, and online resources can more than often be your best assets. Below Emma Jones, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, lists three key online resources you can turn to.
It wasn’t so long ago that law students would spend days sat in the law library leafing through case reports and textbooks. Now many resources can be accessed anywhere, anytime with just an internet connection and smart phone or other device. To study effectively and keep up to date with changes in the law, it’s important to make the most of this information at your fingertips. Here are some hints and tips on using online resources.
- Legal databases
The likelihood is your law library gives you access to a range of online legal databases, such as Lexis Library, Westlaw and Lawtel. These are particularly useful for finding legislation and cases. Often they will also show you if a case has been referred to in subsequent cases and its status as a precedent. It is well worth taking up any training available either by your library, or the database providers, to ensure you make the most of these resources.
- E-books and articles
Given the size of law textbooks, the advantages of an e-version are fairly obvious! However, there is also a range of other e-books that can add value to your studies, particularly when you are being asked to evaluate arguments or demonstrate critical thinking. Often, skimming the introduction and/or conclusion will be a good way of identifying the book’s main arguments and working out how relevant it will be. Depending on how you access it, there may also be functions allowing you to search for key words and phrases.
Similarly, don’t forget to use key words and phrases to do a search for any useful journal articles available through your library. Going onto Google scholar can also lead you to different academic books and articles to use. Often at least part of these are openly accessible, making it a good way to find even more sources. You can also use Google Scholar to see when and where a particular article has been cited, ensuring you access the most up-to-date discussions on a topic.
- The internet
Law firms, chambers, regulators, government bodies, the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments, the Welsh and Northern Irish Assembly, the BBC and many more all offer lots of useful legal information and guidance. Of course, you have to take care that you are using resources that are up-to-date and relevant. A good way to judge this is using the PROMPT criteria and looking at:
- Method; and
Remember, although scanning Wikipedia and Google generally might (but only might) be a starting point for your research, you need to then go on to use academic sources which are appropriate for your level of legal study. Referencing either of these in your assignments is not going to impress your reader or demonstrate any real skills in using online resources.
On the subject of referencing, it’s also worth spending a few minutes checking how to correctly reference resources you find online. It is very frustrating for someone reading your work if they can’t properly trace where you found the various pieces of information.
Overall, using online resources can really help you to develop your legal research and writing and enhance your assignments. It also provides you with valuable skills to put on your C.V. and to use in future employment. However, doing it properly means taking time and care in identifying and evaluating your resources and ensuring you use them appropriately. Getting used to doing this at an early stage in your studies will save time and stress later on. You might even find time to still visit the library once in a while!