Legal Ease

Opinion: Online Search Engine Blues

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Occasionally, I write something other than this column. I refer, of course, to briefs, motions and other pleas to the court to do something besides what it usually prefers to do. This requires a review of the existing state jurisprudence.

I used to look it up in books, but two things have happened since then. First, the books themselves have all been converted from pages to gigolobytes. Second was the advent of certain online service providers devoted to providing precisely the data one requires to create pleadings. There are two juggernauts cornering the market, and other, smaller upstarts which later materialized to challenge them.

When these sources first appeared on the scene, they were formidably expensive. Back then, where I worked, permission from more than one person was required to use them. We used the system that came first alphabetically, the one which was party to a lawsuit which alleged that the name of the service provider might be confused with the name of a luxury automobile. Using this research tool and contemplating the attached price tag caused me to have panic attacks and to hurry headlong into my enquiry, often making dreadful mistakes.

Then came law school. I used the other provider, the one which is named after a compass direction. This provider was very crafty. It acted like a drug dealer. During law school, it offered its services to us free! Then, when we graduated and were hooked, it started charging again. It remains profoundly costly. No doubt the company believed that because of its incomparable efficiency, formerly impecunious law students all got jobs which helped us to buy the kinds of cars named after its chief competitor.

My firm uses one of the two monolithic search engines. It performs flawlessly, and we pay for its perfection … until, one day, it didn't.

So, I called the number at the bottom of the screen. I had only done this a few times before. Previously, I had been treated with solicitude and compassion for my lack of knowledge about what to click, point at or drop down. Sometimes, the problem lay elsewhere. This time, things did not go so smoothly. We join the participants in mid-conversation.

Research Attorney: So, you should see a box that says "Connect." Hit that now.

Amy: Uh, my screen doesn't have that.

Research Attorney: Of course it does. Look at the right hand corner.

Amy: I am looking there.

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