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.

Research Attorney (gritting teeth): Its. A. Dark. Blue. Box.

Amy: Not finding it, sorry.

Research Attorney: Let's try again; just get out of that screen and go back to the first one, and hit whatever you hit before to get there.

Amy: I do feel very much like hitting something.… OK. I'm there.

Research Attorney: You should see a small, dark blue box that says, "Connect."

Amy: I don't see it. Maybe I should have some chocolate.

Research Attorney: (sighing) Look, how old is your computer?

Amy: We just got a new server.

Research Attorney: Let me get in there.

Amy: Hey, the arrow is moving by itself.

Research Attorney: I don't understand it – your screen doesn't look like mine. I think you probably need an upgrade.

Amy: So, you can't help me? All I want to do is copy and paste. The way I used to, yesterday, for instance.

Research Attorney's thought bubble: What an idiot! How could she possibly be a lawyer – she can't click her way out of a plastic bag.

Research Attorney: Look, can you just get out of here and into Google?

Amy: Just a second … how do I do that from here?

The Telephone: Click!

Amy: Hello? Hello?

Fortunately, a partner came to the rescue. He tolerated my entreaties for technical support with considerably more aplomb and courtesy than the person employed by the search engine company to help me. It took him 10 minutes. Afterward, I was blissfully reunited with my supply of crack … uh, Connecticut law. Copying and pasting has never seemed so sweet. •

Amy Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock 'n' roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O'Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford.

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