One of the principle tasks of a lawyer is research…lots of it! Even the most well-staffed law firm may find itself occasionally (continuously?) overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in finding the best case law, conducting due diligence, untangling an intellectual property dispute, or looking for that prior art that you just know is out there, somewhere.
Lawyers can certainly hire a consulting service to assist them when its crunch time, but that takes a lot of effort to arrange, and a substantial budget to pull off.
Where to turn, when you need some fast, quality research assistance that won’t break the bank?
How about Google?
No, not Google, the automated search engine. Google, the researcher-staffed Answers service, which can be found at http://answers.google.com
Google Answers is as obscure as Google itself is famous. But it is a terrific service, especially for a lawyer in need of adjunct research talent. For a very modest fee, a team of Google Answers researchers stands ready 24/7 to provide high-quality, fast-turn-around work with almost no administrative hassle.
How Google Answers Works
Google has on contract a team of several hundred carefully-screened expert researchers. All of them are highly-skilled at using Google to mine the web, and uncover those little needles of information in the cyber-haystack that is the internet. But beyond simple Google searches, many of the researchers have access to other sources of information familiar to any law firm — Lexis-Nexis, Factiva, PACER, UCC records, and so on.
If you need the services of a researcher, you simply post your question to Google Answers, and set a fee. Whichever researcher feels that he or she can answer the question — and also feels that the price offered is fair! — will ‘lock’ the question and get to work on it. For a well-focused, attractively-priced question, you will often have an answer back in just a day or two, or in mere hours if you need it faster.
If a question needs some clarification, you and the researcher can engage in an online dialogue to pinpoint your needs more precisely.
What Google Answers Can Do
The best way to get a feel for what Google Answers can do, is to read through some of the questions and answers with a legal bent. Here’s a synopsis of a few questions my fellow researchers and I have worked on, along with a link to the full Q&A:
Texas Sterling Construction
Researcher provided a detailed competitor-analysis that covered corporate identity, management, safety record, litigation, project awards, customer base, environmental issues, etc.
Early Online Frequent Shopper Programs
Google Answers provided documented examples of “electronic S&H stamps” prior to a specified date.
Question about marital property in Virginia Research offered statute and case law pertaining to status of marital and separate property in the state of Virginia.
Intellectual Property — International
Intellectual property in the country of Beloruss
Provided an overview of the law and current practices regarding IP protection in Belarus
Conflict of Interest
An answer provided legal precedents in Canada for what constitutes a professional conflict of interest for architects.
PA case law
Client looking for a difficult-to-find example of misappropriated authority turned to Google Answers
A Few Caveats
Google Answers can be an exceptionally valuable resource for the legal community. A key asset is its ease of use. It takes only minutes (and a credit card) to set up an account with Google. Simply click on the “Create a Google Account” link on the main Google Answers page to get started.
However, there are a few caveats worth noting about how Google Answers works:
–Everything posted at Google Answers is anonymous (you are identified only by a user name of your choice). At the same time, everything posted is publicly viewable. There is no option for direct, private communication between a lawyer and a researcher.
–Google Answers researchers will not provide information on living, private individuals. If you’re trying to track down the current address of a client’s long-lost sister, Google Answers is NOT the service for you.
–Google Answers cannot provide full copies of copyrighted materials, though they can certainly provide excerpts, full citations, or direct you to links for relevant materials.
–The maximum price that can be offered at Google Answers is $200 per question. While this can make the service an incredible value, it is also a constraint for larger projects. Of course, you can always post multiple $200 questions, but this is a bit awkward to manage. For a large effort, it’s best to engage a would-be researcher in a bit of dialogue to work out the best arrangement.
–And bear in mind that, as good as these researchers are, their real expertise in is in searching…very few of them are actual trained legal professionals.
As a final note, suppose you engage Google Answers and are unhappy with the results (it’s rare…but it does happen). The service has a very generous refunds policy…ask, and ye shall receive.