A Study of Legal Information Seeking Behaviour to Inform the Design of Electronic Legal Research Tools

in Conference paper (text), UCL, London


Our work is motivated by the desire to support digital library users in ?getting to
grips? with electronic resources. More specifically we are motivated by the desire to
support users in understanding how to use, and in which situations it is appropriate to
use, particular digital library or electronic resources.
This work focuses on lawyers as a specific category of user; Callister [5]
highlights that lawyers been traditionally regarded as having poor research skills.
Electronic research skills are no exception: Howland and Lewis [8] surveyed U.S.
law firm librarians to examine the quality and extent of the electronic legal research
skills of summer clerks and first-year associates. They found that these graduates
were unable to efficiently or effectively research issues that appear routinely in actual
legal cases and concluded that they were not efficient or cost-effective users of
LexisNexis and Westlaw (the two biggest digital law libraries in terms of case,
legislation and journal coverage). This was despite all of the students having
received some training on how to use the libraries while in law school.
Digital libraries have traditionally been regarded as difficult to use [4] and based
on our contextual observations with academic lawyers, digital law libraries such as
LexisNexis Professional and Westlaw are no exception. We believe that this
difficulty of use contributes to the problems that lawyers face with electronic legal
research. Furthermore, we argue that developing better research skills goes hand-inhand with developing an understanding of the electronic environments in which these
skills must be practiced. Our current work is focused on gaining a better
understanding of legal academics? and professionals? information seeking behaviour
when using existing electronic resources. This understanding will then be used to
inform the design of user-centred support tools for digital law libraries (and
potentially the design of the libraries themselves).