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Do You Still Need to Research on Paper?

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Back in law school, we did a cursory class or two -- by which I mean, we spent a day or two of class -- on using paper research materials. You know the ones: federal reporters, state reporters, and those West key reporter things.

These days, all those books are relegated to propping up the short leg of your desk or appearing as props on lawyer TV shows (why would someone have a single copy of the U.S. reports on his desk? Was that his favorite year?). Even with the march of technology, are there still times when you need to research on paper?

Treatises and Other Specialty Items

If, for some reason, you need to cite to something from a multi-volume treatise, paper might be your best friend. Unless you have a really sweet (read: expensive) research plan, a treatise will cost you extra.

Your local law library, on the other hand, probably has one for free, which is way cheaper if you need a one-off quote from Statutes and Statutory Construction. Court and law school law libraries are either free or fairly low cost for practitioners (and in the case of your law school's law library, you might be able to get an alumni deal).

Easy Access

Call me old fashioned, but when I know exactly which statute I'm looking for, searching through online databases is harder than picking up the Penal Code and going straight to what I'm looking for. Having a copy of your most frequently used statutes can actually save time, although you won't be able to copy and paste. (Down side: California has 29 codes, so you'll need to pick your poison in that state, as well as others with different subject-area codes.)

That's So Meta

Strangely, if you have any hard-copy books in your office, they're probably books about how to write. As a California practitioner, I keep a copy of the California Style Manual handy, but I also have a Bluebook, Paul Brians' Common Errors in English Usage, and the Chicago Manual of Style. These references either help you cite correctly or write correctly (is it "spitting image," "splitting image," or "spit and image"?).

Print It Out

For people of a certain age, marking up a document on paper is easier than reading it on a computer screen, even if that ends up wasting paper. The advantage is that if you plan on being somewhere with limited Internet access -- on the train during your commute, for example -- printing out some cases and then reading them is probably a more efficient use of your (billable) time. If you print two-sided and fit two pages to a side, that saves even more paper.

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