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The Deep Web: New Tools for Legal Research

There’s a deeper web lurking in cyberspace, one few people know about and take advantage of. But, it’s not yet a replacement for established legal research tools such as Lexis and Westlaw, says Stephen Lief, a New York-based eDiscovery, Information Governance and Litigation Support consultant with decades of experience.


The Deep Web, also referred to as The Invisible Web, is a “product of technology [created by] search engines crawling through the data” contained on the Internet, Lief says. In contrast, the World Wide Web, nicknamed The Information Superhighway by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, is “where the data lives.”


Information found on the deep web is dynamically generated from data sources on the web. Whereas on the surface web, data is located and accessed via hyperlinks, data on the deep web is guarded by a search interface that can only be found by queries. The amount of data that can be found in the deep web far exceeds that which can be discovered on the surface web. Therefore, deep web crawlers must delve the data so it can be discovered, indexed and searched.


In their book, Going Beyond Google Again, authors Jane Devine and Francine Egger-Sider refer readers to a YouTube video offering an in-depth explanation of the deeper web and its impact on research. Additional videos regarding the deep web can also be found there.


Despite its potential impact on any kind of research, the deeper web is not yet a game changer, Lief says. “My personal feeling is that the deep web has not yet had a significant impact on legal research, although the internet itself has substantially affected legal and back-ground research,” he says. However, an emerging tool for research that has been making a significant impact in the search for free cases, statutes and articles is Google Scholar.


According to Google, Google Scholar is an online, freely accessible search engine that lets users look for both physical and digital copies of articles. It searches a wide variety of sources, including academic publishers, universities, and preprint depositories.


In addition to perusing Google Scholar, Lief suggests researchers avail themselves of the excellent sources of legal information including the web sites of the Library of Congress and the law schools at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania.


Despite the valuable information that can be gleaned from those sites, the deep web and even Google Scholar, Lief cautions against lawyers basing a client’s case on data gleaned solely from those sources. Utilizing resources long renowned for updating case law and offering the latest in legal information are the cornerstones of a sound, well-researched brief, memo or pleading, he says.


“When citing information to a court, you must do thorough research. You don’t want to say you just used Google,” for your client’s legal arguments, he says.


Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer.

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