Taming Legal Information Overload

Vol. 42 No. 8


Shawn G. Nevers teaches legal research and is head of reference services and research instruction at the Howard W. Hunter Law Library at Brigham Young University.

It happens every year. A student sits in my office and asks for a life jacket—figuratively, of course. They’re drowning in legal information.

It’s a common problem. Legal researchers today deal with a rising sea of legal information. In 2012, for example, the US Courts of Appeals and District Courts published over 150,000 pages of case law. Additionally, there were another 2,500 pages of federal legislation and nearly 80,000 pages of the Federal Register. That’s over 600 pages a day without even considering the states, let alone anything else.

This abundance of information causes a variety of problems for researchers. Many researchers simply feel overwhelmed—paralyzed by the hundreds or thousands of results facing them. Some simply graze at the top of a results list like they would on Google, missing relevant information that’s harder to find. For others, the mass of information instills a fear that they’re missing something—that elusive case or statute that solves all problems but is always beyond reach.

While you can’t avoid this ocean of legal information, you can learn to float. Here are some tips to help.

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