Surfin' Safari - Why Competent Lawyers Should Research on the Web

38 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2007 Last revised: 9 Dec 2012

See all articles by Ellie Margolis

Ellie Margolis

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


The easy availability of information on the internet has drastically changed the way that lawyers conduct legal research, but has it affected the standards for competency to which lawyers are held? This article explores the ways in which judges' and lawyers' expectations have been shaped by technological changes in the last two decades.

The article reviews the various ways in which the adequacy of a lawyer's research can be measured - the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, court rules such as Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and malpractice claims. All of these approaches reveal that competence is measured both by what techniques are standard in practice and by what sources judges look to in supporting their decisions. By both of these measures, a competent lawyer today must go beyond Lexis and Westlaw and conduct legal research directly on the internet.

Because many legal materials are increasingly available only online, and because judges are showing a greater willingness to rely on non-legal information available on the web, the article concludes that a lawyer cannot competently represent a client without conducting research on the internet. The conclusion urges law schools and the practicing bar to be aware of this development and instruct law students and new lawyers accordingly.

Keywords: legal research, legal writing, competence, competent practice, internet, CALR, Rule 11, attorney sanctions

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Margolis, Ellie, Surfin' Safari - Why Competent Lawyers Should Research on the Web. Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 10, 2007; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-26. Available at SSRN:

Ellie Margolis (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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