Information Seeking Behavior of Judges of the Florida District Courts of Appeal

323 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2009 Last revised: 26 Feb 2016

Date Written: May 1, 1992


Appellate judges, in their roles as decision makers, are extensive users of information. They are paid to pass judgement on the unresolved disputes of others. Information to assist the judge in making those decisions is provided to them in court records, attorney's briefs and oral arguments. Judges also seek information externally. State funds are appropriated to support the requirement for external information through the provision of law clerks, computer assisted legal research subscriptions, and both personal and centralized libraries.

At some point judges may choose to seek information external to the brief to guide or support their written opinions. Information seeking behavior is described by studying where information users go for information, why they choose or prefer certain types of information, and what factors contribute to their decision as to when to seek information. Seeking information may be affected by factors present in three categories: the individual, the organization and the professional environment.

The problem was to identify, isolate and describe the factors which constitute the information seeking behavior of appellate judges.

The judicial group studied was comprised of the fifty seven judges of the Florida District Courts of Appeal located in five districts and six cities throughout Florida. All courts were visited. No sampling occurred. Twenty factors, organized in three categories, were identified to guide the description of judicial information seeking behavior. Three data gathering techniques were employed. Qualitative data was gathered by personally interviewing judges using 37 open ended, systematic and standard questions. Quantitative data was gathered through structured observation of oral arguments in the courtroom and a questionnaire survey sent to all judges.

When taken together the data provides evidence that there are patterns of information seeking existing within the individual judges, their organization, and their legal environment. In total, the evidence supported 13 conclusions. 1) Appellate judges do not trust and are skeptical of the information provided to them. 2) Judges have particular needs with regards to organizing information which are not met by any system. 3) The time required for information seeking is predicated upon the judge's situation regarding the disposition of the case. 4) A judge's years on the bench suggests a pattern of information seeking at oral argument. 5) Two critical events influence when judges most keenly need and seek information: the oral argument and decision conference. 6) Judges seek information independently and individually. 7) A judge's distance from the information source approximates and predicts its relevance, use, and value to the judge. 8) Two resources provided by the state, which if absent, would most affect the judges' information seeking are their law clerks and personal library collections. 9) The quality and depth of information seeking by the judges is guided primarily by their internal feelings of satisfaction toward their resulting opinions. 10) Judges' use of the computer is affected by the nature of their job which involves primarily reading and writing. 11) Judges prefer, and value most, information in hardcopy. 12) Judge's information seeking is limited to resources within the physical confines of the courthouse. 13) A judge's information seeking behavior is affected by time.

Keywords: judges, information seeking, courts, appellate judges, judiciary, courthouse library, attorney, brief, law, legal technology

JEL Classification: B31, J20, J44, K40, L23, O3

Suggested Citation

Hainsworth, Melody, Information Seeking Behavior of Judges of the Florida District Courts of Appeal (May 1, 1992). Available at SSRN: or

Melody Hainsworth (Contact Author)

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