Teaching Students to Avoid Legal Research Clickbait

No Legal Research Clickbait

In legal research, we’ve all gone down rabbit holes: we start researching contracts and end up in wills; we start in landlord/tenant issues and end up in torts. It happens to the best of us, even those of us trained to be efficient. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about how I can teach my students efficiency; to avoid the temptation of clicking on one case, and then another, and another, all leading them away from where they started, whether it’s in a helpful secondary source or the Notes of Decision. How can I get them to stay with the source they landed on in the first place? I want them to read through that resource, to comprehend that source first before they get tempted by the legal research clickbait.

One strategy is to go back to the basics: print the page. I know it’s not the most environmentally sound advice but taking away the ability to click on hyperlinks while the student is reading is profound! If the student takes the ten or fifteen minutes to read the secondary source and highlight the primary sources they want to consult next, they have overall saved themselves hours of time because they stayed with the secondary source, they’ve given themself the gift of background information, and they’ve been pointed to the best primary sources. And best of all, they stopped themselves from the rabbit hole and temptation of *click* *click* *click* without the understanding of what they’re clicking or reading and why.

The same is true for statutory research and the Notes of Decision. Some students are tempted by the first case – here it is! A case on point! I’ll click it! But a better strategy is for the student to print the page, highlight the case citations that seem most on point for their research, cross out the cases that they don’t need to read, and then individually enter the case citations in the legal research database when they are ready to read the cases. If the temptation to *click* *click* *click* is too strong, the student should print the cases to read, too.

Another strategy students could employ is to copy and paste the secondary source, Notes of Decision, or opinion into a word processor without the hyperlinks and read the documents there instead of online. Eliminating the hyperlinks takes away the clickbait temptation and gives the student to chance to focus on the text of what they’re reading. It allows the student to completely read the secondary source and make notes of the primary sources they should read later.

Legal research clickbait reduces the student’s comprehension of the subject. The temptation is so strong that the student clicks too many times and forgets where they started – was I reading the statute? Did I start with a secondary source? Yes, our legal research databases have a history feature that allows the researcher to circle back to the original source, but as legal research professors, our job is to teach efficiency. Legal research clickbait and deep rabbit holes are not efficient. If students need to go back to the basics of reading a source in print, so be it, since I doubt we’d be able to convince our legal research database vendors to enable a toggle on/off hyperlinks within sources feature. Or could we?

Assistant Director, Research and Instruction, at Boley Law Library, Lewis and Clark Law School, in Portland, Oregon.