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Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch have powerful search-fu. You should buy their book, The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, whether or not you have had a chance to attend one of their internet research seminars.
At the Strategic Solutions for Solo & Small Firms conference last year, Levitt and Rosch gave two presentations on advanced internet research (not just legal research, but lawyers obviously need to be able to research more than cases and statutes). Knowing how to do more than just type words into Google’s search box — as well as the kinds of information you can find for free online — can be critical.
Here are some of the most-useful tips and resources I got from their presentations.
Internet research tips
- Proximity operator. You can search Google based on the proximity of two words. Just use the AROUND(#) operator. (The # is the number of words between the two search terms.) For example,
sam AROUND(2) gloverwould turn up results for “Sam Glover”, “Glover, Sam”, and “Sam J. Glover”.
- Find all files on a website (PDFs, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides) by searching, for example,
- Public libraries often offer free access to otherwise-expensive databases like newspapers, journals, reference materials, and more. All you need is a library card (which is often free, but may require local residency).
- Reminder: many PACER documents are free at RECAP.
- Don’t forget Ctrl+F (or Cmd+F for Macs) to search within a page.
Internet research resources
- This chart of key search engine features compares Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Ask.
- Google’s own advanced operators documentation is really useful, but note that it is missing things like the AROUND(#) operator.
- Google has its own power searching courses.
- Family Search is a huge database of death records, while Find A Grave might help you find a gravesite (although it is definitely not comprehensive).
- Find birth dates at BirthDatabase.com.
- ReferenceUSA has a lot of residential addresses, although you need to be a member of a subscribing library.
- 2013-08-06. Originally published.
- 2014-11-07. Republished with slight changes.