Back in law school, I was always befuddled by those gunner types who insisted that no legal argument could be made without a case citation. The professor would ask a question and these guys (I use that in the non-gender-exclusive sense) would go thumbing through their casebooks and brief notes to find just the right response, because they’d swallowed too much law review Kool-Aid.
Meanwhile, the nuts & bolts fans among us would pull up a browser page and have an answer from Google far more quickly.
To be sure, I’d never suggest citing Google (or Wikipedia) as an authority, but that’s not the point. The point is that case law doesn’t have to be the initial step in the research journey. Every once in a while, I’ll field a question from a potential client (ie: a fellow attorney) and it will have a clear-cut answer.
“I have to serve a defendant in Germany. Do I have to go through the Hague?”
Yes, I say, setting aside my grumpy reaction to the preposition “through” and the very murky reference to the Service Convention.*
“That’s what I was thinking, but the judge says I have to have a private process server execute service– can you refer me to someone over there?”
Well, the judge clearly doesn’t understand the Hague Service Convention– or the German legal system, for that matter–so send him** a link to my blog How to Serve Process in Germany and he can take judicial notice.
“But I have to have a case that says Germany doesn’t have private process servers.”
No, you don’t. You need to show the judge why he’s wrong, but that showing can come from somewhere other than a court case. And nine times out of ten, that can come from the same place you’ll find restaurant recommendations in K-Town (forget the search and just go to Jongro— it’s spectacular) or a GIF of an incredulous Captain Picard.
Start with Google. Or if you’re not a fan of Larry & Sergey, Bing it. Try Yahoo. Heck, even Webcrawler is still alive for those of us who came of age before the dawn of the internet. But ask a search engine “do they have private process servers in Germany?” Scroll past the ads and you’ll see that, no, they don’t.
Point is, case law is not the mother lode for legal research– contrary to what law review acolytes insist. These are the same people who actually argue over whether proper citation requires you to italicize a comma, so remember:
- You don’t need a case citation to tell you what the Constitution, or a treaty, or a statute says in plain English.
- You don’t need a case citation to determine what foreign law says– in fact, in civil law countries, case law takes a back seat to scholarly articles (they really drink the law review Kool-Aid, but you get the point).
- You don’t need a case citation to tell you how a procedure is laid out.
- You really can’t use Lexis or Westlaw to properly identify (or locate) your defendant.
- And your regular web search may just lead to precisely the case you need.
GTS, y’all. Srsly.***
As for Wikipedia, same analysis. Despite much hand-wringing in the academic world about judges’ (over?) reliance on Wiki’s to formulate their issued opinions, it’s okay, for crying out loud. Although I would never suggest citing a Wiki as an authority, cabbaging text is perfectly fine– if it’s accurate. The bottom line is that it’s a great source of broad understanding of an unfamiliar concept. And I promise you– a well-written, well-documented Wiki will give you far more understanding than a mere footnote in a decade-old court opinion. Just go deeper to get to the Wiki’s sources.
* The Grumpy Gus inside my head cringes every time somebody uses the preposition “through”, especially as it pertains that beautiful Dutch city. We don’t send service requests “through the Hague.” We send them to the specific country where the defendant is to be served. We also don’t “go through the Hague Convention.” We request service pursuant to the Hague Service Convention. Sorry to be so pedantic, but the wrong terminology really screws things up here.
** It’s always a him in these instances. Seriously. Judges who lack the Y-chromosome are far less recalcitrant.
*** GTS: Google that stuff.
Author’s Note: Had I gone to law school straight out of college, I wouldn’t have had Google– Larry and Sergey were still undergrads and they hadn’t even started filling out their apps for Stanford. Instead, I waited until the ripe old age of 37, by which time those two guys had become billionaires and I had a resource that wasn’t a book that outweighed a bowling ball.