The internet provides us with access to infinite information and helps us find answers in nearly every aspect of life. The second our pet starts acting weird, our car engine light goes on, or the toilet doesn’t flush properly, we immediately use Google to find the easy solution to our problem. Sometimes the very first website gives us the perfect direction and we can solve the problem without any other guidance. We have all been lucky to find a solution from Google, but not every answer can be found on Google. More dangerously, sometimes Google can mislead us and create a situation even worse than what we had before taking Google’s advice.
As an attorney, I find Google particularly dangerous for someone seeking legal advise for just that reason: it can be extremely misleading. This article will outline the concerns with using Google or any internet search to find answers to legal issues and how the guidance of an attorney can protect you.
The website gives no legal citation for its answer
Like everything else, there is a mountain of legal information online for the general public to access. Google is a fantastic resource for learning the basics, but the answers Google can provide become increasingly more dangerous when the researcher relies exclusively on this research for their specific legal issues. One of the biggest dangers with relying solely on Google is that the answer might not actually be based on the law.
For example, take a researcher who wants to sue a contractor for doing bad work at their house. The researcher wants to figure out how long they have to sue the contractor. They type their question into Google and find an article written by an attorney. This attorney says that they have 10 years to sue. The answer makes sense to the researcher, but nowhere in the article does it tell them WHERE that answer can be found in the law. Without a legal citation, the researcher should be skeptical.
We learned this concept as early as middle school English class. Without a citation, there is no way to confirm that the answer is right. Just assuming that the website article is correct is extremely risky. If the article is wrong, the researcher might lose their opportunity to bring a suit.
The website information does not apply to the researcher
Let’s assume that the researcher finds an article that answers their question, and this one has legal citations to support the facts. Based on my information above, the researcher might now think they hit the jackpot and have everything they need to represent themselves. Well, the dangers of Google don’t stop at the lack of citations. There is still a great risk that the information provided in that article does not apply to the researcher and will still lead them to a completely wrong answer.
Let’s go back to the short example from above. The researcher finds an article written by a Florida attorney in 2017 that says that a homeowner must bring a suit against a contractor within four years. The attorney cites the Florida statute where he found that answer. All seems good and well with the information the research found, but there is no guarantee that the answer is right for that researcher.
There are so many factors that go into getting the right answer for an individual’s unique legal issue. In this example, if the researcher does not live in Florida, that answer is already useless because each state applies its own law. Next, the article is from 2017, so the law could have changed in the six years since it was written. Lastly, the article and answer might not discuss any exception to that general rule that might apply to the researchers unique situation. Maybe the researcher’s situation does not fall into the general rule, once again misleading them. Finding the right answer on Google is like finding the needle in the haystack.
While Google is an excellent research tool, there are situations when it is not the right resource. When it comes to legal research, especially, it is likely that the Google answer will be misleading or incorrect. It should not be the only thing the researcher relies on. It presents the same risks as trusting Google when trying to fix our car, or nursing our pet back to health, or fixing our plumbing. If the answer is wrong, the costs to undo it can add up quickly. The same is true for the law.
In nearly all situations, consulting an attorney will be cheaper and more effective in the long run. Obtaining the information from a professional gives you confidence that the information is tailored to your unique situation. So next time you’re tempted to trust your Google search, consider consulting an RKG attorney who, unlike any of the online search engines you are using, will tailor their answer to your situation and give you answers you can trust.