Can you count on it?

Julie Mathews, Executive Director of CLEO

Julie Mathews, Executive Director of CLEO

Last month, my blog post discussed the recommendation in recent access to justice reports for a single or central portal of authoritative legal information. As highlighted in the reports, people seeking answers to their legal questions online are faced with an abundance of information to sort through. This makes it increasingly difficult to find reliable information that is also relevant and understandable.

These three prongs of effective legal information – reliability, relevance, and understandability – are closely related concepts which I plan to explore further here. In today’s post I will address reliability – the most straightforward of the three and a good starting point.

My 20-year old son is in the process of entering his first tenancy agreement and has already met with a request from his landlord that violates the law. He’s planning to do a Google search to learn more about tenants’ rights. I asked him how he would assess whether the information he finds is reliable. He said that he would try to find out who produced it and whether it looked “official”. Information with a lot of ads, he said, does not look official. And he would look for the sources listed on the site as the basis for its information. Not bad, I thought.

The Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta has produced a short video about some hallmarks of reliable legal information. And, as part of CLEO’s new “promising practices” initiative, we are looking at how to help web users identify reliable information. What are the clues? Here are a few:

  • Check to see if the information has a date of “last review” or “last edited” – the more recent, the better.
  • Make sure that the information applies to your province or area.
  • Try to find out something about the organization behind the materials. Organizations that have lawyers on staff, or that are supported by a government department – such as community legal clinics – are likely to produce reliable information.

These three spring quickly to mind, but there must be other indicators. What would you suggest?

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