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New study of lawyer information-seeking behavior

Stephen Makri has written a doctoral thesis on lawyer information-seeking behavior — a field that (as we’ve remarked before) is woefully understudied.  His abstract describes it thus:

In this thesis we examine the information behaviour displayed by a broad cross-section of academic and practicing lawyers and feed our findings into the development of the Information Behaviour (IB) methods – two novel methods for evaluating the functionality and usability of electronic resources. We captured lawyers’ information behaviour by conducting naturalistic observations, where we asked participants to think aloud whilst using existing resources to ‘find information required for their work.’ Lawyers’ information behaviours closely matched those observed in other disciplines by Ellis and others, serving to validate Ellis’s existing model in the legal domain. Our findings also extend Ellis’s model to include behaviours pertinent to legal information-seeking, broaden the scope of the model to cover information use (in addition to information-seeking) behaviours and enhance the potential analytical detail of the model through the identification of a range of behavioural ‘subtypes’ and levels at which behaviours can operate. The identified behaviours were used as the basis for developing two methods for evaluating electronic resources – the IB functionality method (which mainly involves examining whether and how information behaviours are currently, or might in future be, supported by an electronic resource) and the IB usability method (which involves setting users behaviour-focused tasks, asking them to think aloud whilst performing the tasks, and identifying usability issues from the think- aloud data). Finally the IB methods were themselves evaluated by stakeholders working for LexisNexis Butterworths – a large electronic legal resource development firm. Stakeholders were recorded using the methods and focus group and questionnaire data was collected, with the aim of ascertaining how usable, useful and learnable they considered the methods to be and how likely they would be to use them in future. Overall, findings were positive regarding both methods and useful suggestions for improving the methods were made.

Those who have an interest in this area might also want to look at some earlier work by Kuhlthau and Tama (widely referenced), and this powerpoint from a 2006 presentation at SWALL (which, in the manner of powerpoints from meetings you haven’t attended, is a little bit cryptic — it would be nice to see the paper).

Hat tip and a low bow to Robert Richards, who brought this to our attention via the Law Librarian Blog.