For this week’s ‘Find It Friday’ installment, I pose the following question – Are wiki sites now reliable enough to be used as research tools by lawyers?
For those of you unfamiliar with the technical aspects of what a ‘wiki’ is, the gist of ‘wiki’ sites is that they are designed to allow quick and easy creation and editing of content by users acting collaboratively as opposed to a traditional website that may have its content altered only by a single person (e.g., “the webmaster”) or a select group of people.
Unfortunately, this ‘ease of creation and editing’ feature essential to ‘wiki’ sites created some content problems. Many argue that the information on ‘wiki’ sites is unreliable because it is simply too easy for someone with little to no actual knowledge in a particular area to modify an article, thereby creating incorrect information. Such misuse is particularly troubling in a subject such as law where specialized training is required.
Without a doubt, the most well-known ‘wiki’ site is Wikipedia, of which I assume most of you are aware. In late 2005, to address concerns about reliability, Wikipedia tightened controls over its content, at least for certain types of articles. In my opinion, this additional content control dramatically improved Wikipedia as a potential research tool for lawyers.
Over the years, courts have – with increasing frequency cited Wikipedia – as authority for some aspect of the case at hand. In preparation for writing this article, I logged onto Westlaw and did a quick search for the word “Wikipedia” in the ‘all federal cases’ directory (ALLFEDS). This quick search returned 281 results. The federal courts, it would seem, are becoming more comfortable with ‘wikis’, at least with Wikipedia.
Many of you may have already incorporated Wikipedia in some way as an additional research tool in your practice. However, some lawyers may not be aware that there are actually many online resources, other than Wikipedia, that offer information on a ‘wiki’ platform. You can link to an article discussing various ‘wiki’ sites here and here.
Among the more well-known of these are sites such as WikiAnswers.com. I chose WikiAnswers as an example because it happens to be a ‘wiki’ site with articles specific to law, entitled “law and legal issues.” For this post, I asked WikiAnswers.com, “What is collateral estoppel?” You can link to the answers it gave me here, which I thought were reasonably good. And, it was faster than looking it up in Black’s Law Dictionary, even though Black’s Law Dictionary is still likely to be viewed as more authoritative.
Bottom line – as more and more courts start relying on ‘wiki’ sites in case citations, their credibility will continue to grow. So, you may want to give some thought to utilizing these sites. Nevertheless, I welcome your feedback about ‘wiki’ sites…what do you think about their reliability? Have you encountered articles on any ‘wiki’ sites discussing legal topics that were simply incorrect?