How to identify quality legal information online

The Internet is available for anyone who wants to put materials online, and many people do. Depending on what you’re searching for, the amount of information you find may be overwhelming. Also, you can’t always tell whether the information is up-to-date, correct, or applies to your situation. Individuals and organizations are not always able to keep their online information current. As a result, you need to be careful about the websites you visit and the materials you find.

You have probably already found that the Internet has a lot of legal information and resources, from videos to forms to documents. Using the Internet to find legal information is helpful, especially since much online legal information is free and accessible from anywhere. The problem is how to determine if the information is of good quality. Below are some questions to ask to find out if the information you find applies to you, and is up-to-date and reliable.

Who is providing the information?

Is it a non-profit organization? The government? A legal firm? Laws and legal processes are created by the government, so legal information from a government source is likely to be accurate. Libraries and universities are also reliable sources of legal information.

For information that come from other sources, is the website or organization neutral? Does it belong to an interest group or have controversial viewpoints? Are the opinions objective? If the main purpose of the website or organization is to promote a particular point of view, the information may be biased.

Does the information apply in Alberta?

Laws that are passed by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta apply in Alberta. Laws from other provinces or other countries do not apply in Alberta. When researching online, it is not always easy to tell which laws are being referred to. Don’t assume it applies in Alberta without checking.

Why is the information provided?

What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform? To sell? To promote a point of view? If the main purpose of providing the information is to sell you something, the information may not be complete.

Is the information current?

Can you find a date anywhere on the web page or material? If you can’t find a date, relying on the information is risky. Laws often change, and so do interpretations of the law by the courts.

For additional questions to ask when trying to find quality information, read the PDF or watch the four-minute YouTube video below: “Is It Reliable? 7 Clues to Good Legal Information Online” by Centre for Public Legal Education in Alberta (CPLEA).