Internet search engines (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Bing) have for the first time in history given people unprecedented access to vast and limitless amounts of information covering virtually any topic. In the space of 600 years, information that was accessible only to the wealthy few is now available to almost anyone regardless of social standing.
Type in a few keywords on any topic, then take your pick out of millions of articles.
Many of us have heard the term “Dr Google”, where common medical conditions and complaints can be looked up and identified with a reasonable degree of accuracy through the typing of only a few words in an Internet search engine. This year, Google launched health condition cards in Australia, designed to answer users’ health-related questions, queries and curiosities which pop up in a user’s search results. The tech giant estimates that 1 in 20 Google searches are health-related. That said, Google has taken care in stressing that the health cards are sources of information only, are not a diagnostic tool and cannot replace a face-to-face consultation with a “flesh-and-blood” doctor.
Can the same be said for lawyers and legal advice?
At the end of the day, Internet search engines can only do so much in response to typing a few words in a search bar. In Queensland, lawyers generally have to undergo a minimum of four years’ tertiary education, followed by a period of practical legal training. Some might say that becoming a lawyer today is somewhat easier than what it was one or two generations ago when articles of clerkship (which was similar to an apprenticeship requiring on-the-job training) preceded the current practical legal training requirements. Either way, the final product is a person who is qualified and competent to identify legal issues and knows where to go to find solutions.
There are also the questions of empathy and being able to exercise analytical thought and creativity in complex problem solving, which can only come from a person who has undergone all the rigours that only specialised legal training provide.
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing everything that is read and not questioning the accuracy and correctness of information accessed via Internet search engines, especially given the ease with which such information can be obtained. If the source looks credible, then the information must be as well, right? When it comes to legal questions and issues, there is the potential for information to be accessed through a quick Internet search which might seem to easily address the matters at hand, only to give rise to more deeper and complex problems after the initial search has put to bed the concerns. There is often more to the iceberg than the one-eighth above the surface.
At the end of the day, nothing beats the engagement of a lawyer when a legal question or problem arises. Solving legal problems is what we have been educated and trained to do.
Internet search engines have undoubtedly made life easier when it comes to accessing information on the Internet, particularly legal information. What Internet search engines however cannot do is analyse and provide tailored and customised solutions to legal issues that only a properly trained and qualified lawyer can provide. One size does not fit all.