Serendipity in legal information seeking behavior. Chance encounters of family-law advocates with court rulings

Date18 January 2016
Published date18 January 2016
AuthorYosef Solomon,Jenny Bronstein
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval
Serendipity in legal information
seeking behavior
Chance encounters of family-law advocates
with court rulings
Yosef Solomon and Jenny Bronstein
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role of serendipity in legal information
seeking behavior of family law advocates, whom act in a challenging information environment that
lacks published court rulings.
Design/methodology /approach A quantitativ e research using a web-based stru ctured
questionnaire, among Israeli family law advocates. Single stage systematic sampling, with random
starting point and no recurring pattern of each sixth family law advocate on the Israel Bar Advocates
List, was applied. Data from 135 Israeli family law advocates were used for analysis.
Findings Electronic information sources were found as most serendipitous; family law advocates
were identified as super encounterers; four types of professional background concerns and seven
legal professional contributions of the unexpected encounters with court rulings, were identified.
Furthermore, findings support several frameworks presented on earlier information
encounter literature.
Research limitations/implications Data absence on demographic and professional variables
distributions of Israeli family law advocates was a limiting factor, compensated by the systematic
sampling method used, thus can be regarded to reflect the views of the entire study population.
Surveysreliance on self-reporting recalls of serendipitous events is also a limiting factor, though
predicted and acceptable in this matter since chance encounters occur unexpectedly and are complex
to capture.
Practical implications Chance encounters may expose lawyers to meaningful information it is
unlikely they were able to find because its limited publication, and assist them keep up with current
law for better serves their clients.
Originality/value The study augments the current empirically based knowledge on serendipity
and provides insights into legal information chance encounters among a little-studied group of
knowledge workers: family law advocates.
Keywords Legal, Information seeking, Serendipity, Information discovery, Information encountering
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The legal profession involves a great extent of information and knowledge (Ellis et al.,
2014; Komlodi, 2002, 2004). In order for lawyers to fulfill their duty, they need the
cases, the statutes, and the regulations which govern a particular problem or area
related to a particular factual situation(Cohen, 1969, p. 185). Furthermore, lawyers
information needs are subjected to time constrains and to the complexity of their legal
cases (Chancellor, 2010; Makri et al., 2007). Because legal literature evolves quickly,
together with the recurring amendments to statues, rules and regulations and with the
constant juristic progress in courtsrulings (Rai, 2013), lawyers must keep informed in
order to provide their clients with the up-to-date and correct understanding of the law
(Ellis et al., 2014; Komlodi, 2002; Komlodi et al., 2007). But, although access to court
rulings makes it possible for lawyers to study and analyze different legal situations,
Aslib Journal of Information
Vol. 68 No. 1, 2016
pp. 112-134
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/AJIM-04-2015-0056
Received 13 April 2015
Revised 24 August 2015
Accepted 14 October 2015
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
identify legal shifts and use these intelligently in their legal work such as in
constructing case-based legal arguments (Halperin-Kaddari and Blutner, 2013; Ellis
et al., 2014), finding the key relevant court rulings directing the legal issues under
inquiry is in many cases actually a difficult task (Best, 2015). One of the primary
reasons for such difficulty is the selective publication of court rulings in the legal
system, which creates a body of secret law(National Classification Committee v.
United States 1985, p. 173 at Note 2), which makes it difficult to assess the clarity or
ambiguity of the law or the complexity of the legal issue(Dragich, 1995, p. 787). Thus,
lawyers that enjoy access to unpublished court rulings may have a prevailing
advantage in the litigation process, over their colleagues who do not hold a similar
access (Haruna and Mabawonku, 2001), and serendipitous encounters with such court
rulings are therefore of great significance in legal work.
Serendipity, a term thought-up and explained by Sir Horace Walpole in 1754, is making
fortunate discoveries by accidents and sagacity, of things a person is not in quest of
(Merton and Barber, 2004; Rosenau, 1935). The phenomenon of serendipity encompasses
several definitions and concepts in the information science discipline; inter alia,Incidental
Information Acquisition(Williamson, 1998; He inström, 2006); Accidentalor
Opportunistic Discovery of Information(Erdelez and Makri, 2011; Lu, 2012); Chance
Encounters(Toms, 1998); Information Scanning(Shim, Kelly and Hornik, 2006);
and Information Encountering(Erdelez, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2005). This study
adopted the definition of Information Encountering,a specific type of serendipity in the
context of information seeking, coined by Erdelez (1999, p. 25): a memorable experience of
an unexpected discovery of useful or interesting information. Information encountering
occurs when one is looking for information relating to one topic and finds information
relating to another one.
The present study investigated three elements of chance encounters with Family
and Religious Courts rulings: the information sources that facilitate them; the
professional problems and concerns that stand in the background of such unexpected
encounters; and the contribution they made to the advocateslegal work. Recalling
Ralph Waldo Emersons (Emerson, 1892) maxim knowledge comes by eyes always
open, and working hands; and there is no knowledge that is not power(p. 303), in the
challenging information arena of family law discovering court rulings by chance is all
the more important and powerful to the legal practice; such encounters may expose
lawyers to meaningful and valuable information which it is unlikely they were able to
purposefully find, principally due to its limited and selective publication and their lack
of awareness about its existence; and consequently enhance lawyersprofessional
skillfulness, as such serendipitous encounters with out-of-sight court rulings builds up
their ability of keeping up with an augmented body of current law that better serves
their clients; i.e., lawyers can make, in the right time and in the right context, an
intelligent use of the new legal information earlier encountered, in a way that could
attain an adversary advantage. Hence, the present study aimed to understand the gap
in the existing literature dealing with the information behavior of legal practitioners
that examines the role that chance encounters have in gaining access to hard-to-acce ss
information, such as Religious and Family Courts rulings.
The paper is organized as follows: at first, the motivation for conducting the study
and the research questions are presented; next, we discuss existing studies on selective
publications of Religious and Family Court rulings in Israel and on serendipity in
information behavior and describe the information encountering framework; the next
section presents a review of existing references found of legal information chance
Serendipity in
legal information

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