Legal researchers always need to be aware of the possibility of change. Legislatures pass new statutes or amend existing ones, courts decide new cases, new social and technological developments create new legal issues. For generations, lawyers kept up with new cases by skimming the advance sheets of case reports and followed other developments by reading the newspaper. Those techniques are still useful, but changes in technology offer today's researchers many more tools for keeping up with new developments and staying current in one's area of specialization.
graphic: drawing of newspapers or magazines from British Library's photostream on Flickr
Researchers' needs for updating information vary by type of information needed as well as its depth and breadth. Even one law student or lawyer will have different needs depending on the reason he or she wants to get updates. Adjust your updating techniques to your needs.
Consider the following examples:
graphic:drawing of two terriers, from a children's book (Our Friends and All About Them, 1893), available in British Library's photostream on Flickr. It has nothing to do with researchers' needs for current information, but the dogs do look curious, don't they?
Individuals' work styles affect what current awareness approaches will work for them. Think about:
Graphic: Kubo Shunman, Court Woman at her Desk with Poem Cards (1795), public domain image available from Metropolitan Museum of Art
When do you need to be comprehensive?
If you're working on a brief to the Supreme Court, maybe you want to know every Supreme Court case that has addressed your issue. If you're writing a case note, you might want to know every subsequent case and law review article that cites it.
But much of the time, you want less than comprehensive coverage. No one has the time to read everything about everything, even within a limited practice area.
Be aware that there is a lot of redundancy in the information world. A major development will be covered in different newsletters—as well as on NPR, PBS NewsHour, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. For many projects, you can choose one or two good sources and trust that you will hear about the important developments. For other projects, you will use more sources to reduce the risk of missing something.
Graphic: Kawanabe Kyōsai, Squirrels Gathering Chestnuts (ca. 1887), public domain images available from Metropolitan Museum of Art