The information needs of attorneys in a large South African law firm

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This paper reports the results of a study, which was carried out to investigate the information needs of the attorneys in a large South African law firm. The survey research method was employed and a single survey conducted within a particular time-span. Two methods of data collection were employed, namely the analysis of documentary sources and questioning. A combination of self-administered questionnaires and interviews were used to gather the data. The questionnaire designed by the researcher consisted of closed and open-ended questions and a rating scale was used where appropriate to enable the respondents to express their opinions or strength of preferences. The majority of the questions included a general response category that made it possible for respondents to enter other relevant data and personal observations. The questionnaire was sent to all the Bowman Gilfillan attorneys via electronic mail. The email, which included the questionnaire as a MSWord attachment, introduced and explained the purpose of the questionnaire. All questions incorporated in the questionnaire were subjected to cross-tabulation to establish the impact of the independent or classification variables on the dependent variables. The following variables were considered during cross-tabulation: respondent's age, position in the firm and number of years experience as attorney. To establish which results were significant the Pearson chi-square statistical test was applied to all bivariate relations. Results that yielded a chi-square statistic below the .01 significance level were rejected. This study sought to investigate why the attorneys need work-related information, what type of work-related information they require, which sources and systems of information they use and what the factors are that influence their information-seeking behaviour. As a law librarian, the researcher also investigated the role of the law librarian and library in the provision of work-related information to the attorneys. The findings revealed that the attorneys required access to work-related information to provide a legal service to their clients and that their most important information need is to establish the current status of the law and to keep up-to-date with the latest legal developments. The attorneys made use of various informal and personal sources of information (e.g. colleagues) and the library and required access to primary and secondary sources of law as well as non-legal information. The findings also indicated that the attorneys required quick and easy access to current and accurate information and that factors such as age, number of years experience as an attorney and position in the law firm appeared to influence the use of the various sources and systems of information as the younger, less experienced attorneys had a greater need for the various sources and systems of information. The study also found that law librarians and libraries undoubtedly have an important role to play in the provision of work related information.