The brokerage world has changed a bit. As a result of a settlement of conflict-of-interest charges last year (read all about New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's $1.4 billion win), many brokerages will now begin sending you second opinions on various investment opportunities along with their own recommendations.

Here's how it might work: You're interested in investing in shares of Home Surgery Kits Inc. (ticker: OWWWW), and you ask your big-name brokerage -- perhaps Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), Citigroup (NYSE:C), J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MWD), or Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER) -- what they think of it. They may send you a "Buy" recommendation from their in-house analyst, but they'll also send you a report, if one is available, from at least one independent research house. Interestingly, this second opinion may well recommend selling the stock. (The independent houses include Morningstar, Argus Research, Renaissance Capital, Standard & Poor's, Thomson Financial, and BNY Jaywalk.)

That's good and bad. The downside is that you may end up confused, having to decide what to do instead of just following a simple recommendation (Bill Mann explains why you should avoid such shortcut thinking). Brokerages are nervously anticipating being asked by many clients to make the call -- something they'd often prefer to leave to the investor. Still, it's hard to find fault with extra information and differing points of view. The more reports you access, the more data and opinions you'll get to digest. The second opinion might raise some points you hadn't thought of before. There's more good than bad here.

Note that it's just 10 major firms that are now required to offer these outside research reports -- but in order to stay competitive, you can expect to see other brokerages following suit, offering their customers additional information.

This probably makes you wonder what your brokerage is offering or will be offering in independent research. You can get an answer just by asking. This is a good time to reevaluate your brokerage, to make sure it's offering you the services, prices and conveniences that make the most sense for you. Learn more about how to evaluate brokerages in our Broker Center, which also features details on several brokerages that support your friend the Fool.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.