Researching Legal Topics: Four tips

Tip one:  Schedule time for research.  You schedule time to attend classes, to prepare assignments, many of us schedule our vacation time as well.  You should think about research in the same way.  Make a schedule and give yourself ample time to follow leads and retrieve information.  This will give you breathing room so you can do a thorough job.  You also will be less likely to miss important information vital to your legal work if you stick to a schedule.

Tip two:  Brainstorm for legal resources on your topic.  Not all online or print legal resources are the same.  If you are looking for scholarly articles, where would you start?  If you are seeking a secondary source on a legal topic, for example a treatise on evidence or intellectual property, do you know where to look? 

Find out which sources would best suit your topic and you will avoid wasting time on unproductive leads.  In addition, if you keep notes on where you've searched, you can check off the resources as you use them.  If you keep a record, you can refer back the resources easily, and they will be readily available when you need to cite or refer to the material as you write. 

Another related tip: If these resources are in the library's catalog, review the subject headings associated with your resource and follow those leads by selecting the link in the catalog to locate additional material relevant to your topic. 

Tip three:  Stay Current. Once you have found a case, statute, or regulation, be sure to update your research.  No legal professional would want to be caught citing to a case or a statute that is no longer good law.  To avoid this problem, update your citations regularly, but especially as a last check before submitting your memorandum, article or brief.

Tip four: Ask an expert.  A legal research expert can suggest resources or review your research strategy.  They will be able to suggest resources that you may not find on your own, and may notice something that you have overlooked.  This expert can be a law librarian, a professor, a department chair or partner in a law firm, a colleague, or the author of a law review article. 

For more information and tips on researching legal topics, see the library guide on Researching Legal Topics. 

Submitted by Jenny Zook, Reference Librarian on November 1, 2016

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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