It is often said that composing legal texts is the most formidable task that a law practitioner has to accomplish. Not only does such composition require a tremendous amount of scrutiny, but it also demands a continuous investment of time, effort, and resources.
However, drafting a well-cited legal document is just like winning half the battle. Do you know what the remaining half is? – Research!
Legal research, with all its associated tools and tactics, forms the backbone of every single law document.
Whether you are an attorney or a law student, you have to engage in meticulous research if you want your case to carry any sort of weight. This is because proactive legal analysis ensures that your memorandum remains focused.
Nonetheless, owing to a lack of time, lawyers tend to generally delegate this crucial job to either their juniors or interns.
Thus, the quality of their research is severely compromised- especially in terms of its interpretation and representation. In the longer run, this leads to erroneous citations, misapplied law, and numerous lost opportunities.
If you, too, have had to face similar issues, here are five essential tips that can quickly help you strengthen the basics of your legal research.
Identify The Facts
Before you begin your legal research, the first thing you need to do is identify the principal facts of the case.
Knowing these facts will prepare you to focus your research on areas that harbor the potential to decisively impact your case. So, start with finding out some bare essentials like:
- Which parties are involved in the case?
- At what location are these parties situated?
- Which generic laws are involved in the current proceedings?
- What exactly does the client intend to achieve with the lawsuit?
- Does the case incorporate local or federal laws?
Based on your answers to these questions, you will get a clear picture of what precisely you have to work with. In fact, if possible, list down all the different facets of the case in chronological order.
Doing so will enable you to move beyond blind ‘Google Scholar’ search patterns and figure out which specific keywords can help you derive the best results.
Look For ‘Good Law’
In legal research, ‘good law’ means the type of law which can be specifically used to validate your case. This law is often found in the citations of cases similar to yours.
For instance, if you have read lexis advance review, you would know that the platform has a feature called ‘Shepardize’, which permits you to locate cases that cited laws closely related to your search.
But, locating these ‘good laws’ and using them to strengthen your case is just the tip of the iceberg! You must also sift through a large variety of primary and secondary legal sources that include:
- Applicable statutes and their sections
- Explanations and illustrations
- Exceptions to certain provisions
- Old judgments, rules, and commentaries
- Research papers or other literary reviews
Finding ‘good law’ through these sources will work wonders in fortifying every aspect of your legal research capabilities, within a short span of time!
Limit Your Jurisdiction
As a lawyer, you must already be aware of the two kinds of legal authority that exists in the United States today. These authorities are:
- Persuasive authority – which includes case laws from other states
- Mandatory authority – which includes case laws from your own state or the Supreme Court
Being aware of both these authorities holds immense importance, especially when determining the jurisdiction of a case.
Therefore, when you conduct your legal research, don’t cast such a wide net that instead of depending on mandatory authority, you begin to rely on citations from persuasive authority.
Instead, stick to the appropriate jurisdiction and narrow down your search results accordingly. Inculcate this jurisdictional dimension into your basic research plan and ensure that it always stays at the top of your mind.
Master Boolean Search Terms
Although this might seem like unfamiliar territory, Boolean search terms can actually help you save a lot of time!
Not only do these search terms equip you to broaden, narrow, or re-define your search, but they also allow you to yield quick and fruitful results. Let us understand this with the help of an example:
- Consider that your case relates to – “Negligence of a property owner in Texas due to which a man slipped and fell on his premises.”
- While most lawyers would type in this issue statement, as such, in the search bar, Boolean search terms will limit your search keywords to just three – ‘Property owner’, ‘Slip’, and ‘Negligence’.
Merely by typing these three, you will be able to extract all the possible search result combinations which can turn up in relation to such cases.
Alternately, if you go the traditional way and type in the entire statement, your search boundary will become too patchy and restricted.
Know When To Stop Digging
Last but not least, always remember – legal research is nothing like hunting for treasure.
You won’t find anything more than you already have by spending a day or two more on it. So, the moment you think you have gathered enough information – stop!
More digging can help you up to a certain level. Beyond that, it would only prove to be a hindrance to building up your case.
If it is feasible, fetch another set of eyes. Deploy someone you trust to substantiate every point of your research.
Once that is done, start focusing exclusively on consolidating what you have instead of wasting time on further research.
With changing times, the entire gamut of legal research has shifted online. No more are lawyers required to study piles of cumbersome papers and make tedious notes based on insufficient information.
Instead, they can read Lexis or westlaw review and subscribe to these platforms for their legal research.
In case you want to expand your search window, it would be wise to explore smart tools and software applications to carry out your legal research in the most diligent and economical way.
So, what are you waiting for? Fortify your legal research and get started with building an exceptional case now!