Legal Research Tips

A positive legal outcome depends on a well-researched case.  But how do you make sure your research is both efficient and effective?  Here are a few tips:

  • “Just the facts, ma’am”.  Know the facts of your case and define what you need before you dig.  Knowing how your research will be used in court is also important.  What is the desired outcome?
  • Don’t rely on one source.  Yes, it’s important to use legal resources such as Westlaw and NexisLexis.  However, Google Scholar and other free search options might provide valuable information as well.
  • Digging up the dirt.  Social Media can provide valuable insight into an individual’s personal life, activities and interests.  It may provide key ideas or avenues to further investigate.
  • Use what you have.  If you find a helpful case, use that as a springboard to other helpful cases.  Search using that case as the key terms, to find similar cases or other cases that used it as a reference.
  • Think outside of the box.  Just because you find a similar case with an undesired outcome, you could use facts from that case to argue how your case differs.  “Unlike the Jones case….”  and list why previous cases aren’t indicative of the outcome in the current case.
  • Don’t be dated.  Generally, more current cases are best. However, if you find a less recent case, don’t be afraid to reference it, just make sure it wasn’t overturned elsewhere.
  • Check the dictionary.  This sounds strange, but consulting a legal dictionary can give you key terms to help narrow your search using online resources.
  • Where are you?   Make sure that your research covers the correct jurisdiction. Federal and State Laws can vary so make sure your research is relevant to the court system where the case will be argued.

These are just a few tips to save time and make your legal research more efficient and effective.  Every case is different and sometimes good research requires using several resources, so it’s good to keep your research tool box full of ideas and even unconventional methods.