Pulling your hair out in your own practice? Don’t know where to start or which direction to turn? Here’s a collection of Rapid Legal’s favorite legal research tips and tools to make your life easier.
Understand the Issue
Before you begin, you have to take steps to ensure that you have as full an understanding of the issue as possible. This might seem like 1L stuff but the truth is that you need this foundational information to work a case effectively – not taking this first step seriously could jeopardize your ability to do so in the future.
Understand the Controlling Statute
Before you start drafting and filing paperwork on a case, you also need to ensure that the statute or case precedent you’re relying upon is still good law. This means identifying the scope of the controlling statute and analyzing whether your current issue falls within that scope. It also means checking that subsequent case law hasn’t altered the law’s reading in a way that might reflect negatively on your own case.
Create Your Own Specified Resource List
Plenty of law firms have a list of easily-accessible resources for attorneys and legal professionals to peruse while building a case for a client. Wile these lists are obviously designed to make it less strenuous to conduct research, oftentimes you’re going to need a specific resource that exists off-list.
To save time and energy in the future, either for yourself or for colleagues, create and maintain your own specified resource lists. These can be as simple as a set of bookmarks in your web browser or as complex as a cross-referenced Excel spreadsheet; the level of detail is up to you.
Step Back and Evaluate Your Progress
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’ve got thirteen different books on case law open on your desk and twice as many windows open on your desktop. If it feels like you’re drowning in information but still not finding the knowledge you seek, step back and gain some perspective.
A highly-defined focus is good for single issues, but has the side-effect of making it easier to miss the bigger picture. Stepping back and examining your progress so far can aid in pinpointing logical fallacies or weaknesses in your argument, errors in attribution, or any number of other issues that could result in a negative outcome.
When All Else Fails, Turn to Your Colleagues
There’s a reason it’s called the “practice” of law – you need to literally practice for years before learning all there is to learn, and with the legal landscape changing all the time thanks to the malleable nature of case precedent, an effective legal professional has to demonstrate high levels of mental agility that need to be learned over time.
No one woke up the morning after passing the bar with an invitation to sit on the US Supreme Court. It’s only through years of practice and study – and enlisting the help of colleagues – that you’ll put your best foot forward. That’s why it’s never a bad idea to solicit opinions and advice from paralegals, associates, partners, law librarians; access to the knowledge your colleagues possess will always be the best tool at your disposal.