“This is exactly why lawyers specialize. We have to know everything about one area of the law. The law is not so simple that one can simply just look up the answer as one would look up a word in the dictionary during a game of Scrabble.” ~ Russell Knight
Part two of our three-part series on how to do solid legal research continues today with tips from more experts. Following their advice will add valuable tools to any legal researcher’s skill set.
Studying both the positive and negative cases, they both help in different ways
Darryl Smith Managing Partner at Smith & Eulo Law Firm
When you are conducting legal research on a case, there are several important rules you should follow. First, identify and narrow down the key issues that you need to research for your case, so your search is not overly broad.
Second, use a reputable legal research tool to research relevant cases in your jurisdiction that address the particular narrow issues in your case. Using a reputable legal research tool will ensure you get accurate search results when looking for the most relevant and up to date cases on a particular legal issue. When you use cheap or outdated research tools, the chances of getting junk results, missing out on key cases that support or oppose your argument, and getting outdated case results increase exponentially.
Third, make sure you identify cases that both support and oppose your position while you are doing case law research, so you can have a full understanding of how strong or weak your arguments are based on controlling case law in your jurisdiction. Most jurisdictions have one or two landmark cases for a specific issue (i.e., Miranda v. Arizona for Miranda Rights). Locating the landmark cases for a specific issue in your jurisdiction will almost always give you a full explanation of what the law is regarding your issue.
It will also tell you whether the case law explained in these landmark cases are still good law, or if it has been changed or struck down over time. Moreover, identifying landmark cases on specific legal issues will lead you to other related cases, which will, in turn, give you a chronological legal roadmap of how the law on your specific issues has changed over time, and tell you the current state of the law and what controlling cases are present.
Finally, study all of the cases that you find as a result of your research. Make sure you are well-versed in both the positive and negative cases. Use the positive cases that support your position to bolster your arguments, and use the unique facts of your case to distinguish it from the negative cases you discovered during your research. Doing this will help you to form the strongest possible argument for your position. It will also help prepare you to be ready to counter the arguments the other side will try to use against you. Applying these practices will ensure that you are always prepared, and your legal research is consistently on point.
A comprehensive research is all it takes
Russell Knight Law Office of Russell D. Knight
The best practice for legal research is to research comprehensively. This means reading the statutes, searching a broad keyword, and reading 20-year-old Supreme Court cases that are only slightly relevant. Doing this gives both a deep and broad understanding of the law so that you can truly craft your argument.
It is tempting to search for a case that is exactly on point with your facts, but you’re unlikely to find that case. Even if you do find that case, you’ll have no deep or broad understanding of the various factors that the court certainly considered but did not describe.
This is exactly why lawyers specialize. We have to know everything about one area of the law. The law is not so simple that one can simply just look up the answer as one would look up a word in the dictionary during a game of Scrabble.
It is not essential to subscribe to paid services for fruitful legal research
Brady McAninch Owner of Hipskind and McAninch, LLC
I operate a small plaintiff’s firm in the St. Louis area. Most of our clients are not wealthy individuals, so passing along research costs is often difficult, if not impossible. This requires us to be very calculated with any research assignments we have. A few months ago, we had a case going to trial that involved multiple issues regarding liability. In order to accomplish the necessary research without spending too much time or money, we began with Google and went nationwide, in order to see trends in court rulings on liability in similar cases. This allows us to focus our research when we do use paid services like Westlaw.
Tomorrow, we conclude this series with a call to focus the scope of your research, and a thorough guide to conducting legal research.