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These two documents are the AALL Research Competencies and a broad outline of the legal research process. (MS Word)
The following guides from other law schools may provide further help in understanding legal research and writing.
Hello, and welcome to the library! If you're reading this, you're probably about to start your open memo or your appellate brief, and have no idea where to begin researching. This guide will walk you through the steps to find the law to apply to your case, from reading your fact pattern to beginning to write.
Most of the tutorials in this guide are videos. If you think a written tutorial would be more helpful, or if you have a question you'd like to see answered, email Lorelle Anderson (at right) to request it.
Your reference librarians are Lorelle Anderson, Paul McLaughlin, and Sharron Cunningham. We want to help you, but our help can only extend so far.
We will be holding research workshops where we'll go through how to use sources in depth. Please sign up and ATTEND these workshops. We don't have the resources to give individual instruction whenever you ask. We like to be helpful, but we have to help all of our other patrons as well.
If you find our tutorials helpful, let us know. Better yet, tell your fellow students. We want all of you to succeed!
Legal research is part of the 1L legal Methods course but I want to stress that it is important to pay attention to legal research in its own right. First, the rules of professional responsibility require an attorney to be competent, and legal research is a critical factor of competent law practice. Also, being a good legal researcher can help you to get a legal job and keep it. Good legal research skills can help you to be competitive in the legal marketplace.
The best thing you can do to help yourselves in legal research is to carefully read the substantive cases in your class like civil procedure, criminal law and contracts. Reading cases helps to create a map in your mind that you can use to interpret the law and to find new material to help you solve legal problems. It is like one of those big picture puzzles – the clearer it is the more that you fill it in. Legal research helps you to find the pieces of the puzzle. This includes the primary sources of law (cases, statutes, and regulations) as well as secondary sources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, books and journal articles. This process of filling in that puzzle will continue throughout your legal career.
My favorite example of how lawyers think and how it impacts legal research is the case of United States v. the Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (1841), where former President John Quincy Adams successfully argued for the release of African slaves who mutinied against the crew of a slave ship. Yes, he talked about justice and human rights, but he made detailed use of international treaties to support his argument that the Africans should be freed even though slavery was still legal in the United States at the time. Rather than focus on the abolition of slavery, a hot-button issue in the U.S. at the time, he focused on issues of international law.
But how would Mr. Adams fare if he were doing legal research today? Fee databases and free search engines make it easy to type in your facts and take the “I'm feeling lucky” route to stave off being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of material. In the midst of more data than lawyers have ever had access to before the critical question is: will you be able to think of new ways to classify a legal issue? Will you be able to make new and novel associations between legal concepts? Will you be able to chart your own course as Mr. Adams did? Or will you depend on machines to do your thinking for you.
I believe that all of you will be good, competent legal researchers and attorneys. But I also believe that every one of you can be great. Good legal research is one of the foundations to being a great attorney. We look forwarding to serving you in the library. We are happy to help you both in law school and after you graduate. The law library can help you find a compass to steer by.
Yolanda Jones, Law Library Director