Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Summer Legal Research Tips

Congratulations to those of you who have summer employment, an internship or law clerk’s position in a law firm, a court, a governmental agency, or another job where you can continue to gain legal experience and use some of the knowledge and skills you worked so hard to master in law school! Even if you do not plan on working at such a place this summer, make opportunities to sharpen your legal research skills.

The following are some tips for summer research:

Know your issue and take some time to understand an area of law unfamiliar to you
  • Ask your supervising attorney about the context, what sources to use, and about cost and time restraints. As you learn more about the issue and do get farther into the project, you may need to clarify some things. It is better to have that conversation than to spend too much time heading down the wrong path.
  • Understand the relevant court system, administrative agencies, or legislative bodies
  • Review treatises, practice guides, or legal encyclopedias that relate to your issue. See Renee’s recent blog post in which she gave you some great pointers on using these.
Write down your research question and develop a search strategy
  • See my tips on developing search strategy. Don’t start by just typing in some keywords into a search box. Taking a few minutes to develop your research question, identify synonyms to the main concepts, and determine the best resources to start with will save you lots of time and frustration.
  • Keep track of your resources and search queries so you know where you’ve been and revise your search strategy.
  • Utilize the advance search features and other filters that will narrow your search to a jurisdiction, time, and resource type.
  • Organize information as you find it. Remember you can save and organize your research online, sometimes with just a click or two using Westlaw and Lexis Advance folders, and some free ones like Zotero, Evernote, to name a few. (Ask a law librarian if you want some help with this and remember to comply with use paid database restrictions on retention of research.)
Utilize the resources available to you
  • Remember, as a law student here, you still have access to many recourses at the law library, even if you are not in the area. Lexis Advance and BNA are giving you the same access during the summer as you have when working on assignments for your law school classes. You can also contact Westlaw to arrange access. (Contact the law library if you have any questions about your access.) 
  • Check out eBooks from our LexisNexis Digital Library
  • Ask a law librarian! Does your office have a law librarian? While you may be away for the summer, your law school librarians are still on campus waiting to hear from you
  • If you are in Massachusetts or Connecticut, you can contact your state law librarian. You can also go to the libraries at several locations throughout the states to get help in person, find a treasure-trove of print materials, and access Lexis and Westlaw; (some have access to one of them or both). Here are links to information about library locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut
  • Familiarize yourself with the legal materials your law firm or office have and what subscription databases can you access from work?
Use free resources whenever possible – but make sure they are credible
Use subscription databases efficiently
  • Consult your supervisor about the office's subscription to databases and if there is a preferred database you should use.
  • Use the databases’ help features, online chat service or call and speak with a real person who is ready to give you suggestions.
Give yourself time to think
  • If you have not found anything relevant within 15 minutes, you need to stop and regroup. Work on something else and give yourself a chance to gather your thoughts or confer with someone who might give you another perspective. Hey, it’s summer – get outside and spend a few minutes enjoying the fact that you aren’t in classes
  • Remind yourself of your research question and reevaluate your research strategy.
Update your sources
  • Shepardize or KeyCite cases and statutes upon which you are relying.
  • Check citing references.
… and most importantly, find some time to get outside, enjoy the summer, and read a book or two for fun!
George Mason University School of Law, Free Legal Research Sites, (May 11, 2015).

University of Virginia School of Law, Legal Research for Law Students: Tips for Summer Research, (Dec. 8, 2015).

Rebecca A. Mattson & Theresa K. Tarves, Teaching Cost-Effective Research Skills, 20 AALL Spectrum 31 (2016).

University of Illinois Law Library, Summer Legal Research Tips,

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