How to do legal research with 8 easy steps.

Legal research is the process of identifying and analyzing different legal authorities, such as cases, statutes, and regulations, to determine the current state of the law and to support a legal argument. It is a crucial step in the legal process and is used by attorneys, law students, and other legal professionals to gain an understanding of the law and to support their legal positions.

There are several steps that can be taken when conducting legal research. These include:

  1. Identifying the legal issue: The first step in legal research is to identify the legal issue that needs to be researched. This may involve reviewing a client’s case file, discussing the issue with the client or other members of the legal team, or reviewing relevant statutes and regulations.
  2. Formulating a research question: Once the legal issue has been identified, the next step is to formulate a research question. This should be a clear and concise statement of the issue that is to be researched. For example, “What is the standard for proving negligence in a personal injury case?”
  3. Determining the jurisdiction: Legal research often involves determining the jurisdiction in which the legal issue will be addressed. Jurisdiction refers to the geographical area or the type of court that has the authority to hear a case. For example, federal law applies to the entire United States, whereas state law only applies to a specific state.
  4. Identifying relevant sources: After determining the jurisdiction, the next step is to identify the relevant sources of law that will be used to answer the research question. These sources may include cases, statutes, regulations, and secondary sources such as legal treatises and law review articles.
  5. Searching for sources: Once the relevant sources have been identified, the next step is to search for them. This can be done using legal research databases, such as Trellis and LexisNexis, as well as online search engines, such as Google Scholar. Additionally, many courts now post the full text of their opinions online, including both recent and older cases. These can be searched by keyword or by case number.
  6. Analyzing the sources: After the relevant sources have been found, the next step is to analyze them. This may involve reading the full text of a case or statute, or reviewing the headnotes and summary that are often provided in legal research databases. It may also involve identifying any relevant facts or legal principles that are discussed in the case or statute.
  7. Synthesizing the research: After the relevant sources have been analyzed, the next step is to synthesize the research. This may involve creating a summary of the key points of the research, highlighting any conflicting cases or statutes, and determining how the research supports or undermines the legal position being taken.
  8. Citing the sources: The last step in legal research is to properly cite the sources used in the research. This is important to ensure that the research is accurate and that the sources used can be located by others. Legal citations typically include the name of the case or statute, the court or legislative body that issued it, and the date of the decision or statute.

It’s important to note that legal research can be a time-consuming process, but it is a crucial step in the legal process. Legal research helps legal professionals understand the law, anticipate how courts may rule on certain issues, and support their legal arguments.

Prior to founding Trellis, Nicole Clark was a business litigation and labor and employment attorney who handled litigation in both state and federal courts. She regularly represented multinational corporations in claims ranging from high-profile trade secret disputes to complex class-action litigation. Frustrated by sending internal emails and collecting anecdotes on judges in order to make strategic case recommendations, she built Trellis to solve her own need for access to data, information, and analytics at the state trial court level. Prior to law school, Nicole attended Bard College, beginning her college coursework at the age of sixteen. She graduated with honors from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in Journalism, and received her Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ. Nicole sat for the Bar Exam in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and remains licensed to practice law in all three states.