Legal research is a key skill for law students and is necessary when pursuing a career in the legal sector too. But, where do you begin? There are many different databases to explore when doing legal research, and this can seem overwhelming – particularly at first. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your research – that will hopefully help you to improve your essays, exams, and any other legal work!
- Create a legal research plan
Legal research is often the starting point when writing an essay or researching a topic. But, if you already have a general idea of the themes your work will be exploring, or a few key cases which you are hoping to expand upon – it helps if you write down what it is you want to gain from your research, and will help you to stay on topic.
- Make the most of all the legal databases
Whether you prefer Westlaw or Lexis Nexis or use Google Scholar more than HeinOnline, you will be able to find a wealth of knowledge by using any of these databases. From case law to journals, and statutes, databases such as these are the best way to conduct legal research. If, especially at first, you are unsure how to use them, most Universities offer courses on LexisNexis and Westlaw via their reps, allowing you to get a certification that you do have an understanding of the databases (good for both your CV and your legal research skills!)
- If you are still stuck, ask your librarian for help
Whether your university has a law-specific library or not, most librarians will be able to direct you the right way and assist with your research. They may even be able to show you ways you hadn’t thought about. More often than not, if a journal article is not available online as a .pdf, your law library will have a paper copy of it. It is always worth asking your librarian for guidance.
- Use sources you have already found, and pull further citations, case law, and journals from them
When reading a source that you have found, take note of the authors they have used, and try and find writing by them. More often than not, most authors will cite acknowledgements or use further citations to help cement their point. Using these will allow you to go even deeper into the law, and quickly find information that is relevant to your assignment.
- Even when you believe you’ve finished your research, keep going!
Continue to find new cases and delve into the academic writing around the issue, as it will only help to refine your understanding of the area of law. Whether it’s running a completely new search, taking a different angle, or perusing a new database, it is important to continue researching – it can only improve your work further!