What They didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
Now-a-days most of the lawyers prefer to perform legal research online rather than walking into a law library. Computerized subscription services such as Lexis and Westlaw make it very easy to perform legal research by cataloguing, indexing, cross-indexing and providing other tools that make finding the statutes and case laws that one needs more efficient and less time consuming.
However, regardless of how you choose to perform your legal research, you should know about the various sources to consult for different types of information to either prove or defend the claims that are of issue in the case.
Understand the Legal Issues
In order to perform a valid and relevant legal research, it is important to understand the legal issues in question in the case. For that you must examine the facts and circumstances of the case.
• It is very important to know as much about each party as you begin your legal research because the identities of the parties often have a direct impact on the case.
• Also try to find out the location of the events. The location could raise other issues in the case such as: is a third party also liable for the plaintiff’s damages. Or, could the conditions of the location at the time of the event work to mitigate the defendant’s liability.
• Put the events in a chronological order. Have a detailed, chronological list of each event in the case.
• Understand the legal claims or issues involved in the case.
• As you perform your legal research, you should be searching for laws and case laws that will refute any legal basis the opposing party may claim to support his or her allegations.
Use Both Primary and Secondary Sources
Some lawyers prefer to begin their legal research with primary sources (i.e. statutes, case laws and judicial orders) while others begin with secondary sources (i.e. legal encyclopaedias, legal periodicals, practice manuals, etc.). It does not matter which one you begin with as long as your research involves both sources. Both provide valuable information that can support your client’s claims. In fact, secondary sources will often analyze, explain and critique an area of law and then provide you with the specific citations to the primary law.
Be Familiar with the Sources
It’s important to familiarize yourself with your sources; otherwise you may not notice that the case digest you were using that said “1981 to Present” was not the most current digest (it was current in 2015 when it was published). So taking time to learn about your sources will help you avoid costly mistakes.
Use Computerized Legal Research
This is a great way to find sources that you may not have at your local law library as well as to keep updating your research results using citators. Do not forget to check websites for the High Courts and the Supreme Court, government agencies, law schools and bar associations during your legal research. They can be a great source for both primary and secondary legal resources.