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Legal Research

Fundamentals of Legal Research

Planning your research

Your Research Plan

 Part 1. Problem analysis = Understand the legal issue! You're just starting doctrinal coursework so we'll keep it simple for now.

  1. Facts
  2. Issue(s)
  3. Subject area of law
  4. Jurisdiction

As new legal researchers, how do you figure out the issue, jurisdiction, legal subject and key facts? You may learn several ways to analize legal problems; some common methods are:

  • Interrogative pronoun method: ask what-who-when-where-why
  • Acronym methods, e.g., TARP, TAPP, JUST-ASK

You learn by practice, so start with the method recommended by your LRW instructor. Be consistent. Some say it takes thousands of practices to become good - think of how much a gymnast or football player practices and apply that to your chosen method.

Part 2. Resource Strategy = what legal authority addresses the issue raised in the problem analysis step? What sources do you have access to?

  • Make of list of resources that might lead to fall all the relevant authority (codes, treatises, law reviews, practice guides, case law, databases, regulations, etc.)
  • Consider how much you know about the subject area and identify sources of background materials
  • For each resource, list search terms and phrases and finding tools that will help
  • Consider resource constraints - amount of money to spend, amount of time to complete the project

Part 3. Evaluate

Summarize the research findings in the form requested. If you cannot create the letter, brief or give advice, this is a sign that your research is incomplete. If you are unable to analyze the material, this may indicate you don't understand  the legal subject matter and should review secondary sources.

Using a worksheet

Research Checklist


Project Name:  ______________________________________________________________________________

Client:  _______________________________________________________________________________________


Fact Scenario & Other Relevant Information on the Assignment:






Part 1 Problem Analysis

Key Facts                                           
Subject area of law  


Part 2 Resource planning THINK about choosing a starting point FIRST!

Research Log
Identify Legal Sources Search Terms Date Findings Citations Next steps Validity & Currency
Title of publication or database (primary or secondary?) print or computer? Finding tools? actual terms, number of results Date of search What will be helpful for understanding the problem? That you will follow up on What else needs to be done before finalizing?Key numbers? annotations? Is it still good law?


















































































































Knowing when to stop: Have you found the answer to your question?

Do you keep getting the same results using different sources?