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Legal Research & Writing  

This Guide is intended to assist 1Ls in the research for their Lawyering Skills class.
Last Updated: Feb 9, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Introduction Print Page

Selected Legal Research Treatises

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Basic Legal Research: Tools and Strategies - Amy E. Sloan
Call Number: Reserve KF 240 .S585 2012
ISBN: 9781454808473
Publication Date: 2012
Contents: Introduction to legal research -- Generating search terms -- Evaluating search options -- Secondary source research -- Case research -- Research with citators -- Statutory research -- Federal legislative history research -- Federal administrative law research -- Electronic legal research -- Developing a research plan

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The Process of Legal Research - Christina L. Kunz ... [et al.]
Call Number: Reserve KF 240 .P76 2012
ISBN: 9781454805526
Publication Date: 2012
Contents: Focusing on your client's situation -- Framing your legal research -- Case law research -- Research in enacted law -- Research in legislative history materials -- Research in administrative materials -- Research in rules of procedure -- International law and tribal law

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Just Research - Laurel Currie Oates
Call Number: Reserve KF240 .O18 2011
ISBN: 9781454802945
Publication Date: 2011
Contents: Fortresses, tumors, and legal research -- The United States legal system -- Sources, citations to sources, and mandatory and persuasive authority -- Researching issues governed by federal statutes and regulations -- Researching issues governed by county and city ordinances -- Doing federal and state legislative histories -- Researching issues governed by common law -- Researching constitutional issues -- Researching issues governed by federal, state, or local rules -- Citators -- Locating forms -- Researching judges, law firms, people, companies, and things

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Legal Research Explained - Deborah E. Bouchoux
Call Number: Reserve KF 240 .B683 2010
ISBN: 9780735587670
Publication Date: 2010
Contents: Finding the law and introduction to legal research -- The federal and state court systems -- Statutory law -- Case law and judicial opinions -- Locating cases through digests and annotated law reports -- Secondary authorities -- Special research issues -- The digital library : LexisNexis, Westlaw, and non-print research tools -- E-research : legal research using the internet -- Legal citation form -- Updating and validating your research -- Overview of the research process

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Legal Research in a Nutshell - Morris L. Cohen & Kent C. Olson
Call Number: Reserve KF 240 .C54 2010
Publication Date: 2010
Contents: The research process -- Background and analysis -- Case law -- Statutes and constitutions -- Legislative information -- Administrative law -- Court rules and practice -- Specialized and nonlegal sources -- International law -- The law of other countries -- Appendix A. State legal research guides -- Appendix B. Major treatises and services by subject

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Fundamentals of Legal Research - Steven M. Barkan, Roy M. Mersky & Donald J. Dunn
Call Number: Reserve KF 240 .B37 2009
ISBN: 1599412187
Publication Date: 2009
Contents: An Introduction to Legal Research -- The Legal Research Process -- Communicating Research Results Through Writing -- Court Reports -- Federal Court Reports -- State Court Reports and the National Reporter System -- Digests for Court Reports -- Constitutional Law and the Supreme Court of the United States -- Federal Legislation -- Federal Legislative Histories -- State and Municipal Legislation -- Court Rules and Procedures -- Administrative Law -- Looseleaf Services -- Citators -- Legal Encyclopedias -- American Law Reports (A.L.R.) -- Legal Periodicals and Indexes -- Treatises, Restatements, Uniform Laws, and Model Acts -- Practice Materials and Other Resources -- International Law -- Legal Research in the United Kingdom -- Electronic Legal Research -- Legal Citation Form -- Federal Tax Research


Selected Legal Writing Treatises

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Writing and analysis in the law - Helene S. Shapo, Marilyn R. Walter, Elizabeth Fajan
Call Number: Law 3d floor stacks KF250 .S5 2013
ISBN: 1609302729
Publication Date: 2013
Contents: Introduction to the legal system and legal writing -- Analyzing legal authority : case law -- Analyzing legal authority : statutes -- Organization of a legal discussion : large-scale organization -- Organization of a legal discussion : small-scale organization -- The thesis paragraph -- Writing a legal document : the legal memorandum -- The writing process -- Effective paragraphs -- Sentence structure -- Types of legal arguments in resolving questions of law -- Interviewing the client -- Counseling the client -- Letter writing -- The trial brief : memorandum of law in support of or in opposition to a motion -- Writing the appellate brief -- Oral argumen

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Legal writing by design : a guide to great briefs and memos - Teresa J. Reid Rambo, and Leanne J. Pflaum
Call Number: Law Reserve KF250 .R35 2012
ISBN: 9781594608599
Publication Date: 2012
Contents: Introduction to reasoning -- Reasoning : deductive, inductive, and analogical -- Language and relevancy -- From reasoning to writing : organizing our thoughts -- Sources of law : reading and interpreting cases -- Using cases effectively -- Examples of using cases in writing a memo or brief -- The legal memo : preliminary matters -- Question presented and brief answer -- The facts -- The discussion -- The conclusion and authorities cited -- Introduction to appellate advocacy -- The appellate brief -- Statement of the case and facts -- Standards of review -- Questions presented -- Argument headings -- Summary of argument -- The Argument -- The other parts of the brief -- The oral argument -- The blank page : tips on getting started -- Making it shine : editing tips for the memo and brief -- Citation, quotation, and style -- Case briefing and sample analytical case brief -- Ethics and professionalism -- Brevity -- Artistry : choosing the right word or phrase -- Simplicity : avoiding confusion -- Impact : making every word count -- Cohesion : the power of transitions -- Style : writing with elegance -- Court opinion -- Legal memo -- Lionell's (appellant's) brief -- Walker's (appellee's) brief -- Lionell's reply brief

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Guide to Legal Writing Style - Terri LeClercq; Karin Mika
Call Number: KF 250 .L3913 2011
ISBN: 073559998X
Publication Date: 2011
Contents: Reviewing the basics -- Creating sentences with style -- Choosing words with style -- Punctuating with style -- Organizing with style -- Presenting material with style

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The Legal Writing Handbook: Analysis, Research, and Writing - Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist
Call Number: Reserve KF 250 .O18 2010
ISBN: 0735585164
Publication Date: 2010
Contents: Introduction to Legal Writing -- Legal Writing -- Objective Memoranda, Opinion Letters, and Email and Text Messages -- Briefs and Oral Arguments -- A Guide to Effective Writing -- A Guide to Corrective Writing -- Legal Writing for English-as-a-Second Language Law Students

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Aspen Handbook for Legal Writers: A Practical Reference - Deborah E. Bouchoux
Call Number: Reserve KF 250 .B68 2009
Publication Date: 2009
Contents: Grammar -- Punctuation -- Spelling -- Features of effective legal writing -- Organization and the writing process -- Legal correspondence -- Legal memoranda -- Legal briefs -- Pleadings and transactional documents -- Legal conventions and legal writing blunders -- Postwriting steps -- Document design

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Legal Writing in a Nutshell - Lynn Bahrych
Call Number: Reserve KF 250 .S68 2009
Publication Date: 2009
Contents: Basic principles of legal writing -- Large-scale organization -- Small-scale organization: paragraphs, paragraph blocks, and transitions -- Sentence design -- Language in the legal setting -- Punctuation and grammar -- Individual writing analysis -- Research memoranda and letters to clients -- Argumentative memoranda and persuasive writing -- Writing for a lay audience


Basic Approach to Legal Research


There are many approaches to legal research, and there is no single or best way to conduct legal research. Methods vary according to the nature of the problem and depend on the researcher’s subject expertise, research skills, and availability of particular research materials. It is best to construct a systematic approach to legal research that can be modified and applied to most problems. Below is one approach to legal research:

1. Identify and Analyze the Significant Facts

2. Formulate the Legal Issues to Be Researched

3. Research the Issues Presented

4. Update

--Excerpted below from Steven M. Barkan et al., Fundamentals of Legal Research (9th ed. 2009).


STEP 1. Identify and Analyze the Significant Facts

The process of legal research begins with compiling a descriptive statement of legally significant facts. Factual analysis is the first step in identifying the legal issues that will be researched. Factual analysis also enables a researcher to locate access points to the available resources. Which volumes are relevant? Which subjects should be consulted in indexes and tables of contents? Which words should be used in an initial search of a database?

Inexperienced legal researchers might tend to skim over the facts and immediately begin researching. No productive research can be done outside a particular fact pattern. Most controversies are over facts, not law; and cases are most often distinguished on their facts. Rules stated by courts are tied to specific fact situations, and they must be considered in relation to those facts. Because the facts of a legal problem control the direction of research, an investigation and analysis of facts must be incorporated into the research process. Taking the time to identify relevant facts and writing them down in some narrative form is usually a worthwhile investment of time and energy.

The TARP Rule - A useful technique is to analyze facts according to the following factors:

T - Thing or subject matter;

A - Cause of action or ground of defense;

R - Relief sought;

P - Persons or parties involved in the problem.

Thing or subject matter. The place or property involved in a problem or controversy may be important. Thus, when a consumer is harmed after taking a prescription drug, the drug becomes an essential fact in the dispute.

Cause of action or ground of defense. Identify the claim that might be asserted or the defense that might be made. For example, the cause of action might involve a breach of contract, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or some other legal theory giving rise to litigation.

Relief sought. What is the purpose of the lawsuit? It might be a civil action in which the party bringing the suit is seeking monetary damages for an injury, or an action in which a party is asking the court to order another party to do a specific act or to refrain from doing a specific act. Alternatively, the litigation may be a criminal action brought by the state.

Persons or parties involved in the problem: their functional and legal status and relationship to each other. The parties or persons might be individuals, or might be a group that is significant to the solution of the problem or the outcome of the lawsuit. Similarly, the relationship between the parties, such as exists between husband and wife or employer and employee, might be of special importance.


STEP 2. Formulate the Legal Issues to be Researched

The goal is to classify or categorize the problem into, first general, and then increasingly specific, subject areas and to begin to hypothesize legal issues. For example, is this a matter of civil or criminal law? Federal or state law? Does the litigation involve contracts or torts, or both? If torts, is it a products liability or a negligence case? Problems are often not easily compartmentalized; problems can fall into more than one category, and categories affect each other.

Get an Overview. To assist in formulating issues, it is useful to consult general secondary sources for an overview of relevant subject areas. These sources can include national legal encyclopedias, a state encyclopedia, treatises, looseleaf services, or one or more subject periodicals or journals. It is wise to start with the most general and work to the more detailed and specific. These secondary sources can provide valuable background information and can direct a researcher to issues and to primary sources.


STEP 3. Research the Issues Presented

Organize and Plan. Develop a system for taking and organizing notes. For each issue, decide which sources to use and the order in which sources should be examined. Maintaining an accurate list of sources consulted, terms and topics checked, and updating steps taken prevents inefficient uses of time and omission of crucial information.

Identify, Read, and Update All Relevant Constitutional Provisions, Statutes, and Administrative Regulations. This provides the framework on which the rest of the research is built. These primary sources can be identified in several ways.

  • Statutory Compilations. These include tables of contents and indexes listing the subjects and topics covered by the statutes.
  • Secondary Sources. Encyclopedias, treatises, looseleaf services, and law review articles, commonly cite relevant constitutional provisions, statutes, and administrative regulations. Depending up on the scope of the inquiry, secondary sources that focus on the law of one state or on federal law may prove especially valuable.

Identify, Read, and Update All Relevant Case Law. After relevant constitutional provisions, statutes, and administrative regulations are identified and read, case law that interprets and applies those forms of enacted law, as well as other case law that is relevant to the fact situation, must be located. Do not limit research to cases that support a particular position. A competent researcher anticipates both sides of an argument and identifies cases that result in contrary conclusions. In many situations, the same case can be interpreted to support both sides of an issue; the argument may involve the question of whether the holding is to be broadly or narrowly applied, or whether the facts of the cases can be distinguished. It is common, however, for sides to argue that entirely different lines of cases are controlling.

Because no two cases are exactly alike, it is unlikely for a researcher to find cases with identical fact patterns to the situation at hand. The most relevant judicial opinions come from the same court or superior appellate courts in the jurisdiction in question, as they are the only cases that are potentially binding. Next in importance are judicial opinions, which might be persuasive, from other courts and jurisdictions dealing with similar facts, statutes, and issues. Even if binding, authoritative cases are located, persuasive authority from other jurisdictions might support an argument, particularly if the opinions are from well-known and respected judges.

Refine the Search. Secondary sources can be used again here to refine the search and expand the argument. Treatises, law review articles, and restatements of the law are not binding authority, but they can provide ideas on how best to utilize the primary sources. 


STEP 4. Update

Law changes constantly. Legislatures pass new statutes and modify old ones. Each appellate court decision creates new law, refines the law, reaffirms the law, or changes the law, and researchers must be aware of the most recent decisions on the subject they are researching. Therefore, citations services, such as KeyCite (Westlaw) and Shepard's (Lexis), should be used to update the status of cases, statutes, and regulations.


When To Stop Researching

The question of when to stop researching is a difficult one. With experience, researchers develop insight into the point at which further legal research is unproductive. In many instances an obvious repetition of citations or absence of new information suggests that enough research has been done.


Pocket Parts/Supplements

Whenever you are using a print resource, stop to see whether the source is updated with pocket parts in the back of the volumes. Almost all legal resources are updated on a regular basis with a pocket part or supplement. If a pocket part becomes too large, it is often published as a separate soft bound supplement. If you don't see a pocket part at the back of the volume, look on the shelf next to the volume for a separate supplement.

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Library Assistance

Reference Hours During the Academic Year

Monday-Thursday 9:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
Friday 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Librarians who staff the Reference Desk are available to help you plan your research strategy and to help you find resources that might be useful in your project. You may set up an appointment to speak with a Librarian about your research needs. The Law Library offers two types of electronic reference service for our law students: email and chat. To use email reference service, please contact Renee Rastorfer. The chat reference service is available during all scheduled reference hours, unless otherwise publicized. The buddy name of the Law School Library is WNELawChat. We are monitoring AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. See the "Chat With a Librarian" Box above. Click here to learn more about reference chat service.


CALI Lesson

The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI®) has several online tutorials covering legal research and writing basics. You may be interested in viewing:

Legal Research 101: The Tools of the Trade

Note that access to these tutorials requires a username and password. To register, please contact the reference desk at 413-782-1458.

Law students only, please.


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