Legal Research Survival Guide, Part 1 – Plan to Succeed

The first in a series of legal research tip posts for Canadian articling and LPP law students. Plan your research before jumping in to a new assignment.

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Mid-August brings with it the dog days of summer, the opening of the CNE, back to school sales, and of course, the arrival of articling students. Over the next few months we’ll be running a series of blog posts offering guidance, tips, and techniques to help law students tackle legal research in the practice environment.

Let’s get started with our first tip.

Don’t miss the other Survival Guide posts

Plan to succeed

Sadly, spontaneity and legal research don’t mix. Efficient, productive research starts with a plan. So upon receiving a research assignment, resist the urge to grasp at a particular phrase, fact or issue and dive straight into keyword searching for case law online.

Take a deep breath and a step back. Make sure you’re clear on what you’re being asked to do – what is the purpose of the research, what are the parameters and what is the deadline?  Conduct your initial analysis of the problem to identify the relevant facts and frame the legal questions (issues) to be researched. Then, map out a research plan, even if it’s a rough one.

A research plan is essentially a road map of where you’re going to look for information to answer your research questions. Think about potential sources, such as texts, CPD materials, websites, case databases, and prioritize these sources. Which ones are most likely to yield relevant information quickly?

Research checklists can be useful at this stage. You’re not likely to have to use all of the items listed but a checklist can help remind you of the different types of search tools and sources that are available. The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide on CanLII includes a sample research checklist.

Having a plan and keeping good notes of sources checked, search terms used and information found will help keep your research more organized and prevent you from needlessly repeating steps or worse – missing an important source.