Research strategy tips for novice legal researchers


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  • I was asked to do a 15 minute presentation for students. This presentation is meant for students at USF who are starting their programs and have no prior training . This is not a comprehensive presentation, but a sample of the top researching tips for those who are new to the legal researching world.
  • Many large firms have “unlimited plans” through west and lexis, that doesn’t mean that all of your searches are covered.
  • Are you expected to write a brief, submit research? If you’re not clear on the expectations, ask the person assigning the task. Nobody benefits from you doing the project wrong. Nobody expects you to read minds. Jurisdiction is so important. If you get an assignment, always make sure you can establish the jurisdictions. Firms, schools and courts have law librarians on staff. Even at small firms, make friends with your libriaian.
  • Primary sources of law. Many firms subscribe to specific print secondary sources. Spend more time without worrying about acquiring fees through online sources per click fees or time spent searching. Many charge for printing as well. Don’t start typing random words into Lexis/Westlaw. That gets expensive, and leads you in 100 different directions.
  • Cal Jur:These volumes are devoted exclusively to the examination of California law. "Scope of topic" notes carefully describe material covered. Includes comprehensive collateral references to major authorities on California law, editorial summaries of each topic covered in each division, and treatment of relevant federal law. Analysis integrates constitutional, statutory, judicial, and administrative law. Highlights areas where California law and federal law interact. Indicates closely related subjects that are treated elsewhere in Cal Jur 3d. Includes Law Revision Commission comments along with references to Attorney General opinions and law review articles.
  • This is the one place I recommend using Lexis/West
  • Get to know these symbols. They’re really helpful!
  • We all take:Legal Research and Writing the first year, so expand on that.
  • Research strategy tips for novice legal researchers

    1. 1. RESEARCH STRATEGYTIPS FOR NOVICE LEGALRESEARCHERSBy Rachel Perry Hanses, JD, MLS.Presentation for USF Zief Law LibraryApril 10, 2012
    2. 2. TOP 5 LEGAL RESEARCHING TIPS Tip 1: Understand the Assignment Tip 2: Use Secondary Sources Tip 3: Learn the Books Tip 4: Use Citators Tip 5: Utilize Your Time in School
    3. 3. LARGE FIRMS EXPECT TO WRITE OFF 50-100% OF A FIRST YEAR ASSOCIATE’S SALARY DUE TO POOR LEGAL RESEARCHING SKILLS.Anne Ellis & Lezlie Bartz, White Paper: Research Skills for Lawyers and Law Students, ThompsonWest,
    4. 4. WHY ARE RESEARCH SKILLS SO IMPORTANT? oAverage first year attorney spends 80% of their time researching. oClients are becoming less willing to pay large researching bills. oLarge firms vs. small practices: Resources vary. oThe more you learn now, the less time you’ll spend researching later.Anne Ellis & Lezlie Bartz, White Paper: Research Skills for Lawyers and Law Students, ThompsonWest,
    5. 5. TIP 1: UNDERSTAND THE ASSIGNMENT Ask Questions! Clarify! Understand the task: What are you expected to do? Determine Jurisdiction: Federal, State, Local? Ask a librarian!
    6. 6. TIP 2: SECONDARY SOURCESDiscussExplainCritiqueAnalyze
    7. 7. SECONDARY SOURCES: LEGALENCYCLOPEDIAS American Jurisprudence (Am Jur 2d):  General index; Table of statutes, Rules, and Regulations cited.  Legal Forms, Trials, Proof of Facts, etc. California Jurisprudence (Cal Jur 3d):  Case Summaries; Table of Cases, Statutes and Parallel References. States exceptions and conflicts. Also gives ALR annotation references.
    8. 8. SECONDARY SOURCES: PRACTICE GUIDESRUTTER/ CALIFORNIA FORMS OF PLEADING ANDPRACTICE California Practice Guides:  Huge variety; Forms, Procedure, Topics  Identifies cases, statutes and court rules.  Gives instructions from start to finish.  Includes forms.  Includes recommended strategies, etc. CA Forms of Pleading and Practice  Forms, checklists, research guides for civil actions and proceedings in California.  “Encyclopedic Coverage”
    9. 9. TIP 3: USING THE BOOKS SAVES $$$ Learning how to navigate the books can teach you how to search the electronic version better. Understand the benefits of a broad search. Your learning curve doesn’t cost any money.
    10. 10. TIP 4: USE CITATORSLexisNexis: Shepard’sWestlaw: KeyciteCitators let you know if the case you’re citing is current.If you start with a case, you can expand to see additional citing references!
    11. 11. KEYCITE VS. SHEPARD’SSignals Westlaw: KeyCite LexisNexis: Shepard’sNegative TreatmentQuestionedCautionedPositive TreatmentCase has HistoryCase is Cited, NoanalysisCases is analyzed
    12. 12. TIP 5: MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME IN LAWSCHOOL Get to know the Law Librarians  We love to help! Take Advanced Legal Research Classes at USF  Advanced Legal Research - 2 Units  California Legal Research - 2 Units  Directed Research - 1 or 2 Units USF Zief Law Library Research Guides   Step by step instructions on legal research Learn Westlaw/Lexis while it’s free!
    13. 13. ZIEF LAW LIBRARY Hours:  Monday - Thursday: 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.  Friday: 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.  Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.  Sunday: 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. Contact  Research Center Desk: 415-422-6773  Ask a Reference Librarian:  Make an appointment with a Librarian:
    14. 14. QUESTIONS?