Are you getting frustrated with the barrage of legal materials you have to sort through as a law student? Has it ever crossed your mind that there might be an easy way to research in law school?
If it hasn’t, then you might want to take a look at the following 5 tips to researching that would effectively put your researching nightmares to bed. Should you skip researching as a law student?
Not if you want to be a successful law student! Research skills are critical to your long-term success as a lawyer and are one of the seven skills of a successful lawyer.
(1) Take Short Notes
One of the ways to deal with the ton of legal information you have to deal with as a law student on a daily basis is to write short notes and summaries of materials you’ve researched online or in the law library.
It’s always easier to process, read and understand legal materials as a law student if they are abridged and concise. So jot down the holdings in every case, and striking quotes and dictum from Judges.
Do the same for future purposes even when they may not be so relevant to the matter in hand. You never know, you might have need of them someday when you have a case to argue.
I still remember one quote I took down from my days of researching as a law student but whose author seems to have escaped recollection at the moment: “Equity will amend no man’s bargain” – speaking of the sanctity of contract and freedom of contracting parties.
(2) Use Secondary Sources.
If you are an avid library user you’d realize by now that briefing your cases in the library each day is time consuming and that some reported cases in the law reports (especially the Nigerian ones) can be nearly half the size of your standard law text. It can be time-consuming if annoying briefing such cases.
So to save yourself the ordeal of reading the entire case, you can lift the facts and holding of some cases from relevant law text books on the subject. Take a look at the table of cases of any relevant text book on the subject to see if the cases you want to brief are cited in the table of cases.
Then go to the pages where they are contained and copy the facts of the case and the court’s holding. (Cases cited in secondary sources are abridged versions and can save time.)
(3) Use Materials a Real Lawyer is Likely to Use
In conducting research as a law student, you have to conduct the research with the attitude of a real lawyer dealing with a real life case.
That means using the same kind of resources a working lawyer is most likely to use for the case at hand. Your first point of call should be the statutes since they are primary legal authorities embodying principles of law yet to be adjudicated upon by the courts. Check all secondary or subsidiary legislation as they may often endorse or qualify the primary legislation.
Use online resources like the LexisNexis and WestLaw for any conceivable case law from your jurisdiction. For Nigerian law students, you can use online legal databases like Lawpavillion. You can use academic journals too, since they tend to be “explanatory of things explained”. What that means is that they tend to be explanatory on some legal doctrine or theory.
(4) Be Interactive
Even after you’ve done a job on your research, there may still be important information you may be missing. That is why it’s important to discuss your findings with your lecturers (or professors) and classmates. This can lead you to the “eureka” moments when you make invaluable discoveries and consider viewpoints you may not have thought of.
(5) Write Coherent Notes
Haven’t you ever had difficulty understanding your own writing?
In conducting research, law students are fond of writing their findings in short and illegible forms that leave them at a loss whenever they have to refer to their research in the future.
Or to sound pompous, they may write them down in incomprehensible legalese. If you do make this same mistake, it will just go to pile the frustration on you since your research will be useless to even you, its very author.
So explain the matter in a legally cognizable way as though you were explaining your findings to a layman. Einstein once said that “if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t know it yourself”. So write for yourself.
Research skills essential to lawyers and law students alike. Success in both the university and legal practice hinges on the acquisition of excellent research skills. But acquiring them isn’t a walk in the park. In this post, we’ve shown you how to research like a boss, and to have fun doing it.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LLB from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja. In his spare time, Patrick doubles as a professional writer and copyeditor.
If you have any urgent enquiries, you can email him @[email protected]