Legal research is defined as the process of identifying and retrieving information that is required for supporting legal decision-making. Who performs Legal research? Well, it can be performed by lawyers, law librarians, paralegals or anyone who wants legal information. This legal information can be collected from printed books, online legal research websites and information portals that can be accessed for free or for a fee from database vendors (LexisNexis / Westlaw).
Legal research generally involves:
- Finding primary authority (cases, statutes, regulations)
- Finding secondary authority about a specific legal topic
- Finding non-legal sources for supporting information.
There are many different approaches to doing legal research and there is no hard and fast rule to be followed while doing legal research. However here is a basic guide that may be generally followed by the researcher.
- Start with a preliminary analysis of facts and start framing questions
- Consult secondary sources
- Evaluation of the research
- Locating the primary authority
- Re-evaluation of the research
- Updating the research
- Stopping the research
- Follow Black letter law rules
During the preliminary analysis, one should identify all the facts and details of the people, place, and the acts involved besides familiarizing oneself with the related jargon. A proper understanding of all issues that is to be got via the research has to be made at the outset itself. Also one must identify the different legal theories, procedures and know about the specific relief that is being sought. For this various secondary sources / resources will have to be referred to, that may include treatises, law reviews and encyclopedias.
It is important to identify the right legal theories and see if these need to be modified or if new theories have been found that require us to do more research. Most importantly one must review and see as to what is the core legal theory that is being developed.
Location of primary authorities including court opinions/statutes and regulatory law etc may be done using different online and offline secondary sources including various digests and law publications authoritative paperbacks and study aids. This is again followed by re-evaluation and legal research / updation and must be repeated until one is satisfied. One of the important things while doing legal research is to always keep in mind the basic Black letter rules. The black letter law refers to the basic standard elements for a particular field of law, that is generally well known and free from doubt or dispute. Outsourcing of major legal research projects to offshore locations like India can help reduce the soaring costs of litigation.