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Good Legal Research

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"Good legal research, however, is much more than a research system; it’s a process. Good legal research is intertwined with analysis, understanding, and application."  
-- Shawn G. Nevers, The Importance of Legal Research


Legal research provides the building blocks for lawyers as they approach various cases.  Without legal research, an attorney could never find out what the governing law is for a tort claim or a criminal defense.  But it isn't enough to simply know the literal language of a statute or judicial precedent.  One must delve deeper into the rationale behind the language and sift through the interpretations in order to truly understand what a law says.  And only once an attorney understands what the law says and how it is applied can they then apply the law to their client's claim(s).  As Nevers states in his article, "The truth is . . . [that] legal research is a critical part of lawyering. Don’t underestimate its importance."  Whether you enjoy the research aspect or not, the knowledge of how to research, and to research well, is vital to your success as an attorney.  This is true whether you hire other people to do your research for you or if you handle the research yourself.  You still have to be able to take the research and understand it and apply it.


There's a phrase now . . . whenever you don't know the answer, people will tell you to "Google" it (or look it up on Wikipedia).  Regardless, the Google search engine has become engrained as a necessity into our technology-dependent lives.  Unfortunately, this mindset of "Google knows all" acts against attorneys or law students because the results from Google are so vast and varied as to, oftentimes, be completely unusable.  

This is not to say that Google is completely useful.  On the contrary, Google is often useful for general research.  Furthermore, Google also provides case law and statutory research through Google Scholar, a resource that provides free access to legal materials along with limited information about the materials.

The final word is to utilize Google to your best interests; however, don't make the mistake of thinking that Google is the "all-knowing" search engine and there is no need to look elsewhere to complete or verify your research.

A more effective alternative to mere phrase (or Google) searching is Boolean searching.  This method utilizes terms and connectors combined with your search words to generate far more specific results.

“Boolean search logic give you the tools to construct sophisticated queries that have high recall (return almost all relevant documents in the database) and high precision (do not return many irrelevant documents).”  ~ LexisNexis

Terms include:  AND; AND NOT; Pre/n; W/p; W/seg; W/s; NOT; ALLCAPS; ATLEAST; CAPS; NOCAPS; PLURAL; SINGULAR; quotations.

Regardless, in your legal research, remember to reach beyond the mere "natural language" searches and utilize the tools available to your best advantage.

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