The Legal Research Process for New Paralegals
Legal research can be a daunting process for a new paralegal. The prospect of missing crucial information can be anxiety-inducing, so it is important to create and maintain a system for obtaining information. Developing a routine leads to quality, efficient work. The take-away premise of this process is to encourage paralegals to never cut corners in legal research, and to ensure that vital information is never missed.
Improve your Legal Understanding
Before delving into your legal research, it is important to develop a mindset that asks relevant questions to better understand the legal issue at hand. The “DISPUTE” acronym is used to improve your understanding of a case. These acronym letters help answer all questions involved in a case.
(D)id you identify all of the relevant parties involved in the case?
It is very important to know as much about each party involved in the case as you begin your legal research because the identities (including pattern of life, age, occupation, etc.) of the parties have a direct impact on the case.
(I)s the location important?
Where did the event(s) take place? The location could raise other issues in the case at hand such as a third party (such as a landowner) who may also be liable for the plaintiff’s damages. Ask yourself, could the conditions of the location at the time of the event work to mitigate the defendant’s liability?
(S)ome items or objects may be important to the case.
For example, if a person used an object that was left unattended by the owner to harm an individual or to commit a crime, you may be able to bring the owner in as a defendant if he had a duty to secure the item or make safe an area that the public had access to.
(P)ut the events in chronological order.
Have a detailed, chronological list for each event in the case. Understanding the events to include dates and times will give you the basis of action and the issues that are involved in the case.
(T)ake into consideration the opposing counsel’s arguments in the case.
As you perform your legal research, you should be searching for laws and case law that will refute any legal basis the opposing party may claim to support his or her allegations.
(E)valuate the legal remedy or the relief sought in the case.
As a plaintiff, you must prove that you are entitled to the relief you are seeking through statutes and/or case law. As the defendant, you want to find a legal basis for the court to deny the plaintiff’s relief.
Produce Your Legal Research
With the DISPUTE method used as the first step, you will have identified the issues and questions necessary to support the client’s case or defense. Afterward you should ask the following questions to produce the legal research necessary to gather the proper legal information so as to build the client’s case:
What is the client trying to achieve?
Learn about the legal issue(s) or topic(s) involved prior to beginning your legal research. This is one of the most important steps in conducting proper legal research. You cannot initiate legal research if you do not understand the legal topic(s) at hand. To do so, you can access secondary sources of law to broaden your knowledge and fill in any gaps of understanding of the broad scope of the legal injury or defense you are familiarizing yourself with. This could include law review articles, reports, encyclopedias, restatements, or online resources.
What are the facts?
Before you search your state’s specific code or case law, perform a couple of simple searches to gather some basic information about keywords and/or relevant statutes. Run a basic Internet search for your topic on your favorite search engine and type in some keywords or phrases from your research topic or question. Always gather the facts so you know the “who, what, why, when, where, and how” of your case.
What is the relevant jurisdiction?
Go to the annotated State or Federal Code and run a keyword search or browse for a statute that may apply. If you have access to Lexis or Westlaw, you should have access to both the annotated and unannotated code, and you want to make sure that you are using the annotated version. If you do not have access to the annotated code for your state, ask your attorney for a subscription service or an annotated codebook.
How can I start the case law search?
Many paralegals opt to start with free legal research options, such as search engines or public records. However, you will want to use Westlaw or Lexis to ensure a comprehensive legal search. Not only do online solutions include all the legal sources you need, but they also provide additional tools that filter out irrelevant data.
Make sure to read the cases that you generate—they provide additional citations, cases, or statutes that can narrow down your answer. A quality search means that you have to read several cases before coming close to what you are looking for.
Complete and Repeat the Procedure
Once you’ve completed your legal research, make sure that you use the same procedure each time, as a routine helps enhance your overall understanding of a subject. It is important to learn the new platforms for legal analytics—this helps ensure that you are up-to-date with new technologies and case studies. Experience with these programs also increases your marketability, as there is less time spent on in-house training.
The Blackstone Difference
Blackstone Career Institute offers a legal research certificate program that will expand your research capabilities, improve your writing skills, and teach you the ins and outs of computer-assisted legal research with LexisAdvance.
LexisAdvance is the leading online legal, news, and business information service for paralegals and lawyers. Included with your training is access to live support to help make the most of the research tools available. e correct manner.
Written by Jeffrey Hauck, JD, CPO, CII, LPI