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Levin College of Law

Conducting Legal Research

Resources and tips for conducting legal research .

When to Stop Researching

Note: When you begin writing, you may find that you need to do additional research. This is normal.

If You Have a Known Source as Your Starting Point

  • READ the document.
  • Highlight cited resources within the document that are relevant to the issue which you have been asked to research.
    • READ these resources.
  • If you have an annotated document, such as an annotated statute or regulation, read the annotations and pull out relevant materials & citations.
  • Shepardize/KeyCite the document – primary sources have citing references; some secondary sources do as well.

Other Tips

  • Law firms and other legal offices often have their own work product banks, so you can see previous examples of forms, briefs, etc., produced by the organization’s own attorneys.
  • If you’re faced with a topic about which you know nothing, start by looking at research guides rather than jumping straight into a paid database such as Westlaw or Lexis.
    • The LIC has several research guides, at http://guides.law.ufl.edu/.
    • Google the broad topic plus “research guide.”
      • E.g. administrative law research guide
      • Look for research guides from respected law schools in your results.
  • Ask questions, clarify information, and double-check your facts.
  • Be familiar with the court system and legislative process for your jurisdiction.
  • Keep track of your research, either through folders on Westlaw and Lexis, or a research log. Don’t incur the costs of re-researching something. 

If You Have Too Much Information

  • You may have not framed your issue narrowly enough.
    • Return to your assignment or the original legal question. 
    • Be more specific in identifying the legal issue.
      • E.g., negligence instead of torts
  • Consider whether there are jurisdictional considerations that you have not yet applied.
  • Can you split the question into parts/sub-issues that can be tackled one at a time?
    • E.g., procedural issues and substantive law.
  • Clarify the assignment with the attorney who gave it to you. The attorney may be able to provide more specific details.

If You Don't Have Enough Information

  • Broaden the types of resources that you are looking at:
    • Have you looked through multiple types of secondary sources?
    • Did you look at all of the resources mentioned in the annotations to the statutes?
    • Did you look at all applicable primary sources (statutes, cases, regulations, etc.)?
    • Consider expanding your search into a different jurisdiction, if you are sure no information exists in your jurisdiction.
  • Broaden the legal topic you are researching:
    • Be less specific in the legal issue
      • E.g. general duty of care instead of duty to warn of danger on the property
    • Focus less on the facts and more on the legal theory.
      • E.g. liability for wild animal bite instead of liability for raccoon bite
    • You may be researching a case of first impression for your jurisdiction.
  • There may not always be a definitive answer to every research question. 
  • If you cannot find an answer, ask for help from your supervising attorney or a reference librarian.

Common Pitfalls

  • Using only keyword searching.
    • Make use of finding aids, such as tables of contents, headnotes, and indexes.
  • Consulting too few/inadequate secondary sources.
  • Going outside of your organization’s database plan – stop when you see the warning about charges and ask.
  • Forgetting to plan your research.
  • Forgetting to track your research.
  • Not asking for help when you need it.
  • Citing to Wikipedia or a random webpage.
  • Forgetting about all the resources you have available to you:
    • Lexis/West/Bloomberg research attorneys.
    • Law librarians, both at your organization and here at UF Law.
    • Your supervising attorney/other attorneys in the organization.
      • It is better to ask questions than to waste time researching and answering the wrong thing.
    • Your organization’s form/sample bank.
  • Relying on information that you Googled without verifying its source and accuracy.