Once you’ve explored ideas for a paper topic, perhaps by using sources like blawgs and tweets, and have decided what to write about, start your research by looking at what other people have written. Running searches for law review articles and books on your subject will help you to refine your topic (or change it if someone else has already written about the exact same thing), and to find relevant cases and statutes. Using a legal periodical index that categorizes law review articles by subject, like Legal Periodicals Full Text and LegalTrac, can lead you to helpful articles even more quickly than keyword searching. For example, if you’re writing about insanity pleas in criminal cases, browse the articles listed under the subject heading “insanity defense” and then get to the full text articles by clicking the “Find at UVa” links. These indexes also index articles written about specific cases or statutes, so you can use them to find the most pertinent articles if you already have a particular primary source in mind for your topic. You can also Keycite or Shepardize a case or statute and narrow your results to secondary sources.
Also consider expanding your research to non-legal sources. For your paper on insanity pleas, look for relevant articles by psychologists in the PsycINFO database. U.Va. provides access to a number of useful business, public policy, medical, and many more topical databases. A complete list, and research guides by subject, are in the University Library’s guide to databases.
Check out Principles of Legal Research for help developing a research plan, and Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review for help thinking through the writing and editing process.
– Kristin Glover