Now you’ve started your summer job, and you’ve just been handed a real research project. What should you do?
WHEN YOU ARE ASSIGNED A RESEARCH PROJECT
Ask questions. Make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. Do you know the facts? Do you understand the legal question you have been asked to research? Did the assigning attorney suggest any sources? Do you know what type of final product is wanted?
Don’t panic. You are not expected to be an expert at the beginning of the summer. You will be asked to research unfamiliar areas of the law. Stay calm and start with basic background research using familiar tools like Google or a blog search.
Make a plan. Think about your research before you get started. Issue spot and identify the primary sources that are likely to be relevant. Write out your Lexis or Westlaw searches before going online, and take advantage of their online chat or reference lines to help you craft your search.
Go to the experts. Start your research in secondary sources, such as treatises and law reviews. Ask the librarians if there is a leading state-specific or subject-specific treatise that would help you. You might also consult the list of major treatises the Law Library provides on its website. Tables of contents and indexes may help you quickly locate relevant information and alert you to issues you may not have already considered.
Keep track of your research. Make notes of the sources you use and the searches you run. This will save you a lot of grief if you have to recreate or defend your research.
Be thorough. Keep in mind that various layers of law (e.g. federal/state/local or statutory/regulatory) may apply and don’t forget to Shepardize or KeyCite.
Keep your facts in mind at all times. This is real life. Don’t write a 30-page dissertation on the topic generally, but focus on the facts in your case.
There is no such thing as a draft. The assigning attorney is your client, so edit, proofread, and Bluebook your work before it leaves your hands.
– Leslie Ashbrook