Top Ten List of Research Tips for Your Summer Job

As exams wind down, you may start thinking once again about your summer plans. In case you missed our recent lunchtime session on “Preparing for Your Summer Job,” here is our “Top 10” summary list of tips:

UVA Law Library Top Ten List of Research Tips for Your Summer Job

1. Stay calm and check secondary sources.

  • Not understanding a research assignment at the beginning is perfectly normal. Take some breaths—you’ll be fine!
  • Do some preliminary research just to get your footing in a new area.
  • Try the internet, or even better: try treatises, practice guides and law review or bar journal articles.

 2. Ask questions. And that includes asking us!

  • Ask the attorneys with whom you’re working to fill you in on the context of a research assignment, to recommend sources and to let you know about cost constraints.
  • Ask librarians at your firm about resources available for different types of projects.
  • Still having trouble getting started? Call or email us—we’re happy to help in the summer!

 The Reference Desk: (434) 924-7465 or

3. Learn about your jurisdiction.

  • Before getting too deep into your research, make sure you understand the court system or administrative agencies that might be involved.
  • Are there decision-makers that have more authority than others? Are there agencies that might govern your facts?
  • Jurisdiction-specific treatises or practice guides can be a big help.

4. Go free to start your research.

  • There are plenty of free legal resources you can use to start your research.
  • Google Scholar is great for free case research; Cornell LII is good for free, easy access to statutes.
  • Use the free resources for your broad, initial searches; and subscription resources once you have narrowed down your research goals.

5. Give yourself time to THINK about the information you are finding.

  • Start thinking early. Exactly what type of information do you need to answer your research question? Cases? Statutes? Regulations? A combination? Would a good secondary source, like a practice guide, be sufficient?
  • A few extra minutes mulling over your research every so often may be exactly what it takes for something to click.

6. Use Westlaw and/or Lexis and/or Bloomberg Law to your advantage.

  • Lexis Advance and Bloomberg Law offer free access for law students all summer. Your firm may also give you Westlaw access.
  • Know the strengths of each database so that you can use them most effectively. We generally view WestlawNext as best for basic case, statute or law review searching; Bloomberg Law as good for federal docket searching and current awareness; and Lexis Advance as an acceptable substitute for WestlawNext’s general legal research if you do not have WLNext access.
  • Use the databases’ free 1-800 reference attorney help lines.
  • Consult your organization’s librarians for the ins-and-outs of their specific subscriptions and ask them if there are other databases available that might be even better for your project.

7. Look for Advanced Search screens.

  • Advanced searching is available in most databases and gives you more precision in your research.
  • Getting too many results or results that aren’t quite right in your initial searches? Find out how to do advanced searching in any database you use so that you can better target what you need.

8. Update your sources.

  • Shepardize or Keycite cases and statutes to check for appeals to higher courts, citations in subsequent cases or recently passed legislation.
  • Expand your research results beyond keyword searching by using the citing references both Westlaw and Lexis provide to cases, statutes, or regulations as another tool for finding relevant cases, articles or other resources.

9. Keep track of your research trail (sources you’ve checked, searches you’ve run, whether you’ve updated the law) and organize the documents you find.

  • Organizing your research is not only more efficient, so that you don’t duplicate your efforts, but may also help you think about alternative research approaches if you get stuck.
  • Use the WestlawNext or Lexis Advance folders to organize your research findings.

10. No drafts.

  • Treat everything you turn over as the best representation of the work you were able to do with the time and information you had.
  • Ensure that you truly shine this summer by giving yourself time to carefully proofread your work before turning it in.

– Law Library Reference Librarians 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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