Category Archives: Legal Education

Research Tips: Top five tips for selecting a paper topic

Right around now, many of you are trying to choose paper topics for your final papers or for law review. Once you have a topic, you will be doing preemption checks to ensure that no one else has written on your topic. You will also want to do a literature review  to find everything written on your topic.

Some people have come to get extra training in legal research to help with this paper writing process. Find the Legal Research Training page on TWEN and use the sign-up sheets to sign up for a training session. Email reference librarian Catherine Deane with any questions.

Here are my top five tips for finding a paper topic:

  1. Check to see if there is a Research Guide  on your topic that provides links to relevant news sources
  2. Know where the Databases  are on the TJSL Library Home Page, log in with your network ID and check to see if there are any BNA databases that cover your subject: Hint: Look for circuit splits eg in BNA United States Law Week  
  3. Check out ABA Blawgs  and read any frequently and recently updated blogs on your topic
  4. Check out reputable news sources such as: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, NPR News
  5. Check out the websites of relevant organizations and look for recent reports, eg. United Nations, International Labor Organization, Amnesty International

Once you have selected a topic, you will want to find all relevant literature  on your topic. This is partly so that you  can make sure no one else has written exactly on your topic, and partly to have a body of literature to build on when you make your own argument.

Consider using a model like the Steven Toulmin Model   to analyze the articles and organize your argument.

 

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Legal Research Training Opportunities at TJSL

Photo Courtesy Alexander Henning Drachmann

You can have a say in how and when you learn how to conduct legal research.

Check out this new 10 question survey prepared by the TJSL librarians.

Let your voice be heard on when, where, and how you would like to learn how to do legal research?

Do you want a mini-class right a few weeks before your final paper is due?

Do you want a legal research boot camp over the break?

Do you want to wait until you are an alumni, doing research for your new boss?

When would you like to learn legal research skills?

Tell us!

Tips for Using CalJur in Print

Recently many 1Ls have been coming to the library and using the legal encyclopedia. Some users have reminded me greatly of the classic Sesame Street clip where a boy gives an alien directions to his mothership. In their haste to get to the answer, some law students have been rushing to search for their keywords in the text itself, or rushing to look in the text for the reference given in the index without following the steps to do so. The result is that students have been becoming frustrated unnecessarily because they are not using a step by step procedure.

Step By Step Flow Chart for using CalJur in Print (pdf)

Scenario

Let us say that you have been hired at a small law firm that does not have a subscription to Westlaw or Lexis, or that does not allow new associates to use the online databases for fear that they will unwittingly run up huge bills. You are tasked with looking up in the print legal encyclopedia, a particular issue related to your case.

Key Words

You brainstorm and come up with the terms:

  1. Controlled Substances
  2. Children
  3. Forfeiture of property

Index

You look them up in the Index in that order (If you look up Children first, when you get to where Controlled substances would be located as a subheading under children it will send you to the Controlled Substances and Drug Abuse heading in the index).

You find that the section on forfeiture of property belonging to children and minors is referred to as: CLCADM § 149

Table of Abbreviations 

Since you do not know what CLCADM stands for, you flip to the beginning of the index where there is a table of abbreviations. You look up the abbreviation CLCADM and you find that it stands for “Criminal Law: Crimes Against Administration of Justice”

Encyclopedia: Alphabetic Order

You then look for this entry in the set of encyclopedia. You browse the volumes looking for where this entry falls alphabetically.

You find that the term “Criminal Law: Crimes Against Administration of Justice” is written on the spine, and you look for your entry in the volume labeled:

“Criminal Law: Core Aspects

to

Criminal Law: Crimes Against Administration of Justice and Public Order”

Now, what if the term were not visible on the spine.

For instance, let’s say you were looking up the reference INVESTSEC § 39

INVESTSEC refers to Investment Securities and if you browse the volumes of Cal Jur, you will see that the volume you need is

“Interference with Economic Advantage

To

Judges”

The term “Investment Securities” falls alphabetically between these two terms, so you know that you can find the term “Investment Securities” in this volume.

 Topic first; Section second

Going back to our Example of CLCADM § 149 which we know refers to Criminal Law: Crimes Against Administration of Justice § 149, you open the book that contains this reference, and then you first need to find the right topic. There is more than one topic in this book and therefore possibly more than one § 149. First look at the top of the page and make sure you are looking at the Criminal Law: Crimes Against Administration of Justice topic. Then look within this topic for section 149.

 Footnotes for citations to Primary law

When you find the part of this section that discusses your issue, you may need to find the primary source that supports that particular answer. To find the primary source, you need to see if there is a footnote related to the sentence discussing your issue. Footnotes will be at the bottom of the page, Look first in the footnotes for the Section number, eg [Section 149] then for the specific footnote. Numbering for the footnotes for each individual section begins with 1. This means you must be careful to find the right section before you look for the numbered footnote.

Update in Pocket Part

Once you have found your entry, your task may not be over, you still need to update your research. Recent changes in the law will be reflected in the pocket parts. These are softbound publications placed in the back pocket of the relevant encyclopedia volume that indicate changes in the law between the time when the hardbound edition was published and the time when the softbound pocket part was published.

For the CLCADM § 149 entry, there is no pocket part and no update available at this time. However for INVESTSEC § 6, we find that there is an entry in the pocket part. To determine when the pocket part was published, look at the first page of the pocket part. It will say “ISSUED” followed by the date of publication. Stamped on the pocket part is the date it was received by the library. If you need information that is more up to date than the Issued date, you will need to examine the online database version of CalJur from Westlaw or Lexis.

 Video Tutorials 

Here is a video tutorial from USD on Using CalJur and Witkin’s.

TJSL Video on Using Secondary Sources

Responsibilities of a Lawyer: Complete, up-to-date legal research

“As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client’s legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications” (Preamble:  A Lawyer’s Responsibilities,  Model Rules of Professional Conduct).

The primary task of a lawyer is to explain to clients how the law applies to their case.

After passing the Bar Exam, and becoming a lawyer, how will you know the practical implications “of the client’s legal rights and obligations” (MRPC)? You will have to research it. In order to be sure that you are correct in your assertions to the client, you need to be sure that you know all the law applicable to the situation. This could mean finding a statute and the relevant cases interpreting it, and then ensuring that the information is complete and up-to-date.

How will you know whether the research you have done is complete and up-to-date?

Research Strategy and Research logs

You need to have a research strategy and a research log so that you can tell what research you have done, and what you still need to do to be sure your research is complete and up to date. For billing purposes, you will want to log the time spent doing research, in addition to the cost of the legal research. For cases that take place over a long period of time, it helps to log the date of your research, so that you will know when enough time has passed that you may need to update your research.

Ways to Improve Research Skills

There are several ways to build your legal research skills. One way is to do an internship with a law firm, often partners will give you legal research tasks related to actual cases. It is a good idea to consult reference librarians to get help with your research.

At TJSL, the law librarians teach brief workshops and full length courses that you can take to improve your legal research skills. Look for advertisements for these brief classes at the Fourth Floor Circulation Desk, in the Advisor and on the touch screens.

  • June Mac Leod’s mini-classes
  • Hadas Livnat’s – Working Tour of Library Resources
  • Catherine Deane’s – General Tour of the Library

TJSL also offers an Advanced Legal Research course for two credits. It will be offered this Fall 2011, and the sections will be taught by Interim Director Patrick Meyer, and Reference Librarian Catherine Deane.

If you are unable to attend any of these classes, you can still brush up on your legal research skills by taking CALI Quizzes. These Quizzes vary in length, and cover a wide range of topics. Maybe pick a short one to start with, some are as brief as 20 minutes. Start to work this into your routine. For instance, when you are working on something challenging and you want to switch to something else while still being productive, do a short Quiz on a legal research topic and improve your skills. Alternatively, you could set aside one hour a week to take a quiz or two on a legal research topic.

Email Reference Librarian Catherine Deane to get the Student Registration Code to access the CALI Quizzes.

 

Which class will you work into your schedule to improve your legal research skills?

 

The Next Mini-Classes are offered on Tuesday July 19th at 10:30 am and cover:

  • How to Research

And

  • How to Find Cases

Competency in Legal Research: How do you measure up?

According to one 2010 article, most students “who arrive at law school [are] overly confident in their research abilities” (39 U. Balt. L. Rev. 173). Students do not know what they do not know and they do not realize until it is too late that they should take the time to learn the skills and techniques necessary for competent legal research techniques.

This means that they don’t seek out legal research instruction, and many law school students  graduate without obtaining the required competency in the performance of legal research (39 U. Balt. L. Rev. 173).  In other words, most new lawyers are not competent in legal research.

The ABA Model Code of Professional Conduct provides that:

“A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  (The ABA Model Code of Professional Conduct, Client-Lawyer Relationship, Rule 1.1 Competence).

One standard of competency in legal research skills is provided by the American Association of Law Libraries, “Law Student Research Competency Principles”. If you think your legal research skills are competent, you might follow the link and find out if your perception is accurate.

If you think your legal research skills are already sufficient for you to be a competent lawyer, you can attempt this CALI quiz: Legal Research Methodology to find out if there are unexpected holes in your good legal research skills. (To get your CALI code, contact reference librarian, Catherine Deane and ask for it.)

Even if you did well on the CALI test provided above, and your legal research skills really are competent, according to the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct “A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill”. As such, if you want to attain the highest level of skill, it is a good idea to get as much help while in law school in learning how to do legal research well.

The sooner you get help learning how to do legal research, the stronger your legal research skills will be when you graduate.

How will you improve your legal research skills?

Google: Search like a competent lawyer

Google is a good starting point for doing legal research, as long as you bear in mind two things:

1. Who is providing the information?

  • You have to make a considered decision regarding the reliability of the source of the information you are retrieving using the Google Search Engine

2. Is that information the most up-to-date?

  • You must use a citator service to  update information found on the free Web

Beyond these basics, if you are going to use Google to do legal research, particularly if you are doing this to save money, you should learn how to search in the most efficient and effective ways, and that means learning the tricks, tips and shortcuts, including how to do a Boolean Search.

A good handbook for using Google in your law practice is:

Levitt, C. A., & Rosch, M. E. (2010). Google for lawyers: Essential search tips and productivity tools. Chicago, Ill: American Bar Association, Law Practice Management Section.

Which you may borrow  from the TJSL Library.

Some basic things you should be aware of:

You can use “site:.gov” to limit your searches  to government websites

  • Or replace .gov with any domain name eg. About.com to limit search results to the about.com website

You can use Boolean connectors and this will give you more precise search results more quickly, saving you time and this is less legal research time you will have to try to convince your client to pay for.

  • The more productive you are, the happier your clients are and the more money you make in the end.

Use Google Advanced Search to:

  • search for keywords in a particular part of the page
  • restrict your search to dates
  • search for a particular file type, eg. Pdfs
  • search for results aimed at a particular reading level
  • Find similar items once you find one good one

Other Useful Google Search Tools:

You will be expected to use Google to :

  • search for facts that lead you to solid evidence, and
  • to be cost effective about performing preliminary legal research on a topic.

Learning how to use Google skillfully is part of learning to be a competent lawyer. Browse the resources linked to above to start improving your Google search techniques.

How will you change the way that you use Google to do research?

Your Westlaw/Lexis student account is for Academic Use Only

  • Use your school Westlaw or Lexis IDs only for school research.
    • The one exception  at TJSL is:
      1. If you are a research assistant for a professor at TJSL, you may use your school Westlaw/Lexis ID to perform academic research for that professor.
  • Use law firm resources to do research for a law firm.
    • It is illegal and a violation of professional ethics to use your Westlaw/Lexis school ID to do law firm research.

Law Students need to be aware of the restrictions on the use of Westlaw and Lexis student accounts.

The agreement that TJSL students have with Westlaw regarding use of their accounts is provided here for your convenience. In short, it says that:

  • you may not use your Westlaw account to do research for a law firm you are interning/externing with for the summer.
  • you may only use your Westlaw account to do research for a class that you are enrolled in at TJSL.

The Lexis agreement says almost the same thing, and is available for you to read on the Lexis Website under Terms. In plain English their policy regarding law student use of Lexis is available at the Lexis Website, under Company Information.

Unlike Westlaw, Lexis has two specific exceptions to the rule that students may not use their accounts to do research for law firms. If the student is doing:

  1. a for credit internship/externship, the student may use their academic Lexis ID to do research for the law firm.
  2. an unpaid internships  for a pro bono or non-profit law firm, the student may use their student Lexis accounts to do research even if their internship/externship  is not for credit.

Westlaw and Lexis are aware that not all law firms have access to their databases. As such, they monitor student accounts during the Summertime. They are looking for unusual patterns of search, such as:

  • Searching for items that are more commonly looked for by practicing attorneys than by law students.
  • Searching from a law firm’s IP address.
  • Warehousing material, that is, downloading and saving many items.

If students are found exhibiting these types of behaviors which give the appearance of misconduct, they will be investigated and charges may be brought against them. In addition, the California State Bar Association will be informed of the student’s violation of their user agreement and this may be grounds for refusal of admission to the California State Bar for unethical, illegal behavior.

To avoid being accused of misconduct and potentially ruining your career before it begins:

  • Only use your school account to do research for your classes
  • For law firm research use firm accounts, or if they do not have access, then use:
    • print resources from the nearest law library
    • Google scholar to search for patents, legal opinions and journals
  • Do not do school research from the law firm office

If your law firm pressures you to use your school account, even after you have informed them of the terms of your agreement with the database vendors, I recommend that you inform career services at TJSL of your situation.

Be informed! Know the limitations on the use of your student Westlaw and Lexis accounts.