Tag Archives: skills

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?