Before you start researching, it is important to understand what it is you need to find out. In other words, what is the legal issue? Once you have established that from your assignment, it will make the rest of your researching easier and more efficient.
Once you’ve established the legal issue, identify the sources you will need to conduct your research. For example, do you need to find an obiter dictum? Or do you need just a general summary of a legal development, perhaps, with comments from other scholars?
Once you’ve established the legal issue and sources, you need to establish what jurisdiction your legal issue is pertaining. Is it regarding domestic or international law? Is your primary research regarding UK law, with comparisons with other jurisdictions? This will help streamline your researching.
Finally, you have to decide how you will present this information. For example, you may collate your findings in an essay, or a reflective journal. Or let’s say a senior lawyer has asked you to give them bitesize information about an in-time legal development by tomorrow morning. It may be better to present your findings in a simple Excel spreadsheet or brief memorandum.
I remember once when I was asked by a senior lawyer to summarise some ‘overnight’ legislation about Russian sanctions and spent hours creating a 10+ page Word document. When she received it, she said my work was good, but she only needed an A4 summary.
So, what are primary sources? When it comes to legal research, primary sources are things like case laws, statutes, regulations. In simple terms, your primary source of law.
On the other hand, secondary sources are things like practise guides, treaties, legal articles, and law journals. They support primary sources.
The next step in your legal research will be knowing how or where to access legal information. Here are some examples of popular digital sources:
It is important to bear in mind, that unless you have a subscription to some of the databases mentioned below, you will not have full access to it. Check with your university if they have a subscription that you can access the database from.
GOV.UK is a digital database of past and present laws and statutes within the UK constitution. It uses wording that is accessible and can help develop your legal acumen.
The LSG is a British weekly legal magazine for solicitors in England and Wales, published by the Law Society (of England and Wales). It offers real-time national and international news, opinions, articles, etc.
Westlaw is an online legal research tool that will give you access to a comprehensive collection of primary and secondary law through research.
Law Teacher provides law study resources, including case law summaries, and writing services for students in the UK and Overseas. It is an international journal that publishes research on all aspects of legal education.
E-lawresources provides law students with resources like lecture outlines, case summaries, law reports, links to statutes, etc.
Google Scholar is the academic version of a simple ‘Google search’. When you look up a topic, it will provide you with search results of work from academic scholars on that topic.
You can use physical sources like books, etc., but it is important to note that depending on the issue, the information or opinion may be outdated. If it is a book about history, for example, there probably won’t be an issue.
However, with an issue like Roe v Wade (1973), a book’s information or perspective may be outdated, (but a good reflection of the time it was published). Physical sources are great and should not be abandoned!
One person you should make friends with is your (law) librarian. They will be able to provide you with assistance on what physical or digital sources you should access. They will also provide you with information about the sources your department are subscribed to.
When you are researching, it is important to make sure that you are drawing from reliable sources. Here are some ways you can identify if a source is reliable:
When it comes to writing essays or answering exam questions, knowing a lot from your research is not enough. You need to know how to apply it to your work.
With essays, in particular, what will elevate your work from a 2:1 to a 1st is including scholarly opinions and comments to support your point. For example, “I would argue that ___, this is supported by [insert scholar], who determines that …”
It is even better if you also highlight arguments surrounding legal issues and academics that contrast each other. “Whilst [insert scholar] would argue that ___, the likes of [insert other scholar(s)] would take a more grassroot approach to the issue and believe ….”
If you are researching for a research task during your internship, for example, this will not be (as) relevant. When researching during your work experience it is imperative that you make sure that the information you draw from is reliable and accurate.
If you are researching recent news, especially, you may find that there are not many sources on it or not that much information. This requires you to do some cross-examination across different sources to find out the answer. Sometimes, there may not be a (definitive) answer to an issue, and it’s not your own fault. Just make sure to be honest about it and be confident in asking for help or clarity.
You may not be great at it in the beginning, but as you continue to do it, researching will become second nature to you. As a result, you will also see your grades and the calibre of your work greatly improve!
Loading More Content