Legal Research and Writing Tips

Legal Research and Writing Tips for 1Ls

Legal research and writing is a very important component of 1L year.  In this post, we offer five legal research and writing tips for 1Ls!  These are skills you will use the rest of your legal career, so developing a strong foundation is critical.  This is not a class that you should ignore or write off.  You will be well rewarded in your future for possessing strong legal research and writing skills!

Legal Research and Writing Tips for 1Ls

1. When researching, utilize search filters and special features.

The databases you will use to research legal issue can actually be quite fun to use.  The features they have make even the most complex searches feasible.  In fact, if you take the time to learn and master each database, your assignments can be completed with impressive efficiency.  Thus, if you’re looking for legal research and writing tips to employ as a 1L, the first would be to utilize the search filters and special features of your database of choice.  Just typing in a few keywords as a search will give you an overwhelming number of responses.  But you can narrow these by type of court (state or federal) level of court, specific jurisdiction, date, most cited, relevancy, etc.  Narrowing a search will greatly help you find exactly what you are looking for.  Further, if you find a useful case, or even a statement of law that is on point, you can further identify other cases that have cited your original case or law.  This could help you find additional examples of how an issue has been interpreted on different facts.  Utilizing the special features of your database will make your research more thorough and developed.

2. Pay attention to procedural information about a case.

When researching a topic, you might think you have found the perfect case that solves your problem.  However, another one of our important legal research and writing tips is to pay attention to procedural information about a case.  If you are using a database, always make sure to check whether the case has been overturned or has suffered from negative treatment.  The law you found may no longer be good anymore.  You also need to make sure you are noting whether you have found binding or merely persuasive authority.  An understanding of the judicial structure will help you identify which opinions are binding on a court in a particular jurisdiction, and which are merely advisory or potentially persuasive.  It would be a bad look to present a research project where you conclude a court was obligated to follow a specific interpretation when it turns out the opinion was not binding.  Always make sure you are aware of the procedural details about cases you are researching!

3. Organize using IRAC.

The next of our legal research and writing tips focus more on writing and how to stay organized.  When drafting a legal document, be sure to utilize the IRAC format.  This keeps your document straightforward and easy to follow.  Separate your discussion of each issue involved in solving the overall problem.  Mixing issues just leads to confusion and weaker conclusions.  You want to walk the reader through your arguments, and you can’t do that if you are constantly jumping around or mixing discussions.  After you present the issue, lay out the corresponding rule.  Focus just on the issue at hand and present only the relevant rules.  Third, move on to your analysis, where you apply the rule to the facts.  Finally, reach you conclusion and then move on to the next issue.  This organizational strategy will produce a more powerful piece!

4. Be mindful of your tone and your audience.

Each type of research assignment requires a different style.  Accordingly, a list of legal research and writing tips must advise you to pay careful attention to the tone you use and the audience you are writing to when you complete an assignment.  If you are supposed to be writing a memo, you need to be objective.  You should approach each issue logically, evaluate the facts without favoring one position, and determine the most likely outcome.  In contrast, if you are writing a brief, you should be writing persuasively.  Your goal is to convince the reader that your position is right and that you should win.  Opposing arguments should be considered and then refuted.  Additionally, pay attention to for whom you are writing the document for.  If you are writing a document for another lawyer or judge, you can assume their level of knowledge accordingly.  However, if you are writing a letter to a company making an argument, or maybe to an organization that doesn’t have a significant legal background, you should be aware of the differences in knowledge.  Explain things in a manner that a non-attorney will be able to follow.

5. Don’t blow off your legal research training or your course.

The final of our legal research and writing tips is to take seriously the sessions you will participate in that teach you these skills.  Your legal research and writing class is very important, although it may seem tedious at times.  Participate actively in your research assignments, and don’t procrastinate on your writing assignments.  Your school may also bring in representatives from the legal research search engines like Lexis, WestLaw, or Bloomberg.  Although you may find these training sessions boring, you really should participate in them and try to absorb the skills being taught.  Each search engine has some valuable features and you want to be able to use them when practicing.  You have no guarantee which search engine your firm will have a subscription to, so you need to be serviceable in all of them.  Pay attention in these training sessions, as possessing good legal research skills will be a great advantage to you in this field!

LAURA SIGLER, WHO GRADUATED MAGNA CUM LAUDE FROM WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, IS A JD ADVISING LEGAL RESEARCHER AND ESSAY GRADER.

LOOKING FOR LAW SCHOOL HELP?

If you are interested in an in-depth course that goes over how to succeed in law school, please consider signing up for our law school preparatory course or utilizing our law school tutoring services if you need help while you are in law school.

We have helped many students succeed in law school (and succeed in and transfer to, prestigious law schools, such as the University of Michigan Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke Law School, among others.