5 Easy Ways To Research As A Law Student (Research Like A Boss!)
Are you getting frustrated with the barrage of legal materials you have to sort through as a law student? Has it ever crossed your mind that there might be an easy way to research in law school? If it hasn’t, then you might want to take a look at the following 5 tips to researching that would effectively put your researching nightmares to bed. Should you skip researching as a law student? Not if you want to be a successful law student. The skills you acquire while engaging are critical to your long-term success a lawyer and is one of the seven skills of a successful lawyer.
(1) Take short notes
One of the ways to deal with the ton of legal information you encounter as a law student on a daily basis is to write short notes and summaries of materials you’ve researched online or in the law library. It’s always easier to process, read and understand legal materials as a law student if they are abridged and concise. So jot down the holdings in every case, and striking quotes and dictum from Judges. Do the same for future purposes even when they may not be so relevant to the matter in hand. You never know, you might have need of them someday when you have a case to argue. I still remember one quote I took down from my days of researching as a law student but whose author seems to have escaped recollection at the moment. That “equity will amend no man’s bargain” – speaking of the sanctity of contract and freedom of contracting parties.
(2) Use secondary sources.
If you are an avid library user you’d realize by now that briefing your cases in the library each day is time consuming and that a single case in some law reports (especially the Nigerian ones) can be nearly half the size of your standard law text. So to save yourself the ordeal or having to read through everything, you can lift the facts and holding of some cases from relevant law text books on the subject. Take a look at the table of cases of any relevant text book on the subject to see if you will find the cases you after cited in the table of cases. Then go to the pages where they are contained and copy the facts of the case and the courts holding (cases cited in secondary sources are abridged versions and do save time).
(3) Use materials a real lawyer is likely to use
In conducting research as a law student, you have to conduct the research with the attitude of a real lawyer dealing with a real life case. Use the same kind of resources a working lawyer is most likely to use for the case at hand. Your first point of call should be the statutes since they are primary legal authorities embodying principles of law yet to be adjudicated upon by the courts. Check all secondary or subsidiary legislation as they may often endorse or qualify the primary legislation.
Use on-line resources like the LexisNexis and WestLaw for any conceivable case law from your jurisdiction. Use academic journals too, since they are “explanatory of things explained”. What that means is that they tend to be explanatory on some legal doctrine or theory.
(4) Be interactive
Even after you’ve done a job on your research, there may still be important information you may be missing. That is why it pays to discuss your findings with your lecturers or professors and classmates. This can lead you to the “eureka” moments when you make invaluable discoveries and consider viewpoints you may not have thought of.
(5) Write coherent notes
Haven’t you ever had difficulty understanding your own writing? In conducting research, law students are fond of either writing their findings in short and illegible forms that leave them at a loss whenever they refer to their research in the future. Or to sound pompous, they may write them down in incomprehensible legalese. If you do make this same mistake, it will just go to pile the frustration on you since your research will be useless to even you, its very author. So explain the matter in a legally cognizable way as though you were explaining your findings to a layman. Einstein once said that “if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t know it yourself”.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
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