Conducting legal research is foundational to your work, no matter what level you are as a lawyer or your practice area. After all, knowledge equals value. The more that you research cases and grow familiar with precedents and decisions, the more you can better advise clients and build winning strategies.
That’s why lawyers need access to reliable tools with which to conduct case law research. The most useful case law research tool enables you to winnow down queries quickly and accurately.
It will provide a way to absorb content via a well-organized, easy-to-follow informational system that will also allow you to connect the dots, in terms of inter-related cases.
But while there’s a wide variety of case law research tools out there to explore and implement this method, what’s essential is to know which legal research tools will be of the most value to you.
Case law research needs
You may be looking for information to bolster an argument for a particular case or want to see how previous cases have been decided before your firm takes on a new client. Some primary needs of legal research are:
Some primary needs of legal research are:
Get a sense of what current law is on a specific subject. To be sure you’re on the right track, you need to know what you are looking for—is it a specific area of the law? How cases have been decided in a given period?
Among the areas to research include:
- Secondary sources: When researching a legal principle that’s new to you, or an unfamiliar area of the law, consider starting by examining secondary sources, such as law journals, practice guides, books or legal encyclopedias. These are a good jumping-off point as they will cite important statutes and cases for you to subsequently peruse.
- Case law: You can search for case law through a variety of methods, such as an online legal research service. One relevant case will often lead to others, by following references in cases and in footnotes.
- Statutes and regulations: Dig into statutes and regs relevant to your legal issue. Finding an annotated version of them is particularly valuable—these will list important and relevant cases connected to the statute or regulation (for example, cases that cite the regulation in their decision).
Once you’ve done your research and gathered information from various case histories, how do you best organize this information? What’s the easiest and most effective way to assemble what you’ve learned.
By now, if not before, determine whether the law you’re researching is “good” law—that is, that a court hasn’t invalidated it or struck it down.
What defines a good legal research tool for case law?
Developments in technology over the past few decades have made legal research faster, more current, and, in many cases, far more comprehensive.
A superior legal research tool is defined by a set of key attributes.
1 – Accuracy and comprehensiveness of content,
2 – Advanced technology that makes it easier and faster to find what you are looking for, and
3 – Editorially enhanced content that makes it easier for an attorney to search, validate, and interpret the law.
While, lawyers have a number of research tools at their disposal, Westlaw Precision, the newest version of Westlaw, Prime by LawPavilion and Primsol by LawPavilion, provides access to a wide depth and breadth of legal resources that significantly enhance the speed and quality of research.
Case law research features that every lawyer needs
What does a lawyer want most from their research tools? As always, it boils down to features that serve practical needs. Is the research tool reliable? Is it easy to use? Are its search functions thorough, and its holdings up-to-date?
Ease of use
A good case law research site will be user-friendly, with easy-to-follow guidelines and artificial intelligence prompts to answer queries.
Quickly find on-point cases
Finding the most applicable cases is essential to any legal research effort. A good case law research tool enables a lawyer to quickly and easily build upon discoveries—once the lawyer finds a pertinent case, it should be intuitive for them to springboard into other documents.
Few things are permanently settled in the law—there’s always the chance that a regulation may be altered, removed, or struck down, or that a case ruling may get overturned. This is why timeliness is critical to legal research, and why lawyers need to know immediately should anything change affecting documents they’ve been researching.
The most useful legal research tool is defined by your standard for research
For a legal strategy to succeed, lawyers must back their arguments up with the most compelling, cleanly presented, and rock-solid legal research possible. This is why it’s essential for them to have the best case law research tools available, and well before they set foot in a courtroom or boardroom.
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First published on: thomsonreutersblog