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Practical legal research

Practical Legal Research (BVS and SPP)

You have now moved from academic legal research to practical legal research, moving away from analysing and critiquing the law, to practical application of the law in order to help your clients. As a legal professional your job is to advise your client as to what the law is, and what the implications of specific courses of action may be; to give them alternative courses of action, and to give them the best understanding as to how their case is likely to be received by the court. The main objective of your research as a legal professional is to find facts that will back up your arguments, which you then can present in papers and in court, in order to persuade the judge of your legal argument.  

Planning Legal Research

Consider the following:

  1. Size of the problem
    • Is it a quick reference that needs you to check a point of law in a text?
    • Is it a quick task to check if a case is still good law?
    • Will it be a longer process that requires you to investigate a series of questions?
    • Will it require you to undertake an in-depth analysis?
  2. What resources are available to you?
    • Law library
    • Printed encyclopedias
    • Printed practitioner works
    • Electronic databases containing legislation, cases & practitioner works
  3. How long have you got?
  4. How long do you think this will take?

Top Tips

  1. Record every step of your research
  2. Keep notes of all your searches
  3. Learn how to use both printed and electronic sources - with the increasing costs of electronic resources you cannot guarantee that your future employers will have access to all the online resources, and what happens if the internet goes down one day?
  4. Start with commentary before leaping in to searching the large databases for cases and legislation

BVS Legal Research

You don't want to anger your judge, so presenting them with incorrect or irrelevant authorities is a bad idea; your credibility will be enhanced by producing good quality skeleton arguments relying on the best, most relevant authorities.

Your legal reasoning is also very important.  Your arguments should be well thought through and supported by appropriate authorities. For example, you will need to conduct research in order to find an applicable legal rule that you have identified from an authoritative source, such as a major practitioner text, cases or legislation. You then need to apply the rule to your case and draw conclusions. In order to attack your opposition's case you will also need to research how you can dispute the validity of their arguments.

You will often have to identify a rule from multiple sources such as a statutory provision and cases that have interpreted it. Alternatively you can draw analogies from a previous case.  All of these ways of forming your argument rely heavily on legal research.

There are many methodologies to conduct practical legal research, but they all have similar things in common.  Your 'Opinion Writing and Case Preparationmanual outlines seven steps to legal research.

  1. Plan your research - allow plenty of time.
  2. Analyse the problem - distinguish the facts, legal issues and points of law.
  3. Categorise the legal issues and identify keywords
  4. Research the issues - start with commentary and then move on to case law and legislation.
  5. Update your findings.
  6. Check back to your clients problem - have you covered everything?
  7. Analyse and summarise the law and apply it to the facts.

SPP Legal Research

See Chapter 5 'Legal research' in Lawyers' Skills

Practical Legal Research Resources