Thursday, January 13, 2005

Legal Research Tip 1: Develop a Strategy

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 1: Developing a Strategy for Legal Research
One of the first things to decide when you need to complete legal research will be a method for uncovering the resources and information that you need. There are several methods or strategies for completing research. I will highlight a couple in this email. One thing to keep in mind through your entire research task is that when in doubt, call a law librarian! There are at least three public law libraries in the Madison area, including at least one with a toll-free line if you live outside the area. All will be ready to assist you if you get stuck or have questions.

One suggested method of legal research has been developed by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and is available on their website: . It is specifically aimed at non-lawyers. They suggest three main steps to get started: Formulate your research into a question that you need to answer, then determine what jurisdiction would best be able to answer your question, and finally, be prepared to learn the legal lingo, such as abbreviations and citations. We will cover each of these steps in upcoming tips, as well as further explore AALL's suggested strategy.

Another suggested method is to start at the library, specifically a law library. Using legal resources is a skill that can be learned after either study or use. Law librarians have special skills that they are willing to share and teach you so that you can learn how to complete your own research more efficiently and successfully. Some of these skills include learning how to locate and decipher legal resources in a law library or public library: learning the legal lingo! Another skill is to locate the most current materials for your research. Having out of date legal resources is often worse than having no legal resources.

There are several other methods and strategies that can be used when beginning your legal research. We will cover more in future tips, along with specific suggestions for gaining access to resources, both in print and on the Internet. I strongly suggest that if you need to complete legal research in Wisconsin, and you have access to the Internet, you become familiar with the WI State Law Library's website: . I will highlight several key resources on it in future tips.