The Raveler
May 17, 2017

5 Tips for Tackling Your Difficult Legal Research Question

Whether you’re an associate treading water in BigLaw or you’ve hung your own shingle as a solo, odds are you’ll find yourself facing a difficult legal research question and hunting for case law to support your brief, memo, or client pitch. Here area few tips to keep you on your best game!

  1. Take a lesson from a toddler. NPR recently reported that preschoolers outsmarted adults in a study designed to test individuals’ abilities to problem solve. “Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children . . . . Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it's not working.” In other words, don’t think too narrowly. If you normally use terms and connectors, try a natural language search. Try terms you haven’t included and toss ones that are not yielding results.
  2. Don’t ignore persuasive authority. Expand your search to jurisdictions that will carry weight in yours. For example, if your issue relates to California state law and mandatory authority is thin, check out whether a sister court—perhaps Arizona—has tackled that difficult legal research question. Make sure you explain why that authority is persuasive. Do California and Arizona have identically or similarly worded statutes relevant to your issue? Have California courts approvingly cited Arizona cases for this issue?
  3. See what judges are saying. When you find a case with a useful passage, dig deeper by reading how other judges have interpreted that passage. You may find a better opinion, or learn how others have poked holes in the analysis. That leads me to...
  4. Know your foe. It can be tempting, especially when you’re in a rush, to collect only cases that support your position on an issue. Ignoring the thorny cases, however, would be a mistake. Even if your mission is to collect only stellar cases, you should at least save a list of not-so-great cases for later review.
  5. Read the Partner/Opposing Counsel’s Mind. Remember those terrible cases? Read them, analyze them, and come up with the best cases to rebut these opinions. You’ll be in a position to inform your partner or client on the strength of your case, or you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes time to write your opposition.

No matter how much experience you have with legal research, checking off these simple tips will help ensure you conduct efficient, comprehensive legal research and construct strong arguments. We have developed several pieces of content that can help you discover how to navigate through any straightforward or difficult legal research question in Ravel!

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