What is legal research?
Legal research, at its core, is a systematic practice of studying and delving deep into the details of laws in order to make improvisations (if required), reach an analysis and interpret them in the best way possible. Law, as a subject, is very vast. It consists of multiple clauses and sub clauses and constant amendments, which makes it very difficult for the common man to develop a proper understanding of the field.
Legal research is the process you use to identify and find laws—including statutes, regulations, and court opinions—that apply to the facts of your case and support it.
Legal researchers have certain tools and software at their disposal that they can use to complete their lengthy and detailed research projects. Research helps strengthening a case or an argument with facts and examples. It provides a background and helps steer the court’s decision in the right direction. It also plays a major role for attorneys to provide effective and accurate guidance to clients based on the findings and knowledge of their case.
Purpose of legal research
Legal research is essentially a method via which data and findings regarding a law is brought to the surface and used in forming an unbiased and informed opinion. Research plays an integral part in the lives of legal professionals whether they are students, paralegals, lawyers or academicians. The dynamic nature of law makes research crucial if one needs to reach the bottom of every issue. As society evolves, it tends to have some effect on the laws and regulations that govern it. With changing times, legal provisions and laws that bind a country together also change and adapt to the new challenges.
One of the many significant purposes of legal research is to find gaps within existing laws that may need some attention and amendments to become comprehensive and helpful for citizens. Legal research serves as the backbone for lawmakers and professionals. Due to the time-consuming nature of these tasks, big firms are often looking to outsource professional researchers who can assist them. Outsourcing legal research and writing is a common practice among big firms who are often in need of additional resources to complete their work on time and deliver quality research material.
Legal research and writing for paralegals is a task which they perform with sincerity and dedication because they understand the pivotal role it plays. They can provide their services as an in house employee or even as an virtual one.
Simply hiring a virtual assistant who can take the responsibility to provide you with quality research material and prepare detailed reports for you can save up a lot of your productive work time.
Types of legal research
Naturally, since law is such a broad subject, the research that goes into understanding it, is categorized into many parts.
1. Descriptive -
The study of a situation where facts such as “what has happened” are the focus rather than the reasons that led up to the specific incident. Methods that are usually used in this kind of research include surveys, comparative and correlational studies among others.
Analytical legal research uses the facts and information that are already available for critical analysis. It focuses on the given facts and aims to reach an analysis that is accurate and proof-based. It provides clarity to the facts and details surrounding a law and makes it comprehensible for everyone.
Applied legal research, as the name suggests, aims to reach a solution in a practical and action-oriented way. It helps to find a solution to an important practical problem.
The central aim of this type of research is to find additional information to support the existing knowledge base of a particular subject.
This type of research is based on numerical data. It is the systematic use of quantifiable reports such as questionnaires, surveys, structured interviews and experiments.
It is based on the reasoning of various aspects of behavior. The researchers try to dig deep in order to find unique and qualitative aspects of a certain subject. Life histories, unstructured interviews and participant surveys are some of the means to gather qualitative data.
The research is conducted on concepts and theories that already exist in order to interpret or reinterpret them for better understanding.
This is also known as experimental research. The researcher uses experiments and observations as a method of his/her research, which is backed by data.
Legal research can be categorized into the above-mentioned types. However, research can also sometimes be a combination of two or more types based on the nature of a case or law that is under study. A researcher needs to keep an open approach while studying any matter and consider the changing dynamics of a case based on laws and evidences.
In order to practice and successfully find material for in-depth study and research, tools are available online that can be used for minimal or no cost. The internet not only makes multiple sources of information and data available but also affordable for professionals. In the past, paid research platforms were the only option, which made the cost of research a heavy but necessary expense for legal firms. The cost of legal research is no longer a major concern among legal firm owners as they constantly strive to improve the nitty-gritties within a subject.
Legal research tools
The digitization of legal data and resources along with the advancement of technology has helped in making legal research tools accessible and pocket-friendly. We have listed down a few names of search engines and databases that will help you navigate in the right direction while conducting legal research.
1. Fast Case
Fast Case is a legal research tool that allows you to access case laws, legislations, statutes, law review articles and rules. It also includes an effective search engine that allows you to quickly locate the information you need. It has one of the largest online law libraries. It has even integrated with Clio, which provides added features such as monitoring the time spent on research, keeping the research systematic, creating time entries and saving results.
2. Google Scholar
Google Scholar is a free legal research tool that can be used to discover cases, laws and other legal materials. You can enter your search terms into the search bar and Google Scholar will provide you a list of results. You can then use the advanced search options to narrow down your results. Google Scholar is an excellent option for legal research as it comes with a wealth of materials like cases from law reviews and other academic publications.
It provides information on specific cases and is also preferred if you need to read up on current legislations. Westlaw offers courses that enable users to use their database in the most effective way.
4. Case text and ROSS
This is a low-cost artificial intelligence-powered tool for legal research. It provides customized search results. It will list cases with the same facts, legal issues and jurisdiction as your research matter.
Apart from providing statutes, research case laws, codes, regulations and articles, it also provides you with the latest information on your specific practice areas/topics by mailing free newsletters.
6. Legal information institute
There are over 46 legal information institutes around the world which provide free accessible law cases, regulations, statutes which are relevant to that specific country.
7. Court listener
It is a great tool if you are in search for legal opinions from federal and state courts. It is sponsored by a non-profit free law project.
Alternate legal research tools
Apart from these popular websites and tools, there are other alternative sources to find information and help build your case. These are simple yet very resourceful methods to conduct a deep study of your desired subject.
This is one of the simplest approaches for finding information online. There are court documents and case laws that are often available for free. Legislators and courts sometimes publish their material in the form of PDF files.
Blogs serve as a great tool to keep you informed and updated on the latest trends and developments in the legal world. Regular journal and blog reading will always help you stay ahead in terms of your knowledge and research.
It is tailored for legal research but can be used to retrieve literature. It is a platform that helps you access free information such as legal documents, patents, opinions, journals, and articles.
Legal research software and tools can certainly enable us to find all kinds of information and data, which can support our research. However, it is the knowledge of available information (online and offline) that truly helps researchers create path-breaking reports, which help in strengthening the legal system and society at large. Understanding the importance of a strong foundation which is formed with the help of research and study in any case is imperative for its success.