Attorneys today continue to use legal research on a daily basis. Thanks to it, we can better prepare our work, that is, advise our clients well, negotiate properly with the lawyers of the opposite party, and better persuade the judge.
This article discusses the importance of legal research in the legal profession and provides some practical advice for developing good legal research skills and improving our investigative skills.
You will realize the importance of legal investigation when a client seeks your help to modify a court decision regarding the custody of their children, to sue on their behalf for non-payment of rent, to file a criminal complaint for insult and defamation, to defend you from the imputation of a crime of business espionage, or to defend you in a consumer arbitration, among others.
Legal research will help you find, understand, and apply the law correctly. Conducting a good legal research will provide you with the foundation you need to proceed with confidence and achieve the best possible outcome for your client.
Despite the importance of legal research in day-to-day legal practice, it is often surprising how many law students (and sometimes lawyers themselves) seem to be uninterested in the subject. In fact, many experienced lawyers hire third-party legal research services because they find it a tedious task to perform. Perhaps it should not be surprising that legal research does not always have the appeal those other activities may have within our profession (client meetings, conference attendance, etc.).
Legal research also requires more practical work that rarely evokes the affection of law students. Many students have the misconception that legal research is easy. Whatever may be the reason for the initial lack of interest in legal research, it something changes when students start their practice in law firms or when young lawyers do their first job as interns. That’s because they are asked to investigate, over and over again.
In fact, most of the students at the Faculty and the young interns and ex-interns with whom we have spoken have carried out a lot of legal research-like bookworms-in their early stages of professional practice. Little by little, it is understood that this is a critical skill that jurists must necessarily acquire if they want to succeed in their work as lawyers.
What we can say from this rostrum is that the sooner you have a positive appreciation of the importance of legal research, the better it will be for you. Improvisation does not help. And the false appearances of having legal knowledge that is not, sooner or later will come to be discovered.
The legal investigation process basically contains the following phases:
Find or identify the correct law applicable to the case at hand in order to resolve it
Interpret the law Law enforcement
Taking these phases into account, here are 5 tips that can help you improve your legal investigation capabilities:
1) Expand your vision on legal research
Some law students and even lawyers have a narrow view of the investigation. For them, research is reduced to visiting payment portals managed by publishers and information found on Google. Good legal research, however, involves much more than accessing a digital research system or Internet portal; it is above all a process. Good legal research intertwines reading, analysis, understanding, and correct application. Although it is important to identify the applicable law for the case we have, one cannot really find the law until it is truly understood. A research system, whether digital or physical, will not be able to do that for you.
An attorney’s understanding and analysis of a matter often begins when he/she identifies the relevant facts and determines the main and accessory legal issues to investigate. This analysis continues and is refined as you decide where, how, and what exactly to look for. While accessing various legal materials to investigate (compendiums of legislation, comments on Talprudence, and articles of doctrine published in magazines or blogs, etc.), the lawyer should be concerned with understanding them and drawing own conclusions regarding how the selected law is applied to the facts of your specific matter. This preliminary investigation provides a crucial analytical basis that will justify your later decisions on the case when you look at things this way.
2) Take legal research seriously
If you really want to prepare to practice the law profession competently, you need to be committed to developing your investigative skills. If you are studying a law degree, do not disdain your legal research subjects. The more time you dedicate to these classes the more benefit you will get from them in the long term.
Taking research seriously also means being able to work on your skills and knowledge outside of a “structured” law class. The truth is that there is never enough time in a legal research class or in the daily practice of the profession to cover everything: the complexities of the areas of legal knowledge, the latest databases, etc. Your Bar Association is likely to offer training sessions to help you learn these things and to be more practical and quick in your information searches. But you won’t be able to attend all of them. In other words, you may not be able to cover everything you want.
However, the databases offered by some paid publishers as well as certain blogs, and the official information posted on the net, contain useful information to seriously start our research work.
Your legal library as the source of everything related to legal research is not only made up of books, blogs, and articles published on the Internet. You also have Twitter and certain pages for lawyers published on Facebook that allow jurists and law students to stay up-to-date on what’s new. We recommend that you keep a record (database) of all your sources of information: you will be surprised to be aware of the number of sources of legal knowledge that you currently have at your disposal in order to carry out adequate legal work.
3) Create digital alarms for official legal information that is published on the Internet
You should sign up for the email notifications sent daily by the Official State Gazette (BOE). You can also follow the Twitter account of the General Council of the Judiciary and the General Council of Lawyers. We also recommend downloading the CURIA application where you can find out the latest judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
This is official legal information that you have at your disposal for free and accessible, in practically real-time. A few years ago this was not possible.
4) Exercise in advanced legal research
If your faculty or bar association offers an advanced or specialized legal research course, take it! Even if you don’t like legal research. And more especially, take it if you are not good at legal research. It will help you improve.
Most, if not all, advanced legal research classes are taught by expert librarians of law and by expert researchers who are familiar with the latest legal resources. They can teach you a lot about the legal investigation process and generally offer the necessary advice.
If you want to become a good researcher you will have to do a lot of research. If you don’t practice research now, you will have to do it sooner or later in your daily work. Get ready and enjoy it.
5) Learn from the best
Read what renowned law professors in the field of legal research write in specialized journals. Consult the opinions of the Council of State that are published in the BOE. Check the Reports of the Legal Commission of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers. In these sources of legal knowledge, you will find top quality legal information.
Attend talks and forums where there is real legal debate and you can learn, in addition to adding value to the group with your interventions.
The truth is that- we like it or not- legal research is a critical and essential part of our profession. Don’t underestimate its importance.
Undoubtedly, legal research is an imperative part of the legal trial preparation process. One must prepare a learning mindset first in order to enhance his legal research skills. The above-mentioned tips will surely help you in exploring new legal research options and expanding your knowledge and capability in finding important and relevant knowledge more effectively and in less time.