Integrated Research Strategy

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Preliminary Matters

  • When is the deadline? (How much time should I spend on this?)
  • What is the format? (For example, a list of cases, the cases themselves, an oral report on the leading cases or likely outcome, a memo or a memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment?)
  • Is there an account or client matter number to bill this to?
  • Are there resource constraints? For example, can I use Lexis or Westlaw and how are they billed?
  • Who should I contact if I have more questions (name, phone number, e-mail in case you are at the library and need to reach someone from there).
  • Are there any suggested starting points? For example, is there work product you can draw on or has a colleague researched this area before?
  • Other contacts: Westlaw, Lexis customer service or the Reference Librarians.
  • Do I understand what it is I am being asked to research? Ask questions up front.
  • Do I have a system for how I am going to take notes/organize my research results?

Step 1: Preliminary Analysis

  • State or Federal law?
  • What is my jurisdiction? (Review Mandatory vs. Persuasive authorities)
  • Do I know in general what my topic of law is?
  • Can I frame the issue(s)? If there are multiple issues, can I order them in terms of which I need to research first?
  • What are the keywords or search terms that I will use? What are the key facts?
  • Can I write down a checklist of sources I plan to use so I don't forget any? (i.e. first: Florida Jurisprudence; second: Florida Statutes Annotated)

Step 2: Secondary Sources

  • If I know little or next to nothing about this topic - Try a broad source like a legal encyclopedia, a Nutshell, a single volume treatise or an article with a broad focus.
  • If I know something about this topic but need to focus in on an issue - Try an article with a specific focus, a multi-volume treatise or a CLE publication for a practical approach.
  • If I need background on a very recent development, for example a new statute, a new Restatement of Law etc. - check law reviews, bar journal articles, legal newsletters, etc.
  • If I have a good grasp of the issues and some key terminology then skip Step 2 - go to Step 3.

Step 3: Statutes

Statutory issues - Remember, take one issue at a time.

  • Start with the statutes not the cases. Statutes usually take precedence. Use keyword searching.
  • Update the statute.
  • If the statute is ambiguous, then find cases that interpret the statute. - Use an annotated statutory code, i.e. Florida Statutes Annotated.
  • If need be, revise your issues, look again at the facts, incorporate new search terms.
  • If you need to understand the statute or statutory scheme better and the case law that applies, try KeyCiting or Shepardizing the statute to find secondary sources that explain it to you or use the Table of Laws and Rules in a secondary source such as American Jurisprudence.
  • Now is a good time to find any regulations that go with the statute.

Step 4: Cases

I. Mandatory Case Precedent: The One Good Case Method

  • If a statute applied you would already have found cases through the annotated statutory code. If you started with secondary sources you would also have some cases to start with.
  • If you have those cases - read them now.
  • Use the West Topic and Key Numbers or Lexis' Core Concepts from those cases to find more cases, OR ...

  • KeyCite or Shepardize those cases to find more recent cases.

  • Order your case results according to those that constitute mandatory authority, from highest court to lowest courts.
  • Take notes on why you chose the cases you chose, i.e. because they explain the general rule, because they denote an exception to the rule, because the holding on the law is favorable although the facts are different, etc.

  • Tip: If there are too many cases, look for the ones that most closely match your search on the law primarily and secondarily, on the facts. (No perfect case)

  • KeyCite or Shepardize those cases to make sure they are still good law.

II. Mandatory Authority: The Fresh Start

  • You have no cases to start with but you know what you are looking for including the key facts, the topic and some key terms. - Begin case research using a West Digest (Topic and Key Numbers) or go online.
  • Read the cases. Look at the authorities cited within those cases. You may have enough now and can proceed to D.
  • If you want to try other methods to increase your chance that you have found all relevant cases, then try these methods: Use the West Topic and Key Numbers or Lexis' Core Concepts from cases you found to find more cases, OR ...

  • KeyCite or Shepardize those cases to find more recent cases.

  • Order your case results according to those that constitute mandatory authority, from highest court to lowest courts.
  • Take notes on why you chose the cases you chose, i.e. because they explain the general rule, because they denote an exception to the rule, because the holding on the law is favorable although the facts are different, etc.

  • Tip: If there are too many cases, look for the ones that most closely match your search on the law primarily and secondarily, on the facts. (No perfect case)

  • KeyCite or Shepardize those cases to make sure they are still good law.

  • Tip: Remember if you need to you can always KeyCite or Shepardize cases you found to quickly find secondary sources that explain the law.

III. Persuasive Authority

  • If you did not find any relevant mandatory authority, now is when to start looking for persuasive authority.
  • Look to case decisions from outside your jurisdiction that could be cited as persuasive though not binding precedent. If it is an issue of Federal law, look to District Court cases from other states within the same Federal Circuit or secondarily from judicially important jurisdictions like the 2nd Circuit or the 9th Circuit Courts of Appeals. If it is a State law issue, look to the Federal Courts that have interpreted your states laws first, and secondarily to other states with similar legal doctrines. If it is an issue of first impression in your state, then look to other large influential states like New York or California to make a persuasive argument. If it is a state statutory issue, look at West's Uniform Laws Annotated (ULA). That set includes the Directory of Uniform Acts drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and leads you to statutes enacted by other states similar to your own and the cases decided under those statutes.
  • Read the cases. Look at the authorities within those cases. You may have enough now and can proceed to E.
  • If you want to try other methods to increase your chance that you have found all relevant cases, then try these methods: Use the West Topic and Key Numbers or Lexis' Core Concepts from cases you found to find more cases ... OR

  • KeyCite or Shepardize those cases to find more recent cases.

  • Order your case results according to those that constitute the most persuasive authority to the least.
  • Take notes on why you chose the cases you chose, i.e. because they explain the general rule, because they denote an exception to the rule, because the holding on the law is favorable although the facts are different, etc.
  • KeyCite or Shepardize those cases to make sure they are still good law.

Tip: Rarely should you resort to citing secondary sources as persuasive authority. Never use secondary sources alone in making an argument. The Restatements of Law and some leading treatises may be used to buttress an argument.

Troubleshooting

  • Did you frame the issue(s) correctly?
  • Did you lose your focus on the issues/facts?
  • Were you expecting the perfect case that never came along? Try analogizing to other factual situations or arguing legal theories from cases that had never been applied to your factual situation before.
  • Go back to secondary sources for ideas or clarification.

When is my Research Complete?

  • When new cases are citing back to cases and statutes you already found, you know your research has been pretty comprehensive.
  • When you feel the issues have been answered and you understand your answers.
  • When you experience the law of diminishing returns i.e. newer cases or secondary sources are not bringing out issues you have not already addressed.
  • When you run out of time. (Remember to budget time for writing) Scramble to answer the major issues first using a secondary source if you have run out of time. Just make sure the sources are still good law. (Always update no matter what!)
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