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Needless to say, legal research requires a lot more concentration and diligence than other types of research due to the different conclusions that are possible with minor tweaking. What's more, since there's a lot more material that you need to go through when it comes to legal research, you need to be absolutely certain that your sources are not only credible and authoritative, but also relevant to the problem at hand. Another common problem that researchers and people interested in legal issues encounter is that of contradictory information available online. Additionally, in most cases, credible information online comes with a literal price to pay. What this means is that most online platforms that contain credible legal information expect you to pay a fee to be granted access or authority to view the content.
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For many of us, even lawyers, it is hard to believe that there are still law libraries out there. In fact, they are highly useful and in most cases allow you to do research free of charge. So here is my first piece of advice: ask a librarian before wasting time searching through a library yourself - In the past, to do research, a law student would head over to the law library and ask a Librarian for help. Today, that might strike many lawyers as, well, outdated. The fact is that librarians know the library better than anybody, and if you are looking for something specific, a simple question to a librarian may save you hours of wasted time.
While there are certain common and extremely popular steps that are generally followed by anyone who wishes to conduct legal research, it's important to note that these steps may or may not be followed in a sequential fashion for each scenario. This essentially means that while certain scenarios may require you to follow the steps listed below in the exact order, you may choose to play around for other cases – and that will not affect the results of your research.
Before you start conducting legal research, it's important for you to know that you will be expected to revisit certain sources of information for increased clarity. What's more, you might even be expected to check certain sources of information a number of times due to exceptions. Even in the case of exceptions, you will have to double-check whether the conditions of the exception apply to your particular case, and if there is any way that the exception can be worked around for your particular scenario.
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The number one reason why people are unable to conduct thorough research is the fact that they do not pay enough attention to the initial phase of the process. It goes without saying that identifying the problem and its scope is of key importance when you're interested in conducting legal research as doing so will essentially set the precedent and give you an idea of how thorough your research must be.
Once you have done your fair share of research through secondary sources, it will be far easier for you to identify relevant statutes that will help you in gaining the information that you need for your legal research of a particular scope, question, or scenario. By identifying relevant statutes, you can get into greater detail and start browsing through to find other sections that may be relevant or could potentially add value to your legal research.
*** K Todd Wallace is an attorney and founding partner of the law firm Wallace Meyaski, LLC, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has nearly 20 years of experience in the legal and business professions with established excellence in trial advocacy, negotiation, strategic and initiative planning, employment law compliance, government relations, mergers and acquisitions, and team building.
Wallace Meyaski Law Firm
Todd Wallace, Esq., New Orleans, LA
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