When talking about legal research, we generally think about the process of finding an answer to a legal question or checking for legal precedent that can be cited in an argument and potentially help one to get a faster settlement. Almost every lawsuit, be it, criminal or civil case, requires some legal research. We reached out to Soumya Shekhar, an expert for legal research to learn more about how lawyers can conduct legal research and use it to win.
How can one conduct effective legal research and what are the necessary skills?
Legal research simply put is an art of filtering the relevant from the irrelevant. It comprises of the following steps:
- Understanding the given topic or the research question: For this purpose, one must do a preliminary reading in and around the research question and break it into further sub-topics.
- Research around each of the sub-topics and come up with a basic structure.
- Analysis: Analyse each of the sub-topics, ask yourself questions around them. Read every article, opinion piece, case law with an aim to question rather than an aim to gather information.
- Come up with innovative points and merge them with existing viewpoint on the issue.
- Start writing: Legal writing should not be a compendium of facts but a presentation of ideas.
- Question your writing. Critique it, to further refine your ideas and arguments.
The basic skills required to master the art of legal research are the habit of reading extensively, having an analytical mindset while reading and questioning everything. One should get into the habit of thinking when researching rather than just gathering information.
How is it possible for a solo practitioner or a small law firm to conduct legal research very quickly each day?
Planning is the key to conduct legal research in a quick and effective manner. One should first understand what they are looking for. Read through materials and highlight or make notes of the points which they think are useful. Further research these points and come up with a basic framework. For solo practitioners, sticking to the time may become difficult. In order to overcome such obstacles, deadlines for each component of research should be set and the aim should be to finish the task within the given deadline.
What are some legal research best practices and how can you get started?
One of the best ways to begin your research is to read the research topic or research question at least thrice. Break it into various components. Understand what it aims at. Read extensively on the given topic and frame sub-points. Create an outline based on these sub-points. Such an approach will provide a structure to your research. Legal research can be a cumbersome and tedious process. People often end up wasting their time in reading things which are not relevant to their issue of research. Hence, it is essential to plan your research. Create a framework and work accordingly. Spend more time on thinking about what you read than in assimilating the facts. Remember, research is not fact-collection but a process of analyzing the information gathered and applying it in such a way that it helps you in answering your research question.
How does efficient legal research provide a better service for clients ?
Clients come to lawyers because they want impeccable solutions to their problems. Such solutions can only be achieved if the legal research around the advice provided, is error-free, crisp and effective. Clients also flock to lawyers who provide them with innovative solutions. If your legal research is such, that it enables you to come up with novel solutions, you will be quick to develop a positive reputation. Efficient legal research involves not only telling the clients what exists but also what can or cannot be done. Such comprehensive advice can only be built on a strong foundation of holistic legal research.
How do you use technology to improve legal research? Do you use specific tools?
In today’s tech-savvy world, using technology to improve legal research has become a must. There are myriad online legal research platforms which can be used to quickly access the information which one is looking for. I use Lexis Nexis, WestLaw and HeinOnline extensively to make my life easier. However, technology can help you gain quick access to facts, but their analysis and sieving the relevant from irrelevant is up to you. Hence, over-dependence on technology should also not be used as a substitute for effective legal research.
How can attorneys outsource their legal research needs?
Legal research is an integral part of law practice. However, attorneys do not always have a lot of time to engage in legal research full-time. Hence, outsourcing legal research helps them in saving time as well as costs. There are various platforms available these days which connect attorneys with other attorneys or attorneys with freelance professionals. By making use of such platforms, one can find an expert in legal research and outsource their work.
Soumya Shekhar is an independent legal research consultant who delivers legal research solutions, knowledge management and legal research and writing services to law firms and legal startups. She was engaged as a research lead in World Health Organisation’s Road Safety Project. She also acts as an external Knowledge Management and research consultant to some of the top law firms in India.