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Basic Legal Research Tips

General tips for starting your research and determining when it's okay to stop researching

3) Research the Problem Itself

  • Approach the problem in the order it makes sense to you given what you know and need to find out.
    • There is no single “right” way to begin, so choose an approach that feels best for you.

 Types of Authority


 Primary (Can be binding)






 Secondary (Can only be  persuasive)


 Commentaries e.g. Law    Reviews

 Background Materials  e.g. Records and Briefs











  • Free online resources, and often a simple Google search, can be a good place to get some background on the issues and possible leads on what to research.
  • Take advantage of secondary sources to fill in the gaps in your understanding of the legal issues in the problem and use them as a guide to primary authorities.
    • You may find the complete answer right in a secondary source!
  • Be sure to look at all primary authorities that can be relevant.
    • Look at the statutes and regulations mentioned in cases
    • Look for regulations that may be related to the statutes you find, if agencies/administrative law are relevant to your problem.
  • Return to the requester for clarification, to ask questions, or to find out additional facts when needed.
  • Make sure you are answering the question asked of you.
    • Research can lead you in many directions, so be sure that in the end you answer the question.

4) Update and Validate

  • How do you know you have the latest information?
    • While online information is often more up-to-date than print, it may need updating as well.
  • With statutes and regulations, check when the database you are looking at was most recently updated.
  • You need to check for any statutory or regulation changes relevant to your problem that have occurred since the database was last updated.
    • Citator Services
  • Use KeyCite and Shepard's to verify case, statute, and regulation validity.
  • It is still important to check when the underlying database was last updated.