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A Law Clerk Student’s Guide to Legal Research

By March 25, 2022April 21st, 2022No Comments
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Are you cruising through a law clerk program or looking to study law in Canada? Law programs and law clerk courses vary in some content and the styles of program delivery, but no matter where you choose to study, you’ll be required to intimately understand and conduct legal research. All courts have a set expectation for the legal research that will be conducted and presented. As a law clerk, working under the direction of a lawyer, you will likely help prepare documents for court or presenting cases. How you do this can give the solicitor you work for the competitive advantage and could empower you to advance your career. Legal research may not be glamourous, it may even be arduous at times, but it is necessary and doing it well can make your grades and your career.

Your Student Guide to Effective Legal Research


Understand the Significance of Legal Research

Legal research is the process by which you identify and find laws that apply to the facts of the case the lawyer you work for is representing. This could include statues, regulations, court opinions. The purpose of legal research is often to find support for a specific legal issue or decision. In some cases, this is to provide clients with accurate guidance, in others it is used to position a case in court before a judge, to name just a few purposes. As a student and law clerk, you may need it to support memos and/or briefs as well.

Regardless of how it is applied, effectively researching is the difference between a strong or weak foundation for a position or case you’re attempting to support. Conduct solid and comprehensive research and those you work with are more likely to recognize your value. And this is terrific for feeling a sense of pride in a job well done and perhaps even job advancement.

Recognize that your path in legal research will need to adapt and change based on the needs, and where your research takes you, but here are some steps that you’ll want to consider along the way.

Effectively Conducting Legal Research Includes:

  • Understanding the Scope of the Question – be sure you are clear on the type of research that is being requested, the legal question or issue you are being asked to look into. Identify parties and learn as much as you can about them. Review the events of the case, including location, timeframe and put all the details in a logical order. Organize the details so that you have a keen understanding of the research that will need to be conducted.
  • Identifying the Terms Relevant to Your Search – use secondary sources like legal periodicals, encyclopedias. Start with a broad list of terms and narrow down the search based on what you learn. The more specific, the more relevant what you discover may become.
  • Searching for a Statue That Fits the Case – Search relevant key words within databases. You may not always find a statute that fits, but if you can it could significantly support your research process.
  • Confirming That Your Authority is Still Good Law – this can be done using Westlaw Case Analysis, Lexis Case Search or a print citator to check that the cases you’re considering using are still good law and provide current and direct authority for your set of facts.
  • Understanding the Precedent in Your Jurisdiction – be aware of the geographical location where the issue will be reviewed and resolved.
  • Using Online Sources to Fill in Gaps in Your Research – this could include free resources such as Google Scholar, blogs, policy websites, government legislation websites etc…
  • Keeping a Record of Your Research Trail – make sure you write down all the sources you reviewed, including publication name, page numbers, links to content, whether you located materials you’ll use or not. You never know when you may want to go back and review the information or ensure that you aren’t retracing your research steps.

This is the just the beginning, and as a student what you really need to ensure you’re on track and learning the steps for successful legal research is an industry expert to teach you the process and pitfalls to look out for. Conducting research effectively can be challenging but with this guide as a beginning and connecting with a law college in Canada that supports your educational and professional goals, you can master your abilities and forge on to a rewarding career.

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