Case Law Research Assignment Example

There are countless ways to stylistically complete an academic essay.  Here are some examples of how students have successfully done so, while maintaining proper academic structure.

Introduction

A proper introduction should:

  • Introduce main arguments
  • Have an attention grabbing first sentence 
  • Provide concise information about broader significance of topic
  • Lead in to the body of the essay
 

Here are three examples of introduction paragraphs.  They have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers. For a close reading of the examples, click the images below.

 

Example 1Example 2Example 3

 

The Body

The body of your essay should:

  • Address one idea per paragraph
  • Support arguments with scholarly references or evidence
  • Contextualise any case studies or examples 

Style

  • Use correct punctuation and proofread your work
  • Keep writing impersonal (do not use 'I', 'we', 'me')
  • Be concise and simple 
  • Be confident ("The evidence suggests..." rather than "this could be because...")
  • Connect paragraphs so they flow and are logical
  • Introduce primary and secondary sources appropriately
  • Avoid using too many quotations or using quotes that are too long
  • Do not use contractions (you’re, they’d)
  • Do not use emotive language ("the horrific and extremely sad scene is evidence of...")

This example illustrates how to keep an essay succinct and focused, by taking the time to define the topic:

Defining a topic

The following paragraphs demonstrate how to engage with a variety of scholarly material including primary sources, scholarly theories and formal statistics:

Introducing sources

Lastly, this paragraph illustrates how to engage with opposing arguments and refute them:

Conclusion

A proper conclusion should:
  • Sum up arguments
  • Provide relevance to overall topic and unit themes
  • Not introduce new ideas 
Here are two examples of conclusion paragraphs which have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers.

Example 1                                                           Example 2

 

You may have heard or read the phrase "legal research process" before. This phrase refers to the steps undertaken by a legal researcher in order to meet their research objective. While a singular phrase, legal research process, is often used to talk about research activities, there is no one process that is uniformly best every time for every problem. There are, however, certain steps every researcher should employ along the way. The order of these steps--or even the inclusion of a step--may vary depending on a variety of factors including how much you know before you start and the scope of the project.

Below you will find the typical steps a legal researcher moves through as part of the research process. Remember, legal research is not linear. This means that, while these steps provide a solid path for approaching any legal research problem, the actual steps taken--or value of a given step--will vary.

For example, if you are an experienced personal injury attorney researching in an area of law you know well you may spend less time on the beginning steps than a novice researcher.

PLAN AND ORGANIZE YOUR RESEARCH

The first step for any researcher should be to plan out your path. This step, though often the most overlooked, is one of the most valuable. Spending just a little time on planning can be the key to efficient and effective research results.

  • "Untangle" the problem:

Your research problem will often start as a cumbersome memo from a senior attorney or result from a mass of notes scribbled during a client interview. It is important to begin by reviewing what information you have and separating out the parts. Who are the players? What is the jurisdiction? Which details are superfluous? Which details are operative facts? And, most importantly, what is the issue (or issues) you need to research?

At this stage it is also important to make sure you understand the scope of what you are being asked to do, the desired work product (deliverable), and any relevant time or money limitations.

  • Identify key knowledge gaps:

Once the research problem has been broken into parts and the key issues have been identified, a broader picture will emerge. At this stage a legal researcher must identify their own knowledge gaps. Take note of broad themes, key terms, and basic background areas you will need to explore.

It is not enough to simply think about what you will do--you need to keep a written plan. Keeping a written plan will help you use your time efficiently. A research plan will identify where you need to go and what you need to gather, as well as keep track of where you have been. It is easy to forget a step when you do not have a guide to reference along the way. Look to the left-hand column of this page for more information about making a research plan.

As you move through the preliminary stage of your plan be sure to keep notes, and continue to take notes along the way. Some researchers like to keep a formal log. Others like to jot down comments on the sources they find. Using digital organization opportunities, such as the foldering system on WestlawNext or digital workspace platforms like Evernote, can be another way to keep track of and annotate your project. There is no right way to keep track of your research. It is important though that whatever method you use your notes are organized, detailed, and complete. It is likely you will need to refer back to them many times.

USE COMMENTARY TO DEFINE & UNDERSTAND ISSUES

When attacking a research problem, begin with building on what you already know about the problem and its area of law. Identify the gaps in your knowledge base and try to bridge them with background reading. Secondary sources can be a helpful review or a great starting place if you are unfamiliar with the subject.

Secondary authorities will help you flesh out the steps above and fill in any holes. Background reading should help you confirm the appropriate jurisdiction for your legal issue, whether state or federal law applies, and identify the types of authority involved (i.e. whether the issues are governed by case law, statutory law, administrative law or a combination.)

Secondary sources will also help you identify any “terms of art” specific to this area of law. These terms will help you refine your search queries. Additionally, secondary sources will often cite directly to governing statutes and regulations and cite to key case law. This makes them an ideal starting point for searching for primary law.

FIND RELEVANT LAW IN YOUR JURISDICTION (cases, statutes, regulations)

Secondary resources are the best place to start, but to answer your legal question you will need to find the relevant primary authority. There are two primary was to access legal materials:

  • Using finding tools (intermediation)

Remember there are a whole host of tools which can assist you in your research. If you discovered a citation during your background reading you can use these tools to turn that citation into a jumping off point. Likewise, if your prior reading revealed a term of art important to your topic try using an index or the topic and key number system to get started.

  • Searching and evaluating results

After working with the finding tools you may still need to conduct some traditional searching in one of the legal databases. Keep in mind the value of controlling your search results with boolean searching and search filters.

Look back on our prior lessons for a refresher on the best practices for finding legal authority.

RESTATE & REFINE

As your research progresses you will likely come across new terms, or even new issues. It is important to take time throughout the research process to assess what you have done so far. Did you miss anything after you became familiar with the area of law? Does your issue statement need to be refined? Do you have new sub-issues which you must address?

CONSIDER LAW OF OTHER JURISDICTIONS

If after your reassessment you are not finding enough primary authority to answer your question it may be time to consider law outside your jurisdiction. If you have not been tracking this all along, go back and rerun some of your searches with a broader scope in mind.

UPDATE & VERIFY

It is always important to make sure the law you are using is good law. It is considered professional incompetence to fail to accurately verify the status of a precedent.

You may have been checking this as you uncovered sources. If your research is being done in small time window, for example, a day, this is likely sufficient. If you are working on a project over several days or weeks, it is imperative that you take a moment when finished to ensure nothing has changed since you started the project.

Remember, law is a living thing and constantly changing.

WHEN TO STOP

Knowing when to stop is one of the toughest research skills to master. Unit 10: Putting it all Together will discuss this in greater detail.

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