Any form of legal writing will typically have the primary goal of describing the current laws and court holdings surrounding specific questions of law.
Because these laws and court holdings are continuously evolving, though, accurate and precise legal writing cannot begin without up-to-date research.
Spot The Questions of Law and Fact
In order to find relevant legal rules, your first step in any legal research will be to determine what issues are involved; in order to point your research and analysis in the right direction. See our articles on Issue Spotting and Questions of Law v Questions of Fact.
Questions of Fact
While you will primarily be focused on the questions of law, do not neglect the questions of fact. Questions of fact can only be answered by the trier of fact (either a judge or jury) and thus are unpredictable, but your analysis should point out the issues hinge upon questions of fact and the possible outcomes.
Questions of Law
If you are asked to conduct legal research for an employer or professor, the legal issues will likely be requested specifically. But if you are starting from the ground up, for an assignment or case, you will have the task of determining what issues are involved.
Even in a situation where you are assigned specific issues to research, remain observant for ancillary issues that might affect the primary issues. For example, look for justifiable defenses when researching criminal charges.
Tips for Issue Spotting
If you are having a hard time spotting the issues, you can use the relevant facts to find laws and cases that revolved around similar facts.
Many legal research tools, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis, provide a search engine with which you can discover sources that discuss similar fact patterns to yours.
If for example, imagine that your fact pattern involves a divorce with one spouse seeking reimbursement for support provided while other spouse earned a degree. A quick search will bring up cases involving the issue of reimbursement alimony, thus providing you with one possible questions of law involved in your present research.
Research The Questions of Law
Once you have spotted at least one questions of law, you can begin your research. Use your best available legal resources to gather as many persuasive references from statutes and case law, as well as any less persuasive sources that may be more relevant to your particular set of facts.
Make a list of your sources with notes regarding how those sources are related to and affect your question of law. Now you are ready to outline your research.
Outline Your Research
A good outline of relevant issues will help you spot holes in your research as well as provide a basic outline of your finished product; the IRAC method is a decent way to organize your outline.
Start your outline by separating all questions of law into separate subheadings. Under each issue, state the relevant facts, applicable rules (with quotes or paraphrasing), and a tentative result of this question of law.
You should note any holes or strained logic and perform more research to find additional sources that support the logic, even if less persuasive.
Proceed to Write
Once you have completed your research, it is time to apply the rules to the facts at hand. During this stage you may notice even more legal issues or weak logic and will need to research even more.
As you can see, the research stage of writing never really ends, but the process is more efficient , effective, and easy if thorough research is performed immediately.