Legal Research in 4 Steps
STEP 1: Read carefully, assess what you know and don't know, note jurisdiction, issues, primary law, brainstorm key issues, keywords, synonyms and phrases to search, and areas of law.
Carefully and thoroughly go over the facts of your situation. Ask: who, what, where, when?
Create your Question Presented or Thesis Statement from the answers to your factual questions.
STEP 2: USE SECONDARY SOURCES TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR ISSUE
American Law Reports: ALR articles, called annotations, provide background, analysis, and citations to relevant cases, statutes, law review articles, and other annotations.
Treatises--books on legal topics--are a good place to begin your research or find an answer to a question, and will help you save time by providing explanation, analysis, and tips on the most relevant primary sources. Some examples include Practice Guides: Continuing Education for the Bar (CEB), found on OnLaw, and The Rutter Group (TRG) Practice Guides, found on Westlaw. Other resources include Nutshell series, Hornbooks, and Nolo Press publications.
Law review or journal articles are valuable for the depth in which they analyze and critique legal topics, as well as their extensive references to other sources, including primary sources.
Remember: Secondary sources are NOT the law itself; they can be used to persuade, educate and provide context when making a legal argument, but you must always provide PRIMARY LAW sources: Cases, Regulations, Statutes, or Constitutions.
STEP 3: FIND PRIMARY AUTHORITY - Use secondary sources to find primary sources. (If no direct primary sources exist for your problem, use persuasive authority, i.e. other jurisdictions)
STEP 4: UPDATE & ANALYZE YOUR PRIMARY SOURCES
READ the law, whether it be a case, regulation, statute, etc.
Put it all together and you’re done!