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If you’re a lawyer or a law student, no one has to tell you how complicated and nuanced the law can be. No matter what kind of law you’re practicing or studying, there is almost always a precedent for your current case, and it’s important that you find out exactly what it is before proceeding.
That’s going to take a little research, and there are many ways to approach the research you’ll need to do for any case. The first step is to identify exactly what issue you’re tackling, and then find the leading case related to that issue.
Since the law changes all the time, even a recently made decision in the Supreme Court of Canada could be irrelevant to your case. There also might be conflicting decisions in your jurisdiction related to the issue you’re facing, and that could mean you need to go outside of your jurisdiction to find the answer.
If you’re just in law school, you might not have realized the importance of having solid research skills. When you become a lawyer, you won’t impress your supervisors or your clients if you have to spend hours digging through databases. So start honing these skills now and keep learning about new areas of the law.
If you know how to focus in on exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to save yourself lots of time down the road by avoiding all the information you don’t need. Probably the most important thing you’ll learn about research in law school is that it takes time.
That said, when you’re new to the law, the worst thing you can do is take an overly logistical approach to your research. There really isn’t a list of boxes to check off, and there isn’t an easy route to take. You need to be extremely well acquainted with every source you might need and exactly where you might find them. You’ll need a solid strategy to figure out which source is going to help you the most, and you have to be prepared to be flexible, possibly switching between sources as you go.
The best researchers know that once you’re done your research, you might need to go back and do it again (as frustrating as that might sound). The approach you took might no longer be helpful, and if it didn’t turn out the results you wanted the first time, it’s probably wise to take a different approach this time. You need to always be thinking about your methodology and learning from the roadblocks you hit last time.
It’s your duty as a lawyer both to the courts and to your client to give it your all when it comes to preparing for a case. You’ll find that neglecting research can become seriously problematic. You might lose touch with your area of practice and you won’t be able to properly advise your clients on the relevant law. To be a great lawyer is to be a great researcher.