Raaj S.



LAW-222: Advanced Legal Research Paul Lomio, Erica Wayne, Kate Wilko, George Wilson Winter 2008 Submitted May, 16, 2008

JUST RESEARCH By Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist Aspen Publishers, 2005

In Just Research, Laurel Currie Oates and Anne Enquist provide a comprehensive guide to free and fee-based legal research in print and electronic sources. The majority of the book explains how to research issues governed by statutes, regulations, rules, and common law—at the federal, state, and local levels—but the book also provides guidance on such practical matters as cite-checking, locating legal forms, compiling legislative histories, and researching judges. The coverage of local law and treatment of common law research are particularly valuable contributions. The authors are mindful of the costs of legal research and the use of free resources is a consistent theme. Features such as research exercises, screen shots, and practice pointers bring the research process to life and make it easier to grasp and master the strategies. The novel structure of the book makes it particularly valuable to law students and new legal researches: Oates and Enquist establish a simple, generic research plan and walk the reader through each step of that research plan for each type of legal issue. Thus, for a single legal issue, the reader does not need to “jump” around the book to locate instructions for each step. Just Research also departs from other legal research books by organizing and discussing sources and authorities in the context of the legal issues to which they are relevant (for example, case digests are described in the chapter on researching issues governed by common law), rather than focusing each chapter on a particular source.


Themes: Accessibility and Cost-Effectiveness Throughout the book, Oates and Enquist try to make the world of legal research less daunting and more accessible to the lay reader. The modern researcher will appreciate the book’s emphasis on electronic resources that are not obscure or complex. At several points, for example, the book directs the researcher to widely-used and widelyunderstood tools such as Google, and it then adds value by explaining how to maximize research results through advanced searching features. The book also demystifies the vital role played by West and Lexis Nexis in the case publication and annotation process by explaining the direct interaction between these companies and the courts (page 43) and makes sense of the various case reporters (page 45). Understanding the fundamental processes by which opinions are published and annotated builds a better understanding of the broader legal research process. These two examples are just a sample of how the book makes the research process accessible to a broader audience, rather than just those who are already familiar with the traditional but more complex resources, such as Westlaw or Lexis Nexis. Cost-awareness is another consistent theme throughout the book, and the authors succeed in explaining how and when to use free versus fee-based resources. This is particularly true of electronic searches, which are increasingly dominant. Although Westlaw and Lexis Nexis would be the easy and obvious candidates for electronic searches, the book often suggests free alternatives first (and when it does recommend Westlaw or Lexis Nexis, the authors attempt to explain when additional or more detailed searches will cost more money). The book recommends specific free sites for specific types of material—for example, advanced Google searches to find reliable sites for


background reading about a statute; Findlaw.com to find U.S. Supreme Court cases from 1893; and court websites to find local rules—and explains how to efficiently move between free and fee-based resources. Although it does a decent job, the book could introduce the reader to a wider variety of free websites, such as Justia.com and plol.org, since finding a free source can require searching multiple sites. At the same time, too much reliance on free resources can risk a time-consuming hunt for materials. However, the authors are cognizant of the time and cost tradeoffs, and their recommendations of free resources are within reason. The book thus teaches the reader how to leverage free sources in a way that does not expend too much additional time compared to the convenient one-stop shopping provided by fee-based services such as Westlaw and Lexis Nexis. For example, the book suggests the researcher explore free government websites to locate federal statutes and regulations, but it is more discriminating when it comes to finding cases that interpret those statutes. While you can find some cases on court websites or Findlaw.com, the book acknowledges that fee-based resources such as the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) and United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) are the most comprehensive and convenient. The book’s most helpful guidance with regard to saving time and money probably is when to conclude your research. With so much information available, it is all too easy for the researcher to feel that she has not been thorough or exhaustive, and the book offers some useful tips about when to call it quits (for example, when you are finding cases that you have already read, when you find a secondary source that is directly on point, or when you can altogether avoid a specific area such as administrative regulations that may have no bearing on the matter). While more precise guidance would be


welcome for the law student who is constantly uncertain that her research is sufficiently comprehensive, this may be an impossible request.

Notable Features Oates and Enquist employ a number of unique features and stylistic devices to bring the research process to life and make it easier to master. The book’s strength lies in continuously weaving these features and devices into the text. First, the research exercises at the end of each chapter enable the reader to walk through the process from start to end, actually work with the different sources that were discussed, and apply the lessons to practice. Mastering legal research involves internalizing the research processes and understanding the costs and benefits of a large number of sources. Given this volume of information, actually running the searches is essential. The exercises also are useful in teaching the reader how to segway from the research to writing process, for example, by documenting research and converting it into a memo outline (pages 58-59). The authors even warn against common pitfalls such as treating a research template as an exercise in “filling in the blanks” rather than a foundation for analysis of a client’s position (page 64). Second, the book effectively integrates screen shots of the different electronic resources—Google, Westlaw, Lexis Nexis, and Findlaw.com, to name a few—to guide readers through the electronic search process. Describing electronic searches in writing is a difficult task, so the use of screen shots is essential. The book similarly provides examples of some of the printed materials to which it refers, such as case digests.


Third, the book has a feature called “Practice Pointers” that provide a variety of tips about how to maximize the yield from specific resources. These pointers can be basic (and seemingly random) at times, but they become more sophisticated over the course of the book as the reader’s knowledge and mastery of the subject grows. Finally, the tables near the beginning of most chapters that summarize the best sources for each step of the research process are good review and quick-reference guides (see page 39 for an example).

Organization and Structure The book’s chapters can be divided into four main groups. The first group provides an introduction to legal research approaches and a brief overview of the American legal system. The second group addresses research strategies for legal issues governed by statutes/regulations, common law, constitutional issues, and rules. The third group of chapters examines how to cite-check and use citing references, and the fourth group addresses some of the everyday tasks involved in the practice of law. The second group of chapters constitutes the majority of the book. Of particular note is the combined treatment of statutes and regulations, coverage of local law, and discussion of how to research issues governed by common law. For most legal issues, the research plan is similar and consists of background reading, identifying primary authority, cite-checking cases, and locating additional cases and secondary sources, although the finding tools and sources will differ. Each of these chapters follows a parallel structure, describing the sources available at each step in the research plan and concluding with an exercise that takes the reader through the steps using a hypothetical


research question. As there is significant overlap and many questions and issues arise in more than one chapter, the authors do not shy away from repetition as a means of emphasizing particularly important points. For example, they state several times that headnotes and notes of decision cannot be cited in legal briefs or memos (see pages 44, 86, and 102). An emphasis on pragmatic research is evident throughout these chapters. For example, one of the main differences between researching federal and state issues is that federal research relies more heavily on electronic resources since most attorneys do not have access to print copies of federal materials. Accordingly, the chapter on federal statutes and regulations focuses almost entirely on electronic resources, while the chapter on state statutes and regulations gives additional attention to print resources. The chapter on researching local law may be the book’s most valuable contribution. Local law follows a slightly different research strategy that accommodates a more cost-conscious clientele: “because many cases involving county or city ordinances involve either small amounts of money or are brought by individuals with limited resources, you will often need to research issues involving ordinances quickly and inexpensively” (page 138). The authors propose a different research plan than that used for state and federal law, and they provide two versions of the plan: one for quick and inexpensive searches involving straightforward legal issues and another for more thorough searches involving complex legal questions. The book explains how a large amount of local issue research can be conducted online for free. For example, it directs the researcher to Findlaw.com and municode.com for city ordinances and to city websites for city charters. Nonetheless, the information will not always be available online—for


example city records and city council meeting minutes—and in these instances the researcher may need to pick up the telephone and contact the city directly. Nor will all the information be available for free, and there are situations where the researcher will have to default to a fee-based source like Westlaw. For example, there is no efficient way, aside from Westlaw or Lexis Nexis, to cite-check a case to determine if it is good law. After its treatment of state, federal, and local statutes and regulations, the book takes a brief but useful detour to cover legislative histories. Examining the legislative history of a bill is often a necessary component of statutory research. However, researching legislative histories can be rather expensive and should be done sparingly, particularly since their importance to judges is declining (page 159). Where it is necessary, Oates and Enquist advise examining the legislative history toward the end of the research process since the researcher will be more likely to stumble across a legislative history summary during the research process itself, saving both time and money. Once it establishes a degree of comfort with the research process across different types of legal issues, Oates and Enquist conclude with a review of some of the everyday tasks that confront a lawyer but that may be overlooked in books that focus on more traditional aspects of legal research. Understanding how to efficiently perform these tasks—be it cite-checking, finding legal forms for specific district courts, researching law firms and companies, finding criminal and other public records, or locating jury verdicts and jury instructions—can save an attorney time and money.


Weaknesses Although the book benefits from the strengths discussed above, there are some minor weaknesses that warrant a brief mention. First, the book does not give equal weight to Westlaw and Lexis Nexis in its illustrations of fee-based searches: there is a heavy preference for Westlaw. Second, Internet sites are constantly changing, which means screen shots can quickly become outdated and inaccurate. The screen shots of Westlaw, for example, reflect a slightly older version. Yet, this is an inherent risk that accompanies any attempt to explain through visual representations how to use electronic resources. Third, the book does not provide the degree of rich detail about particular sources that might be helpful to a more advanced legal researcher. Fourth, the book could do more with international sources, as this is an important area of growth, particularly in the age of the Internet. And fifth, as mentioned above, the book could introduce the reader to a greater variety of free websites, such as Justia.com and plol.org, since finding a free document can require searching multiple sites.

Audience Just Research will be of greatest value to first-year law students and new legal researchers because it provides an overview of the U.S. legal system, clarifies sources and citation formatting, and explains how to weigh different authorities. As discussed above, the authors try to demystify the world of legal research and present the material in a manner that is accessible to and digestible by the lay reader. The amount of coverage each resource receives in the book reflects the degree to which a researcher probably would use that resource (compare, for example, the book’s coverage of Findlaw.com and


Westlaw), and this itself is instructive. As noted above, the book will be of greater value to Westlaw rather than Lexis Nexis users. Although many parts of Just Research track nicely with material covered in an advanced legal research course—particularly the chapters on legislative histories and state and federal statutes and regulations—the level of detail about individual sources is much less rich than a book such as Where the Law Is. For example, Where the Law Is covers the ins and outs of the index, structure, and currency of the United States Code; Just Research provides only single-paragraph overviews of annotated and unannotated codes. Moreover, some of Just Research’s most valuable features—its coverage of electronic resources and free resources (which is particularly useful to law students who one day may lose their free access to Westlaw and Lexis Nexis) and its use of screen shots and research exercises as teaching aids—become redundant when combined with class lectures and demonstrations. Thus, for an advanced legal research class, a book such as Where the Law Is probably serves as a better supplement to class lectures and ultimately adds greater value. However, for a student that does not have access to class lectures and demonstrations but seeks a baseline level of comfort with legal research, Just Research is easier to read and digest.

Conclusion Just Research is a practical resource. You will not find groundbreaking analysis about why legal resources should be made more accessible to the public or how resources should be consolidated or streamlined. The book’s mission is to explain pragmatic


research strategies that will make the research process more effective and less costly, and it accomplishes this mission well. The book teaches how to navigate a vast web of resources and information seamlessly. It imparts a much-needed degree of order and logic into the seemingly chaotic universe of legal information and it makes the research process manageable by creating a simple research structure that can be applied across contexts with only minor variation. Most of all, this order and structure instills confidence in the researcher that they are not missing key pieces of information. The researcher can internalize a few basic lessons and feel confident that their searches will yield comprehensive results.


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