Legal Nurse Consulting News: Legal Research
Monday, September 10, 2007
The term ?Legal Research? may give many people a bad taste in their mouths at the mere mention of it. This process, however, is very important to anyone that must retrieve documents that contain legal information. Knowing the proper techniques of legal research can save law firms, students, legal nurse consultants, and others valuable time while ensuring that a quality work or student product is produced.Simply put, legal research involves identifying and retrieving information that is necessary to support legal decision making. For anyone familiar with the nursing process, the steps are similar. The steps of legal research include identifying and analyzing a problem and conclude with the application and the communication of the results of the process. As technology advances, legal research has become increasingly electronic in nature, but the process itself remains essentially the same.Many types of legal authorities exist. Of the most importance to legal research, however, are primary and secondary legal authorities. Primary authority refers to actual legal documents and texts such as statutes, constitutions, and regulations. Secondary authorities describe the primary authorities. The process of legal research involves investigation into one or both of these types of authorities. While the process of legal research may vary a bit from person to person, the basic steps remain the same. A strategy should be followed by the researcher in order to ensure that no information is missed and that the final product is the result of a thorough investigation. A sample strategy should begin with identifying the problem or issue. What exactly is the case or issue about and what legal issues will require research? Effective research cannot be conducted if the issue that must be researched is not completely understood. The next step in the legal research process is to brainstorm search terms. For instance, if the case concerns abortion, what other terms may be used to research this topic and are also synonyms of abortion? For example, the terms ?termination of pregnancy? and ?elective miscarriage? may be terms used as synonyms of abortion. Jurisdiction and time frame of the issue must also be determined. What laws govern the when and the where of the issue? The types of information sources must next be decided on. Will the researcher use electronic sources? Many legal databases are online now to include Westlaw and LexisNexis. Some are free but some charge a fee for the user to access the database. Does the researcher have access to a law library with volumes of books to peruse? Secondary sources should be researched first, followed by primary sources. This will help the researcher to understand the primary authorities more completely when the time comes to read them. Other materials such as ethical materials and other non-legal materials may also have to be referenced. The steps may have to be repeated as necessary if the results of the legal research do not reveal the required or necessary information. Many legal research textbooks exist to assist the novice researcher with various techniques to increase the proficiency of research skills. Another tip that may assist researchers is to find someone to assist with the research process. For instance, a librarian may be of assistance. The Internet may also be an excellent source of information regarding the legal research process. Performing Web searches with search engines such as Google or Yahoo may identify multiple avenues for the researcher to follow. Gone are the days when one must search volume after volume in a library for one legal source. The Internet has brought an endless stream of information to all who wish to access it. One must take care to ensure that all information gathered is from a reliable and trusted source, but, if utilized properly, the Internet can be an extremely valuable source of information. The United States Government boasts three branches. These three branches include the Judicial branch, the Legislative branch, and the Executive branch. Each of these three branches of government contain various sources and topics for legal research. The Judicial branch of government is the court system. Researchers who wish to investigate current cases in trial or mediation may need to find a previous court case in order to find more information that will help explain a specific case. Many levels of courts exist, and not all of the opinions of each of these courts are published. An excellent resource for researchers is the Supreme Court and its decisions. The cases for the Supreme Court and other courts may often be found on the Internet using modern technology and effective search criteria. Of course, texts may also be good source for older court decisions as well. Cases may be found using various search terms such as criminal or tort cases. It may be quite difficult to find a particular case if specific search criteria is not known. Also, when a case is found care must be taken to make sure that it was not overturned at some later date by a higher court. The Legislative branch of the government includes all laws and statutes. These laws and statutes, like court cases, may be found in text and, increasingly, on the Web. Texts also exist such as the United States Code which may help the researcher find specific laws related to specific cases. The Library of Congress provides access to many legislative documents as well. Local governments? laws are actually more difficult to find in this instance than federal and state laws. More extensive searching may be required for local statutes as many of these are not made available to the public and may be more obscure. The Executive branch is responsible for outlining exactly how the laws and statutes of the Legislative branch are to be carried out. A researcher may require information from a specific agency that identifies how the agency is to carry out a specific law. This type of information is varied and may be found on the Internet or in other places such as the United States Government Printing Office. Various regulations may be researched regarding specific agencies and the governing laws and statutes. Federal agencies themselves may be contacted to help assist the researcher find specific information. Professional journals and textbooks are an excellent source of secondary authority sources to support the primary sources. These may be accessed via the Web or local libraries. Lists of public libraries on the Internet are a good place to help the researcher find a library close by. The Library of Congress has an ?ask the librarian? service that is free to the public and may be used to assist a researcher to find information. A final option, although not free, may be to consult with an attorney and ask for his or her help with specific research questions. Legal research may be complex and time consuming, depending on the information that is sought. The researcher may become frustrated with the complexities of legal information and trying to find specific information for his or her project or issue. By utilizing patience and a specific research process, however, the legal researcher will be able to ferret out the required information that will assist him in writing the perfect paper, prosecuting the perfect case, or just increasing his knowledge of the legal realm.