4 Steps to Conducting Legal Research as a Paralegal - dummies

4 Steps to Conducting Legal Research as a Paralegal

By Scott A. Hatch, Lisa Zimmer Hatch

Part of Paralegal Career For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Legal research is a significant part of your job as a paralegal. When you visit a law library (or conduct computerized legal research), use this practical approach to working through a legal researcher assignment.

  1. Consult legal dictionaries to compile a comprehensive list of terms relevant to your research project.
    Webster’s New World Law Dictionary (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), Ballentine’s Legal Dictionary and Thesaurus, Black’s Law Dictionary, Words and Phrases, and William Statsky’s Legal Thesaurus/Dictionary are just some of the dictionaries you can use to develop a list of synonyms, antonyms, and other relevant expressions to get you started on your research project.
  2. Find the proper jurisdiction for the case you’re researching.
    After you establish whether your project comes under the federal or state court system, you can determine the specific level of court for your case and research the law that’s appropriate for that level.
  3. Dig up relevant cases and statutes by accessing the following resources in roughly this order:
    • Major legal encyclopedias, Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS), and American Jurisprudence (Am. Jur.)
    • American Law Reports (ALR)
    • Appropriate digest topics (based on your initial dictionary research) from West’s “Outline of the Law” that lead you to the proper digests
    • Primary sources of authority, like federal and regional reporters (for case law) and federal and state constitutions and codes (for rules and statutes)
  4. Validate the primary authority you’ve found to make sure they’re still good law.