Law is the representation of society, and legal research is the pillar on which the entire legal profession rests. The stronger the pillar, more effective is the building against calamities. Therefore, legal research skill is an asset to all legal professionals, be it law students, advocates or judges. Thus, to attain success, it becomes imperative to sharpen this skill set continually. The following are seven essential ways required to enhance legal research skills.
1. Inculcate the habit of reading case laws, legal blogs to stay updated
Knowledge is power, and in the legal profession, knowledge is acquired through constant reading and keeping oneself abreast with the latest advances in the legal field. Earlier, this would have been an arduous task as the only form of information dispensation on a daily basis was through newspapers or the radio. However, with the advent of the internet age, information dispensation has been revolutionised. There are numerous legal research tools and popular blogs where luminaries of the legal fraternity write about the developments along with in-depth analysis and critiques. Also, legal news portals are there which keeps us updated and informed about the latest developments in various Supreme Court cases as well as significant High Court judgments. These sources aid young professionals as well as those who have been in the profession for a long time to become well-informed lawyers and be aware of the changes taking place in the legal field.
Regularly reading case laws greatly enhances legal research skills. The argument formation of the respective counsels and the court’s rationale found in Supreme Court cases as well as High Court judgments provide an exhaustive understanding of the law and its application as well as implication. Argument formation is a skill which every lawyer aspires to sharpen and excel at and reading case laws is a great way to enhance such skills.
2. Start from the basics
“Rome was not built in a day,” is a famous proverb which is applicable in the domain of legal research as well. One cannot start running before learning how to walk. Similarly, in legal research, one must begin with the abc of the subject.
The basic understanding of the subject is a pre-requisite for any argument construction. One needs to comprehend the meaning, the history and development to have a holistic understanding. The stronger the base, the sturdier is the building. Hence, it is imperative to begin the research from the very basics.
3. Effective reading
Reading is an essential part of the research. Lawyers and law student spend hours flipping through pages of material in a day. However, the key is to efficiently read, which goes beyond just understanding the text on a page. One vital part to be kept in mind is to be selective while reading. One need not read the entire book cover to cover to understand the crux of the matter. Certain books have brilliant introduction section where the editor summarises the whole book, in a nutshell, making it an excellent place to start.
Another skill which needs to be developed is that of changing the kind of reading depending on the utility of the information furnished. Using legal research tools such as the index pages at the end of the book increases the efficiency of the entire process of reading and research. The skill also includes knowing what to search for and where to find it. The proficiency enhances with experience over the years.
The task of research is multi-layered which begins with looking for information, selecting, noting and interpreting relevant information and then applying it for the required purpose. Therefore, effective reading increases the efficiency and productivity of the research.
4. Learn how to check multiple sources for the correct information
Information Technology has ushered in an era where access to information is not an obstacle, but where and how to find the most appropriate piece of information is the real challenge. Authenticity is the key in legal research and hence, finding accurate, relevant and authentic information is of great importance.
The internet is a goldmine for information and legal research tools such as search engines, blogs, case law databases, etc. augment the entire process of legal research. However, there are certain circumstances wherein what we read on the internet is not entirely correct. The fake news endemic has penetrated into social media and the internet. For example, wrong reporting of Supreme Court cases can twist the entire interpretation, thereby hampering the outcome of the research. Therefore, the source of information becomes an important aspect while doing research.
Specific legal research tools, such as government websites, A.I.Rs, etc. are considered to be authentic sources of law. However, at times lawyers read blogs and websites which may not be as dependable. Therefore, it becomes imperative to check multiple sources to make the argument more accurate and well-informed.
5. Go beyond keywords – Learn to build a cogent thread of thought.
Statistics show that about 33.9% of the lawyers initiate their research with Google by entering keywords related to the subject of research. However, now we have more effective legal search engines and legal research tools which cater specifically to the needs and requirements of the legal fraternity.
Research with the help of keywords is a good way to start. However, building upon the keywords and constructing cogent and lucid arguments is a skill every lawyer aspires to achieve. To make the research more wholesome and to add different perspectives, one must go beyond the basic keyword search. The more one reads, the clearer will be his understanding and more effective will be his application.
The legal research tools are mere aids in enhancing the efficiency of the research. However, building logical strings of thought and going beyond the keywords is a skill that is required to be inculcated at the onset of the career and is developed over the years.
6. Legal research tools –learn how to use the tools to expedite the process
In earlier times the only skill set that was required by the lawyers was reading numerous Supreme Court cases, law books, etc. and then applying the information gathered as per the requirement of the case. However, at present, the world runs with the help of the internet, and hence, lawyers now need to acquire an additional skill set of knowing how to utilise the various legal research tools and legal search engines.
The legal research tools are designed to deliver a variety of services which simplify the search of Supreme Court cases, doctrines, statutes and other legal apparatus. But to know how to use these online database portals and lawyer search engines to the optimum level with the highest efficiency is a skill which lawyers these days need to inculcate within themselves. A lawyer who is proficient in using these legal research tools will greatly expedite the process and will be able to produce holistic and productive research in a shorter period of time.
7. Inculcate the habit of discussing with seniors and colleagues
Once a lawyer embarks on the journey of the legal profession, he remains a student of law till the very end. Books and law school teach the theoretical aspects of law, the law which is present on paper. However, the law in flesh and blood is learnt from the revered seniors in this field. This is precisely the reason behind the copious number of internships law school students strive to complete before they become full-fledged lawyers.
The practice of discussing with the peer group and colleagues as well as seniors is a healthy habit. There are various advantages to it. One of the most apparent benefits is that it enhances an overall understanding of the subject. The more one discusses, the clearer the concepts get in his head and more fruitfully will he be able to apply the same. Another advantage is that when one discusses a topic with others, the different perspectives and insights paint a more holistic picture. Certain things which one would have missed during his preliminary research would surface during such conversations, and it would be easier to spot loopholes and lacunae in the research.
Dialogue with the members of the legal fraternity enhances not only legal research skills but also opens endless opportunities and scope for personal development and growth. The passion for the law can only be instilled by interacting and engaging in dialogue with the seniors in the field. It is the real essence of the legal profession.
The importance of research cannot be undermined in the legal profession. Proper study and research result in cogent and persuasive arguments, which assist the courts in determining the questions of facts and issues in the case. This exercise goes a long way in the dispensation of justice which is the ultimate aim of the noble legal profession. Excellent research skills are an asset and need to be honed continuously for lawyers to become better professionals so that they can fulfil their duties towards their clients, and the society at large.