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Legal Research Fundamentals

Transactional Research

When researching transactional materials, here is a useful path: 

1) Locate guidance. Find a useful secondary source (often a practice title) that addresses what you are doing, the area of law you are concerned with, and the jurisdiction you are concerned with. 

2) Locate templates. Often the secondary source(s) you find for 2) include sample forms or templates that you can use. The major vendors also provide databases of forms and standard documents.  

3) Locate examples/samples. The major commerical vendors provide databases of examples. 

Practice Materials

When are practice materials useful?

As the name implies, practice materials are designed to help practicing attorneys quickly and efficiently research. These sources are often organized into the following types of materials: 

  1. Practice notes or articles. These address specific issues and discuss any relevant primary law. 
  2. Drafting materials. These include standard, fill-in-the-blanks, forms, as well as guidance related to the drafting. 
  3. Checklists. These are often a list of everything an attorney should do before taking a particular step (e.g., filing a complaint, etc.). 
  4.  Appendix material. These include charts and tables of relevant cases and other primary law and additional sample forms. 
  5. Sometimes practice resources will also provide legal news or updates on recent developments in the field. 

Practice materials are usually frequently updated. 

How do you locate practice materials?

When relevant, practice titles will be provided in a legal research guide. Often, the word "practice" is in the title.

Additionally, Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg are constantly developing their practice pages. You can browse by Practice Area to locate relevant pages. You may also want to check out the following:

How do you navigate practice materials?

First, remember that practice materials usually contain the materials listed above. You will want to identify which type of material you are looking for, and then narrow down accordingly. Different titles are organized differently. For example, Bloomberg BNA Portfolios provide a wealth of information, but you have to expand them out, and look at both the "Detailed Analysis" section and the "Practice Tools" section. 

The best way to navigate practice materials is through a combination of browse and search. 

Locating Useful Treatises

While practice resources are great places to start, they don't always have guidance and samples/examples for your particular issue or area of law. Don't forget other secondary sources, especially treatises!  

Often there is one (or a couple) preeminent treatise in your area of law. You can often find these by looking for a legal research guide, or checking out the Georgetown Legal Treatise Finder --the first two links below. You can also browse and search the secondary source titles in Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg, as well as search the library catalog!

CLE and Bar Materials

When are CLE and Bar Association materials useful?

Continuing Legal Education (CLE) materials can be wonderful sources of information that might not otherwise be included in a treatise, practice guide, law review, or ALR annotation. They are often very jurisdictionally specific. Use them if you are looking for guidance or analysis on a specific practical matter (e.g., a landlord tenant dispute in Pennsylvania), attorney ethics, or a recent development in the law. 

How do you locate CLE and Bar Association materials? 

The major databases (Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg) all have some CLE materials. Once you are a practicing attorney you will have access to some of the titles via your bar association. You will want to identify the lead publisher of the materials most relevant to you. For example, one of the big publishers of national materials is PLI (the Practising Law Institute). But if you are working in Pennsylvania, you may be most concerned with titles from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. 

You can often locate bar association or CLE materials from their websites (often Googling the issue + CLE or the jurisdiction's bar association is effective, or narrowing to a particular filetype, such as pptx or pdf). However, many times these are behind paywalls. 

Templates

Examples

You may also simply find examples by Googling, checking out the information companies make publicly available on their websites, etc. Or, sometimes examples are provided as exhibits in litigation. Get creative!