Why does it matter?

The ability to conduct effective legal research is a key skill to acquire so that you can achieve your aspirations and qualify as a solicitor.

If you can properly use the resources that your law library provides for you then you will have a much better chance of getting the grades you need succeed.

It is also a skill you need to develop if you want to be an asset to a law firm. Legal research is one of the major tasks given to trainee solicitors. The faster you can do this and the more focussed and accurate your answers then the more likely you are to be noticed and given more responsibility.

You have to be familiar with and able to use all of the major legal research databases, including LexisLibrary and Westlaw. Over 90% of the top 100 law firms subscribe to both because each service contains unique content.

Many students think that because they have grown up with the internet and search tools like Google, then they can research effectively. However, research has demonstrated that this is not the case. Daniel Bates, the Freshfields Legal IT Teaching and Development Officer at Cambridge University published an article in the Legal Information Management journal in 2013 where he concluded that:

‘…although students studying law today have more experience of online services and searching, and a greater use of technology in their everyday lives, they are in many ways less equipped and less capable of handling complex legal research tasks[1].

Don’t forget that finding information is only the first part – you then have to read, review and evaluate what you find to decide whether to use it to support your arguments.

What can you do?

Here are a few pointers to ensure success:

  • Recognising that you can always improve your legal research skills puts you ahead of many law students.
  • If there is research training on offer – take it and ask questions during the session to develop your understanding.
  • Become competent in using ALL of the major legal research databases at your disposal.
  • Increase your chances of getting good marks by reading and referring to relevant law reports and journal articles that you have found.
  • Learn how to use Halsbury’s Laws of England and Wales – the ONLY publication that explains EVERY proposition of English and Welsh law, whether statutory or common law.
  • Learn how to cite your authorities correctly using your university’s preferred referencing style e.g. OSCOLA, Harvard.
  • If you can’t find information you need, ask your Law Librarian. They have the skills and knowledge to point you in the right direction.
  • If your institution has a LexisNexis or Westlaw student campus representative, ask them for help as well.
  • Get certified.

By Tom Laidlaw, Head of Academic and Public Sector Marketing- Lexis Nexis

[1] Bates ‘Are ‘Digital Natives’ Equipped to Conquer the Legal Landscape?’ Legal Information Management, 13 (2013), pp. 172–178 at 177