Best Practices for Research
Make a plan for how to research. As you answer the questions above, these will help you plan how to find the answer. The plan can be simple, or complex. Have timeframes in mind for each phase of research, and prioritize what resources will be checked.
Keep notes as you research. If you have an intricate problem, you will end up checking so many sources that they begin to look the same. Often, it is difficult to remember exactly where and how a resource was found if you later decide that resource is useful and want to go back to it. Make sure you keep notes which include what resources you have checked. If you come empty handed can show someone else what your procedure was, in order to confirm that there really is no law on the issue.
Proof read before you submit work. Remember, Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rule 9.800 tells you how to format legal citations in Florida or use the Florida Style Manual. This rule specifies formats for Florida resources and refers you to the Harvard Bluebook for non-Florida resources.
Steps in legal research
1. Understand the question
What are the exact legal issues? A client will not know, but if you get the assignment from a supervisor, the supervisor is likely to tell you. Write it down immediately, and ask for clarification if you are unsure.
What are the relevant facts? Ask for follow up, if your legal research indicates that a certain factual scenario is vital. If you need to know facts which you cannot reliably get from the client, try using the Factual Research guide for assistance.
What jurisdiction applies? (i.e. Is this a federal or a florida question? Will cases interpreting this area of law be appealed through a specific court system and where can one access those law and opinions published?)
2. Use secondary authority to get an overview of the area of law
Make a conscious effort to start with secondary sources for overview, for your benefit and to save your time. Secondary sources accurately summarize the law by explaining or interpreting primary authority. They are not the law and are not binding. Do not cite directly to a secondary source.
3. Use primary authority to build an argument
Primary authority includes statutes, constitutions, court cases, and administrative rules.
4. Verify that your primary authority is good law.