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Summer RA Workshop - 2024


Research and writing are lawyer's kismet. Writing may come before and after research, or both come at the same time. Thus, legal research is a must-do thing for a lawyer. The leading question is what strategy we need to adopt for effective legal research.

Legal research is hard, but it is harder if you do not start off on the right foot. Finding the answers to complex legal questions often requires the review and analysis of a variety of legal sources including primary sources such as case law, statutes, regulations, and constitutions. Often times, secondary sources such as law review articles and treatises, or the information provided on government or agency websites can act as a gateway to valuable information. 

Successful researchers routinely rely on a combination of resources, some creative thinking, and the determination to persevere through times of frustration. You each possess the analytical skills and critical thinking abilities to become successful researchers - otherwise you wouldn't have been hired as Research Assistants! Use this tab to help you get your research started off on the right foot and to keep you on the right track throughout the summer. And always remember, when in doubt, ask a librarian

What Type of Research Are You Conducting?

While legal research approach may differ by purpose and/or objective, you can map out an appropriately strategic research plan depending on what basic types of information you are looking for.    

  • Exploratory Research
    • Exploratory research is open-ended, helps you define a specific problem, and usually involves detailed, unstructured search in which lengthy information are retrieved from a small group of resources. If you are looking to enrich your ideas and knowledge about the particular legal issue, you need to take the pearl-gathering approach. The best strategy to discover relevant information is turn to a decent number of resources, create a decent pool of select resources, and cast a wide net for search. If you do manage to track down useful information that is close to the topic at hand, take a look at elements such as subject headings, and use those to point you toward additional information. 
  • Specific Research
    • Specific research is precise in scope and is used to solve a problem that exploratory research has identified. The search process is structured and formal in approach. If you are looking for the particular content or material, you need to conduct narrowly-focused research. The best strategy to pinpoint specific information is define the nature of source, identify the appropriate resource and find access thereto. 

The Research Process

Step 1: What’s the issue?
  • Is there a distinct legal issue you need more info about? Have you been asked to locate a specific document?
Step 2: What do you know?
  • Have you done research in this area before? How much background do you have? Do you need to use a secondary source to get familiar?
Step 3: What resources are available?
  • Do you know where to find secondary sources on-topic? What primary sources are available?
Step 4: Locate relevant sources and evaluate.
  • Use indexes, tables of contents, digests, and keyword searching to locate material that is on-point
  • Are these sources authoritative? Do they lead to other relevant materials? Do they address your legal issue?
Step 5: Update
  • Are the sources you found the most up-to-date? Have they been superseded by later law or editions?

Step 6: Repeat as needed.

Legal Research Circle in Full Landscape

Streamlined Research Circle

Caveats for Legal Research

​​​​​​Research strategy is not just a product or outcome but a process.

  • Note effective strategy making is not just a one-off analytic exercise but a way of thinking about your topic.
  • Avoid a novelty trap and repeat evaluating and updating your strategy.

You can build your research strategy without too much pain.

  • Do not start by trying to find the exact, very granular, very specific answer.
  • Initiating a narrowly focused research will only cause you to spin your wheels in frustration.
  • Do not try to plug in every facet of your search all at once.

Keep track of which databases you've searched and sources you've found.

  • Even if you find nothing useful, you will have a record of the time you spent and the databases you used. 
  • Document, organize and annotate information as you find it.
  • Information you will document includes: 
    • The exact search terms and phrases you typed in
    • The filters you used
    • When you accessed the databases and sources

General Research Tips

  1. Know and understand available legal resources and search options.
  2. Discover the good, the better, and the best methods to access information, rather than fixating on an "answer".
  3. Do not jump right into the first source that comes to mind but take a strategic approach and research as planned.
  4. Skim the top documents from the results and run with it. 
  5. Explore and evaluate legal research tools.
  6. Keep a research log.

Session Recording - 2024 Workshop

Questions for the MacMillan Law Library?

Have a question for the Law Library?  Reach out to us via one of our question forms:

Faculty Research or Staff Question?
Please complete our Faculty Request form.

Student Research Question?
Please complete our Student Research Request form. 

MacMillan Library Hybrid Research Services:

          Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm
          Saturday - Sunday: Closed 

MacMillan Library Building Hours (May 13 - August 16, 2024):

Monday - Friday: 9am - 6pm
Saturday - Sunday: Closed

Reference Desk:
Monday: 1pm - 3pm
Tuesday: 10am - 12pm; Virtual only: 1pm - 3pm
Wednesday: 10am - 12pm; Virtual only: 2pm - 4pm
Thursday: 10am - 12pm; Virtual only: 1pm - 3pm
Friday: 10am - 12pm
Saturday and Sunday: Closed

IT Help Desk:
Monday - Friday: 
Saturday - Sunday: Closed

Emory Law Archives:
Physical archives: By appointment only.
Digital archives: More information available here
Limited remote services are available on a case-by-case basis. 
Questions?  Email Anna Sturgill, Law Librarian for Archives and Assessment Services