Why Does Legal Research Matter?

by | Dec 9, 2021

A legal problem will require a legal solution. While attorneys are well-versed in an astonishing number of statutes, regulations, and precedents, it would be impossible to have memorized hundreds of years’ worth of case studies and legal outcomes. If your situation it unique, as so many legal conundrums are, you’ll want an attorney who is masterful at legal research.

What Is Legal Research?

Legal research is how attorneys prepare for briefs, trials, and the writing of opinion letters. It is also how a good attorney is able to counsel their clients and provide guidance on the best ways to move forward in a situation or what they can expect as an outcome of legal action they are taking, or that someone has taken against them. Legal research is a deep dive into precedent that will answer the legal question at hand.

The entire legal system in the United States has been built on precedent: these are rulings that were made by judges in similar court cases that came before. Legal research is the process of searching for those relevant cases and analyzing the pattern of the outcomes. This will enable a lawyer to determine which precedents, if any, will apply to the legal situation in question.

In some circumstances, there may be no precedent, and it is then considered a ‘case of first impression.’ This may require even further research to find similarities in statutes and build a case for support of the legal opinion being sought.

What Does Legal Research Entail?

Once you approach your attorney with a legal question, you can expect that they will undertake the appropriate research to answer that question. The information they uncover will be used to build a case, draft a legal document, or will be included in an opinion letter. It’s not enough just to locate the information, however. The attorney must be able to understand the nuances of each case and must be able to apply those learnings and facts to the case they are working on.

Lawyers will look to a variety of types of sources to prove their legal theory or to protect the rights of their clients. These may include –

Primary Sources: These are the rules of law that apply to individuals, to courts, and to government entities. For instance, court orders, statutes, regulations, and even a constitution – federal, state, or even local government. These sources are binding and determine the very laws that must be upheld.

Persuasive Primary Sources: These are commentaries on the primary sources above, i.e. the laws, and help to explain the purpose of a law or the traditional interpretation of it. Persuasive primary sources may include written opinions of judges, attorney generals, or someone else who is both trusted and intimately familiar with the law.

Secondary Sources: This is the fun part! Lawyers will dig through previous legal rulings, claw journals and periodicals, legal dictionaries and encyclopedias, legal opinions, and more. This is where they may connect the dots from previous cases to yours, find reference material that can be quoted, and follow the trail back to the primary sources on which the secondary sources are dependent.

To be effective, legal research must be thorough, objective, and methodical. It must explore all of the relevant legal history that may weigh upon the legal question under consideration. Where legal opposition may be involved, the research must also examine the material that opposing counsel may be inclined to apply as they build their counter-arguments.

Why Is Legal Research Important?

Regardless of their area of practice or specialty, the fact of the matter is that an ability to conduct legal research is one of the most important skills an attorney must have in their toolbox. Not only to uncover all of the relevant information, but to also analyze it correctly, interpret it accurately, and apply it logically to the legal question that has been posed.

In addition, attorneys must be able to wade through local, state, and federal laws to determine which precedents will supersede the others, especially when more than one municipality may be involved in the legal matter.

Experience is key. An attorney must first be able to determine what the particular legal issue is that must be researched before spending valuable time going in the wrong direction and reviewing case law that doesn’t actually apply. The attorney may also encounter divergent precedents, i.e. similar cases that resulted in different or opposite legal rulings. These would necessitate not just research but some thought and analysis to determine the most applicable and the ones most likely to contribute to a favorable outcome for their client.

Part of the research may also include separating out various factors in the unique case and applying different precedents and ruling to each part and expertly weaving them together into one logical and coherent argument in defense of the client’s interests.

For a legal opinion letter, legal research is critically important as it will feature prominently in the body of the letter. To be effective, the opinion letter will need to first lay out the facts involved in the case (the who, what, where, and when) along with the legal issue in question. Beyond that, though, legal research will be the foundation of discussion of the applicable laws that were consulted in order for the attorney to come to the conclusion that they deliver in the legal opinion letter.

The simple fact is that any legal action taken must be rooted in solid and skillfully executed legal research. To answer your legal problem, you’ll want an experienced attorney who can locate the appropriate authority that speaks to the facts involved in your case. Your attorney will use these legal findings to solve your problem, protect your interests, or deliver a compelling legal opinion letter.

The attorneys at Easler Law know how to conduct proper and thorough legal research. Our clients trust us to seek out precedent to bolster their claims and back it up with authoritative sources. If you have a legal problem that needs a legal solution, consider Easler your legal research team and schedule a consultation with us today!

The information on this page may have changed since we first published it. We give great legal advice, but this page (and the rest of our site) is for informational use only and is no substitute for actual legal advice. If you’d like to establish an attorney-client relationship, reach out to us and we’ll tell you how we can make it official. Sending us an email or reading this page alone doesn’t mean we represent you.