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An Introduction to Legal Research

September 15, 2021

Introduction to Legal Research as a Crucial Tool

To handle a legal task with authority requires confidence in the process followed to get you to that result. Legal research is imperative to the practice of law. This is true in any practice, jurisdictional setting or level of legal expertise. The importance of legal research cannot be overstated as the right facts and knowledge can help prove or disprove a client's position on a particular issue.

What is Legal Research?

Legal research is the process of identifying and retrieving information necessary to support legal decision-making

What is the Importance of Legal Research?

Legal research provides support for decision-making on complex issues, by providing specific facts and legal precedent that allow you to produce complete answers for clients. Quality legal research is critical to the practice of law.

The Legal Research Process

The legal research process follows three steps. We'll explain each in detail.

  1. Primary Sources
  2. Shepardizing®
  3. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources: A document that establishes the law on a particular issue, such as a case decision or legislative act. This is the most authoritative step in the legal research process. You can support arguments with primary sources as they are not only authoritative, but precedential and controlling. Explore cases, statutes, and regulations pertinent to your topic.

Shepardizing® : The process of consulting Shepard's® Citation Service to see if a case has been overturned, reaffirmed, questioned, or cited by later cases, or is at risk of negative treatment. Your research needs to provide precedential value. Using reversed or overruled authority doesn't qualify as "Good Law" and your research may be ineffectual or harmful to your case.

Secondary Sources: Sources of information that describe or interpret the law, such as practical guidance, legal treatises, law review articles, and other scholarly legal writings, cited by lawyers to persuade a court to reach a particular decision in a case, but which the court is not obligated to follow. Learn from legal experts that have already explored a given topic.

Legal research is always changing and your work researching is never done. Following this three-step process ensures that you're taking the right measures to find the most accurate, relevant and valuable data to achieve your objectives.

Getting Started With Legal Research Tools 

Legal research is key to drafting effective documents and building winning cases. Legal research tools have evolved substantially—helping you conduct legal research with increased efficiency and accuracy.

  • Lexis+. Lexis+ is an online legal research solution that offers legal professionals access to information on precedential cases, other primary sources, and secondary resources. Features such as Shepard's At Risk ensures you’re citing only the most authoritative sources, with unprecedented visibility into whether a case is at risk of being overruled or undermined, while Code Compare allows you to identify changes in the law or legislative intent by reviewing statute sections side-by-side.
  • Practical Guidance. Practical Guidance provides professional insights on specific practice areas. This collection of legal research tools assist with searches and help attorneys learn and quickly master a new area of law. Accomplish any task with practice notes, annotated templates, and checklists. Practical Guidance also provides information for 20 practice areas, so you can brush up on less-familiar legal fields, learn a new practice area, or refresh your memory for specific matters.
  • Brief Analysis. Get a clear picture of the contents of your legal brief to identify any missteps and bolster your arguments against opposing counsel. The Brief Analyzer quickly evaluates the legal authority cited in briefs in granular detail and provides secondary source recommendations for additional research. Simply upload a file and the tool’s artificial intelligence capabilities begin searching the document for key concepts, saving you valuable time and resources.
  • Litigation Analytics. As the industry’s only end-to-end litigation experience, Lexis+ Litigation Analytics provides attorneys with the most accurate insights into judges, courts, attorneys, and law firms to ensure your success in litigation and safeguard the quality of your entire work product. Understand critical insights regarding caseloads, experience across case types, timing to key milestones, and damages by comparing up federal districts and judges with the Courts & Judges Comparator, and gain greater visibility into your competition with a broad range of experience data via the Counsel Compactor.
  • Legal News Hub. Receive up-to-the-minute, award-winning journalism and legal news from Law360 and Law360 Pulse anytime you need it — without having to leave the Lexis+ ecosystem. The Lexis+ Legal News Hub helps attorneys stay current on critical developments across legal practice areas, with over 70 coverage areas spanning the practice and business of law.

Using machine learning and AI analytical tools, LexisNexis helps attorneys find the best information, interpret search results, and develop the research they need for a strong and persuasive case. LexisNexis caters to your firms’ unique qualities and the right combination of LexisNexis products is bound to suit your firm’s legal research needs regardless of your practice area or size.

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