Whether you’re in your first or last semester of your law degree, everyone is always telling you that everything is important: you have to have effective public speaking skills, you have to have excellent writing skills, you have to network, and you have to have excellent critical analysis skills.
All of these skills are useful, but having effective legal research skills is incredibly important to your success, not only in your law degree but also throughout your legal career. There are far too many cases, statutes and regulations for us to learn all of them at law school, but legal sleuthing skills will mean that you’re able to learn about new areas of the law and keep up to date throughout your career. Having Sherlock Holmes-like skills in legal research will also ensure that you are not wasting your time sifting through irrelevant information.
You’ve probably been given a problem solving assignment or an essay during your law degree, for which Google didn’t have the answers, and you instead needed to navigate the labyrinth of legal databases (if you’re just starting your law degree, this is probably coming!). For the assignment you needed to look up cases and legislation, and even if you started the assignment the day or the week before the due date, you realised that good research takes time (and we all know that law students are time poor). Sorting the relevant cases and legislation from the irrelevant ones can be time-consuming, but if you’re not confident in what you’re doing, you’ll lose writing time (and possibly also marks).
Once you start your legal career, you will have billable hours and your supervisor (and your clients) will not be impressed if you have spent hours figuring out how to actually open the legal database, find the search button and locate the relevant information instead of actually analysing the cases or legislation that is relevant to their matter.
You were probably giving a library lesson in your first semester about legal databases and how to use them. It probably went straight over your head and you never revised those notes again, or maybe you spent the session checking Facebook when you were supposed to be practicing Boolean search queries on AustLII.
If you are struggling with your legal research skills, speak to the law librarians at your uni for some excellent tips about how to use legal databases, as they are pros when it comes to effective and efficient research. Alternatively, see if your faculty or library offers legal research seminars. While this may take an hour or two out of your day, it will save you hours of sifting through irrelevant information and means you’ll actually get to the most important part, critically analysing the relevant sources and answering the question, even quicker.
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