Efficient and effective. If your research isn’t efficient, it won’t be effective. There are many skills you must master as a paralegal and no skill is more important than your ability to accurately research a topic and provide the right answers, and the right solutions at the right moment. The following legal research tips for paralegals will help improve your efficiency and enhance the quality of the information you deliver to your team.
Define Before You Dig
It is crucial to define the issues surrounding the case before any research can commence. This means identifying all the relevant parties to the case, identifying the locations/events, the harm that was inflicted, and the order of events. It also means considering the opposing counsel’s perspective and any counterarguments that can be presented. Finally, it is imperative to research statutes and case law for legal remedies and relief that are available for the specific types of damages being sought in the case.
Dig Deeper Than Standard Search Engines
Google, Bing, and other search engines scratch the surface of the world wide web. They are a gateway to an exponentially expanding trove of data. However, a standard search can deliver a variety of results of varying quality. A better solution is to dig into databases sometimes to referred to as the “deep web.” Using LexisNexis, Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, and databases dialed into the courts and various levels of government will generate better quality results while saving time and effort.
Social media including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. are invaluable resources. They provide valuable insight into people’s lives including their activities, business interests, political beliefs, and social/professional connections. These resources are easily searchable and can be utilized to great effect. Even when a profile is set to private, the information you need to defend a client or pursue a claim can be gleaned from the posts and information posted by friends and associates.
Narrow Results Through Advanced Searches
The more specific your request, the more accurate the results the search will return. Take advantage of the advanced search options on search engines to save time. If you are looking for pdf’s, PowerPoints, audio, video, spreadsheets, phrases, etc., be certain to include that in your inquiry. Moreover, setting date ranges, locations, courts, etc. will deliver the most relevant information for you to review.
Use Expert Sources
The internet is awash in second and third-hand information. Like the old game of “Telephone,” it is quite common for this information to change as it moves down the line. As the information gets digested and repackaged, critical details get lost in translation. In terms of legal research tips for paralegals, it means that the only reliable source is a primary source. Utilizing primary sources such as trade association publications, scientific journals, and legal databases will return higher quality information.
Take a Break to Take it in
Navigating the fast-paced information superhighway can be mentally exhausting. It’s easy to miss data, overlook facts, or misinterpret context. As such, one of the most important legal research tips for paralegals is learning how to slow it down. The best researchers gather information and walk away. This allows you to return to the information that you felt was relevant in the initial research. Taking a break provides a fresh perspective and allows you to look at the information from a variety of angles to see things that you may have missed in the initial process.
Work Until the Last Minute
Researching a case shouldn’t conclude until the very last minute. Whether it’s a deadline set by an attorney or the moment a hearing starts, research should be conducted until the last possible moment. This helps ensure that vital information isn’t missed and that the most up-to-date and relevant information is presented to the client, court, etc.
Trust but Verify
The internet is full of old, outdated, and inaccurate information. The law is also fluid and cases can be overturned and new precedents set. This means that every piece of information you discover should be backed up and verified by another reliable source. Cross-checking information strengthens the veracity of the data and its application. It also ensures that the information you utilize delivers the right results for your case and your clients.
Practicing these legal research tips for paralegals will generate the results you desire. As you adopt and hone these skills you will develop a list of resources you can rely upon to produce quality results, and most importantly, you will develop habits that allow you to quickly navigate the increasing amount of information available to sift through and sort. This will improve your efficiency, accuracy, and the effectiveness of the information you utilize.
Have you downloaded our Deposition Resource Guide for Attorneys & Paralegals? The guide discusses some of the most important deposition resources and how to best use them for your benefit. Whether you’ve just entered the legal field or have been conducting depositions for years, there is something in this guide for you. If you haven’t yet, get your guide.
In another article we discuss 5 tasks you can delegate to your court reporting firm.