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1L Survival Guide: Strategy

Basic Law Library Survival Information

Keeping Track

It's easy to get lost in research especially when following links in online databases.  Resist the urge to click and follow.  Instead, decide which resources you want to use. A checklist of resources can help.  Keep some type of research journal since it will save you time in the end.

Write down:

  • Search terms
  • Citations (Bluebook them from the start)
  • Resources checked

When Have I Finished Researching?

Legal research is a web.  An encyclopedia article can point to cases and A.L.R. annotations.  Cases can also point to Restatements, treatises and journal articles. Eventually the sources lead you to sources you've already read.  When you aren't finding anything new, you're finished.

Remember the Serendipity Factor?  Before you call it quits, take a walk through the law library and the stack range for your topic.  Browse the titles.  You may find a title or two on the shelf that you hadn't considered previously.

Research is a Process

The more you practice, the more proficient you become.  Your future employer will want you to have research skills that demonstrate the following:

  1. Quality of Research
  2. Efficiency of Research
  3. Knowledge of Resources

Make a research plan; work the plan.  Two habits to develop:

  1. Think before you act.
  2. Read everything you find.

The First Plan

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.  Following a road map helps keep you on the right path to your destination when you are traveling, it is no different with research.  The best plans (maps) start with what you already know.

If You Know Nothing or Very Little

  • Start with secondary authorities.  Learn about the area of law first from a reputable source.  Legal encyclopedias were designed to give an overview of an area of law and lead you to other authorities (primary and secondary). 
  • Google it. You may or may not find information on the web that is reliable, but it can be a good place to get you started.

If You Know a Leading Case

  • Shepardize or KeyCite the case; from the citing references find other cases or secondary authorities.
  • Find the case in the Table of Cases for the appropriate Digest; go to the best topic and key number for your research.

If You Know a Statute

  • Find your statute in an annotated code and look at the references or case annotations for additional resources.


Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.