November 14, 2016
One of the key tasks that an attorney will be expected to complete throughout his or her career is legal research. When hiring or interviewing prospective candidates, a Partner will often want to ensure that the candidate has top notch legal research skills that can be put to use by the firm. Here are some potential qualities to look for when evaluating a potential hire’s research skills.
Legal researchers who use a variety of search strategies are the most successful. While many attorneys believe the best searches require a complicated terms & connectors or Boolean searches, oftentimes using plain language or WestSearch on Westlaw is most successful. This is because the WestSearch feature uses behind the scene enhancements that make it especially good at locating a concept as opposed to specific terms. In fact, running a plain language search before a terms and connectors search will allow an attorney to test his or her search and see where these terms are appearing in the document. This search could then be used as a rough draft for a future terms and connectors search.
Pay attention to creative legal researchers who can distinguish or analogize between their case and the cases that are appearing. While many attorneys will try to find the perfect case that directly matches their factual scenario, it’s rare that the “perfect case” exists. Therefore, the best legal researchers think outside the box and will be able to analogize and distinguish – not only between their case and the cases that the search is retrieving, but also between different situations or concepts that might be related in some way.
The best legal researchers will look beyond cases and statutes and refer to materials from other sources such as Trial Court Documents or Appellate Briefs. Westlaw has an extensive collection of Trial Court and Appellate Court documents that have been filed with the court. These documents provide a legal researcher with an opportunity to see what arguments other attorneys have used when faced with a similar issue. Additionally, these resources will contain case law that the other attorney relied upon when making his or her argument, providing the current legal researcher with another avenue for locating case law.
It’s difficult for any legal researcher to know when the legal research process is complete. An expert research will follow a process similar to the steps outlined in a related blog post, “Feel Confident That Your Legal Research is Complete”. Ask yourself, “Has the researcher tried running both a WestSearch and a Boolean Terms and Connectors search? Did they expand their jurisdiction and look for materials nationwide? Have they tried looking for different types of documents?”
Additionally, the best legal researchers are those who are not afraid to ask for help. Westlaw provides research assistance through the Reference Attorneys, a team comprised of bar-admitted attorneys who undergo extensive training to become the best legal researchers available. They are an included service with your Westlaw subscription – and are always happy to help!
Don’t have Westlaw? Sign up for a free trial to see how Westlaw can help your team conduct legal research efficiently.