A 4-Step Legal Research Strategy

Instead of getting bogged down trying to remember the nuts-and-bolts of each database, it is more important to strategize with a research process that works in any database.

To that end, the TTU School of Law Librarians instruct on legal research using a version of the Rombauer Method of legal research.

  • Preliminary Analysis – reviewing fact patterns or client interviews to develop a search plan using key terms
  • Secondary Sources – searching various sources for an overview of a legal issue and citations to primary authority
  • Codified Law – searching constitutions, codes, court rules, and regulations
  • Case Law – searching binding and persuasive precedent

The beauty of this research process is that it can be geared toward any database. As long as the user can maneuver the database to find relevant secondary sources, he or she will be able to fulfill the first step of the research process and so on.

If students use this research process to keep their research strategic and organized, they should feel comfortable using any database. And it is important for students to feel comfortable while researching because they will generally only research in a way that is comfortable to them.

This was observed by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg among undergraduate students at the University of Washington. The students showed little variation in their research strategies and defaulted to resources like Google and Wikipedia for introductory research, with little regard for efficiency or effectiveness. As Head and Eisenberg observed, the students may be aware of the range of resources needed to carry out their research effectively, but they fall back on strategies as similar and repetitive as possible.

Instead of focusing on the various platforms, the students should become familiar with a process that works in any database.

Author: Jamie Baker

Jamie Baker is the Associate Dean & Director of the Law Library at Texas Tech University School of Law. She teaches Intro to the Study of Law, Civil Trial Research, & Academic Legal Writing, as well as sessions in the Legal Practice program and Excellence in Legal Research program. She blogs at www.gingerlawlibrarian.com.

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