Research Strategy

Strategy: A careful plan or method especially for achieving an end.

Assignment Clarification Checklist

  • How will your product be used - Why does your supervisor want to know the information
  • When does your supervisor need the product and how does your work fit into a larger deadline
  • Is there a research strategy or a particular research tool that your supervisor can recommend for the project
  • Is the research limited to one jurisdiction
  • How much time does the supervisor want expended on the project
  • Does the supervisor want any of the raw research materials (cases, statutes, regulations, etc.) you relied on
  • Does the supervisor have a particular length in mind for the product
  • If you have additional questions once you have started the project, will your supervisor be available to answer them

Goal is Research that is:

  • Correct
  • Comprehensive
  • Credible
  • Cost-effective

Research Strategy

  • Brainstorm for Terms
    • Identify and analyze the facts
      • Who, what, where, when
      • TARP Rule
        • Thing or subject matter
        • Cause of Action or ground of defense
        • Relief sought
        • Parties involved
    • Determine the legal issues to be researched
      • Classify problem into general subject area
      • Begin to narrow question
  • Choose a jurisdiction Location of dispute
    • State or Federal
      • If Federal, what Circuit
      • If State, what regional reporters and digest
  • Get an overview of the subject
    • Strategy depends on familiarity with general subject and specific topics
    • Learn basic principles and vocabulary
    • Consult Secondary Sources
    • Outline issues
  • Search for legal authority
    • Organize, plan and record
    • Case-finding tools
      • Narrative descriptions
      • Digests and annotations
      • Online research
    • Working with a subject
      • Subject index
    • Working from a known case
      • Table of Cases
      • Headnotes
      • Citators
    • Working from a known statutes
      • Annotated Code
    • Read primary authorities
      • Finding tools don't fully represent content of primary authority
      • Primary authority can act as further finding tools
  • Update
    • Pocket parts
    • Supplements
    • Citators
    • Online Research
  • When to stop
    • Repetition of citations (Use independent research tools to avoid appearance of repetition)
    • Absence of new information
    • Arriving at an answer
    • Research cost exceeds its expected benefit

Secondary Sources



American Law Reports

  • Provide in-depth coverage of a specific or narrow issue
  • Articles authored primarily by practicing attorneys Publisher Information - A.L.R. Homepage
  • Westlaw American Law Reports - ALR Index
  • Federal Topics
  • State Topics
    • A.L.R. 3d 1965 - 1980
    • A.L.R. 4th 1980 - 1991
    • A.L.R. 5th 1992 to 2005
    • A.L.R. 6th 2006 to present

Legal Periodicals

  • Describe, analyze and comment on current state of law
  • In-depth articles

Legal Periodical Indexes

Legal Periodicals Full Text

Law Reviews

Bar Association Journals and Legal Newspapers and Newsletters


  • Seek to unify the common law on a national basis

  • Written in rule form with explanations

West's Restatements and Principles of the Law  

  • Products Liability Restatements

  • Restatement of the Law-Agency  

  • Restatement of the Law-Conflict of Laws

  • Restatement of the Law-Contracts  

  • Restatement of the Law-Judgments  

  • Restatement of the Law-Property

  • Restatement of the Law-Restitution

  • Restatement of the Law-Security and Suretyship and Guaranty

  • Restatement of the Law-The Foreign Relations Law of the United States

  • Restatement of the Law-The Law Governing Lawyers

  • Restatement of the Law-Torts

  • Restatement of the Law-Trusts

  • Restatement of the Law-Unfair Competition

Restatements: American Law Institute

Bloomberg Law

Justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel. 
~Judge Sturgess ~

research strategy & Secondary Sources

professor of the practice of law
university of Denver Sturm College of LaW

When you steal from one author, it's plagiarism;
if you steal from many, it's research.
~ Wilson Mizner ~ 1876-1933 Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th Edition

Debra Austin, JD, PhD