In preparation for my Legal Aid class at the Hugh Wooding Law School, I compiled some basic legal research tips for my students.
The criticism that many students (and young attorneys-at-law) do not know HOW to properly conduct research, has been raised quite frequently in the recent past. Although there are now many online resources available, it must be stated that Google may not be the best place to begin legal research. There have been problems in the past where persons have quoted from Wikipedia, under the misconception that it is a credible legal source.
This list is meant as a general guide, as may be a good-staring point if you are required to write a legal opinion or submissions on a particular point of law:
Know how to use paper and electronic resources.
Get to know the law Librarian! The library staff are an invaluable resource in finding cases and learning on almost every topic.
Identify various journals and digests which contain valuable learning about the specific area of law that you’re looking for. If you don’t know where to look, Halsbury’s Laws is a good starting point as it will provide a summary of the law (in the UK) in a particular area. Always remember to cross-reference with the position in Trinidad and Tobago.
If you’re researching statutes, the Revised Laws of Trinidad & Tobago are available on the Ministry of Legal Affairs website at http://www.legalaffairs.gov.tt/lrcREVISED.html. If you’re using the paper version (red books), remember to check the consolidated index for amendments.
You can access the Supreme Court’s Library to search for local cases by name, subject or citation at http://www.ttlawcourts.org/index.php/law-library/search-librarys-holdings. You can also find recent judgments at http://www.ttlawcourts.org/index.php/law-library/news-a-alerts/recent-judgments.
Remember to search the Privy Council Website for decided cases that may be binding on this jurisdiction! These cases can be accessed at http://www.jcpc.uk/decided-cases/.
If you need to do in-depth research on the law in a particular area, practitioner texts can be very useful. Please ensure that the edition is up-to-date! Our legislation may be based on past legislation in the UK or Canada, so ensure that the edition corresponds with the law in Trinidad and Tobago.
Useful sources for researching precedents are Atkins court forms and the Encyclopedia of Forms and Precedents.
Always remember to read cases in their entirety. Do not rely on a summary or headnote. Pay attention to the ratio decedendi (reasoning of the court in coming to the decision(s)). Ensure that the case that you’re reading is still good law!
Distinguish between primary (a document that establishes the law on a particular issue, such as a case decision or legislation) and secondary (information that describe or interpret the law, such as legal treatises, law review articles, and other scholarly legal writings, cited by lawyers to persuade a court to reach a particular decision in a case, but which the court is not obligated to follow) sources of law.
If you’re using Westlaw or LexisNexis, refine your search to ensure that you are not overwhelmed with irrelevant authorities.
Always keep a record of the citation for any cases or legislation that you are relying upon as you will be required to properly state the citation in an opinion or submission.
The featured image used in this post is by Tracie Hall, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Tracie Hall’s flickr photostream.