How to develop your legal research skills at uni

When you embark on your law degree, one of the sessions that will be put in your initial induction timetable will be an introduction to the Library and its resources. The temptation will be to think that this is a session you can miss – ‘I have done research for my A levels and I can use the internet so I will be all right.’

You won’t – for two reasons:

  • Research at university to support your studies requires more depth and breadth and a critical evaluation of those sources you choose to use; and
  • Law has its own special mix of primary and secondary sources of information that you need to understand and use.

The Library induction is designed to help you learn more about this new information environment and introduce you to some of the key products and information that you will need to master to succeed in your degree.

This hour or two during your induction will help make the first few tutorials much easier to deal with and give you space to enjoy all of the other activities that university can offer. Who wants to spend the first term panicking about that first essay?

Tip 1 – Attend your Library induction – and concentrate.

study studying GDL student

Love your Librarian

The University Library can be a daunting place and will probably be the biggest Library you have ever set foot in. However, you do not have to navigate this physical and virtual space alone. Help is at hand in the form of your law librarian. A key part of their job is to help all of their users get the most out of the resources that they have decided to include in the Library law collection – including you.

tom-laidlaw-2
Tom Laidlaw

They will have a lot of experience in finding information to support all of the subjects that make up the law degree. They will also have the most detailed knowledge of everything that sits on the shelves and is accessible through the Library web pages. If you can’t find information that you need – ask them, but do it the right way.

The library team is not there to do you work for you – they are there to point you in the right direction and make suggestions as to sources or publications to consider. So to help them help you by:

  • providing them with some key words and concepts you are looking for; and
  • telling them the names of any publications or sources you have already looked at or for.

This will allow them to understand your thinking and make relevant suggestions or help you revise your initial ideas and guide you to the right information.

Tip 2 – Make friends with your law librarian.

Isn’t Google still good enough?

Google is still a way to find out basic information or start a piece of legal research but you cannot base your answers to an essay or tutorial on the first few results you get from a simple Google search and expect a good mark.

As I said earlier, the Law Library is both a physical and virtual space – and that virtual space holds much more information. Instead of using Google, you should use the online legal information available through the Library web pages because you can trust it. Members of the Library and Law Faculty have decided to put it on the site because it is relevant to your studies. Also, this information is written by legal experts for other lawyers to use, so if they use it you should too.

There will be a whole range of different databases and websites for you to use but some of the key ones will include:

  • BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute)
  • legislation.gov.uk
  • LexisLibrary
  • Hein Online
  • Westlaw

It is important to become familiar with most or all of these key databases and be able to use them effectively because:

  • they will all have unique content or functionality; and
  • if you want to become a lawyer you will need to understand a range of databases because most firms use one or more of them.

As an example, LexisLibrary has unique content including the All England Law Reports and Halsbury’s Laws of England & Wales, which is the only complete narrative statement of the law of England and Wales.

The other great advantage of databases like LexisLibrary is that all of the information is linked together. From one initial search, you can then use the embedded hyperlinks in a document to find further relevant information without running another search. LexisLibrary will also suggest other similar content that might be useful to you.

Tip 3 – Learn to use legal databases.

The key to success

The ability to conduct effective legal research is a key skill to acquire so that you can achieve your aspirations and qualify as a solicitor.

If you can properly use the resources that your law library provides for you then you will have a much better chance of getting the grades you need to succeed.

Tom Laidlaw is head of academic and public sector marketing at LexisNexis