How to survive the LPC research module

Cant I just ask the firms librarian to look things up for me?
No you are the one with the law degree, the LPC and the legally trained mind to find the correct law and apply it to the issues.

How to survive the LPC research moduleLets start with some frequently asked questions:

Cant I just ask the firms librarian to look things up for me?
No you are the one with the law degree, the LPC and the legally trained mind to find the correct law and apply it to the issues.

I could always just Google the problem the internet always has an answer!
The internet may have answers but they might not be correct! Your client is paying your firm to use proper legal resources to provide full and correct advice on its particular problem.

Will my supervisor give me a reading list of suitable texts and caselaw to use thats what I had on my undergraduate course?
Absolutely not!

But there are so many resources, I dont know where to start!

Of course you know how to research law by now so why do you have to do so much research on the LPC?

On day one of your training contract you will probably be given some research to do so that your supervisor can assess whether you really are a safe pair of hands. You dont want to find yourself in charge of the photocopier for the next 6 months if you mess up your first task, do you? So pay attention to the research element of the LPC and you will be fully prepared for practice (or even interviews for a training contract firms often give research tasks to students to assess their suitability as a trainee).

Many students find the switch between research at undergraduate level and that required in practice challenging, if not pretty daunting. A key difference is that in practice you are presented with just your clients problem e.g. can Mr White do X? What are the consequences of doing Y? Trainees often have to start their research from scratch in a totally unfamiliar area – alone. To make things even more challenging trainees have to work under time pressure (remember time is money!) and must find the correct answer (otherwise your firm may be sued for negligence).

Research isnt a subject that can be taught in the traditional sense as it is a skill and therefore needs to be developed and practised. This important skill can be nurtured by practising it regularly with guidance. Throughout the LPC students are given practice problems which increase with difficulty during the course.

To research successfully and with the minimum pain, you need to follow a sound research technique some of this is common sense and you would probably do much of this naturally anyway but its a good process to follow in case you slip up on the way.

1. Analyse your clients problem carefully and identify what the real issues are – its not always that obvious so take your time here!
2. Then consider what resources you have and how you intend to use them. Its a bit like orienteering in order to achieve your destination you need to plan what to do before you actually do it rather than just randomly going in any direction otherwise you will end up in the dark and never find the correct answer!
3. Then get on and research your clients problem make sure you read all the relevant detail (e.g. footnotes) and carefully check every avenue to be sure you actually find the right answer to your clients problem. Use a commentary to get an idea of the relevant area (this is someone elses opinion of the law e.g. Halsburys Laws is often a good start) and then check the actual legislation or caselaw itself; the commentary you started with may be wrong or biased in some way which could affect your advice.
4. Dont forget to update every point you rely upon you will be wasting your firms time and your clients money if you provide an out of date answer (and you may be negligent).
5. Ensure that you deal fully with the clients problem.

Imagine one of your clients has been charged with a criminal offence. Unsurprisingly, he wants to know the maximum sentence. So you look it up, but fail to notice that the statute on which you are relying has recently been amended. So you give him out-of-date advice. So what? Well, if the old sentence was a maximum fine of say 1000, but the new sentence to which your client will be subjected is a prison sentence of up to 2 years, how are you going to feel? How is your client going to react? You may think that you would never get this sort of thing wrong: if so, great, but make sure you always check as every year thousands of solicitors are negligent, often as a result of very minor errors.

Many LPC students struggle to understand why they are being made to do research on the course only when they get into practice do they realise why this skill is such a fundamental part of their training. We often get emails from first year trainees asking us to tell our current intake of LPC students that its so important and such a useful skill and we do. So make sure you develop your own research skills whilst on the LPC as much as you possibly can your hard work will pay off once you get into practice!

Tips to survive Practical Legal Research on the LPC:

o The more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel about whether you have actually found the correct answer (or sometimes the fact that there really is no answer!).
o Know your resources what youve got and how to use them. You will have to get your hands dirty and do quite a lot of reading around a subject sometimes.
o Be careful identifying the issues; its surprisingly easy to go wrong right at the start.
o Follow a sound technique; especially make sure your research is up-to-date.
o Provide user-friendly, relevant advice that will impress your boss and that your client will be happy to pay for.

Annabel Harrison is a Senior Lecturer and the LPC Research Subject Leader at Nottingham Law School. Adrian Savage is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Skills on the LPC at Nottingham Law School.