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Legal research and writing

This guide provides an introduction to legal research and writing for law students.

Research plan

This page will help you analyze the legal problem you are going to research and help you identify the points your research will need to address.

Below  is a sample research plan template:

Planning your legal research

Once you have a handle on what your legal problem is you can plan your research accordingly.

The depth and focus of your plan will likely vary depending on the issues and your familiarity with the subject area.

Start with secondary materials

Start with secondary sources – discussions of the law – to understand the developed law and get an idea of relevant legislation and leading cases on your topic. You'll find detail on secondary sources, including help in finding them, in the next section of this guide.

Legal dictionaries, legal encyclopedias, textbooks, annotated statutes, law reform commission reports, websites and blogs are all examples of secondary materials. Include these steps in your plan:

  • Record the titles and dates of the material you look at
  • Note down any legislation and cases that look relevant
  • Make note of any potential keywords of search terms you come across

Identify relevant primary materials

Legislation is often the first primary source to consider as many legal research problems centre on the interpretation of legislation. Statutes, regulations and by-laws are all examples of legislation. Your research plan should include these steps:

  • Write down the names of any potentially relevant legislation you are already aware of
  • Add other legislation to this list as you conduct your research
  • Update your legislation for currency
  • Note up your legislation for judicial interpretation

The other key primary source is case law. Be sure to pay attention to court level and jurisdiction. Your research plan should include these steps:

  • Consider any leading cases you already know about for this issue
  • Add other important cases to this list as you research secondary sources
  • Add any cases you uncover as you note up legislation for judicial treatment
  • Update or research the history of your cases for currency
  • Note up your key cases for judicial treatment
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