Fundamentals of Legal Research


Legal research involves finding and understanding the law that governs the legal issues in a particular dispute. Here’s a guide on how to conduct basic legal research:


• Define Your Research Question


The first step is to clarify the legal issue or question you need to research. This should be as specific as possible, as a well-defined question helps guide your research.


• Begin with Secondary Sources


Secondary sources provide commentary on the law and include law reviews, treatises, and legal encyclopedias. They're an excellent way to get an overview of your legal topic, understand key concepts, and identify primary law.


• Locate Primary Law


Primary law includes statutes, regulations, and case law. This is the law itself, as passed by legislatures, administrative agencies, and courts.


  • Statutes and Regulations: These are the laws passed by legislative bodies and administrative rules created by government agencies.
  • Case Law: These are precedents set by court decisions. Understanding how courts have interpreted laws similar to your issue is crucial.


• Use Legal Research Databases (law information websites)


There are several online databases like Westlaw, LexisNexis, and free resources like Google Scholar, where you can search for legal materials.


• Analyze Your Findings


Read and analyze the primary law you have found. Determine how and whether the primary law governs your legal issues.


• Organize Your Research


Keep a detailed record of your findings including the variety of resource materials discovered in the course of your research, and keep notes on how they apply to your legal issue.


• Write Your Legal Analysis

Once your research is complete and organized, you may draft your legal analysis and your argument, incorporating the primary and secondary sources you've found to support your conclusions.




Legal research is a skill that improves with practice. It requires patience, thorough record-keeping, and attention to detail.


For more information concerning legal research, legal analysis, and other areas of civil litigation, check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook.