Law is not only a noble profession but it is also an indicator of intellectual superiority and leadership skills. Society looks up to lawyers and often consults them first before they make their decision. They are expected to know everything and as such, they often serve in high positions in the government and in private corporations. The reality, however, is that though they may know a great deal about the law they do not know everything.
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The edge of lawyers is that they know the importance of research. Law school ensures that law students appreciate the importance of legal research and develop this crucial skill. It bears stressing that debate and argumentation may be vital skills to acquire, but this oratorical skills and rhetoric do not have a place in court as the magistrates and judges look for jurisprudence as the basis for every assertion in court. It is because of this reason that legal research and writing are perhaps the most powerful tools of a lawyer in court. Oral communications skills and debate skills, rhetoric and argumentation skills inside the courtroom are merely secondary. It is possible that cases may be won by a lawyer from the time when the pleadings and legal briefs are being prepared and even before the trial starts.
Legal research and writing are also important for non-lawyers. It would be more convincing and more impressive if the memoranda, simple letters to clients and letters of opinion prepared by paralegals make use of legal decisions, laws, or statutes as their basis.
The practice of law also involves an understanding of the court systems. One of them is that courts adhere to the doctrine of stare decisis or the doctrine of precedents. In essence, it states that when the court is faced with a case bearing the same facts and issues it must rule the same way it did in the previous cases. Unless the old jurisprudence is formally abandoned, it must adopt the same jurisprudence in the previous case.
It is because of this court system that the lawyer must develop the skill of gathering data and information from as many sources in as little time as possible. Consider this scenario: a lawyer can gather enough data within 2 hours while another takes 20 hours to finish his research. The first lawyer definitely has the distinct advantage over the other.
Conducting a research on a particular topic, however, is not easy. It requires constant learning and practice and the lawyer needs to follow certain steps. The first step will be to read and analyze the problem. The researcher must first read the facts of the case very carefully for him to gain an understanding of the subject matter and the issues involved.
The second step will be to browse the possible resources to have a complete understanding of the issues involved. The lawyer will have to refer to the Shepard Citations for a review of the cases that deal with the same subject. Secondary sources such as law books, journals treaties, regulations issued by administrative agencies are also useful. He may also refer to recent laws and statutes, the US Constitution and the various legislative enactments that deal with the same problem.
If, for example the issue is about whether the state has the right to conduct warrantless search, the researcher is advised to refer to the Indexes of Law Journals, Law Reviews, Digests, loose-leaf services and Encyclopedias and to look for keywords such as Fourth Amendment, Right to Privacy, warrantless search and exclusionary rule. He must also read the existing cases on this matter such as the cases of US v. Chadwick, the US v. Edwards, California v. Acevedo and Chandler v. Miller. He may also refer to electronic sources such as the Internet and the CD-ROM to browse the necessary information on the subject.
After having familiarized himself with the existing laws and jurisprudence, the third step is for the researcher to make a list of the arguments involved in the case, the particular cases which have the same or similar facts, the statutes that may be applied and the legal principles involved in the controversy.
The researcher is now ready to make an extensive research on the case law of the problem. He can now read in detail the cases he gathered.
After the necessary legal materials have been gathered, the researcher is now ready to prepare his draft. By merely following these simple steps, the researcher is expected to produce a well researched, well-written and well-prepared legal work.
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