To focus both the research and the analysis, it is a good idea to develop a detailed written outline of how you plan to analyze the legal issues presented by the fact situation. The written outline is a work in progress. As you begin to research and analyze the relevant materials, you need to rework the outline. The outline will indicate where the analysis is strong (no further research is required) and where the analysis is weak (further research is required). The Legal Research Starting Points in this chapter is one approach to researching and analyzing a legal memorandum. The format for the memorandum is suggested in The Legal Writing Handbook. A more general approach to research is set out in The Craft of Research, but these are not the only approaches. There are many ways to develop an outline and there are many different formats for a legal memorandum. The key is to continue to develop an outline concurrently with the research and the analysis in order to focus the work. By the end of the research and analysis process, you will have a fully developed outline of your legal argument from which the memorandum may be written.
The legal solution to a problem (provided there is one) is determinable by the law as expressed in statutes and cases. The most efficient way to research these is often to use secondary sources, which include journal articles, textbooks, and encyclopedias, in order to identify relevant statutes and cases.
There is no magic to good legal research. There is no one way to do it effectively. The key is simply being knowledgeable enough about the sources so that that one can use them to retrieve the relevant law efficiently and effectively. Determining what is "relevant" case law comes with practice. One cannot always retrieve every case on point, but one must attempt at the very least to retrieve the leading and precedent-setting cases.
This chapter outlines the kind of research strategies that may be employed when researching and analyzing a legal problem and describes which sources to consult and in what order. It provides a framework and a checklist to guide basic legal research.
When researching, it is important to remember the following:
Read the statutes and the cases! No digest, treatise, or case synopsis service can be a foolproof legal research tool. More often than not, the resources described in a digest, book, or article only provide the analytical framework for a substantive or procedural issue. Without a complete review of the cases, and thorough updating for more recent cases and statutes, a lawyer may find in the courtroom that incomplete research will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
--William Goodman, "Essential Research Tools for Criminal Defense Attorneys"