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Legal Research Manual

This edition of Legal Research Manual builds on many previous editions. While the manual is designed principally for use with the first year legal research classes, upper year law students will also find it a useful reference.

Stage 3: Preliminary Integration of Research and Analysis

Flesh Out The Preliminary Statement of Issues

As you begin your initial research, add information to your preliminary statement of issues. Note the governing legal principles under each issue and list the leading case and statutory references. Note opposing arguments under each issue. Write down the complete legal citations for these cases and statutes. Add any new issues identified by your research. In what order do the issues need to be proven?

Analyze the Leading Cases and Relevant Statutory References

Having found key material, you need to analyze it. Read and brief the leading cases. Make a preliminary application to the facts of your problem. Note the major authority and relevant facts of your problem under each issue. Note any dissenting judgments or disagreements among the cases. What cases are binding? Can they be distinguished from your fact situation? What cases are persuasive? Note other key cases cited in the leading cases.

For any statutory references, you need to update the references to make sure they are still good law. You need to analyze the statute, breaking it apart and identifying its different parts. The next step is to research any ambiguous interpretation of the statutory section. Look for statutory definitions.

Revise the Statement of Issues

Do a preliminary legal analysis of the problem. Which issues seem fairly well settled, given the law and your facts, and can be discussed briefly without any further research? Which seem more uncertain either in light of the law or your facts? Where does the weight of authority lie? Note the strengths and weaknesses of the argument on both sides of the issue, and list in terms of likelihood of success. Can you apply any of the cases directly to your facts? Can you distinguish any of the cases on the facts? Which cases are binding and which are merely persuasive? What are the possible defences? What are the possible remedies? Do you need to find more analogous cases? Do you need to make any policy arguments? Note any areas in your analysis that need further research.

Identify Next Research Steps

Now you are ready to continue with your research. The point is not to gather all possible cases on point, just those which will add to your analysis. This is especially important before using digests and indexes to law reports. By this point in your research, you already have a good idea of the issues, you just need to refine the analysis.

  • Using the case digests, find analogous cases:
    • Know what information you need, and select cases that appear to contain that information. Are the facts close enough to those in your case that you (or the other side) can use the case to argue by analogy, comparing or contrasting the facts in the analogous case with the facts in your case? Are the arguments that the parties made ones that either you or the other side in the present case might also use?
    • Select decisions from higher courts over decisions from lower courts.
    • Select recent decisions over older decisions.
    • Select cases that are more factually analogous over cases that are less factually analogous.
    • Select cases in which the court has found that the disputed element was met AND cases where it was not met.
  • Find any cases that have interpreted or applied the statute.
  • Note-up any statutory references (amendments, regulations, new bills, coming into force dates).
  • Identify the key cases to note-up (case history, cases judicially considered).
  • List the weak or ambiguous points under each issue that need further research in the full text judgment databases.