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How to Research & Write a Legal Research Paper

Preparing the Final draft

❶When you begin, you are writing for you , to help you understand what is going on.

Examples of legal writing

1. Determine Expectations
Legal & Law . Research Paper
How to Write a Legal Academic Paper

Do footnotes count in the page count? Does your professor care about proper Bluebooking of footnotes? Should you have oodles of footnotes like in law review articles? Or would the professor find that tedious and unnecessary? If footnotes count in the page limit, this is a real consideration—make sure you know the answer. Does your professor have a preference as to how the paper should be organized? What about the ratio between background and analysis?

How about headings and subheadings? Does your professor care? Does your professor have any pet peeves or strong preferences regarding what should be in your paper?

As an adjunct, I have answered all these questions for my students because I have strong preferences. They know what I expect regarding mechanics. They know I care little about how they format citations, but that I consider the rigor of their research to be important, that analysis is the most important part of the paper, and that I expect them to be concise, write plainly, and edit well.

A common problem that students make is tackling a topic that is too large or too amorphous to analyze in the page limit. Another common misstep is to choose a paper topic that does not allow you to demonstrate course knowledge. My best advice is therefore to choose a narrow topic that will allow you to demonstrate mastery of course material.

Once you identify the issue that you want to address in your paper, create a research plan. Start by determining how will you get the necessary background information to address the subject. Spend time getting a handle on the issue. Then dig deeper into cases, statutes, articles, and other sources to inform your analysis of the topic. Most students are not rigorous when they research.

On at least some level, your professor is an expert on the subject matter and will know whether you invested time in your research. The more discrete the course subject, the more likely your professor has deep knowledge of the area and the harder it will be to impress him or her with your research. If you get stuck or think you have enough, ask your professor. Most professors who ask students to write papers want students to enjoy writing their papers and to put a great deal of effort into the pursuit.

Demonstrate to your teacher that you are indeed trying hard, see if he or she asks you to try harder. As with any written work, think before you write. Since a final paper has no time limit, the professor will expect a well-organized paper. To accomplish this, start with an outline.

Decide what you want to write before you start drafting. It should start with the taxonomy of the course subject and then drill down to the issue addressed in the paper. If your background section is longer than that, you have a problem.

Either your topic is too broad or you are saying too much. Finish the first draft of your paper without fussing over the background length or brevity.

A law school paper allows you to demonstrate mastery of the course material by applying it to a problem that interests you. Do not think the self-directed paper format means the professor does not care whether you understand the concepts learned in class.

That is not the case. Think of it this way: Make sure that you address major course themes, as they apply. If you find that no or few course themes apply to your topic, do yourself and your GPA a favor and pick a new one. In the paper, you will identify the problem and explain the facts. Then you will define the relevant authority.

Once you have done that, the real work begins. The bulk of your paper should involve rigorous analysis. Consider the Supreme Court cases you read in Con Law or pick up a law review article from a top school. Here are some questions that tend to work well in a variety of situations: Once you have a full first draft in hand, read through it and see if it flows logically.

When you are confident that it is all in there, tighten your writing. Often, a first draft is twice as long as it needs to be. Or give it to a good writer and ask that person to be critical. Read each sentence and see if it really needs to be in the document. You may also be limited in the number of internet-based sources you can use, and may be required to do a certain amount of library research. If you are prohibited from citing internet resources, you can still use online research to guide you to physical primary and secondary sources in your local library or bookstore.

Begin with tertiary sources. Tertiary sources include encyclopedias, dictionaries, guidebooks, and textbooks that distill or collect information from primary and secondary sources. Encyclopedia articles, well-sourced Wikipedia. Usually, you should not cite to a tertiary source in your essay. Use these sources to find primary and secondary sources. Look at footnotes, citations, and indexes in tertiary sources.

These are great for finding books, articles, and legal cases that are relevant to your topic. Also take note of the names of authors, who may have written multiple works on your topic. Speak to a librarian. If you can, go to a law library, which will have more specialized resources. A librarian can help you locate sources and navigate through state and federal case law reporters and books of statutory law.

He or she may also provide you with access to subscription-only legal search engines. Consult specialized search engines. Different academic fields often use different search engines. In the Unites States, law students typically use HeinOnline. Google Scholar is an excellent free resource for books and case opinions. Also find search engines for related fields, such as history or political science.

Ask your librarian to recommend specialized search engines tailored to other disciplines that may have contributed to your topic. Gather sources and read them. Highlight or make note of important arguments, facts, and statistics. When you sit down to write your essay, you will want to be able to easily refer back to your sources so that you can quote and cite them accurately. Create an outline for each relevant source. Write down the structure of the argument and any helpful quotes.

This will help you condense the argument when you reference or summarize the source in your essay. Never cut and paste from the web into your notes or essay. This often leads to inadvertent plagiarism because students forget what is a quotation and what is paraphrasing. When gathering sources, paraphrase or add quotation marks in your outline. Plagiarism is a serious offense. If you ultimately hope to be a lawyer, an accusation of plagiarism could prevent you from passing the character and fitness review.

Look for arguments on both sides of an issue. Law is a political subject, and any law adopted by a democracy is the product of debate. Thus, you should be able to find rich counter-arguments on both sides of any legal issue. Write your thesis statement. Your thesis statement is the argument you are making. A thesis statements should be phrased as an argument, often using the word "because. An outline typically begins with the thesis statement, and then lists each argument and counter-argument that will be addressed in the essay.

Under each argument and counter-argument, include a bulleted list of facts from your research that support the argument. Note the source of each fact for use in your citations later. Begin your introduction broadly. Briefly situate your topic within its greater historical context with a broad introduction. For example, if your topic is the exclusionary rule of evidence in the United States, open your essay with the importance and impact of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

Finish your introduction with your thesis statement, which is the narrow question your essay will address. An effective introduction takes the reader out of his world and into the world of your essay. After reading your introduction, your reader should know what you are going to discuss and in what order you will be discussing it. Be prepared to revise your introduction later. Summarizing your essay will be easier after you have written it, especially if you deviate from your outline.

An essay is more than an outline with the bullet points removed. Explain each section of your outline in complete sentences, and remember to do the following: State each argument of your essay as a statement that, if true, would support your thesis statement. Provide supporting information drawn from primary and secondary sources that support your argument. Remember to cite your sources. Provide your own original analysis, explaining to the reader that based on the primary and secondary sources you have presented, the reader should be persuaded by your argument.

A strong piece of writing always addresses opposing points of view. You should accurately paraphrase any counter-argument to an argument you put forth, and then use evidence and analysis to argue why your reader should be persuaded by your argument and not by the counter-argument. A conclusion briefly summarizes your argument without restating each individual point. Conclude by strongly restating your thesis statement. Review your essay prompt.

The prompt provided by your professor should include instructions for the formatting of your essay. Make sure that your work complies with these instructions to avoid having points deducted from your grade. Use the correct citation format. Law school journals and some undergraduate courses might require the Bluebook format, which is the traditional format for legal writing. Make sure that your margins, spacing, font, and page numbers comply with the prompt. Check the font of the body of your essay, as well as the footnotes, if applicable.

If a heading is required, review any guidelines for formatting your heading. You may need to revise your work to meet those requirements. Read the essay backwards.

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First, find an area of law you’re interested in. Narrow it down to a discrete issue. Then, focus in on a few (three or four should do) major works by respected thinkers in a given area of law. Who are these scholars? Ask the professors here at YLS—who are usually among those respected thinkers themselves. The professors here will suggest both .

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Basically, you are "issuing a legal opinion." The other type of legal writing is the regular term paper type. The following information is a crash course in legal citation. If you intend to cite a case in any legal research paper, you should know how to "Shephardize" a case.

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Writing a Law School Paper You, of cour se, want your research to be useful and do not want to simply restate something that someone else has already written. You may also ask your professor or a lawyer in the field you are researching if . University of Leicester, School of Law Writing Guide 2: Writing a Research Paper 3 Seventh edition Everyone knows that it is cheating to copy someone else's work whether it has been published or not. So copying a fellow student's work is just as much plagiarism as copying out of a published book.

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Only occasionally do students do anywhere close to the amount of research in the case law that is required for a good paper, however, where the law is – not in the law review articles, not in the treatises, not in the trade publication, not in the ALR annotations, but in the cases and other primary material (statutes, treaties, constitutions). There are countless ways to stylistically complete an academic essay. Here are some examples of how students have successfully done .