Podcast on How to Do Quick and Dirty American Legal Research

The ABA’s Litigation Section’s website has a number of useful resources, but I hadn’t noticed its podcasts, including one that could be usefully shown to law students of young associates on how to use the web intelligently for American legal research.

It’s billed as follows:

Quick and Dirty Research

What happens when you need an answer right away, and you can’t bill for the research? No need to panic. Christina DeVries shares some techniques for finding the law in 30 minutes or less.

Lots of practical tips, which might just steer a student to use Google more intelligently. I especially liked the use of feedback as a way of enriching searching


  1. Simon,

    I just listened to the podcast. I’m going to disagree with you.

    It’ll be a waste of time time for SLAWyers to listen to it, even at only 7 minutes.

    I don’t think there’s anything helpful in there for young non-American lawyers to do quick American legal research. For example, I’d hope that such a lawyer, at least in the English speaking world, wouldn’t need to be told about FindLaw and the the various LIIs.

    Or need to be told about the idea of using Google or any of the othe search engines and a known key word or phrase that should pop up in any relevant source that’s accessible to the engine.

    Or paying more attention to a hit on something supposedly written by an expert source who should know over the ramblings on an unknown law studen blog.

    Or telling us that if you know that the partner who asked you to do the research thinks that Ishkabibble on Bafflegab isn’t a good text, try another book, too.

    I wouldn’t employ a first year associate who needed to hear anything in that talk, no matter what jurisdiction’s law was involved. There’s a real problem with US law schools and the various US state bar-licensing exams if they’re passing people who do. I hope that’s not the case. It’s not my experience it is the case. I hope that’s not just because I’ve been lucky.

    that’s twice in two days I’ve broken my almost New Year’s resolution to say nothing if I can’t say anything good (outside of work). I can usally restrict that to work and non-work legal writing. Mea culpa.


  2. Ah well. Let me meet you half way. I’m staggered by the complete lack of knowledge that most of the young lawyers have about the American system, not just research fundamentals, but the basics of constitutional law (state/federal breakdowns) and the operation of the court system. Whatever we can do to get them oriented within that system is worthwhile.

    I often tear students away from Lexis / Westlaw where they’re flailing around expensively, and put them in front of Am Jur, ALR, CJS or inside Williston on Contracts or Loss or the other grand treatises, simply because they can get a better sense of the landscape of principle there, and not be distracted by a blizzard of caaselaw trivia.

  3. Simon:

    I couldn’t agree more about the need to burn into students’ and associates’ heads the commandment that you go to the online caselaw databases only after you know exactly what it is you’re looking for; that the first place you got to is the texts and treatises. That’s especially so if one is going to the law of another country. After all, they’re supposed to assume the work has been written by somebody who knows the subject matter.

    I had the unfortunate task of having to repeat that too often at a CLE conference primarily aimed at articling students and younger associates (the CLE was called “Boot Camp”) at which I recently lectured.

    You undoubtedly have far more continuing exposure than I do on the knowledge levels of the incoming classes of lawyers. It wasn’t as bad as you describe amongst most of the articling applicants that I interviewed through the end of the last millenium, back when I was part of larger firm taking 2 or 3 students per year.

    Still, we’re not dealing, usually, with undergraduate level people. It’s a sad commentary on something wrong going on in the law schools and the universities, earlier, if there’s that much terra icognito in their heads.

    I know that, on US TV, we often see maps of North America with the area north of the US border blank. That shouldn’t be the analogous state, though, of a Canadian lawyer’s mind unless he or she practices in some area of the law in some part of the country that is that insular. I suppose these exist. Not for me, though.

    On the other hand, I was recently “accused” – by somebody who would know – of being as academic a practitioner-litigator as currently exists in Canada. So, perhaps my standards are skewed. As you said, ah well.


  4. David, I have the same views as you do, and I have been practising law in a large firm for over 16 years now. We usually hire over 20 articling students per year, and this issue has intensified rather than abated. Students still need to be reminded that “value-added” resources should be consulted first. It is tempting to hop onto a database first and “search” for some primary law. However, a disciplined approach to researching an issue is the only right approach.