The Glassmeyer Legal Research Flowchart

Sarah Glassmeyer, Faculty Services and Outreach Librarian & Assistant Professor of Law, Valparaiso University School of Law, has made available her Legal Research Flowchart, which you see below. Though it’s a process for discovering U.S. law, it’s got a lot to recommend it universally.

You can follow Professor Glassmeyer (“Information liberator. Coffee achiever.”) on Twitter @sglassmeyer.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Click on image to enlarge.


  1. Yes, with two caveats, if the chart is intended for more than law students, anyway.

    The first is that the chart presumes one knows enough about the area to adequately answer the questions in the first two boxes.

    The second is related to the first.

    There are two major omissions.

    The first is that the chart nowwhere mentions subject matter treatises (texts). I suspect the author intended them to be in the secondary sources “cloud”.

    Next, related to the first. If the chart is intended for the practicing lawyers, or legal academics, or judges. Ask a colleague, first if circumstances permit can. Odds are that most of us know somebody who knows something about the area who can provide some guidance. Perhaps “ask a knowledgeable colleague” should be in the secondary sources “cloud”, too.

    (Especially if the research is for a motion. Out of law school, that implies – or at least suggests – the possibility of a paying client. After all, one wouldn’t want to do work for which one charges the clilent that could have been done more effeciently and at less expense, right?)

  2. By coincidence, Simon Lewis’ column concludes

    … a fast internet will allow you sleep better and impress clients by asking some of your more specialised colleagues hard questions, regardless of their location.

  3. Two comments:

    1. Its been a while since I did this kind of research, but frequently the first steps of research would lead me to refine the question – either because I’d asked the wrong question, or because the facts and law raised a different question that I hadn’t considered.

    2. I see the strong possibility of an infinite loop in the upper right. A person doing research is required to keep searching the primary law until they get an answer repeatedly. There are many questions in which the researcher will not be able to come up with an answer, only arguments or analogies, for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen many students caught in this loop, thinking that the correct answer will reveal itself if they look harder.

  4. FWIW, Sarah’s now with CALI as their director of content development and she shared the flow chart recently as part of a session on free legal research.

  5. Thanks, David W. That’s “worth” a lot. I got her info from the cv on her website.

    @David C: wouldn’t texts fall under “secondary sources”?

  6. I’m delighted that Sarah will be joining us at the CALL/ACBD 2012 conference in Toronto. Her session on Tues. May 8th will be: “Library in Their Pocket: Using Technology to Meet Your Patrons Halfway”

  7. Sarah Glassmeyer

    Hello! Thanks for sharing this!

    Just to respond to some comments/concerns:

    I did make this primarily for law students, although I think newer attorneys could use it because at least in American law schools, legal research is sort of the red headed step-child of the curriculum and they’ve probably forgotten what they were supposed to learn (if they did in fact learn anything) by the time they are in practice.

    I did include “treatises” in the version I used on the TDLP presentation with a quick and dirty photoshop job. I couldn’t get the font to match so I didn’t want to post it on Flickr. There’s other types of secondary resources I didn’t include as well – the thought bubble was really just to give students a rough idea of what they should be looking for.

    I really like the idea of including a bubble for “ask someone who may know, like a librarian or your managing attorney” I think I’ll include that in later iterations! Thanks!

    And yes, I am no longer a practicing librarian and am at CALI. I guess I should update my CV, huh? I can’t believe I remembered to update my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profile but not my own website! Oops. :)

    I hope to see many of you in Toronto in May!