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Legal Research for Summer Law Clerks, Interns, & Externs: Best Practices for Legal Research on the Job

Introduction to Best Practices

The below information will provide you with best practices for research in your summer internship to help you:

  • comply with your ethical obligations as a legal professional,
  • work well with others, and
  • understand the costs of legal research.

Researching at UNM

Best Practices and Tips for your Summer Research Projects

Your ability to apply research skills on the job is critically important. Research helps you find, understand, and apply the law. Although you are not yet an attorney, your professional responsibility started when you first entered law school and continues through to the legal work you do over the summer.

Keeping your ethical obligation in mind, you may wonder what resources you should or should not use on the job. Below, find more info on  what resources you can use while conducting your work. Whether you use certain tools might also depend on whether you are getting paid for the work you do over the summer.

What can you definitely use?

  • Lexis Nexis
    • You can use your own account--but do not give your username and password out for others to use
  • New Mexico OneSource
    • Free for everyone and anyone, good resource for NM Law
  • Other Subscription Resources
    • Any sources on the UNM Law Library's A-Z list of databases

What can you maybe use?

  • Westlaw
    • CAN NOT use for commercial purposes, such as a paid job
    • CAN PROBABLY use for unpaid work or for externships you participate in for credit
    • Register through lawschool.westlaw.com to use your Westlaw account for this purpose

PLEASE NOTE: Access to Westlaw, Lexis, and even many of our A-Z databases is subject to complex licensing agreements. Do not share your log in information for any site or database with someone else. 

Keep in mind that you have extensive access to resources through the UNM Law Library while the attorneys, clerks, and judges you work with probably do not. Here are some tips on how to best use these sources to be as helpful and professional as possible.

Don't be annoying!

  • Tread lightly-- do not remind coworkers of what they don't have.
  • Be choosy about your sources-- if you can select a quality platform that more people can access, go with that one.
    • For example, if you can find a New Mexico case on OneSource, and your supervisor wants you to send links, use the OneSource link and not a link to Westlaw or Lexis Nexis.
  • Ask your employer what they prefer for you to use. 
    • Do they want you to use resources available to you, or something tied to their in-house subscriptions?

Document your search process in clear, understandable manner. 

  • Why?
    • Cover yourself in case there are questions about your process
    • Make it so you can hand off your research to another person.
    • Try keeping a research log similar to this one, below:
Step

Date of Incident 

Facts/Chronology Terms Findings/Value What you found Date/status
1 4/21/2020    

-FRBP 7001(1) Adversary Proceeding. ...a proceeding to recover more money or property...

-Other 10 categories prob. don't apply

-Litigation under Bankrup. action rules similar to FRCP

-Consult more general seconadary auth. on AP & Breach of K in particular

[Also record your citations here]

5/7/2020

No negative treatment, current through 3/1/20

2            
3            

If you are going to take a break from researching, record some notes so it is easier for your to pick up where you left off. Some questions you might ask yourself are--

  • What should you consult next time?
  • Did you answer the call of the question?
  • What is the strength or your authority?

Other tips:

  • Be cost (and time) conscious -- strive for efficiency.
    • Don't waste time
    • If you can find what you need from a free resource, use it.
    • Start with secondary sources--this will save you time by providing relevant annotations and terms right away.
  • Ask intelligent questions -- 
    • Is it time to change search terms?
    • Is it time to narrow or expand your issue?
    • Is it time to follow up with the person who gave you the assignment?
  • Be flexible
    • Your employer may have something different available than what you prefer--know enough about everything to adapt. 

In order to prepare you for working as an attorney, it is important to note the expenses involved with using legal research platforms beyond law school. This will give you some insight as to why many firms and other legal organizations do not have the same breadth of resources available that you do as a student.

Lexis Advance:

  • Used a lot in NM, notably in state courts and agencies
  • There's no charge for searching or for placing a document in a folder
  • Viewing a document does cost money. Lexis provides a summary of the cost prior to viewing the document
    • Subscription plans have different coverage to watch out to make sure you aren't click on something beyond the subscription
    • In some instances, it can cost up to $80 to view a treatise that is outside an organization's subscription plan
  • If you must enter a client code when you log in, those charges may be reflected on a client bill.
  • To manage costs, make sure you use folders and downloading to your advantage
  • CourtLink for docket search--- limited federal court info. For full-text copies of documents, email libref@law.unm.edu and a reference librarian will pull the document from PACER for you

Westlaw:

  • No charge until you open a document, so make sure you use filters to examine the most relevant results
  • Set your results list to show the most detail so you can see as much info as possible about a document prior to opening it
  • Use features to your advantage:
    • Notes and folders will keep you organized
    • You can view something from your history for free on the same day you first opened it
    • You can browse a table of contents for free
  • Keycite with care-- the charges depend on your organization's contract with Westlaw. If you don't know, ask!
  • Call West reference attorneys--they can run sample searches and provide insight on how to run a more efficient search

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