Online legal research databases are arguably the greatest and most under appreciated resources available to law school students. While in school, what you do know is that you can use your online legal research database to research cases and statutes for your classes and major research assignments. Representatives of the database companies visit regularly and hold lunches to educate you on more effective ways to research. However, little emphasis is made on the fact that after law school those wonderful databases may not be as readily available. While in law school it is easy to get comfortable with the idea that LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law will always be free and accessible. What is not emphasized is that your access to the databases will end after graduation, and depending on your post-law school place of employment either as a law clerk or a first year associate, the databases may be limited or unavailable. Becoming efficient in online legal research is an invaluable asset in law school and, even more so, once your an attorney. Below are some tips and ideas to help you make the most out of online legal research.
During law school plenty of opportunities arise to research cases, statutes, and secondary materials. Rather than just printing the document for momentary use and later throwing it away, be sure to create a digital folder for the subject and save the document there. By the end of your three years of law school, you’ll have multiple file folders based on subject or topic that contain several cases, statutes, etc. You’ll quickly find these folders are useful in practice because you’ll be spending less time scouring through Westlaw and more time actually drafting. This is important because once you no longer have a student Westlaw account, every minute spent researching is costing money. The less time it takes you to research, the more money the firm saves.
Become familiar with all the databases
I’ll be honest. I did not go to very many of the Westlaw and LexisNexis seminars. The few I went to were extremely helpful and I wish I had attended more. Believe me when I say that you should try to attend the research seminars as often as possible. Both companies hold the meetings during lunch time a few times a month and they even provide food. Gaining familiarity with all of the online research databases will help you become a more efficient researcher and, once again, save you time and money. Taking the time while in law school to just sit and play around on the databases is another great way to get used to them and figure out how you best research. Also, there are quite a few not so hidden gems within the databases. For instance, Westlaw has Trial Documents. As my supervising attorney always reminds me – “Someone has done this before.” The Trial Documents tab that shows up along the left side of the results page every time you do a search in Westlaw Next provides pleadings done by other attorneys that reference your search criteria. I have found this especially helpful when I have absolutely no idea where to start when writing a pleading. You can get great ideas as to form and other case law to reference in your own motion. [Remember to save them!]
Remember: Time is money, friend.
Literally a few months after you take the bar, all of the online research databases start to wither away. While it is a shock at first, you quickly learn to make do. If you are hired by a firm that has access to any one of the databases, it is imperative that you quickly and efficiently gather the research you need when you use online legal research. If you take the time to get to know the databases then most of your research assignments will be a breeze.