Getting started in legal research

Be systematic

Kirk Olson, Professor, Rasmussen College

Are you ready to launch into the big lake of legal research?

First, get acquainted in the student lounge. Then, launch into the week one lessons.

Legal Research is highly useful in a law office if we are systematic. It is almost useless if we just twiddle any which way. This class will help you be very systematic, which will help you in your career as you update basic legal knowledge using Lexis.com, verify that citations in a document are correct and reflect all changes in the law using Lexis.com. Later, you will accumulate knowledge about the structure of the law and do new original research in Lexis.com. If you start with getting started and do all the modules correctly and in order, you will be so organized and systematic that you will help set a new standard. You will be the one called on when thoroughness is needed. Achieving this level is a long road and I want you to take only one step at a time.

Let's set goals and review resources first. Focus most on the Paralegal Academic Guide resources in week one, but do not try to learn it all. There are tips and helps there that should be studied over 11 weeks, not one week. Week one is mostly about your own findings from the guide, lessons, text, and Lexis.com. Study the authoritative information for the quiz and set your own goals and make your own evaluations in the discussion and the written assignment.

Much of what we do in the discussion and written assignment is preliminary, not final. I hope you adjust your initial opinions as you go. I often tell students on the phone, "Be wrong. Be boldly wrong. Test your ideas. Then, correct your ideas." Many of my students have been working at places where working efficiently and error free is the whole game. In legal research, I prepare you to do more original analysis, which involves often being wrong in your initial ideas.

Even correct ideas will be partially wrong. For example, a statute that was used in a case may be correct, but not the complete answer. I won several cases because of legal errors by the other side, even though the other side's statute citation was basically correct. They may have used a real statute, but the wrong one. In other cases, a separate statute and case analysis was needed to supplement their citations and they failed to be thorough. Other times, they got the statutes right and missed a court rule. Think of being the paralegal who saves the day by thinking outside the box!

You gain points in discussions and in written assignments by being boldly wrong and testing your ideas logically. Of course, this does not apply to the quizzes which are about basic facts of law and facts of research taught in the course lessons.

Be sure to keep checking with me as you work. Until you feel confident in what you are doing, make a phone call to me every week. If it is past 9 PM Central Time when you have a problem, send a course mail to me with full details. Include a partial assignment if needed.

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