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Quick Reference: Multimedia Guides

Introduction to Research Overviews

If you are new to legal research or you need a quick refresher, you've come to the right place. This page provides short, visual overviews of several key aspects of the legal research process. The overviews are PDFs, so you can download and save them to reference in the future. (Browsers vary, so we've included a link to the PDF under each embedded version.) We also have a guide dedicated to our most frequently asked legal research questions. That guide should also be helpful in answering your questions on legal research. Of course, these resources are big picture overviews. If you need help with the details of legal research or just prefer to ask someone a question, please reach out: lawref@gmu.edu

A Visual Overview of the Legal Research Process

When you're getting started, or if you haven't done it since 1L year, legal research can seem intimidating. It doesn't need to be. By following the four steps listed here you'll be on track to successfully completing most research projects. If you need help on any of the specific steps listed here — maybe you aren't familiar with terms & connectors searching — please reach out to the reference office: lawref@gmu.edu or stop by our office. 

As you follow these steps remember that it's okay to go back to step one if you feel confused or realize that you need to expand your research to include a new area. Having a reasonable understanding of the topic you're researching will help you both in sorting through your results and crafting your searches. Also, this is meant as a big picture overview. Your particular question or assignment may require modifying this approach. For example, your supervisor may expressly say they are only interested in cases from a certain jurisdiction. If that's the case, you wouldn't want to waste time with Step 3. 

Legal Resources Hierarchy

Understanding which resources are authoritative can be confusing. If you feel unsure in this area or want to check your understanding, this visual overview may help. The pyramid provides examples of the types of authority listed on the left. Make sure to read the notes on either side of the pyramid. 

The One Good Case Research Technique

When you find or are given a good case for your research assignment, you want to make sure you get everything you can from that case. This PDF provides an overview of how to do that. Typically, you'd use this technique during steps 2 and 3 of the Legal Research Flow shown above.

Although most people refer to it as the one good case method, you can often apply it to other resources, like statutes. The "search for the case" step in the PDF requires you to think of potential misspellings or miscitations that automated database processes may miss. This can be challenging and time-consuming, so you should only do this if you have time or are not finding what you need with the other methods. 

Find the Best Legal Database for Your Question

Which database you should use depends on what you are researching. This PDF provides lists some common areas of legal research (the first column on the left) and then advice on which of the big three (Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg) you should use. While you'll likely use Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg often, there are several other useful legal databases. The "other" column lists additional databases that may be useful. Most of these databases are available on our Law-Related Databases page. If you need help finding a database or understanding how to use it, please reach out: lawref@gmu.edu