Category Archives: Legal Research & Writing

Research and Reference Resources to Support Your Journal Ambitions

At the end of the semester, you will have the opportunity to take a marathon write-on exam to test your Bluebook and writing skills under challenging conditions. The reward could be a staff position on Law Journal for Social JusticeJurimetricsSports and Entertainment Law JournalCorporate and Business Law Journalor the Arizona State Law Journal

Working on a journal is a great educational experience, giving you the opportunity to work with professional legal and policy arguments by law professors and legal practitioners while honing Bluebook skills. And it can help employers appreciate your resume.

So, how can you boost your chances of getting on Journal? The Law Library has resources to give you a leg up.

At the end of a rush of oral arguments, final briefs, and four final exams, you may all be welcoming the opportunity to wave goodbye to 1L. But, our First Year Legal Writing Guide provides many great resources to help you prepare for the written portion of your exam. So, just think of the All-Journal Write-on exam as your last act as a 1L. Resources for brushing up on memo writing will be critical, because this time you have only hours, not weeks, to polish a solid piece of legal writing. 

We recommend Legal Method and Writing by Professors Charles Calleros and Kimberly Holst. This resource is particularly useful for refining your logical demonstrations of why the law applied to your facts would create a particular outcome. Examples & Explanations: Legal Writing, which retired Professor Judy Stinson co-authored, helps you demystify the process and write fast, clear, efficient CREACs (or IRACs or CRuPACs). One of the big challenges will be organization: this will help you craft a logical, coherent, modular argument that marshals unfamiliar resources quickly. You can find this E&E on the Aspen study aids website. Professor Stinson’s own The Tao of Legal Writing provides a framework for achieving your full potential as a legal writer—and most importantly for write-on purposes, an efficient strategy for outlining and writing your response that will leave you plenty of time for revising and polishing to help you stand out to the journals.

You will also face a test of your citation acumen, and we have you covered there, too. Our Legal Writing library guide can help you navigate the Bluebook in the Legal Citation section, which features books and online resources that provide examples and explanations of the rules. Speaking of that, Examples & Explanations: Legal Research can help you brush up on the principles of citation in its appendices, so that you can better understand why we cite the way we do and begin to make complex citation decisions second nature. We recommend Understanding and Mastering the Bluebook to help you make sense of some complicated rules in the white pages of the Bluebook, which are the main focus of law journals but not first-year writing courses. 

The Interactive Citation Workstation on Lexis will put your skills to the test in advance of the write-on. The Bluebook can be notoriously finicky, so the instant feedback and machine precision that the workstation provides can help you get accustomed to the cite checking life. By clicking on the different topics, you can practice forming citation sentences, and the program will check to ensure compliance with standards for italics, small capitals, spacing, and abbreviation, and it can help you practice citing to unfamiliar sources such as administrative regulations, legislative histories, and law journals.

Finally, our Journal Cite Checking Research Guide will help you with one of the tasks most dear to the hearts of librarians—finding older or obscure resources in print or online. We have resources in place to help you do your research for cite checking, from interlibrary loan, to digital book repositories, to research databases, to government archives. And when you get stumped, our reference librarians are here to help.

Feel free to Meet with a Librarian; we can help you walk through complicated citation problems and get you started on research for your note or comment. 

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Graphics of Legal Research – Part 3: Ravel Law

When conducting legal research in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law, you will encounter a number of graphics and symbols that are simultaneously helpful and confusing. In this last entry of our three-part Graphics of Legal Research series, we take a look at Ravel View for case search results, exclusively on Lexis.

Ravel View on Lexis provides a unique visual tool for understanding case search results and incorporates Shepard’s treatment so you can see whether a given case has been treated positively or negatively. To access Ravel View after running a keyword search of cases in Lexis, click on the search view on the far right that shows circles connected by lines.

The resulting graphical view of your top 75 case search results organizes the cases by court level and year of decision. Each case is represented by a circle on the graph – the graph’s Y-axis shows the level of court (with higher level court cases represented towards the top of the graph) and the X-axis shows the date of each case (with more recent cases toward the right of the graph). Further, it displays which cases have been cited to the most via the size of the circle – the bigger the circle, the more that case has been cited by other cases. Lines connecting the circles detail the citation relationship between cases and use color-coding to show either positive, neutral, or negative treatment. The most important color to watch for is red, which indicates that the later case treated the earlier case severely negatively.

Below is a Ravel View representation of federal and Arizona state cases retrieved by searching for “dram shop”:

Here you can see that state court cases are represented at the bottom of the graph, with federal trial court cases above them, appellate court cases above the trial courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States above all. If your search includes only state courts, you will not see the same level of separation of court levels. Below is a representation of just Arizona state cases retrieved by a keyword search for “dram shop”:

This Ravel View of the resulting cases has clearly identified a single most frequently cited, or seminal case, on this topic in Arizona – it is the largest circle (indicative of citing frequency) and located at the top of the graph (indicative of court level).

Hovering over the circles highlights the citation relationship between the case you are examining and other cases within your search results, and it will show whether the case has negative treatment in subsequent cases in your search results. To find the text of a case, simply click on the circle and find the case in the panel to the right.

Clearly, we love Ravel View – it is a fast, user-friendly tool that will be of particular benefit to visual learners and researchers. It should not be the only tool you rely on for accurate searching of case law, however, as it will not show all negative citation history for every case and only shows the cases retrieved by your keyword search. Thus, the utility of the results is highly dependent on how good your keyword search was to begin with. For guidance on how to craft a great keyword search, see our previous blog post on the topic here. We also encourage to you Meet with a Law Librarian for help with crafting keyword searches and/or navigating Ravel View in Lexis!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Graphics of Legal Research – Part 2: Depth Analysis or: Don’t Get in Too Deep!

When conducting legal research in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law, you will encounter a number of graphics and symbols that are simultaneously helpful and confusing. In this three-part Graphics of Legal Research series, we are going to demystify some of the most common graphics that you may encounter when conducting legal research:

Part 1 – citator symbols
Part 2 – depth analysis
Part 3 – Ravel Law

Lexis shows how deep into the case one must read to find references to the authority in question. A depth bar with four blue boxes will be more likely to be relevant to your research than one with fewer colored spaces. Cases and statutes may be merely mentioned and not discussed in depth in opinions, so paying attention to the color bars will help you find useful analysis without wading through irrelevant cases. It’s a good, but not foolproof, way to research efficiently without spending undue time on irrelevant case law.

  • Open the case you want to research further.
  • Click on “Citing Decisions” at the top of the page.
  • Citing references are arranged by courts, with cases from the same jurisdiction as the authority being examined at the top.
  • Find the depth graphics below the names of the citing decisions.

Westlaw provides depth tools in its “Citing References” tool in legal materials. A depth bar with four green boxes will be more likely to be relevant to your research than one with fewer colored spaces.

  • Open the case you want to research further.
  • Click on “Citing References” at the top of the page.
  • Citing references are arranged by the nature of the treatment of the authority you are researching, with the most negative treatment at the top.
  • Find the depth graphics at the right side of the screen.

Bloomberg Law also includes depth signals, with a ranking out of five instead of Lexis’ and Westlaw’s four. However, it functions much the same.

  • Open the case you want to research further.
  • Click on “BCite Analysis” along the right side of the opinion.
  • Open “Citing Documents.”
  • Find the depth graphics at the right side of the screen, next to the case name.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

It’s Never too Late to Research Efficiently

Legal researchers should never allow a late semester time crunch lead to disordered research. Taking shortcuts in legal research can slow you down and add confusion, pressure, and tedium to the process. In addition, going without a plan can lead you to struggle through an enormous list of irrelevant results, misunderstand the law, or even select the wrong database altogether, missing important resources.

Meetings with the reference librarians at the Ross-Blakley Law Library are short, sweet, and efficient. We have the expertise to quickly identify the best legal research databases for your project and suggest research strategies that can help you craft quality writing projects, even in a time crunch at the end of the semester.

A few specific examples of what the reference librarians can help you with:

(1) showing you how to access and navigate the many available legal secondary sources so that you feel more confident in your search results

(2) identifying databases, both legal and interdisciplinary, outside of Westlaw and Lexis that may have relevant content for your inquiry

(3) providing tips and strategies for reducing the volume of irrelevant or unhelpful search results

In addition, we may already have a research guide that can help you identify helpful resources for your particular topic. We have guides on Bankruptcy Law, Tax Law, International Law, and much more!

Meet with a Law Librarian to get expert advice on all of your research projects, from office memoranda to seminar papers to Journal notes.

Online Research: The Domain of Skepticism

Your writing and your research will be put to the test if you try to publish an article you write during law school. Most law students are strong writers, and professors or librarians can help you find a worthy topic. But research is another matter. It’s sometimes easier to find things online than in books or legal databases, which require Shepardizing and Keyciting and other labors. But it could be unreliable—much of the Internet has no place in a good law review article. Below is a guide to domain extensions to help you evaluate online resources and determine if you need an alternative or to shore up subjective claims with objective data. The extensions are ranked from most to least reliable.

.gov/.mil: These extensions indicate that a resource has a highly reliable government body or military institution at its controls. These generally provide among the most reliable information, but be sure information is timely and remember that even government agencies do engage in positive spin as well. Objective data may be reliable without further inquiry, but researchers will want to be skeptical of analysis and commentary.

.edu: This website belongs to an educational entity, which provides some objective data about subjects of research. However, even schools will engage in positive spin about themselves. Turn to reliable print resources or objective third party resources if information from a school may be presented in a less than objective way.

.org: This extension indicate that an entity is either a nonprofit institution or simply any private entity,. The website could belong to a private individual or for profit business. Thus, .org provides little extra assurance of reliability, and you will want to vet any information with more reliable government or objective data. You can trust legal research databases such as HeinOnline.org to present data objectively; never cite to Wikipedia.org, although you may want to use it as a starting point and cite to some of the materials to which the Wiki article cites.

.com/.net (and similar): These domain extensions indicate that a resource is controlled by a private entity or individual, including business names. Although they can be reliable for information about a particular business, keep in mind that information will likely be presented with a positive spin for businesses and certain other entities. Check resources on HeinOnline to see if other reputable authors have relied on materials you plan to use. Take a similarly skeptical view toward information with second generation extensions such as .biz or .dev.

Meet with a Librarian for tips on how to shore up your research for maximum reliability and, we hope, publication potential.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Adding terms and connectors searching to your legal research toolkit

Have you ever searched on Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg and found that your “Google”-like keyword searching is bringing up an overwhelming list of 10,000+ resources, and worse, none of those resources seem useful? When this happens to you, we recommend terms and connectors searching. Terms and connectors searching, also called Boolean searching and advanced searching, will enable you to take charge of your search. It is a way to ensure your search results are comprehensive and precise. We’ve mapped out steps below to help you become comfortable with making terms and connectors searching your default search strategy.

1. Assess the problem
Before you search, consider:
What’s the area of law? Am I familiar with it, or do I need to get some background?
What words (jargon, terms of art) are used in this area of law?
What type of materials do I want to search?

2. Write an issue statement

3. Turn the issue statement into a search query
A mnemonic for doing this is TARC:
Terms
Alternatives
Root expander
Connectors

T = Terms — Identify key terms
Which terms in the issue statement represent the most legally relevant facts and/or issues?  

A = Alternatives — Identify alternatives to the key terms
Brainstorm words that legal writers might use in place of the key terms you identified. Helpful options include listing synonyms and related terms, which may be broader or narrower in scope than the main key term (ex. if the main key term is car, alternative terms could include automobile and vehicle). You can connect these within parenthesis in your search using the OR connector, discussed below.

R = Root expander
Using the ! character (root expander) can help account for different word endings/variations.
– Ex. constit! = constitute, constitution, constitutional…  
– Plurals: the singular will retrieve the regular plural.

C = Connectors
Use connectors to dictate the relationship between the search terms you enter. The two main connectors are OR and AND.
OR expands search results
When used between two words, OR means that the results may contain either or both words.
AND limits / restricts search results
When used between two words, AND means that the results must contain both words.
Variations of AND:
w/s — within the same sentence
w/p — within the same paragraph
w/# — within # words (e.g., w/4 equals within 4 words)
The connectors w/s and w/p are particularly useful in issue-based searching. If words are in same sentence or paragraph, there is a greater chance they’ll relate to one another and to your issue, and therefore that the document will be relevant.

Phrase Searching
Always put phrases in quotation marks.

4. Write out your search query with all the terms, alternatives, root expanders, and connectors in place
Here is an example of how an issue statement related to drunk driving can be crafted into a terms and connector search:

Issue statement: Is an individual who was found asleep in his car, which was parked on the side of the road with the engine off but the keys in the ignition, guilty of driving under the influence?

Terms and connector search: (asleep OR unconscious OR “passed out”) AND (“drunk driving” OR DUI OR intoxicated OR inebriated) AND ((car OR vehicle OR automobile)/s (park! OR stationary))

When running a terms and connectors search, what you are doing is specifying the relationships that must exist between the terms in your retrieved documents, instead of letting the database search algorithm determine those relationships for you. In Westlaw, a space between terms is by default interpreted as an “OR” connector (first amendment = first OR amendment); in Bloomberg Law, a space between terms in interpreted as an AND connector (first amendment = first AND amendment); in Lexis, it depends on the other connectors in the search as to how the space in interpreted by default. Don’t let the databases push you around! Using terms and connectors searching puts you in control of your search.

For individualized help with terms and connectors searching, make an appointment with a law librarian!

Blazing Your Research Trail

We’ve all been there. An ember of a memory of the perfect case or statute we read a few days ago faintly glows. It’s the tantalizing last vestige of a source whose value we failed to initially recognize.

Cases and other resources we too hastily reject may not be lost forever. We can find traces of them through an analysis of our research history on our commercial research databases, or by wading through our recent internet browsing history. We might even have names at the tip of our tongue: Hammer v. SafewayAnnoyer v. Peff? But mining the lost, mislaid, or abandoned gems can become very taxing, and it takes up precious research time.

The Ross-Blakley reference librarians have suggestions for keeping track of your research (often referred to as a research trail) to make sure you don’t wander lost again!

  1. Keep a research log. This can be handwritten or electronic – choose a method/tool that works best for you. We have seen Excel work for this, as well as simple Word docs, or even printouts of cases stored in a tabbed binder. Even if you cross off a case or other source because it doesn’t seem to have much connection to your legal issue at first blush, the law can take you strange places, and you may want to revisit those sources later. Pro tip: Track the case name, key facts, holding, and key reasoning to create an explanatory parentheticals efficiently later.

  2. Follow a trusted secondary source. It’s dangerous to go alone! Long, convoluted case opinions are trying to resolve a legal dispute, where legal treatises, encyclopedias, and hornbooks succinctly and efficiently explain how legal rules operate in practice. Researching beginning with cases can lead you down unfortunate rabbit holes so we recommend starting with a secondary source 100% of the time. Westlaw and Lexis have excellent secondary sources; the ASU Library catalog is another resource for accessing secondary sources such as legal treatises, journals, and more.

  3. Utilize highlights, notes, folders, and sharing. Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg all have folder systems in which you can save materials to access easily later. To highlight and take notes in Westlaw, just select a passage of text and when you let go, you’ll have an option to highlight or make a note. You can then save your highlighted, annotated case into a folder, where your notes will be preserved. Lexis has similar features, with the history button on its homepage and in the top bar on every page, and with the “Folders” button hidden under the “More” option in the top right corner. Both databases enable you to copy passages into Word or Excel documents by highlighting them and clicking on Copy with Reference (Westlaw) or Copy (Advanced) (Lexis).

  4. Meet with a Law Librarian to get tips on how to research efficiently and confidently. We can help guide you to secondary sources, help you navigate folders, highlights, and notes, and discuss best practices for research to help you on your journey toward a completed memo or GWR paper.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Speedy and Thorough: Research Tips for Time-Squeezed 1Ls

The best legal research is that which you can do fast and do well (the first time!). Like you, our JD reference librarians first sharpened their legal research skills in their 1L legal research and writing class, and have learned a lot since then through years of practical research on the job. Here are their top tips for conducting efficient and comprehensive legal research:

Seek secondary sources: Secondary sources on your legal issue can quickly set you on the right path for your research. Not only can they provide a quick explanation of the law and an overview of the factors courts consider in deciding on those legal issues, but they list primary law that you will want to analyze. It’s tempting to want to “save time” by diving into the statutes and case law directly, but a little advance reading can make research a lot faster, easier, and more complete.

For statutes, start by looking at the statute, and find Notes of Decisions as well as secondary sources from there: Underneath the statutory text, Lexis will break apart the statute into the key legal issues it addresses. If you find one of the issues that your memo is intended to address, you get a quick, one-line summary of a judicial interpretation of the statute, along with a link to a case that could be super-relevant. In Westlaw, you can find similar information in the Notes of Decisions tab at the top of the page. The Notes of Decisions are summaries of important cases that discuss the statute or regulation in question and are organized by topic. You can also navigate in Westlaw to helpful secondary sources that will collect relevant case law, such as the ALR Library, underneath the Context & Analysis tab.

For relevant case law, use headnotes and KeyCite rather than trying to “Google” everything: Attorney editors at Lexis and Westlaw have analyzed cases and the legal issues they contain and have grouped together related authority to help legal researchers perform faster, more thorough research than keyword searching alone. In Westlaw, KeyCites will arrange the legal areas and issues that a headnote addresses, from general to specific. Click on the KeyCite codes for more relevant authority. In Lexis, when you find your legal issue, you can click “Shepardize – Narrow by this Headnote” to find more relevant authority.

Look for ambiguities: A lot of the most interesting discussions in law come in the gray areas—where the law and the facts are not entirely settled or clear. This “it depends” territory can create interesting analytical puzzles for you to solve in your memo: you will want to show that you can see both sides to an argument, and you will want to demonstrate the critical reasoning skills to form a solid conclusion.

CREAC tips: When you’re explaining a precedent case, it may not be enough to list the facts the court considered and tell the reader how the court ruled. You want to analyze why the court ruled the way it did on a variety of factors. Contrasting and comparing the facts in your writing prompt will then much more clearly indicate to the reader whether or not a particular ruling will further the legal principle at issue.

We are here to help. Meet with a Librarian today!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Advanced Legal Writing Guide: Take Research to the Next Level

By the end of the 1L year of law school, students attain a level of mastery of research on the most popular online primary law platforms that will serve them and their clients well. But the rest of law school brings seminars, journal assignments, and graduate writing requirements that open students to a vast world of legal and interdisciplinary academic writing, as well as employment opportunities that reward effective written and oral communication.

Navigating the vast holdings of ASU Library takes strong, professional guidance. And the Law Library’s new Advanced Legal Writing Research Guide identifies many of the best resources to help students and scholars contribute to the academic conversation involving an important area of law, and to further enhance their written and oral communication mastery.

The guide’s home page leads writers to expert advice on how to choose a topic and ensure that the topic is providing new information to the field, as well as advice on style and formatting of articles.

The Advanced Legal Writing: Indian Law page identifies important law journals that researchers can use to strengthen their understanding of ongoing legal controversies and identify areas in which further scholarship is needed. It also introduces ASU’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center, which collects the works of indigenous scholars and explains legal regimes governing indigenous people. It further identifies essential treatises and reference works.

Furthermore, it selects the essential databases from ASU Library’s collection of hundreds of research databases to help explain the history, law, and culture of the people. Finally, for students seeking more recognition and exposure for their completed works, the guide links to American Indian legal writing competitions.

The guide’s other major component, Advanced Legal Writing: Persuasion, contains a trove of useful information for writers in any legal discipline. It identifies databases from ASU Library that can help writers hone their style to help advance an argument, to tailor their messages to connect with particular audiences, and to find essential academic and scientific knowledge to advance new scholarship. Books and articles help writers of scholarly arguments as well as court documents to win over their audiences.

And persuasion is not limited to paper and computer screens. Oral argument resources help legal communicators build their conversational skills to maximize their presentations’ impact to judges (as well as legal writing professors). We point to archived arguments to help students and professionals learn from real world court proceedings.

For further guidance on research strategies for an academic paper, an internship assignment, or a first year legal writing assignment, feel free to Meet with a Librarian. The JD holding reference librarians can help you navigate the library’s resources to research effectively and efficiently.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

May It Please Your Prof: The Law Library Can Help You Develop Your Persuasive Skills

Legal research is not a one size fits all process. Different tasks require different strategies, different databases, different secondary sources. Few assignments will be as jarringly different as the first semester objective memo and second semester persuasive brief in Legal Advocacy class.

The Law Library is here to help. Our JD holding reference librarians have all been through the transition from dispassionate legal analysis to loyal, tenacious persuasion. If you make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian, we can help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can befall all research and find all you need to state your best case in court.

We can critique your research trail. Looking over your research and refining your strategies and search terms can make sure you can find your opponent’s best case to defuse it before it’s thrown at you.

We can also point to secondary sources that will be helpful for your particular assignment. Objective treatises and encyclopedias can help you grasp the law in the beginning. Practice guides can help you make sure you’re fully representing your client’s interests. And persuasive law review articles that can inspire you to construct your own arguments for why the law should be interpreted in favor of your client.

The librarians can also suggest texts and treatises that can build the writing skills necessary to craft a compelling brief. See our First Year Legal Writing and Advanced Legal Writing: Persuasion research guides to get a jump start on honing your craft. The guides discuss everything from effective organization of your document, to choosing the best words to change a judge’s mind.

And our assistance doesn’t end with the four corners of your document, because we can help make sure your oral argument pleases your professor. We have a number of guides from the experts on how to craft compelling presentations for your judges, and how to field their questions to advance your client’s interests. We also have tips for calming and channeling the nervous energy that comes from facing a panel of decision makers in your best suit. To improve your skills, few things are more effective than watching the experts, so you should also check out our our compilation of links to oral argument recordings from the Ninth Circuit, Arizona Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, even with the experience of Bluebooking your first objective memos behind you, citation can be tricky. We are more than happy to field questions about your citation sentences; just Ask a Law Librarian.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian