Monday, March 06, 2006

Save Time, Money & Look Fabulously Smart or Tips of Things to Do BEFORE You Do Legal Research in a Law Library

One of the things most legal researchers find most frustrating is realizing only after making a special trip to the law library, they are missing a key piece of information and must return back to their office/house/other town to retrieve the information.

1) Dates:

Gather as much information as you can from whatever source you are using. For example if your resources are people ask what else they can remember about the time period, such as “I know it was before we bought this house” or “just shortly after 9/11/2001. ”Memory can be faulty, but sometimes a person is sure of the date, right down to the second, so be sure to write down the information you gather from people.

From a book, journal, or article pay attention to when the information was published. If it is from the 1970s there is a chance the law may have changed or someone has written an update on the subject.

2) Resources to bring:

If you got the information from a book, a newspaper article or any other written materials, bring them with you. There maybe useful clues in the endnotes or footnotes or picture caption or even in the text itself.

Bring all your notes from (1) above, so you can be sure of your information, as most law libraries do not permit you to make phone calls from within the library. You also, do not want to have to wait until they can call you back (again not allowed in most law libraries).

If you have any documents such a court papers, a ticket, a contract, a letter or any other legal papers, you will want to bring full copies of these materials so as not to risk losing your important paper work. If you feel comfortable having other people seeing these materials. If you are not comfortable having others possibly seeing these materials take careful notes, noting dates, key terms or any legal code or text referred to.

3) Materials to bring:

Bring money in order to make photocopies or for print outs, preferably in small bills and coins. There is nothing worse then having found exactly what you need and then having to find an ATM (always a mile away), buy a can of soda to break the $20, drink the whole can of soda (as once it is opened, it is considered an open container not allowed in most law libraries) and then going back to law library to make your one copy.

Organization materials such as paper, pen or pencil, highlighter and folders are also a good idea. It is easier to keep track of the research you have already done, of the materials you have gathered and what you now know you do not need or what you need to follow up on. Also if you were in particular section of the library you can write the call number down so you can find your way back to that particular section rather then having to wander around the law library looking for that section again.

4) Dress for the occasion:

Law libraries can vary in temperature. Depending on the time of year it can be really hot or really cold, such as when the heat has not been turned on for the whole building and there is a sudden cold snap. Even if the law library could turn on the heat, it would take several days for the temperature to even out. Also, you are more likely to be cold when you are sitting. However, as you will have to look for materials, sometimes throughout the entire law library, layers are a good idea. You won’t be too hot or cold and will be able to concentrate on your legal research.

5) Budget your time:

If you just want to see if the law library might have the materials give them a call or stop by giving yourself at least ½ an hour.

If they do have the materials you are looking for then be realistic about how long it might take you. If it seems like it will take an afternoon do not park in a 30 minute maximum limit time zone, and risk getting a ticket and losing your train of thought because you have to move your car.

These few tips will save you a lot of aggravation. Finally, give yourself breaks and time to stretch. When you are doing legal research in a law library you are doing something which can be tedious and hard, but also rewarding and important.