10 Tips to Survive Your Summer Research

1. Clarify the Scope of the Assignment (in writing):

  • After you receive an assignment send a follow up email confirming you understanding of your duties and timeline.

2. Take Notes on the Research (Process and Substance):

  • At some point someone is going to ask you where or how you found that case/code section/regulation/article. Make sure you able to tell them not only where you located the source but the search you used to find it.
  • Don’t just take notes on what works– keep track of failed searches and sources too! 

3. Start by casting a wide, strategic net and then narrow logically:

  • Start your searches broadly and use filters to narrow your results
  • AND and /p are the operator and connector you want to use when starting broad.
  • And don’t forget about the jurisdiction. You can often find jurisdiction-specific secondary sources. 

4. Always be (Advanced) Googling (ABG):

  • Google for background, parties, news articles, statutes, judges, etc. 
  • Use the Google advanced search form to create narrow searches.
  • Two advanced Google techniques to remember:
    • Site Search (site:): limit your search to a single website using  
    • File Types Search (filetype:): find pages in the file format you prefer

5. Talk to the Librarian:

  • If there is a librarian at your firm/agency use them!
  • Sign up for any library orientations, vendor trainings, and/or Pricing and cost-effective strategy sessions offered.
  • Ask about practice-group specific resources, recommended sources, and any specialty databases that you should be using.
  • No Librarian? Ask your supervising attorney for her favorite sources. She may pull them off her shelf.

6. Remember Cost Effective Techniques:

  • See ABG (above)– Do what you can for free online before you move your research into Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg
  • Get help early and often– don’t waste time on fruitless searches. If you feel stuck, you are stuck. Ask for help.
  • Vendors will give you search strings and appropriate databases
  • Call the librarian! If you have access to a librarian (court/agency/vendor/organization/YLS Librarian) use them.

7. Use the  Document Management System, if you have one:

  • Use the DMS to find documents on similar topics as you are researching. It can lead you to important cases, statues, regulations, etc.
  • Locate materials written by your supervising attorney. What are the materials they frequently cite?  

8. Start with the Right Secondary Source:

  • Selecting the right secondary source to start your research depends on how much time and how in depth your research needs to be.

9. Start with What You Know (you always know something):

  • If you know the Code Section then look at:
    • the Public Law, Editors and Revisers Notes (changes to the code section), Committee Reports, Secondary Sources, Cases (Notes of Decisions, Citing References)
  • If you know the Name of Act look at:
  • ​If you know the Case Name use the One Good Case Method: Use the Headnotes, Citing References, and cases cited therein to find other cases on topic.
  • If you know the Name of Doctrine or Theory or Cause of Action use a Secondary Source to learn more about it and find cases/statutes/regulations/other secondary sources.
  • If you know the Regulation look at:
    • Cases, Source, Statutory Authority (enabling act)
  • ​If you know the Agency look at:
    • Enacted and pending regulations; Structure, Statutory Authority, Reports, Misc., Regulatory History Materials
  • If you know the Subject / Topic / Area look at:
    • Secondary Sources, Legal Research Bundle/Practice Areas (Westlaw/Lexis/BloombergLaw), and Research Guides

10. Remember, Boolean Searching Basics and the Beauty of the Topic and Key Number System:

  • Grammatical Connectors: words within the same sentence or paragraph: use /s /p
  • One Topic and Key Number in can lead you to cases in any/all jurisdictions.  


- CRS Reports

- Library of Congress Research Guides

- Congress.gov

Govtrack / Scout (Sunshine Foundation):  legislative and regulatory tracking

- Agency Websites

- Federal Register.gov / Regulations.gov / Reginfo.gov

- Using Google Scholar for Law Review Articles

- Sources for 50 State Surveys: Lexis, Westlaw, National Conference of State Legislatures.

- Court websites for rules

- State legislative/ agency websites

- Office of Law Revision Counsel ® Popular Names Table / USC Code (unannotated)

Legal Information Institute, Cornell LII: primary and secondary authority

- YLS Library will mail / scan books and book chapters[1]

Call or write for help (we are here all summer). 

[1] E.g. Penny Hazelton, Specialized Legal Research (2015) (for securities, UCC, federal tax, copyright, labor and employment, environmental protection, law of the sea, immigration law, military and veterans, banking, federal patent and trademark, government contacts, customs law).