Saturday, January 10, 2009

5 Essential Questions That Must Be Answered Before Beginning Any Type of Legal Research

Every legal case is different. However, many aspects of the law are common to all. The following set of questions will help you determine how to best approach your legal research, what type of process you should pursue, where to do so and why. Therefore, before beginning your research first ask yourself the following:

1. What is the exact legal question (or series of questions) that needs to be answered in your case?

Writing down this question or set of questions will help you narrow down the exact legal subject(s) or matter(s) that need to be addressed and examined.

Let's say you just underwent a divorce process and have a son or a daughter that will have to live with either you or your ex-spouse. You will need to look at both divorce law and child custody law in order to fight a child custody battle. Some potential questions that need to be addressed would be:

  • Is it legally in the best interest of the child to live with you or with your ex-spouse?
  • What is the procedure for claiming your child's custody?
  • What are your legal responsibilities as a parent and what are your ex-spouse's?
  • In the event that you are not given legal custody, what rights and responsibilities do you have concerning your child?
  • If you are given custody, what rights and responsibilities does your ex-spouse have concerning the child?

2. Does your case involve a civil or a criminal matter?

This question is pretty much self evident. If you were arrested or charged with a crime, be it a petty crime, misdemeanor or something more serious such as a Felony, then the case obviously falls under the criminal category.

If you are being sued or plan on suing a person, company, agency, institution, etc., or are fighting for child custody or any other family or business law matter then it is safe to assume that the case is civil.

3. Does your case concern Federal or State Law (or both)?

This is not always a simple question to answer and may not always be as obvious as you may think.

In the child custody case above for example, you could reasonably consider that a child custody case involves State Law. And under most normal circumstances it would. However, a child custody case could become a Federal Case if it could legally be established that the case involves interstate legal issues or commerce.

Keep in mind that there are an entirely different set of laws for both Federal and individual States. Any one particular case may have a more favorable set of laws in either Federal or State proceedings. So it is important to research both possibilities in order to establish the most beneficial setting for your particular purpose.

In other words, just because a type of case is normally handled by a State Court doesn't mean you can't pursue it in a Federal setting.

4. If you determine that your case involves State Laws, what State's law is in question? If your case involves Federal Law, what Federal Circuit has jurisdiction over your case.

This may seem obvious as well, however it is not always so. Taking the child custody battle example used above, if parents live in different states then deciding what state has jurisdiction over your case may be tricky.

This is also true in a Federal setting. There are currently 13 Federal Circuits and determining which one has jurisdiction over any particular case may involve many aspects.

This is especially true in contract law, whereby many companies force customers to sign a contract stating that a dispute will be handled under any one particular State's court system. However, certain laws may allow you to file a case under a different state's court system than the one mentioned in the contract. Or a case may become Federal when it was stated that state courts had jurisdiction.

5. What Category of Law Does your case fall into?

  • Administrative Law
  • Admiralty Law
  • Appeals and Writs
  • Aviation Law
  • Banking Law
  • Bankruptcy Law
  • Business Law
  • Civil Rights Law
  • Computer or Technology Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Construction Law
  • Consumer Law
  • Credit, Debt and Collections Law
  • Criminal Law (This category has a huge set of sub-categories)
  • Disability Discrimination Law (ADA)
  • Drunk Driving & DUI Law
  • Education Law
  • Elder Law
  • Entertainment & Sport Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody and Adoption
  • Family Medical Leave Act
  • Federal Tort Claims Act Litigation
  • General Civil Litigation
  • Health Care Law
  • Immigration Law
  • Insurance Law
  • Intellectual Property
  • International Law
  • Investment Law
  • Juvenile Dependency
  • Labor and Employment Law
  • Landlord & Tenants
  • Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility
  • Legal Malpractice Law & Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
  • Mediation
  • Medical Malpractice Law
  • Military Law
  • Native American Law
  • Discrimination Law (Age, Race, Sex, Gender)
  • Personal Injury Law and Tort Law
  • Probate, Trusts, Wills & Estates
  • Products Liability
  • Real Estate and Real Property
  • Securities Law
  • Sexual Harassment Law
  • Social Security Law
  • Tax and Taxation Law
  • Telecommunications Law
  • Traffic Law
  • Veterans Law
  • Workers' Compensation Law

The Butte County Public Law Library

Photo of The Butte County Public Law Library in California


Answering the above 5 questions will get you well under way to beginning a much more effective approach to the legal research process.

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