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Why legal research skills are (really) important

Are you about to begin your legal studies? Do you think polishing your legal research skills can wait until your exams? You’d be wrong.

Associate Professor and LLB Programme & Student Lead, Dr Andreas Yiannaros has written a book entitled “Legal Research, Planning and Writing”. Here, he shares five reasons why you shouldn’t neglect your legal research skills in your first year and how these skills can help improve your grades and advance your professional development.

By Cara Fielder. Published 14 June 2024.

1. Legal research helps you avoid being overly descriptive

Early on in your studies, you may receive the feedback that your written or verbal arguments are overly descriptive. This means that you are describing the law, without providing a meaningful analysis. Instead, provide balanced and well-evidenced analysis that is backed up by legal research. If you master the skill of analysing and evaluating, rather than simply describing what your sources say, you will provide more convincing and well-articulated arguments. I would highly recommend producing a research plan before you start working or any research task. Also, conduct a thorough evaluation of the literature on the subject to identify trends and relevant examples to back up your arguments.

2. Correct utilisation of sources can add depth to your legal arguments

Legal research can add depth to your legal arguments and demonstrate not only an excellent grasp of the subject, but also your ability to use them correctly to support your points. Not all sources are created equal, and you must evaluate all your materials carefully before you use them. Conducting a good literature review is important, as it can help you distinguish your sources thematically and evaluate them before you use them. In my book, , I provide top tips on how to evaluate the quality of your sources in several ways:

  • By looking more closely into the source
  • Considering the methodologies used by authors
  • The presence of any biases
  • The way the information has been presented.

3. All assessments require some form of legal research

A common misconception is that first year grades don’t count. This is far from true. Law is a competitive field and employers will be looking for academic excellence, among other things, to gauge your suitability and academic ability. To achieve academic excellence, it is imperative to utilise your legal research skills and go beyond mere description. All assessments, no matter how easy or complex you perceive them to be, will require some form of legal research. Problem questions require an excellent grasp and correct utilisation of case law and statutes. Essay questions require in-depth evaluation and analysis of scholarly debate, and oral examinations require the ability to think on your feet and present information in a convincing and articulate manner. Having strong foundations in legal research can help you apply the law more effectively and evaluate in all of those situations.

4. Employers value strong research skills

, the UK's biggest graduate careers website, lists “information analysis and research” as one of the . Employers highly value candidates who have a track record of information analysis and legal research, as this can help lawyers with their daily tasks. As a future lawyer, you will be expected to know how to use legal databases to find information and check if the law is still valid, or, for example, whether precedent has been overturned or is being departed from in more recent cases. The law is constantly changing and evolving, so knowing how to quickly find the status of legislation is crucial. Certification in legal databases such as Westlaw and Lexis is a useful (and impressive) addition to your CV, so grab the opportunity if your university offers database training and certification events. I advise you to complete your training as early as possible as the skills you learn will equip you to complete research tasks with more ease and efficiency in the future.

5. Legal research helps you set strong foundations for your next academic steps and your legal career

When you study law at university, the complexity of the subjects you study will increase as you progress. Setting strong foundations early in your studies will help you manage your course more efficiently and meet your examiners’ expectations. It is no secret that as you move up to the next stages, your subjects will require more analysis and critical evaluation. Your final term is the culmination of all the knowledge and skills you developed over your course, therefore excellent research skills and the ability to critically evaluate the law will be a key expectation.

 

Sharpen your legal skills with a mix of training topics tailored to suit you with our Junior Lawyer Development Programme.