Legal Research Responsibilities

While doing legal research, you will likely spend a good deal of time in the library, the resources of which you will be sharing with other students, faculty, staff, attorneys, scholars, and occasionally the public.  As a law student, you have a responsibility to use the library with concern and consideration for everyone else who uses the facility.  In the Schaffer Law Library, unlike libraries you may have used in college, you are asked to RESHELVE your books. Leaving books on tables, in carrels, or in study rooms is discourteous and frustrating to others who need to use the same books.  Intentionally leaving books where you think other students will not be able to find them is dishonest and unethical.  As with all library resources, you should take care not to mark or mutilate any law library materials. 

As an attorney, you will have duties of care and responsibility both to your clients and to the court (practicing attorneys are officers of the court). In effect, this means that you must carefully conduct your research to minimize the possibility of overlooking both mandatory and relevant legal authority.  In addition, you must keep systematic, legible records of your research so that you can communicate the results of findings to others, primarily attorneys and judges, who will weigh the strength of your arguments and authority and may wish to verify or read for themselves the sources you rely on. Indeed, you will have a duty to inform the court of legal authority that would be mandatory or necessary to the court's ruling on issues before it, even if the authority you cite is adverse to your client's position. Now is the time to develop good research habits!

The weight of the authority you rely on will be important to your audience because some authors and sources are more highly regarded than others. Hence, you may find that you need to use quotation marks and citations more frequently than for reports or papers you have written in the past.  Be sure when you do use quotation marks that every word inside the marks comes directly from the source you are quoting. You may not insert your own words, leave out words without indicating the omission, or change the order of words in a quotation. (See Rules 49-50 in the ALWD Manual and Rule 5 in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.) 

Generally:

  1. Support each statement of facts, opinion, or idea with a citation to its source (except for facts of an obvious nature or legal terms of art)
  2. Always use quotation marks and a citation when you take words directly from a source
  3. Always give a citation with the appropriate signal when you are using ideas you have found in the work of another. 

Be careful to avoid even inadvertent plagiarism; using the words or ideas of another writer is plagiarism even if you did not realize you were doing so.