Legal research, is for every lawyer and law student what scientific experiments is for every scientist. They both form an intrinsic part of both disciplines.
A lawyer or law student who is not inclined or has not assumed mastery of the art of legal research can be said to be one who is yet to assume his full potentials in the course.
Thus, to be a proficient lawyer or student, one must be abreast with the basic knowledge of research. For instance, the lawyer who is in his office preparing for a case needs good research skills in order to arm himself with sufficient legal authorities to aid his victory in the law court.
A law student on the other hand who is hoping to ace all his law courses needs good research skills to birth such into fruition.
Therefore, at this point, we ask, what are the requisite skill to be a good legal researcher?
The foregoing question shall be examined from the following standpoints:
1) What is legal research?
2) What are the essential skills of a good legal researcher?
What is legal research?
Simply, legal research could be defined as a technique of providing an answer to a legal issue or question. In other words, it means searching for a legal authority that could be cited in a brief or during a trial.
Essential skills of a good legal researcher
First and foremost, we must point out the fact that research is a herculean task. There is a lot of energy, time and money needed to conduct good research.
For a person to be a good legal researcher, he must have a disciplined mind; a persevering spirit/mindset. He must be ready to sit down for hours shuffling the Internet or going through various books in the library.
Thus, a good legal researcher must have the following:
1) Understand the legal question(s) at hand: This is one of the basic knowledge a legal researcher must be abreast with. Failing to understand the legal question(s) at hand, is like embarking on a voyage to an unknown destination.
A good legal researcher must grasp everything asked/ required by the question before proceeding to research.
2) Sought textbooks and other written materials: Textbooks, law journals and other written legal materials are one of the most reliable sources to make recourse during research.
The reason is that most of these textbooks, law journals and inter alia are most times written by legal scholars of high standing or published by a reputable school or firm.
It should be borne in mind that in making use of a textbook, the researcher need not read the whole textbook to find answers to his question, he can simply go through the table of contents of the textbook and thus, find the topic applicable to the question at hand.
3) Find out the applicable statute/case law: In Nigeria, not all statutes have a wide application. For example, the criminal code applies to the southern part of the country, whilst, the Penal code applies to the Northern part of the country.
Therefore, a good researcher must point out the jurisdiction of a statute, and its application areas.
Undeniably, case laws are most often lengthy. A good researcher must cultivate the habit of reading case laws. Furthermore, he must be able to identify the applicable case law to the question at hand.
4) Know how to search the Internet: We cannot deny the fact that a large number of the world’s population use the internet. It is a modern facility we can’t do without.
It is, however, surprising that although people use the Internet they do not know how to research using the internet.
Here is an example of how to research on the internet. If you search for the topic: “The right of persons with unsound mind“, and the topic does not display or you’re not satisfied with the results given, you can search for the topic this other way: Right of persons with unsound PDF or, Do mentally ill persons have rights?
The Internet will display a different result that would be satisfying.
It’s quite unfortunate that people most times give up without an in-depth search on the Internet.
A good researcher must thoroughly check all the pages/links displayed. In sum, the results we get searching on the Internet depend on how we input the words into the search engine.
5) Library skill: Incontrovertibly, the library is an abode of knowledge. It is, therefore, imperative that every lawyer and law student should have a firm knowledge of how to search for materials in the library.
The lawyer or student should know the citation (author, title and Inter alia) of the book he searches for in the library.
On the other hand, if he doesn’t know the citation of the book he’s searching for, he can search the library’s catalogue. Once the book is located, he can use the call number to find the book. If there are difficulties in locating the book, he can seek the help of the librarian.
6 Discuss with seniors and colleagues: Nobody is a reservoir of knowledge, therefore, we can simply ask those above us or our colleagues at work or school about a particular topic we are researching.
By doing so, we will get different points of view about the topic and a clearer understanding of it.
7) Scrutinize your information by checking different sources: At this stage, having gotten the needed information, the researcher still needs to check other sources to verify if the information gotten is correct.
Conclusively, research has brought development and growth to the legal profession, therefore, it is pertinent and apposite that every lawyer and law student must have good research skills. To have good research skills, one must be an avid reader, have grit and also must be someone who believes in self-development.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Oringo Bamidele Gabriel is a student of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar. Bamidele is an astute law student who is very sedulous in his academic pursuit.
He is a legal researcher, writer, and seasoned scholar. He serves currently as the Director of Litigation, Roots Associate, a student Chamber at the University of Calabar. He was formerly the Director of Public Prosecution in the Ministry of Justice, Students` Union Government, University of Calabar, Calabar.
Bamidele has an interest in Entertainment Law, Environmental Law, Criminal Law, Intellectual Property Law, among other areas of law