Law Project Writing: Tips, Structure and Process

Introduction

Project work at the undergraduate level is undertaking usually at the last lap of a journey of Four (4) or Five (5) years programme,  depending on the choice of course or academic pursuit/career.

It is therefore a point where and when a traveler (student) leaves a statement as a foot print on the part that he/she traversed over a period of time. Hence, It is expected that a student’s project should be well organized, properly documented and carefully edited.

A good project expected of a student who has spent four or Five good years in the university shall be orderly, logical, honest, imaginative and accurate virtues of a good scholar, and virtues, which all potential scholars should aspire to acquire.

It’s important to note that the writing and research methodology in law is very unique. It is unique because there are lay down standards for legal writing and research.

The language used, the resources and materials used, the method of writing and the method of research is not the same as you could find in other departments or research institute. Therefore, law, legal writing or research is unique in it self.

So, when you’re taking about legal research, you have to bear in mind that you’re taking  about something that is very unique different from what you will find in environmental sciences, other fields of education or departments of the university.

This is to say that law student’s project is expected to comply with the standard format for legal writing and  research.

Significantly, legal research is the foundation for success in the legal profession. Even, without proper research, it would be impossible for the barrister to adequately and effectively defend the interest of his client, the solicitor’s advice or legal opinion would be worthless and the academics thesis and postulations baseless.

So, legal writing and research are important skills that is especially required of any member of the legal academy and the legal profession to enable them find solution to legal problems and as part of their professional and academic commitment. They are things you cannot dispense with as a lawyer , whether you want to be in full time practice or not .

Preliminary Considerations for Project Writing

Preliminary consideration for project writing are the things you must know as an undergraduate of law before you commence your project work. They include the following:

a) The Research Topic
Usually , you’re asked to submit three (3) project topics (your proposed project topics) from where one will be selected for you , and you’re expected to write on it.

In making your choice or in choosing your research topic(s) you must be very careful not to choose a topic that is not researchable which would aid you to do the research and the writing or a topic that is fake.

For instance , you can’t say that your research topic is, or that you’re writing on “Law of Evidence in Nigeria” It means that you will be writing a whole text book and that’s fake.

Again , you cannot choose to write on “Criminal law in America” that again cannot be a research topic.

Before you proceed to write your long essay, you must have to first of all, ask yourself, which area of law captures my interest. It could be a particular “position” of the law which you seek to critique. It could be a particular area of the law you want to proffer a legal solution to.

It could be an aspect of the law you’re not comfortable with. You’re worried about the way the law is on a particular area of law ,  or a need to reform or amend a particular law.

It could be based on constitutional law, energy law, space law, property law , the law of Evidence, Criminal law, e.t.c., then you wish to contribute your own quota of knowledge, stating the law as it is on that area of law and then making your recommendations on how best the law could be used to achieve its purpose.

The point I’m trying to make is that you must be careful to  chose a “topic” that will motivate you to write and  also make your own contributions to it. A topic you have passion for. In other words, Something must motivate you in choosing a particular area of research.

So, you don’t just wake up one morning and say let me write on criminal law or law of evidence in Nigeria.

For instance, I’m currently developing an article on “ The Legality of Strike Action in Nigeria: An Aspect of Industrial Law”. I’m motivated to write why because the law on this aspect appears to be uncertain.

The legal framework for strike action in Nigeria appears to giving trade unions the right to strike with one hand, and withdrawing it with another hand.

Whilst Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act does intend that there should be a right to strike action in Nigeria, thereby stipulating pre – conditions to follow. Its possibility is removed by Sections 4, 6 , 8, 9, 13(1), 14(2) of the Trade Dispute Act particularly sections 4 & 6 respectively.

The implication is that, an attempt to satisfy the preconditions to embark on strike under Section 18 would be an exercise in futility.

Again, your project shouldn’t be a mere restatement of the law or authors opinion on the subject, but should also encompass or include your inputs for the advancement of that area of  research.

You’re not expected to choose a research topic and then proceed to restate the law as it has been stated. You’re expected to identify a legal problem which though there maybe laws, judicial precedents or authors opinion that appears to have addressed it, but you still think those extant laws, judicial precedents or authors opinion on the subject are not enough to address that legal problem and you’re now coming up with a recommendation.

In short,  your project means that you have a legal  problem you have identified and then you’re making a recommendation for a reform. It means that there is a legal question, which according to you, is left unanswered and so your research project is going to address that and that is why you have chosen to write.

So, it is not an opportunity for you to go copy what authors have said, or merely restate the law or play back judicial precedents on those area, but you’re to after restating the law or authors opinion on the subject, you would critique them and come up with what you feel is the best solution to that legal problem.

b) Sources

You could source your materials either from the secondary sources or primary source. Of course you know what I mean ?

Primary sources include; your law report, case laws etc. While the secondary sources include; text books, law dictionaries e.tc

You must ensure that you have enough materials on the topic you’re writing on which would aid your research and project writing. This is very important.

Don’t choose a topic that is not researchable or a topic you may not easily find materials on.

c) Choice of Words
This underscores the importance of language. Care must be exercised in using good lucid language in writing a project.

This is because a lawyer should all his life be a student of words. He must know something of the beauty of words, meaning, association and use that has been made of words by great masters of the English language, the official language of the court.

The language to be adopted is the “ordinary meaning” the “plain meaning”, the “simple meaning”, the “natural meaning” of words.

However, a strong admixture of logic, will prove invaluable to students of law. This is because words are never univocal rather equivocal.

Preliminary Pages of Your Project Work

A good student’s project should contain the preliminary pages. The details of the preliminary pages are the most misunderstood by students.

They are as follows: declaration page, approval page, dedication, acknowledgements, table of contents, table of cases, table of statutes both municipal & foreign laws, list of abbreviations, abstract.

Declaration Page – This is where you state that the research work was conducted by you. In declaring your page,  your full names, registration/matriculation number should  be indicated and must be signed by you.

Example: I, Alagor, Tochukwu Daniel with matriculation number 16/1034 hereby certify that this project research work titled, “The Power of the Attorney General to Enter a Nolle Prosequi Under the 1999 Constitution Of Nigeria: An Analysis” was written by me.

Approval Page – Every research work must be deemed original and void of plagiarism. To this effect the approval page is more of an affidavit stating in clear terms that the work is an original work and was not copied from any source.

The Page should also contain the names and signatures of your supervisor, the Dean or Head of department (H.O.D), and external examiner.

Example: This is to certify that this long  essay: The Power of the Attorney General to Enter a Nolle Prosequi Under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria: An Analysis, is the  original research work of Alagor, Tochukwu Daniel, done under the supervision of C.I. Onwuchekwa, BL, LL.B., LL.M., in partial  fulfillment of  the requirements for the award of the honorary Degree of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B., Hons) of the Faculty of Law Abia State University.

Dedication – There may be dedication of the research to whom ever the student wishes to dedicate the work.

Acknowledgements – Here the student acknowledges various assistance and contribution(s) by many people towards the success of the project exercise.

Table of Contents – The table of contents shows main headings or major divisions of the work. The pagination of the chapter heading and its subdivisions. This table of contents is typed in capital letters and centered.  The preliminary page with their  pagination indicated in small Roman numerals.

Table of Cases – This is where all cases are stated in alphabetical order. The page(s) where the cases appeared in the project should be stated.

Table of Statutes – This is for all statutes both local and foreign presented in alphabetical order.

List of Abbreviations – Here you interpret all abbreviations in the work in alphabetical order.

Abstract – Abstract is a very important aspect of legal writing. It is a concise summary of your work. It summarizes all you have done in 60 – 80 pages as the case maybe. The abstract helps your reader to appreciate all you have done at a glance.

Your Abstract does two (2)  things before your reader. The first is that it helps your reader to determine the relevance of your work. The second is that it communicates your key findings on the legal question or problem you have identified to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper.

Division of your Project Work into Chapters.

On the division of your work into chapters , you will appreciate that as an undergraduate you’re required to do your project into 5 chapters depending on your faculty of law.
Basically, you will be taking instructions from your project supervisor if there’s no uniform standard in your faculty.

1. Chapter One of your project work usually houses the general introduction. Here  is the format your Chapter One will typically follow:

• Background to the Study – This is the overall introduction to your topic of interest that provides an in depth background to the topic. You must be precise and state the purpose of your research. This is the most detailed part of your chapter one.

Here, you would give a historical development of your research topic, state the different overlapping views in this area and significant investigations that researchers have done.

Also, it would help if you talk about the present state of your research. Have there been any changes? You can cite a few paragraphs from your literature review, but it must summarize the conflicts in your area of the project that has not been addressed

• Statement of the Problem – What is the legal problem you have identified or the legal issue your work addresses ? this is where you state the specific problem that you intend to address.

Here, the researcher is expected to discuss the central issues  surrounding their research topic, providing detailed information on the effect of the status quo  on the intended research study.

• Aims and Objectives of the Study
What is your intention for choosing to research on that area of law ? What do you intend to achieve?

Here the specific objective which will guide the study are formulated. The aims and objectives can be framed based on the research problem and the identified gap in knowledge.

The research specific objectives must be constructed in a manner that reflects and supports the general objectives of the research study.

• Scope of the Study – The scope of the study provides readers with information on the content areas to be covered in the study and the geographical area to be covered or studied.

• Significance of the Study – This states the importance of addressing the problem you’re set to work on.

You’re now telling your readers what would  be their benefit reading your work. What would be the general importance of your work. It would help if you linked your work to any area that you think the study will help.

Research Methodology – The research methodology adopted for legal writing and research is the doctrinal or library based research methodology.

This is where you will tell your reader that you have adopted the doctrinal or library based  research methodology so that your reader would know how you have come about the sources for your research.

Limitation of the Study – This segment provides details on the  possible setback the study will likely face. There may be constraints that may influence the outcome of your research; they are beyond your control, so you must state them.

Limitation can come in the  form of time constraint, unavailability, developing related literature, lack of finance, or the inadequacy of the instrument to be employed for the research (analysis), among others.

2. Chapter Two is dedicated for Literature Review.
Literature review is a diligent, honest effort to highlight and acknowledge the efforts made by earlier researchers in a particular area of research.

A good literature review enables the researcher to see where there are gaps in the progression and growth of knowledge in that area of research. It is through such gaps that the researcher can hope to make his own little contribution to knowledge.

You’re expected to review at least 3 or 4 literatures depending on the directive of your project supervisor or faculty of law. Usually, a minimum of 3  literatures are expected to be reviewed for the purpose of your research work.

In this wise, you could review a case law, articles in journals, text books written by scholars on the subject area of your research.

So now, what you’re going to be doing in your literature is that you’re going to be reviewing opinions, the law, works on the area you’re writing on. People must have written on that area of law, i.e. you’re now reviewing what authors have said.

If it is a case law, what the court said on that area of law you’re researching on. When you’re doing so, you’re going to be highlighting in synopsis what they have said (the authors). What the court said on that area of law (case law) .

You’re going to also in synopsis, identify the areas they have dealt with succinctly and the point of inconsistency between the authors.

Example: This author says this but this author disagrees with his position. You’re also expected to mention the areas the authors did not averred their minds to which your work will now be addressing.

In other words , you can not review a literature without critiquing or without identifying the areas which the authors did not mention. This is what your Summary  Review under Chapter Two of your work captures.

The content of your chapter two include: Introduction, theoretical framework , conceptual framework, summary review and historical evolution.

3. Chapter Three of your work is dedicated for legal and institutional framework. Your Chapter Three will basically identify the position of the law and its application in solving the legal problems you have identified.

4. Chapter Four is the main body of your project work. So, your Chapter four would basically be proffering solutions or making prescription for a reform.

5. Chapter Five houses your conclusion, summary and recommendation.

Bibliography
The last part of a project work or book is bibliography which is the part where published (books and articles or magazines) are listed. Your bibliography contains table of materials and resources you have consulted in the course of your research.

Bibliography lists only the sources you refer to in your writing and this is a very important aspect in legal writing and research. The purpose of your bibliography is to allow your sources to be found by your reader. It also gives credit to the authors you have consulted for their ideas. This is also called a reference list.

Referencing is an important part of academic work. It puts your work in context and demonstrates the breadth and depth of your research and acknowledges other people’s work. Therefore, you should reference whenever you use someone else’s idea.

A good law project work should have footnoting. Every footnote should comply with required standards.

“Op cit” is normally used to refer to a different part (volume and/or page, or the like) of a previously cited work when references to other works have intervened.

“ibid” is generally used to refer to the same work which immediately follows each other even though the paginations differ. In otherwords, when citations to the same work immediately follow each other even though the pagination differs, ibid. is used. It is used to repeat as much of the preceding citations as the need arises.

Ibid” is usually not underlined in the MLA style. However, it is usually in italics.
It is a recommended style for research work in modern language.

There are a number of referencing styles  used throughout the world. The common  and widely used styles are the APA & MLA. However, there is now an approved standard for referencing, i.e Nigerian Association of Law Teachers (NALT) Uniform Citation Guide. This referencing guide was introduce by Nigerian Association of law Teachers for legal research and writing.

So, the NALT will guide you on how to reference your sources, be it law reports, statutes, articles in journals, case laws, textbooks, treaties, e.t.c.

We also have the Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authority abbreviated as OSCLA. So you may either choose the NALT or the OSCLA format of referencing. They are the two recommended standard for referencing your sources  during legal writing and research.

About the Author

T D. Alagor is a Law graduate, faculty of law, Abia State University, Uturu. The Author has a great penchant for research, knowledge, legal writing & oratory. His areas of interest include Arbitration, Corporate practice and litigation.

 

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