Skip to Main Content

Summer Employment Resources

Tips and tools to help you get started on summer research projects.

Preliminary Analysis

Before you begin researching, stop and think. Read the assignment carefully, and develop a plan. Ask yourself:

  • What are the relevant facts?
  • What are the potential legal issues?
  • What jurisdiction's law will apply?
  • What type of law is likely to exist on this issue (e.g., statutes, cases, regulations, local ordinances, etc.)?
  • What types of resources are likely to be helpful (e.g., websites, treatises, formbooks, etc.)?
  • What do I already know about this legal issue?
  • What key terms might I search for?

Answering these questions will help you develop a research plan. Taking the time to develop a thoughtful research plan up front will save you significant time and frustration later.

Secondary Sources

Your first step after developing your research plan will be to consult secondary sources. Secondary sources are useful because they explain the law in easy-to-understand language and they provide citations to the governing primary law (statutes, cases, regulations, etc.).

Select a secondary source from one of the subject-specific lists of treatises available on our Treatises Guide.

Primary Law

Hopefully your secondary sources gave you citations to the primary law that governs your issue. Now you read it (or at least the relevant parts). You need to ensure not only that the secondary source got it right, but that you fully understand what the primary law says and means.

Expand & Update


When viewing primary law, you can use research tools to find related primary law and secondary sources. These tools include:

  • Notes of Decisions, for finding cases that have discussed a statute
  • Headnotes, for finding additional cases that have cited a case for a specific point of law
  • Citing References (Westlaw) or Shepard's (Lexis), for finding additional primary and secondary sources that have cited a case, statute, regulation, or secondary source


For every piece of primary law you rely on, you need to use a citator to make sure that it is still good law. Failure to use a citator is not only embarrassing, it can be grounds for attorney malpractice.


Ideally you are thinking analytically throughout this entire process, but at this stage it is wise to step back and ask the following questions:

  • Have I thoroughly answered the legal questions I set out to answer, with supporting primary law?
  • Did I learn anything new that will change my research strategy?
  • Do I need to gather additional facts in order to answer my question completely?
  • Have I consulted multiple secondary sources, and are they referring me to the same primary law?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you may need to run through the process again.