Published on June 29, 2020 by Leigh A. Jones, Evening/Weekend Reference Librarian
Sometimes, it can be difficult to decide on a topic for a law review article, a final paper for a class, or any other type of research piece. However, with a bit of reflection and use of the law library’s resources, you can discover a topic that you feel will be worthy of your effort.
Before digging through the law library’s resources to find a subject about which to write, take some time to reflect on the following:
Who is your audience, and what do they want to read?
Your intended audience should weigh heavily on your topic selection. Academicians, practitioners, and non-attorneys will have different perspectives. For which group are you writing, and what do you think they would want to know?
What plans do you have for your future?
Are your plans to go into a specific area of practice once your graduate from law school? If so, selecting a topic from that area can help you to learn more about the field. Also, publishing an article about a specific topic can help to establish you as a subject expert.
What are your passions?
Write about something that creates excitement within you. It is difficult to produce quality work when you have no interest in the work. When selecting a research topic for your paper, make sure that it is something that you truly want to explore and discuss.
After your audience evaluation and self-reflection, it is time to dig through the law library’s resources to find the perfect research topic. Here are four tips that will help you do that:
1. Explore the works of others.
If you are targeting a specific publication for your article, make sure to explore the archives of that publication to find out what people have written about in the past. By doing this, it is quite possible to find an article for which you want to write a response. Also, this type of exploration gives you a solid idea of the types of topics that are accepted for the publication. The Beeson Law Library provides access to law reviews from every American law school. HeinOnline (in addition to Lexis, Westlaw, etc.) is an excellent resource to finding law reviews and journals.
2. Set up news and search alerts.
If there is a situation in the news that you would like to monitor, many research platforms, such as Bloomberg Law, allow you to set up alerts to let you know when new information is released on that topic. In fact, most of the major legal research databases will allow you to set up search alerts that notify you when new information is available. By setting up alerts, you might be inspired to write about something that is current and exciting to a specific population or to a specific area of law.
3. Deep dive into analytics tools.
Many research platforms have analytics tools that allow you to recognize and evaluate trends that are taking place in the legal system. Lexis Advance, for example, provides several analytics tools, which include Verdict & Settlement Analyzerand Litigation Profile Suite. Westlaw Edge provides a tool called Litigation Analytics, while Bloomberg provides a tool called Litigation Intelligence Center. By exploring these tools, you might discover a research topic by recognizing a trend or data set that might warrant more attention.
4. Perform random searches within various platforms.
Spend a little time performing random searches in various databases. In addition to the major legal databases, take time to explore interdisciplinary databases. Also, use the law library’s online catalog to find out what comes up with various searches. This can lead you to information that you might not have thought about before.
When selecting a research topic, always remain open to the possibility of finding the unexpected.
*Note: This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of the Check It Out newsletter.
Leigh A. Jones
Evening/Weekend Reference Librarian