Second Semester Reflections: In Legal Research, Stay Out of the Weeds

In my previous post, I discussed why I chose to work in the Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic. I concluded, “I wanted to gain a different experience. For the next nine months, I hope to gain a different experience. One that will challenge me, teach me how to interact with clients, and most importantly prepare me to become a better lawyer.” I can honestly say that I learned more about myself and how I need to adapt in order to become a better lawyer.

For some background, when I received my client’s case I immediately searched case law for the answer.  Logically, this made sense to me. I have been taught for the last two years that I will find the answer in the case law. However, as Professor Lawton would say, “stay out of the weeds.” She was pointing out to me that when you start your research in case law (the weeds) you neglect all the other sources of law. I skipped the federal and state constitutions, statutes, executive orders and regulations. In all, my research was incomplete.

Professor Lawton has taught me a valuable lesson: when you research, “start broad.” First, understand the question you are trying to answer. Second, map out all the sources of law. Third, narrow the sources of law that is relevant to the issue you are trying to answer. For example, if you are researching a state law real estate question, you will not have to research executive orders. Finally, you begin your research.

For myself, I am consciously thinking about all the sources of law before I begin my research. I will admit I still start my research in the weeds. It is an old habit that I am still trying to break. Thanks to the clinic, I am aware of this and can hear Professor Lawton saying, “stay out of the weeds.”