Start by generating terms from your issue statement. Select the important facts. Use legal terms of art, legal theory or relief sought. Using the facts, search terms, and legal terms of art, write out your issue statement. Before you go online consider where to add connectors to your search query.
- Search terms are incredibly important because you will be using them to try to find legal authority. If you have the wrong terms your research will go wrong. For example, you live in Missouri, but are searching the law of Illinois, you may find legal authority, this authority is not mandatory for Missouri.
- There are different ways to search for authority. One is using keywords; a second is using controlled vocabulary. Keywords can be useful because you can begin with the terms that you have. Controlled vocabulary is tremendously useful because indexers will place all the content under one defined term. For example, if you are looking for an ‘Administrative Code,’ there are a huge number of terms by which you might find what you are looking for OR you can search using ‘Controlled Vocabulary,’ ‘Delegated Legislation’ and you will find everything.
- ‘Terms of Art’ are incredibly important because those are the terms that the judges will be using!
How do you find ‘terms of art? Usually, you begin with keywords (words drawn from the fact pattern). Then you search for guidance via secondary sources and primary legal sources. They will use these ‘terms of art that you will need to identify in order to answer your issue.
When generating your search query:
- Clearly state the ISSUE. Use legal terminology when possible. Stating your issue as a question is a good way to clarify your thoughts. Is a social host liable for injuries caused by his intoxicated guests?
- Generate terms off of the issue. Are there alternate terms for a host?
- Determine the terms and possible synonyms, e.g. Host, Hostess, Tavern, Bar | Drunk, Intoxicated, Alcohol | Guest, Patron, Visitor, Customer
- Terms of art are the language of the law. Is social host liability a term of art?
- Distinctive words work better than common words. ‘Budziszewski’ is a better search term than ‘Smith’
- Avoid noise words. Noise words or common words occur frequently in the language, e.g. “the” or “and.”
- What connectors do you wish to use?
- Always add in legal terms whenever possible.