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Law Library

A Law Faculty Research Assistant's Survival Guide

How to approach your research assignment

Treat Your Assignment Professionally!

  • Treat your research assignment as if your professor was either a partner in a firm or your client.
  • Take it seriously and be professional at all times.

Know the Basics

  • What, when, where, who, why, how

Know the Scope of Your Project

  • Make sure you understand the project. (What is it that you will be working on?)
  • What are your professor's expectations? (Make sure you both are clear on it)
  • If you don't understand, ask question(s), repeat the explanation of the project back to the professor, or paraphrase it, but make sure you fully understand.
  • What are the deadlines for what parts of the project? (Set up a calendar)
  • Should you have regular meetings? If so, how often?
  • Are you expected to provide regular updates on your progress? If so, in what format and how often?
  • Don't be afraid to ask your professor to recommend a place to start. (Sometimes your professor may suggest a book, article, case, author, or any other source for you to start with, which can save you a lot of time in the beginning.)
  • How much time and effort (=money) are you expected to devote to this project?
  • How are you expected to present the results? (How should your research be memorialized?)


  • What is your professor's preferred way of communication? Settle on one to avoid miscommunication. 
  • Are you working in a group? (figure out communication with your collaborators)
  • Settle on a way to share information if you are working in a group.
  • How should you be sharing information with your professor? 

Articulate the Legal Question

  • This may keep changing as you move forward with your research.
  • Know the jurisdiction. (personal, geographical, subject matter)
  • Civil or criminal?
  • Public or private?
  • Substantive or procedural?
  • Who are the parties? (identify the type of entity)
  • What relief is being sought?

Plan Your Research

  • What sources will you need to consult?
    • Statutes, case law, regulations, or administrative decisions?
    • International Treaties, Agreements, Contracts, MOUs, Conventions, Declarations, or International Customary Law?
    • Secondary materials: journal articles, law reviews, encyclopedias, hornbooks, treatises, overviews, summaries, newspapers, or annotations? 
    • Will you need to use specialized databases?
    • Will you need to consult Internet resources?
    • Will you need to request materials from other libraries? (You may not know the answer to this question in the beginning of your project, but be aware that you may need to do so and it takes time.)
  • Is there a research guide including my topic that can help me to get started?
  • Did you ASK your professor to recommend a source or other starting point?

Keep Track!

  • Even in a firm you will keep a work log, so why not now?
  • Keep track of all you do
    • Research, search terms, search strings, results
    • All sources you have consulted (whether print or online)
    • Keep track of authors, titles, page numbers, volumes, and dates of publications
    • Figure out a way to manage your online research (keep track of dates you have visited sites and note all URLs)

Hattip >where to start>