Alaska Law School 1L Study Guide for Legal Research and Writing
Introduction to Legal Research and Writing
Legal research and writing is a fundamental skill for lawyers. It involves finding and analyzing legal authority to solve a legal problem and then communicating the findings in writing. In Alaska, as in other jurisdictions, it is essential for 1L students to develop these skills early to be successful in law school and the practice of law.
- Statutes: In Alaska, the Alaska Statutes are the codified laws of the state. It is imperative to understand how to navigate these statutes and interpret their meaning.
- Case Law: Alaska reports its decisions in the Pacific Reporter and the Alaska Reporter. Pivotal cases must be identified and analyzed for their precedential value.
- Regulations: The Alaska Administrative Code contains the regulations from state agencies. Students must learn how to search and apply these to legal issues.
- Constitution: The Alaska Constitution is the supreme law of the state. It often comes into play with issues of state law and rights.
- Legal Encyclopedias: These are helpful starting points for understanding the broader context of a legal issue.
- Treatises: For in-depth analysis on specific areas of law, treatises are invaluable.
- Law Review Articles: These offer scholarly discussions on legal topics and can provide insight into emerging legal trends.
- Westlaw & LexisNexis: These subscription-based services are key tools for legal research.
- Alaska Court System Website: Provides access to a variety of legal materials, including court rules and opinions.
- Google Scholar: This is a free resource that can be used for finding case law.
- Memoranda: Legal memoranda are used to predict how a court might rule on a particular issue. It involves IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) structure and must be objective.
- Briefs: Legal briefs are meant to persuade a judge or a court to adopt a legal position. They also follow the IRAC structure but are written to advocate for one side.
- The Bluebook: A uniform system of citation is crucial for legal writing. The Bluebook is widely used and must be adhered to for proper form.
Case Law Analysis Using IRAC
IRAC is a critical tool for legal analysis. It stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion.
Example Case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co.
- Issue: Whether the railroad was negligent and therefore liable for injuries to Mrs. Palsgraf when a package of fireworks exploded after being dropped by a man rushing to catch a train.
- Rule: In negligence cases, liability only extends to those harms that result from the reasonably foreseeable risks of the defendant’s conduct.
- Analysis: The court found that the harm to Mrs. Palsgraf was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the railroad’s conduct.
- Conclusion: The railroad was not liable for Mrs. Palsgraf’s injuries.
Alaska-Specific Case: State v. Hazelwood (1991)
- Issue: Whether the captain of a vessel (the Exxon Valdez) can be criminally liable under state law for the conduct leading to an oil spill in Prince William Sound.
- Rule: A person is criminally liable in Alaska if they recklessly cause a discharge of oil in violation of Alaska law.
- Analysis: The court found that Captain Hazelwood had operated the vessel while intoxicated, which constituted reckless conduct under state law.
- Conclusion: Captain Hazelwood was held criminally liable for the oil spill.
Understanding how to formulate and structure legal arguments is vital. This includes knowing how to:
- Identify relevant legal issues.
- Apply the law to the facts.
- Present arguments logically and coherently.
- Draw on precedent and analogize or distinguish cases.
- Address counterarguments.
Writing Style and Clarity
Legal writing should be clear, concise, and free of unnecessary legalese. This includes:
- Using plain language when possible.
- Avoiding passive voice.
- Breaking complex information into manageable pieces.
- Ensuring that the document is well-organized and flows logically.
Professional Responsibility and Ethics
Legal research and writing in Alaska, as in all jurisdictions, must be conducted with a high level of professional responsibility. This includes understanding and following rules related to:
- Conflict of interest.
- Proper citation to avoid plagiarism.
This Study Guide has provided an overview of the critical components of legal research and writing for an Alaska Law School 1L class. Mastery of these components is essential for success in law school and the practice of law. Students should continue to practice and refine their legal research and writing skills throughout their legal education and professional careers.