Nebraska Law School 1L Study Guide for Legal Research and Writing
Introduction to Legal Research and Writing:
Legal Research and Writing is a foundational course for first-year law students (1Ls) that introduces the tools and methods for finding and analyzing legal authorities. It also emphasizes the skills necessary to write clear and effective legal documents.
- Primary Sources: These are the actual laws and include statutes, regulations, and case law. In Nebraska, primary sources would include the Nebraska Revised Statutes, Nebraska administrative regulations, and decisions from the Nebraska Supreme Court and appellate courts.
Secondary Sources: These are materials that discuss, explain, or analyze the law and include law review articles, treatises, and legal encyclopedias. Examples include the Nebraska Law Review and the Nebraska Practice Series.
Electronic Databases: Online research platforms like Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg Law are essential for contemporary legal research. They include both primary and secondary sources and provide powerful search tools.
- IRAC Method: A common structure for legal analysis which stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion. In legal writing, students should clearly identify the legal issue, state the applicable rule, analyze the rule in the context of the facts, and reach a conclusion.
Case Briefing: A method for summarizing and analyzing court opinions. A brief should include the facts of the case, the legal issue, the court’s holding, and the reasoning behind the court’s decision.
Objective Memoranda: These are internal documents used to inform a lawyer or a law firm about the legal issues of a case. Memoranda should be clear, concise, and neutral, presenting the strengths and weaknesses of a case.
Persuasive Writing: When crafting legal arguments in briefs or motions, the goal is to persuade the reader. This involves advanced legal analysis, a strong understanding of the relevant law, and the ability to argue why a particular interpretation or application of the law should prevail.
Nebraska-Specific Legal Writing Considerations:
- Nebraska Citation Rules: Follow the Nebraska Uniform System of Citation for documents submitted to Nebraska courts.
Nebraska Court Structure: Understanding the hierarchy of the courts is crucial for knowing where to find relevant case law and how to weigh the authority of different decisions.
Case Law Review using IRAC Format:
Example case: State v. Long, 301 Neb. 405 (2018)
Issue: Whether Long’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the police conducted a warrantless search of his backpack.
Rule: The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Nebraska law is in line with federal interpretations of the Fourth Amendment, requiring either a warrant or a valid exception to the warrant requirement for a lawful search.
Analysis: The court evaluated the circumstances leading to the search of Long’s backpack. The police did not possess a warrant, so the search’s constitutionality hinged on whether an exception applied. The court considered whether the search incident to arrest exception was applicable, examining the proximity of the backpack to Long at the time of his arrest. It found that the backpack was within Long’s immediate control, thus allowing for a warrantless search.
Conclusion: The court concluded that the search of Long’s backpack was lawful because it fell within the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
Legal Citation and Bluebook Rules:
- Understanding how to properly cite legal authorities is critical. Students must become familiar with the Bluebook citation system as it is the dominant citation style for the legal profession in the United States.
Nebraska-Specific Citations: Nebraska courts may have specific citation preferences that deviate slightly from the Bluebook, and it is important to consult the local court rules for guidance.
Legal Analysis and Synthesis:
- Synthesizing Case Law: This involves reading multiple cases on a particular issue and extracting the relevant legal principles to understand the broader legal rule.
Fact Patterns: Students should practice applying legal rules to different fact patterns to hone their ability to analyze and predict legal outcomes.
Ethics in Legal Writing:
- Avoiding Plagiarism: Proper citation practice is not only a matter of formality but also a matter of ethics. Students must give credit where it is due and avoid misrepresenting the work of others as their own.
Candor to the Tribunal: Ethical writing in a legal context requires honesty and accuracy when presenting facts and law to a court.
Writing Style and Clarity:
- Plain Language: Legal writing should be accessible and free of unnecessary jargon. The use of plain language makes legal documents clearer and more persuasive.
Grammar and Punctuation: Proper grammar and punctuation are crucial for clear legal writing. Students should regularly consult resources like “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White for guidance.
Preparing for Exams:
- Practice Writing: Regularly practice writing briefs, memos, and argument sections to improve speed and proficiency.
Outlining: Develop outlines for each topic covered in class, as this helps with understanding how legal concepts interrelate and with memory retention.
Sample Exams: If available, use past exams to become familiar with the format and types of questions that may be asked.
Feedback: Seek feedback on writing assignments from professors or teaching assistants to identify areas of strength and improvement.
Legal Research and Writing are skills that require continuous practice and refinement. This study guide should serve as a starting point for 1L students at Nebraska Law. Mastery of these skills is not only critical for academic success but also for professional competence as an attorney.