South Carolina Law School 1L Study Guide for Legal Research and Writing

I. Introduction to Legal Research and Writing

Legal research and writing is a critical foundation for any legal education. It involves understanding how to find and interpret legal authorities, and how to clearly communicate and argue legal points. This study guide will cover a variety of concepts, including the structure of the U.S. legal system, understanding and using primary and secondary sources, legal citation, and legal writing principles.

II. Structure of the U.S. Legal System

A. Federalism: The U.S. legal system operates on a principle of federalism, where power is divided between the federal government and the states. This concept is central to understanding jurisdiction and sources of law.

B. Separation of Powers: The U.S. Constitution divides the powers of the federal government into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. This concept is important in understanding the creation and interpretation of law.

C. Precedent and Stare Decisis: Precedent refers to prior court decisions, which influence future decisions. Stare decisis is the doctrine that obligates courts to follow precedents. A key case demonstrating this is Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins (1938), in which the Supreme Court held that federal courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction must apply state law in deciding state law claims.

III. Primary and Secondary Sources

A. Primary Sources: Primary sources are laws, regulations, and court decisions. They include constitutions, statutes, administrative regulations, and case law.

B. Secondary Sources: Secondary sources are materials that analyze, explain, or comment on the law. They include legal treatises, law review articles, and legal encyclopedias.

C. Legal Citation: The Bluebook, a uniform system of citation, is the standard guide for legal citation in the United States. It provides rules for citing all kinds of legal documents.

IV. Legal Research

A. Identifying Legal Issues: Legal research often starts with identifying legal issues. This involves understanding the facts of a case, the jurisdiction, and the legal questions that arise.

B. Using Research Tools: Modern legal research involves using a combination of print and electronic resources, including legal databases like Westlaw and LexisNexis.

C. Shepardizing: Shepardizing refers to the process of checking the subsequent history and treatment of a case or statute, to ensure that it is good law. It is named after the Shepard’s Citations service, which provides this information.

V. Legal Writing

A. Writing Principles: Legal writing should be clear, concise, and precise. It should use plain English and avoid legalese as much as possible.

B. IRAC Method: The IRAC method (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) is a common structure for legal writing. It facilitates clear organization and presentation of legal arguments.

C. Memoranda and Briefs: Legal writing often takes the form of memoranda (internal documents summarizing and analyzing legal issues for a client or attorney) and briefs (documents submitted to a court arguing a client’s position).

D. Case Briefing: Case briefing is a way of summarizing a court decision. It typically includes the facts of the case, the legal issue, the court’s decision, the reasoning behind the decision, and any concurring or dissenting opinions.

E. Legal Ethics: The Model Rules of Professional Conduct set forth ethical guidelines for attorneys, including rules about confidentiality, conflict of interest, and duties to the court and clients.

This study guide offers a broad overview of key concepts and skills in legal research and writing. For more specific information, consult your course materials, textbooks, and relevant legal authorities.

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