Virginia Law School 1L Study Guide for Legal Research and Writing

I. Basics of Legal Research and Writing

  1. The Legal Research Process: A systematic method of identifying and retrieving the law and legal principles related to a specific issue or set of facts. It entails understanding primary and secondary legal sources and how to navigate them using legal databases.

  2. Legal Citations: It’s the formal way of referencing legal authorities and other materials in legal writing. For example, Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) is the proper citation for a Supreme Court case.

  3. Legal Writing: This encompasses the ability to write clear, concise, and persuasive legal documents such as briefs, memos, and contracts. Legal writing follows the IRAC method (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion).

II. Legal Analysis

  1. IRAC: This stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion. It’s a method used to organize legal analysis.
  • Issue: What are the legal questions that the court is addressing?
  • Rule: What is the rule of law that applies to the issue?
  • Analysis: Apply the rule to the facts of the case.
  • Conclusion: What is the outcome based on the analysis?
  1. Case Briefing: A case brief is a summary of a court opinion. It includes the facts, procedural history, issue, rule, reasoning, and judgment or holding of the case.

Case Example: Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803)
– Issue: Whether the Constitution is superior to a regular law, and if so, is it the court’s role to interpret what the Constitution permits?
– Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and if a law contradicts the Constitution, it’s the court’s role to interpret it.
– Analysis: The court examined the Judiciary Act of 1789 and found it inconsistent with the Constitution.
– Conclusion: The court established the principle of judicial review, asserting that the Supreme Court has the final say on the interpretation of the Constitution.

III. Legal Research Tools and Strategies

  1. Legal Databases: Databases like Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg Law are widely used for online legal research. They contain case law, statutes, and secondary sources like law review articles and legal encyclopedias.

  2. Legal Encyclopedias: Publications like Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS) and American Jurisprudence 2d (Am. Jur. 2d) provide broad overviews of legal principles and doctrines.

  3. Shepardizing: A method of finding the subsequent history and citations of a case, statute, regulation, or other legal authority. It’s essential for determining the current validity of that authority.

IV. Legal Writing Principles

  1. Clarity: Legal writing should be clear and concise. Avoid legalese and unnecessary jargon.

  2. Coherence: Ensure that your writing logically flows from one point to the next.

  3. Analysis: Apply the legal rule to the facts of the case, discussing different interpretations and potential outcomes.

  4. Revision: Always revise your writing for grammar, style, and clarity.

  5. Citation: Familiarize yourself with The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. It gives guidance on legal citation in the U.S. and it’s commonly used in legal writing.

V. Virginia Specific Laws

As Virginia law school students, you need to be familiar with the Virginia Code (the statutory law of Virginia), the decisions of the Virginia Supreme Court, and the local rules of the Virginia federal and state courts. Here, it’s essential to remember that in Virginia, stare decisis means that lower courts must follow the decisions of higher courts.

In conclusion, by mastering legal research and writing, you’ll be well equipped to succeed not only in law school but also in your legal career. These skills are fundamental to every legal job, be it in litigation, corporate law, or public interest.

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