Legal Research and Writing: Mastering the Art as a Paralegal

Legal Research and Writing Tips for Paralegals

According to a National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) survey, 82% of attorneys consider legal research and writing skills crucial when hiring paralegals.

The legal profession values accuracy and expertise. As a paralegal, you’re the backbone of a legal team, ensuring smooth operations by conducting thorough legal research and drafting clear, concise legal documents. But navigating legal databases, crafting persuasive arguments, and ensuring pinpoint accuracy can feel daunting.

Do not be afraid! Here’s a goldmine of creative tips and tricks to elevate your legal research and writing skills, making you an expert paralegal.

Legal Research Tips for Paralegals

Think Like a Lawyer (But Keep it Ethical): Imagine the legal arguments your attorney might make. What kind of evidence would support their case? What legal precedents might be relevant? By anticipating their needs, you can tailor your research and present them with the most valuable resources. Remember, you’re not providing legal advice but can be a strategic partner.

Keyword Magic: Think of legal research as a treasure hunt. Begin by identifying the main legal concerns at hand. Consider relevant keywords and synonyms. Legal dictionaries and thesauruses will become your best friends.

Embrace Advanced Search Techniques: Legal databases are your goldmine. Mastering platforms like Westlaw and LexisNexis is crucial. While keyword searches are a good starting point, legal research demands more.

  • Utilize Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to refine your searches.
  • Explore legal databases’ advanced features, such as date filters, jurisdiction limits, and Shepardizing (verifying case law validity), to refine your searches and unearth the most relevant cases, statutes, and regulations.

Beyond the Database: Most legal workplaces subscribe to online legal research databases like Westlaw or LexisNexis. But don’t stop there! Explore free resources like government websites (.gov), legal blogs by reputable firms, and academic journals. These can offer valuable insights and alternative perspectives.

Network with Your Colleagues: Paralegals are resourceful individuals. Don’t hesitate to contact colleagues within your firm or through online paralegal communities. Ask about their research strategies, preferred resources, and how they approach specific legal research challenges.

Befriend the Librarian (Virtual or Otherwise): Law librarians are research rockstars. Feel free to tap into their expertise. Explain your research goals and let them guide you through the legal jungle. They can introduce you to hidden databases and resources you might not have known existed.

Shepardize Like a Pro: Shepardizing (verifying the validity of a legal citation) is a crucial step in legal research. While online legal databases often have built-in Shepard’s functionalities, understanding the underlying principles is key. This empowers you to analyze legal developments and identify potential challenges to your case.

Follow the breadcrumbs: Legal research is rarely a linear process. A single case can send you through a rabbit hole of citations and references. Embrace it! Follow these breadcrumbs; they may bring you to the most compelling authority in your argument.

Become a Case Briefing Champion: When you find relevant cases, don’t just skim. Develop a system for effective case briefing. Capture key facts, legal issues, the court’s holding (decision), and the rationale (reasoning). This strengthens your understanding and helps you organize your research findings.

Legal Writing Tips for Paralegals

Know Your Audience: Are you writing for a judge, a client, or an opposing attorney? Understanding your audience helps you tailor your writing style.

  • For judges, focus on clarity, conciseness, and legal accuracy.
  • Use clear and concise language for clients, avoiding legalese.
  • When writing for opposing counsel, maintain a professional and respectful tone.

Structure is Key: A well-organized legal document is easy to navigate and comprehend. Develop a clear outline for your legal documents, ensuring a logical flow of information. Headings, subheadings, and bullet points can help you structure your arguments, making your writing easier to read and follow.

Embrace the Power of Templates: Law firms often have templates for standard legal documents. These are goldmines! Utilize them as a starting point, but remember to adapt them to the specific case. Don’t be bound to the template—personalize it to reflect the unique aspects of your case.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice: The active voice has a more substantial impact on legal writing. It emphasizes who is doing what, making your writing more persuasive.

  • Instead of “The contract was breached by the defendant,” write “The defendant breached the contract.” 
  • Instead of “The motion was filed by the defendant,” write “The defendant filed the motion.”

Plain Language Superhero: Legal jargon can be a barrier to understanding. Use plain language whenever possible. Opt for common words over legalese, but ensure your writing remains professional and accurate.

Citations: The Backbone of Legal Writing Accurate citations are crucial for substantiating your legal arguments. Master the art of citation, following the preferred style guide (e.g., Bluebook, ALWD). Many legal writing software programs can automate citations, saving time and ensuring accuracy.

Proofreading with a Keen Eye: Typos and grammatical errors can undermine your credibility. Proofread carefully, and don’t just rely on spellcheck. Read your work aloud to identify any awkward phrasing or mistakes that may have slipped through. Consider having a colleague assess your work as an extra set of eyes.

Creative Legal Research and Writing Strategies for Efficiency

As you gain experience, consider how to craft clear and persuasive legal documents. Here are some tips:

Embrace Time Management Techniques – Conquer Your Workload: Paralegals often juggle multiple tasks. Utilize time management tools like to-do lists and calendars. Set realistic deadlines and prioritize research tasks based on urgency. Use the Pomodoro Technique: work in focused 25-minute intervals with short breaks.

Stay Organized – Develop a Filing System: Research can generate a mountain of materials. Develop a system for organizing research notes, case law, and other documents. Use folders with clear labels, both physical and digital. This will save you time and frustration when revisiting specific information.

Automate Where Possible – Leverage Technology: Technology can be your best friend. Explore legal research software that streamlines case law searches and citation formatting. Use dictation software to capture your research notes and draft documents quickly.

Stay Curious—Continuous Learning is Key: The legal landscape constantly evolves. Attending webinars, online courses, or paralegal association events will keep you current. Read legal blogs and publications to stay informed about legal developments relevant to your practice area.

Anticipate Counterarguments: Imagine yourself in the opposing attorney’s shoes. What arguments might they raise? Address these potential counterarguments within your legal documents, strengthening your overall position.

Support Your Arguments with Authority: Don’t just make assertions; back them up with relevant legal citations. Use strong cases, statutes, and regulations to support your client’s position.

Focus on the Benefits: When writing legal documents for clients, highlight the potential benefits of your arguments. This helps them understand the “why” behind the legalese.

Visuals Can Be Persuasive: Don’t underestimate the power of visuals. Charts, timelines, and diagrams can effectively illustrate complex legal concepts and strengthen your arguments.

Think Outside the Box: Legal research isn’t limited to dusty law books and databases. News articles, industry reports, and government websites can offer valuable insights and support your legal arguments.

Collaboration is Key: Don’t be afraid to collaborate with colleagues. Bounce ideas off each other, share research findings, and provide constructive feedback on each other’s work. Two minds (or more!) are always better than one.

Stay Current: The legal landscape is constantly evolving. Stay updated on recent court decisions, legislative changes, and legal trends by subscribing to legal publications or following relevant blogs.

Embrace Technology: Many legal technology tools are available to streamline your workflow. Explore legal research platforms with advanced features, document automation software, and citation management tools.

Conclusion: Mastering the Art

Honing your research and writing skills will make you an invaluable asset to your legal team. Remember, the key is to be resourceful, organized, and detail-oriented. Embrace these creative tips and tricks, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of legal research and writing.

Outsource Research and Writing to Eternity Paralegal Services (EPS)

For attorneys seeking reliable and skilled paralegal support in the USA, Eternity Paralegal Services Company offers comprehensive paralegal services tailored to your specific needs. From legal research and writing services to document preparation and case management, our team of experienced paralegals is committed to delivering exceptional results. 

Contact us today to learn how we can assist you in achieving your legal objectives.