Friday, December 01, 2006

Research Tip: Read the Stuff You Find


We talked about this in class, but it is worth repeating. You are not finished with your research when you find a statute, regulation, or case that seems to match the facts of your research assignment. You have to read each authority that you find to make sure that it really applies to the situation you are researching--and that it says what you think it says.

I was reminded of this tip when I read this entry on The Practice blog, dedicated to "Helping law students and lawyers learn everything they wanted to know about law practice management, but did not learn in law school." The author recounts receiving a motion in which opposing counsel cited to a code section but had not read far enough to realize that the section did not give them grounds to file the motion. He advises: "Just take the extra few minutes to make sure you read the entire section and not just the section that helps you. You may save yourself more work in the end!"

That advice may seem obvious, but apparently it is disregarded far too frequently. I heard a state Supreme Court Justice, speaking to a group of law librarians, express concern about the number of briefs she saw in which it was clear that the attorneys had not read the cases they cited. They quote seemingly perfect language to support their position, but if they had read a few more paragraphs of the quoted case they would have read: "We decline to adopt that approach."

Here is how the Curmudgeon put it: "We must know that the cases that we cite stand for helpful propositions. We must also know, however, that those cases do not hurt our client's position in some way. We do not cite cases that have a sentence or two that supports our client's position, but ultimately hold that our client should lose."

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