Key Legal Research Skills Every Lawyer Needs

The shift to digital research has led to some sloppy habits among legal practitioners. Here’s how to nail the legal research skills you need – quickly and efficiently.

Australians are spending more time than ever online 1, yet research shows the information literacy skills of the so-called ‘Google generation’ have not improved with easier access to information. More data is available, but people are taking little time to evaluate information for relevancy, accuracy or authority.2

Transfer this to the legal profession where traditional print-based resources such as law reports, case citators and looseleaf services are being replaced by large online legal databases and practitioners may find themselves spending more time floundering through pages of ‘hits’ rather than quickly locating the information they need.

Here are three key legal research skills and habits you can easily develop that will ensure your research continues to be accurate, current, thorough and efficient.

1. Failure to plan means planning to fail

New technology and online content give us the ability to find information within seconds – anywhere, anytime. With this, our expectations of the speed with which we can research a question or problem have dramatically increased. Add a busy workload and client demands and it’s no wonder legal practitioners fall into the bad habit of not planning a research strategy.

Solution: Planning a methodical approach to legal research is more important than ever in an online environment.  Take time to set out the resources you need to check, the concepts, keywords and areas of law for investigation and then document the results found. This will not only ensure your research is thorough, but will ultimately save you time.

2. Think beyond Google keywords

Each day Google answers more than one billion questions.3 Google’s amazing search technology and undoubted popularity means practitioners can fall into the bad habit of expecting every legal research database to yield the same type of results.

Solution: Try to think beyond keywords. Many publisher databases have indexes or tables of contents, in addition to the Google-like search box. These hidden gems are crafted by subject experts and can be a better way of finding relevant information on a concept, rather than lots of hits containing the words you’ve typed into the search bar.

3. Always check multiple sources

Good research requires using more than one source. When overwhelmed by the myriad choices in online legal research tools, it’s easy to fall into the habit of only using your one favourite database.

Solution: Always use more than one source to conduct research. This may mean cross-checking a free database with a legal publisher’s subscription service.

Simple habits such as planning your research, occasionally browsing indexes instead of keyword searching and checking more than one source will efficiently produce current, accurate and thorough answers to legal problems.



  1. Nielsen, “The Australian online landscape report” September 2013
  2. CIBER, “Information behaviour of the researcher of the future” January 2008
  3. Facts about Google and Competition

Marisa Bendeich is a librarian with over 10 years’ experience in legal and scientific research. Marisa was President of the Australian Law Librarians’ Association in 2011-2012 and is excited about the opportunities for the future of the profession.

In her spare time, Marisa supports research of a different kind by running, swimming and cycling with Can Too, to raise funds for Cure Cancer Australia. Marisa is currently the Sydney Library Manager at Ashurst, a leading international law firm advising corporates, financial institutions and governments.

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