What Techniques Are Useful for Finding Interesting Topics?
Updated Jan. 3, 2012
Prepared by Mary Whisner & Ann Hemmens.
In addition to talking to people (your professors, practicing attorneys, judges etc.), you may find several of these print and online resources helpful in your search for a topic.
Note: The Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP), the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), and HeinOnline are UW Restricted databases. LexisNexis and Westlaw require users to have individual passwords or IDs.
- Francis A. Gabor, Guide to Legal Research and Writing from the Transnational Perspective. K85.G33 2008 at Reference Area
- The chapter "Guide for the Legal Writing Process" includes sections dealing with seminar papers, topic selection, and writing techniques.
- Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers, 3d ed. KF250.F35 2005 at Reference Area
- The chapter "Inspiration: Choosing a Subject and Developing a Thesis," includes ideas on finding and narrowing a paper topic. Other chapters address research strategies, the writing process, and writing style.
- Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers, 3d ed. KF250.V6 2007 at Reference Area
- This book covers many useful topics, from choosing a topic to reviewing
drafts, from quoting and citing sources accurately to source-checking. The
book evolved from the author's article, Writing a Student Article, 48 J.
Legal Ed.246 (1998).
See also Prof. Volokh's
- Ruthann Robson, Law Students as Legal Scholars: An Essay/Review of Scholarly Writing for Law Students and Academic Legal Writing, 7 N.Y. City L. Rev. 195 (2004). Hein Online | LexisNexis | Westlaw
- Compares and criticizes the two afore-mentioned books. Emphasizes that
the student writer's passion for his or her subject is of primary
importance in topic selection.
- Heather Meeker, Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers, 1996 Utah L. Rev. 917. Hein Online | LexisNexis | Westlaw
- This article includes tips on how to find a topic, different types
of topics (traditional and nontraditional), and how to conduct
preemption research to determine if the topic you are interested in is
the topic of an existing article.
- BNA, Finding a Topic/Case on Which to Write
- A PowerPoint presentation
that describes the use of Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) publications
for locating topics for notes and comments.
- BNA, Locating Paper Topics
- A pamphlet that describes using BNA's topical
newsletters and alert services.
- LexisNexis, Starting Your Law Review Note
- This web-based tutorial takes you through
using Search Advisor, preemption checking, Mealey's topical
newsletters, and updating your research.
- Westlaw, Guide to Law Review Research
- A 33-page guide to selecting a topic, conducting a preemption search, developing a topic, checking citations, and related subjects.
- United States Law Week. KF105.1.U5 at Reference Area & Reference Office. BNA, LexisNexis & Westlaw
- This weekly publication provides current analysis of significant federal
and state cases in all practice areas as well as important legislative and
- To find circuit splits
- circuit* near split* and date after 1/1/2006
- (circuit* near split*) and employment and date after 1/1/2006
- To find recent stories about free speech: free speech [within headings only] and date after 1/1/2007
- Seton Hall Circuit Review. Shelved by title, current issues at Reference Area; older issues at Compact Stacks
- This relatively new law review includes a "Current Circuit Splits"
column. It is arranged by topic under civil and criminal law categories.
- Split Circuits
- A blog dedicated to tracking developments concerning splits among the federal circuit courts, by law professor A. Benjamin Spencer.
Caselaw databases on LexisNexis or Westlaw
- Westlaw ALLFEDS: sy,di(split conflict /s circuit authority) & da(>2006)
- Westlaw WA-CS: co(low) & "first impression" & da(>2005)
- Westlaw SCT-PETITION (database of petitions for certiorari -- includes petitions that were denied as well as those granted): "employment discrimination" & split /p circuit authority
- Topical newsletters
- Many newsletters focus on current developments and trends in particular areas of law (e.g., affordable housing, construction, ethics, labor) and published weekly or monthly. Articles are usually short and the newsletters may be available in print and online. Look for legal newsletters in the topical or practice area pages on LexisNexis and Westlaw or use BNA newsletters. (UW law students and faculty can subscribe to the BNA newsletters by email too. Follow the link here.)
- Also consider industry newsletters that aren't specifically legal -- they will often discuss legal issues on the horizon. Industry newsletters are available in ABI-INFORM and PROMT (both on LexisNexis and Westlaw).
- Weekly publication cycles enable legal newspapers to report quickly on news about pending or recently decided/settled cases and other current legal issues. Browse headlines for ideas. Examples include:
- * National Law Journal (Westlaw:
NLJ & LexisNexis:
* Legal Times (Westlaw: LEGALTIMES & LexisNexis: LGLTME )
These and other legal newspapers are indexed by LegalTrac (also available on Westlaw: LRI & LexisNexis: LGLIND). On LexisNexis, use Legal > Legal News > Legal News by Practice Area to browse for news in 20 categories.
BNA Web Watch
- Weekly links to academic, government, and industry documents on today's hottest legal topics.
Westlaw Bulletin: WLB
- This database contains summaries of recent developments in federal and state judicial, legislative, and administrative law. It is updated daily.
Westlaw Topical Highlights
- These 25 contain summaries of federal and state decisions and legislative and administrative activities in particular areas of law (e.g., antitrust, family law, maritime law). Documents are added daily. Use the Directory > Legal Periodicals & Current Awareness > Westlaw Highlights & Bulletins > Westlaw Topical Highlights.
LexisNexis Practice Pages
- Utilize the current awareness tools provided on the Practice Pages (link in upper right hand corner). Choose an area of law (e.g., environmental, immigration, securities) and look for the "Current Awareness" or "Recent News & Legal Developments" links. These shortcuts run already created searches in current databases.
- Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP). K33.C87 at Reference Area. Available on the Internet for UW users only (last 6 weeks) & Westlaw: CILP (last 8 weeks)
- This current awareness tool provides quick access to the contents of
more than 550 legal periodicals, either through the Table of Contents or
organized within 100 legal subjects. Law review articles are indexed here
4-6 weeks before they are indexed by commercial legal periodical indexes
such as LegalTrac or the Index to Legal Periodicals. Note: UW law
faculty and students can subscribe to SmartCILP, a tailored version of
CILP that send you just the articles indexed under the subject headings
- Some journals are not published online only. They are called e-journals (or ejournals). Many traditional law reviews also provide free online access to some articles via the Internet. You can find lists of these law reviews at:
- Hieros Gamos, Legal and Law Related Journals
- the Law Library of Congress, Law Reviews Online
- University Law Review Project
See the Gallagher guide on Blogs & RSS Feeds.
- American Constitution Society, ACS ResearchLink
- Designed to help law students search for topics for law review notes
and seminar papers. Public interest research topics are submitted by
practitioners including non-profit organizations (e.g., legal aids groups)
from around the country.
- Searching law reviews on LexisNexis or Westlaw
- Search databases containing the full-text of law reviews (LexisNexis:
ALLREV & Westlaw:
JLR) for indications in an article that the author has mentioned an
interesting question in need of further research. Try phrases such as
"open question," "interesting topic," or "article topic."
Sample search: interesting or intriguing or open /s question or issue /s "beyond the scope" and date(>2005)
- Casebooks & treatises
- Scan the notes in casebooks (and especially recent casebook supplements) for hypotheticals or comments that some issue is unresolved. Search treatises online for "open question" and similar phrases.
- Gallagher guide on Resources for Keeping Up & Staying Current
- A guide describing online resources and techniques that UW School of Law faculty and students can use to stay up-to-date with recent research topics. Includes, for example, information on Legal Scholarship Network (LSN), BNA email newsletters, and SmartCILP.