Surviving Summer Research Assignments

Legal Research Guides

Updated May 19, 2005.
Prepared by Mary Whisner for Bridge the Legal Research Gap.
  1. Log
  2. Calendar
  3. Project Intake
  4. Preliminary Analysis
  5. Research Strategy
  6. Notes
  7. When Do You Stop Researching?
  8. Communicating Results


Keep a log of assignments you are given, with brief notes about who assigned the project, when it is due, etc. For example:

Date Assigned Supv. Project Due When will I work on it? Done
7/2 Anne McDonald Ferguson case � prepare memo on prescriptive easement Q. 7/10 research 7/6-7, write 7/8 7/9
7/6 David Marks Fein med mal case � find Pa. statute of lim; copy w/ annotations 7/7 research 7/6 7/7
7/7 Jane Hansen memo re compensation for eminent domain taking of a leasehold 7/15 ??  


Plan your time! For example:

Mon. 7/6 Tues. 7/7 Wed.7/8 Thur.7/9 Fri.7/10 w/ Pete H.
p.m. go to King County Law Lib. to research
a.m. more research at KCLL?
lunch w/ Liz M.
Give David Pa. S/L info
draft Ferguson memo  
p.m. observe deposition w/ Jack
Ferguson memo must be done!

If you use a handheld or PDA for your to-do lists and calendar, see JurisPDA,, a site with PDA tips for law students and lawyers.

Career bonus! You can later use your log and calendar to update your resume, to decide which attorney to ask to be a reference, and to reflect on you career goals.


Project Intake

Basic things to find out for every assignment:

  • When is this due?
  • What is the requester�s name, phone number, email address?
  • If you have questions as you go along, can you contact the requester? Is there someone else in the office who is familiar with the project?
  • What format should the final product be in? (A list of citations, photocopies of cases, informal notes, an oral report, a formal memo, a draft summary judgment motion?)
  • How much time should you spend?
  • How should costs be charged (client, account number)?
  • Try to flesh out the assignment as much as you can before you start researching. Asking questions is GOOD!

Preliminary Analysis

Before you start pulling books from the shelf or typing in commands at the computer, take some time to plan your research. Think and write notes:

  • What is the question you need to answer?
  • What jurisdiction is it?
  • What are some of the key words that you might use to look up this topic in an index or database?
  • What do you already know about the question?
  • Where do you think you�ll start?
  • How much time do you think you�ll take?

Research Strategy

The exact steps you take in research will vary, depending on, for instance, what you already know and what the question is.

  • For example, if the question involves an area of the law you know nothing about, you probably need to get an overview and learn some vocabulary, so you should start by looking for a basic secondary source and then moving on to look for statutes and cases. A good secondary source can also lead you to relevant statutes and cases, saving you time.
  • On the other hand, if you have a background in the area (say, you�ve taken a class or worked on a similar project) or if the assigning attorney told you a relevant statute to start with, you might begin with statutory research.
  • Be sure to check for relevant authority � statutes, regulations, cases � and to update whatever you find.

For more on research strategy, see Ellen M. Callinan, How to Survive Summer Associate Research ... and Thrive! - Advice from the Law Firm, 7 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 113 (1999), reprinted in Best of Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research & Writing 81 (2001).


See Penny A. Hazelton et al., Top 10 Tips for Better Note-Taking in Legal Research, 4 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 51 (1996), reprinted in Best of Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research & Writing 69 (2001).

When Do You Stop Researching?

  • When you keep finding the same answer.
  • When you have checked all the appropriate sources.
  • When you feel confident you have found the relevant material.
  • When your supervisor says you have done enough.
  • When you run out of time.

Communicating Results

How you communicate will vary depending on the project, your supervisor�s preference, the time you have, and so on. Sometimes a photocopy with a post-it note is all that is needed; sometimes you need to write a formal memo.

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