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Summer Interns and Associates Guide  

Last Updated: Aug 22, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Plan Your Research Print Page

The Top 10 (Plus 5) Questions to Ask About Your Research Assignment

1. When does my supervisor need my product?  (my deadline) 

2.  In what format does my supervisor want my product?  Memo, pleading (e.g. complaint, answer, motion) informal report, brief, client letter?

3.  What is the client billing number for this project?

4.  How does my work fit into a larger deadline?

5.  How much time/effort does the supervisor want to expended on this project? (Short answer or exhaustive research?)

6.  Does the supervisor have a particular length in mind for the product?

7.  What is the priority with my other assignments?

8. How will my product be used in this case or matter?

9. Why does my supervisor want to know this information?

10.  Is there a research strategy, tool or resource that my supervisor can recommend for the project?

11.  Does the firm have a "knowledge base," a computer database with sample pleadings, motions, forms, briefs (that summer associates may use)?

12.  Is the research limited to one jurisdiction? (Which jurisdiction?)

13.  Does the superivsor want any of the "raw" research materials I relied on? (e.g. cases, statutes, regulations printed out?)

14.  If I have any additional questions once I have started the project, will my supervisor be available to answer them?

15.  Are there documents, memos, briefs in the file to review? Is anyone else working on this matter that I should talk to?  Has anyone handled a similar matter that I should talk to?  Is there anyone I shouldn't talk to about this case?


Identify Research Terms

Sometimes the factual information for your research will come from an interview with your supervising attorney, a memo, a message, a letter, an investigator's report, the pleadings, or in other documents in the file.  You also may use your client interview notes or notes from trials or hearings that you attend.  In complicated cases, you may want to prepare a diagram or outline of the facts. 

1.  Use a legal dictionary to look up any unfamiliar words or phrases, and use Thesauri and Secondary sources to find synonyms and related terms. 

2.  Perform a factual analysis:  who, what, where, when, how. 

3.  Perform a legal analysis: legal theory, relief sought or defenses asserted, procedural posture of the case. 

4.  Do a TARP analysis:

      a. Thing or Subject Matter - Object(s), location(s), concept(s) - expand with synonyms and related terms

      b. Cause of Action or Ground of Defense - Examples: breach of contract, negligence assumption of the risk - expand with synonyms and related terms.

      c.  Relief Sought - Purpose of the law suit: money damages, injunction, criminal penalties - expand with synonyms and related terms.  

      d. Parties Involved - Including relationships among persons, legal status, witnesses. Who do you represent? Are any entities involved: corporations, partnerships - Expand with synonyms and related terms.

5.  Increase the depth of your TARP list by varying the level of abstraction.  (This method helps with using an index or the West Digest.)

        i.e.: parrott > bird > animal

        i.e.: transportation > car, train airplane, jet


Research Help This Summer

1.  E-mail, call or visit the USD Law Library!  This summer, we will be open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Call the reference/circulation desk at 605-677-3930 or e-mail us at

2.  View all of our Legal Research LibGuides!

3.  Search the USD McKusick Law Library Online Catalog:
Use Advanced Search for more search options   


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