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Research Assistant Guide

Resources for Research Assistants

Receiving an Assignment

1. Understand what your Professor wants you to research.  Use the standard reporter questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how) to round out your understanding of the assignment.  Repeat back the assignment to your Professor to ensure you have a proper understanding of the question you have been asked to address.  Make sure you understand the question being asked.

2. Understand your Professor's expectations for the project including:

  • When is the deadline?
  • How much time are you expected to spend on the assignment?
  • What is the best way to communicate with the Professor?  
  • What format does the Professor want the work product to be in?

3. Develop your research plan.

  • Identify useful secondary sources.  Ask your Professor if there is a treatise, loose-leaf service, journal, or other source you should use to start your research.
  • Ask about important terms of art and leading cases.
  • Make sure you understand the relevant jurisdiction.
  • Determine what types of materials should you be consulting - cases, statutes, regulations, international treaties, etc.

4. Document your research

  • This will help if you need to update your research or hand off the project to your Professor's next R.A.




The Research Process

Prof. Marjorie Rombauer created this framework for organizing legal research.  

  1. Preliminary Analysis
    • Locate and identify the relevant facts.
    • Articulate the issues and form your research question.
    • Determine the jurisdiction.
    • Review secondary sources to gain understanding about the area of th law.
    • Develop your search terms by considering key words, terms of art, and relevant phrases for how they can be incorporated into your searches.
  2. Search Statutes
    • Not only might a statute have changed an old common law rule, but they also can lead you to additional resources such as regulations and cases that have interpreted the statute.
  3. Search Mandatory Case Precedent
    • If you located a statute that clearly and unambiguously addresses your research question use case law to make sure your interpretation of the law is correct.  You will also want to see if the law has been challenged in court.
    • For statutes that do definitively address your question, case law will be helpful in determining how courts have interpreted the provisions of the statute.
    • If there is no statute relevant to your research it is important to determine how have the courts treated similar cases.
  4. Search Persuasive Case Precedent
    • If there is not binding case precedent from your jurisdiction on an issue you are researching expand your search to other jurisdictions to locate cases that support your position.
    • Searching other jurisdictions to locate counter arguments.
  5. Refine, Update, and Check
    • As you move through your research, take time to consider if anything you have learned should be incorporated into your research.
    • Make sure your are using the most up to date versions of any statutes, regulations, or constitutional provisions.
    • Use a reputable citation service to ensure there are no adverse judicial decisions for any of the authorities your are relying on.

More information about the Rombauer Framework is available here.