Legal Research: Skills and Resources

The law refers to the rules that govern society (Yell & Conroy, 1999, p.40). If there is a major activity that has to be accomplished, then it is important to understand the legal requirements fully. If the legal requirements are ignored, then it is possible to violate certain statutes and regulations. A legal professional tasked to know more about the legal requirements of a particular activity has to be acquainted with the intricacies of legal research. Legal research is simply the process of finding laws, statutes, and regulations and then applying the same to a particular need. For example, if there is a need to know more about a vexing issue concerning special education law, then it is imperative to conduct legal research for this purpose.

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The legal researcher must, therefore, locate the actual statements of the law. These are referred to as primary sources. At the same time, the legal researcher must locate the explanations and analyses of the law. These are referred to as secondary sources. The primary sources include statutes, regulations, and cases (Yell & Conroy, 1999, p.40). Secondary sources, on the other hand, include law reviews, legal journals, and loose-leaf services (Yell & Conroy, 1999, p.17).

The first step is to analyze the problem. In this case, the problem is a complicated issue concerning special education law. In this regard, the legal researcher must determine the needed outcome of the research, such as the information required to answer a litigious question about special education law. The second step is to conduct the research. This can be achieved by locating relevant primary source material. However, the most practical action in this regard is to locate one good case about the issue. In this way, the legal researcher can then access West’s “digests cases” using the topic and key numbers in the case’s headnotes (Yell & Conroy, 1999, p.40).

Primary and Secondary Resources

If a good case cannot be located, then the legal researcher must go through Federal and State statutes. In the case of special education law, the U.S. Department of Education promulgates and enforces Federal statutes (Yell & Conroy, 1999, p.21). These promulgations are organized under the Code of Federal Regulations. However, state regulations and case laws are much more difficult to find, considering the fact that there is no central publishing arm that publishes all the pertinent information regarding state regulations and case laws. The legal researcher must learn to use West’s “The Federal Reporter.”


A skilled legal researcher is an asset to a law firm and a powerful ally when it comes to solving a difficult problem that requires a careful analysis of the law. In the case of special education law, the legal researcher must know how to find a good case to jumpstart the research process. The case can be used as a guide to locate needed resources. But even if a good case cannot be located that suits the requirements of a client, an efficient legal researcher knows how to go through the step-by-step process of locating primary and secondary resources. The legal researcher must also be adept in using the Code of Federal Regulations or West’s “Federal Reporter.” A good legal researcher also knows how to navigate an electronic database and various government websites in order to locate primary and secondary resources.


Yell, M. & T. Conroy. (1999). Legal Research. SC: University of South Carolina Press.

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