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Summer Resources Guide: The Research Assignment

Law librarians are available all summer long, 9 AM - 5 PM. Contact us at for assistance. Please note that most other law school departments will be closed on Fridays throughout the summer.

Prepare to Practice

Prepare to Practice Training Session (Recording Available!)
The Law Library hosted a training session focused on lesser-known research resources that you may utilize over the summer. The session reviewed topics including: finding jury instructions, verdicts, forms, dockets, public records, and other tools often used outside of the academic experience. This training session will be useful whether you are going out to your first summer position or starting your permanent job. A recording of the training is now available.


Prepare to Practice Training Session Recording

Roadmap: The Research Assignment

Research is often the keystone of any summer work experience but performing research well takes some planning.

The boxes below walk you through the various stages of the research assignment process but the basic steps are:

1. Preparing for Your Work Experience (AKA Getting to Know Your Employer and Research Tools Available to You)

2. Receiving the Assignment

3. Planning and Performing the Research

4. Presenting the Research

5. Receiving Feedback and Follow Up Research

"Technology roadmap" by Pigsaw is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Preparing for Your Work Experience - Things to Do Before Your First Day

Legal Research Platforms:screen shot of law databases homepage and logos of HeinOnline, Aspen Learning Library, CALI, Leadership Connect and

  • Ask what legal research platforms (Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg, Others?)  you will have as part of your employer's subscriptions

  • Confirm whether or not your employer will allow you to use your student accounts

  • See the Database Use tab for restrictions on what databases may be used for what types of work settings


Practice Areas/Jurisdictions:

  • Determine what practice areas you will be working with and in what jurisdictions. 

  • Take a look at the research platforms that are available to you and identify the major primary and secondary sources for your jurisdiction(s) and practice areas--check out the specialty State or Practice Area pages for ideas

    • Pro Tip: if you are using your law school accounts for Westlaw or Lexis, be sure to log into and so you can take advantage of user guides for students and to find contact info for our reps if you need their assistance (good to access the systems this way during the school year too!)

  • Consider "favoriting" pages or making them your "home" page for the summer if you think you may use them a lot (example: favoriting the New Jersey page under State Materials if you'll be working for a New Jersey judge)

    • Westlaw: 

    • Lexis:  (house = Home page, star = favorite)

  • Favorite specific resources/databases that you think you may want to come back to over and over

  • Look for research guides for researching those jurisdictions or practice area

  • Working in a new jurisdiction or with a specialized type of research? Check out CALI's Legal Research tutorials--there are ones on primary and secondary sources for other states as well as lessons for specific advanced research topics

Researching Employer/Supervisor:

  • Learn more about the firm, company, court, judge or attorney by running a Litigation Analytics  report:

    • Bloomberg (attorney, firm, company, court or judge)

    • Lexis (state or federal judges, attorneys and law firms)

    • Westlaw (attorneys, firms, courts, judges and companies)

  • If you've already been assigned a supervisor, take a look at their current cases to see what you may be working on. If they work in state court, check out the court's website to see if they provide dockets or search the dockets on Westlaw (use Advanced Search to search by the attorney's name) or if they practice in federal courts, try Bloomberg's dockets:

  • Check out the Researching Employers tab for more options

"Shadow Profile" by Walt Stoneburner is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Do you know what types of documents you will be drafting this summer? 


If your employer has shared that info with you, you can check out examples online to get a sense of the formatting: 


If not, a practice guide, form book or treatise for your jurisdiction and/or practice area and can give you an idea types of documents are typically drafted for different practice areas:


Receiving the Assignment


  • You may receive research assignments orally or in writing, say through an email.

  • How well you perform your research will depend on how much you understand the assignment that is being given to you. 

  • If receiving the assignment orally, repeat back to the attorney what you think they asked you to research to make sure you are on the same page:

Example: "So, you are asking me to review Pennsylvania statutes and case law to determine what liability an employer of subcontractor may have for injuries to a third party?"

  • If receiving the assignment in writing, read through it and make sure you are clear on what is being asked of you and respond with the questions about due dates, purpose, resources, samples, reporting preference, priority of issues etc. detailed on the other tabs. 

  • It's better to ask questions early than spend time researching what might be the wrong issue/jurisdiction/practice area!

Take Notes!

Top of purple pen, perspective of looking down the pen to notepad where hand is taking notes


Whenever you meet with your supervisor, bring a pencil and paper--don't rely on your brain to remember everything your supervisor is asking for!

Taking notes on a laptop or other device is fine for quick notes but makes it harder to maintain eye contact and show you are listening and understanding what your supervisor is saying

If your research assignment comes in an email/other written form read through it and make notes so you can follow up right away if something is unclear.

"taking notes" by gosheshe is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 Ask "How will this research be used?" It's important to understand the destination black and white photo of two empty train tracks merging to one line

  • Will this research be incorporated into a court filing? 

  • Is it background information on a particular topic?

  • Will you be using it to draft a memo or email to the client?


The answers to these questions will help determine which resources you turn to--you're likely going to cite to mostly primary sources in a court filing but secondary sources might give you broader background information or provide a clearer way to explain concepts to your client.

"Two Become One" by Hobie Caldwell is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Due Dates: (Questions to ask yourself and your supervisor) printout of 12 month spreadsheet calendar with sample events highlighted and noted

  • What is the due date for the motion, client memo etc. that will be based on this research?

    • Good to have this date in mind as your supervisor may ask you to revise your work or conduct research in another direction after viewing your initial report

  • When does your supervisor want a report on your research?

  • When do you need to stop researching and write up your results to make that deadline?

    • Drafting a court filing or client memo may take more time than an informal email summary of your research that's going just to your supervisor

  • Also ask how much time does the supervisor want you to spend on this assignment (or how long do they anticipate it will take to complete it)

"Events Calendar" by Yandle is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

What resources should you use/do you have access to for this research? telescope photo of pink cosmos with black and white drawing of girl in backpack reaching towards the stars

  • The whole universe of available databases and platforms? 

  • Just the platforms subscribed to by your organization?

  • Only some databases on those platforms?

  • Only free resources?

  • Not all clients pay for research charges or you may be asked to use a specific resource to conduct research for a particular client

 Are there any samples you can use to guide your research/drafting?

  • Samples from your organization's document management system/brief bank?

    • Your supervisor may be able to give you past similar client names to look up in the system or refer you to specific case types that you can search for

    • If you have not been given direct access to the firm's document management system, a paralegal or other firm personnel may be able to find examples for you (at the direction or with the OK of your supervisor)

  • Any form books or treatises your supervisor recommends starting with?

How should you report your research? Woman yelling into a megaphone at circue du soleil photo opp

  • Summarize all research in an email?

  • Provide the source documents (cases, statutes, secondary sources etc) with a summary of what you found in print or via email?

  • Give an oral summary of what was found?

  • If you are working with multiple attorneys over the course of your job, ask this of each of them--they may have different preferences!


If you have questions while working on the research, how does your supervisor want you to proceed?Question mark above a finger with a confused face draw on it


  • Should you try to research all issues on your own and send what you have with your questions?

  • Ask questions as they come up? Ask them of the supervisor or someone else in the organization?

  • Should questions be asked in person, via email or another means?

Should you be researching the issues presented in a certain order?stick figure in pink dress holding paper reading to do list

  • You may not have time to research every issue that is presented, depending on time constraints.

  • If you are asked to research multiple issues at one time, should they be researched in a particular order?

    • It may be that answering one question nullifies the need to research another (example: you discover that the statute of limitations for this type of claim has already run out so no need to research the elements for this type of claim)

  • Does your supervisor want the answers as you find them or receive the research results for on all issues at one time?

"To do list" by UBC Learning Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Planning and Performing the Research

State the Issue(s) to be Researched:

  • What is the question you are trying to answer?

  • Are there multiple questions? Write them out separately to isolate the issues

  • Is the question clear or do you need clarification from the client or your assigning attorney?

  • Try to state your issue in the most simple terms possible (avoid legalese and try not to anticipate the legal theory at this point)

Focus on the Facts--What Information do you have already?

Group the information you have into categories to make it easier to craft search terms and figure out what resources to consult. Think about what may set this case apart from others that would show up your case search results. Jot them down on your own or use the template below:

  • Jurisdiction

    • State or federal? What county or municipality? (where would you file suit or what statutes and ordinances might apply?)

  • Legal Status of Parties and/or relationship to each other

    • ex. Landlord and tenant, business owner and invitee, employer-employee, strangers

  • Location

    • Not just geography, type of location where occurred (private residence, commercial business, government-owned property (state park, township-maintained parking lot, etc.)

  • Conduct of Parties

    • Actions and reactions and the order in which they occurred, may or may not be directly related to the injury 

    • Ex 1. customer and store owner had verbal altercation at back of store over store's refusal to accept a return outside the 30 day return window, irate customer stormed through the store and down the front steps. Tripped over store's "sandwich board" sign next to the steps, landing back on the stairs with physical injuries

    • Ex 2 Employee asked manager if they may move to a newly-available office that was closer to the elevator due to arthritis that made walking increasingly difficult, manager moved another employee to that office instead. Employee escalated request to management who moved employee to less desirable floor instead. Employee filed discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

  • Mental state of Parties/People involved

    • Could be a question of intent vs. accidental

    • Could be recklessness or failing to pay attention

    • And/or emotional state of parties and those around them

      • Compare a fist fight in a bar between two people vs. bar room brawl between crowds of fans representing two competing sports teams

  • Injury

    • Physical, emotional, financial (lost profits, lost wages, loss of use of property, cost of repairs etc.), loss of consortium claims

    • Not sure what other injuries there might be? Try a treatise on damages like Damages in Tort Actions on Lexis or look for other similar cases and see what relief/damages they have requested

  • Tangible Objects

    • Something that sets this case apart from other similar cases

    • Ex. grocery store patron slipped on spilled vegetable oil that hadn't been cleaned up versus in a puddle of water from a defrosting seafood display case

    • Ex. pedestrian was using VR headset when stepped off curb before being struck by car

    • Ex. person booked for DUI while on a snow mobile vs a car or traditional motor vehicle

  • Intangible Concepts

    • Often the hardest to come up with but something that may impact the case

    • Ex. Does it matter the officer who was injured trying to prevent the robbery was not on duty but instead on vacation and outside his jurisdiction at the time?

    • Ex. Student failed to report hit and run car accident earlier because feared injury might affect college basketball scholarship 

  • Legal theory


Devise Search Terms

  • Consider each of the categories from Step 2 word cloud depicting different bankruptcy case terms

  • Goal is to develop a list of terms to help you as you search for:

    • Cases

    • Secondary sources (treatises, practice guides, ALR articles)

    • Sample filings or documents to use as a template for your own writings

    • Expert reports

    • Jury Verdicts or Settlement Summaries  

"Adversary Proceeding" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  • Start with the word or phrase you already have to describe that item (from the court filings, how the client or your managing attorney described it etc.)

    • Ex. Injury: client described it as a "sprained ankle"


  • Then think of more narrow (specific) terms:

    • Injury Narrower term: Grade III Ankle Sprain (how it is referred to in the medical records), indicates the severity of the injury-this is a complete tear of the ligament

    • Jury verdicts, sample filings, and expert reports often list very specific injuries and the amount of damages awarded may vary significantly depending on the injury

      • More damages awarded for a Grade III Ankle Sprain vs. a Grade II Ankle Sprain which is not as severe, injured person can still walk though walking is painful

  • Then think of broader terms to explain each of those concepts:

    • Injury Broader Term: Injured or Twisted Ankle

    • Treatises and practice guides as well as some case opinions may use broader terms as they summarize types of injuries

  • Think of Antonyms for search terms. Cases, court filings and other resources may describe the opposite as the ideal state that the plaintiff is trying to return to 

    • Ex. healed ankle, stable ankle, normal ankle

      • May be seeking damages to cover physical therapy to "stabilize the ankle" or surgery to return the ankle to normal so that plaintiff can return to their career as a dance instructor

    • Secondary sources can be helpful for this as they describe what types of damages might be sought and why

Plot out Boolean Searches combining different search terms

Guess the Source of Law: Is this Statutory or Common Law?



  • Substantive issue

  • Involves a definition or classification

  • Gives someone or something power or authority (or responsibility/obligation)

  • Ex: Is a welder hired by a subcontractor considered to be an employee of the general contractor for purposes of liability?

  • Pick a few key search terms and see if they are found in the index to the statutes for your jurisdiction

  • If in doubt, search for a statute FIRST and then look to case law

  • Procedural Issue

  • Interprets/applies a legal doctrine

  • Odd factual situation--doesn't seem like something Congress or state legislature ever would have contemplated

  • Ex. Can a contract be nullified if other party signs after the specified binding agreement date?

  • If using Westlaw, run a Topics and Key Numbers search for key search terms

Could also add regulations as a column to this list, depending on the area of law

Turn to secondary sources if you're not sure where to start! Treatises  or legal encyclopedias in particular will include the most relevant statutes and case law (and offer insight as to which is more important for this area of law or jurisdiction!)

Three Main Starting Points for Research:

1. When You Don't Know Much about a Topic: 

  • Start with Secondary Sources for background info & to locate primary authority

2. When you have "One Good Case"

  • Either from a sample filing, located in a secondary source, managing attorney offered it as a starting point etc. 

  • Use headnotes or go to Case Digest or use Topic and Key Numbers to find cases in your jurisdiction

  • Then Shepardize/KeyCite cases found to locate more cases and relevant secondary sources

  • Look up statutes mentioned in the cases or use secondary sources citing references to find statutes, regulations and other related materials

"The Start and Finish Line of the 'Inishowen 100' Scenic Drive" by Andrew_D_Hurley is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

3. Issue Involves a Statute:

  • Go to the Annotated Code for your jurisdiction (United States Code Annotated/United States Code Service, Purdons Pennsylvania Statutes or other state statutes) 

  • Read Statutory text and Notes of Decisions to help interpret the statute

  • Use Citing References and Context or other related information tabs to find Secondary Sources

  • Use Secondary Sources to lead to other primary sources


Run Searches:

  • Go to database of choice (secondary sources, case law, statutory)

  • Start with finding aids--Index, Table of Contents, Popular Name Index (for Statutes)

  • Run searches and keep track of what terms you have used and whether or not they were successful

  • It's especially important to keep track of where you looked should you end up not finding anything on point--can show all the databases and terms used to supervisor and they can help you brainstorm others or agree that this is a novel issue of law and figure out a new strategy

  • Look for ways to narrow and expand your searches

    • Remember, even in search plans that bill per search, there's usually no charge to narrow a search

    • Consult the list of terms you generated and expand to broader terms if finding too few results

    • Or if finding too few results, remove some words from your search so search is less tailored

    • Use synonyms for the words you are searching--try a thesaurus (like this free general one for non-legal terms or a legal thesaurus like Burton's Legal Thesaurus on Lexis) 

  • Vary the word or phrase order-may impact your results

"Blue Hour(glass)" by is marked with CC0 1.0.

Fully Review Each Source as You Find It:

Did you:

  • Look at the Citing References/Shepard's report?

  • Did you review any annotations in the text of the secondary or primary resource?

  • Did you look at the Context & Analysis tab or Research References for recommended secondary sources, related regulations and other information?

  • Did you review suggested Topics and Key Numbers?

  • Did you review the Case Notes/Notes of Decisions if dealing with a statute?

  • Did you review the Citing References/Shepard's report for all relevant cases, statutes, regulations, and secondary sources that were linked in/cited by your source?

A Note About Research Charges:

Goal is to only be charged for looking at an item ONCE--pull everything you can from it now, put it in a folder on the research platform (with notes about why you saved it!) or download it to OneDrive or wherever if you don't have time to review it right away but DO NOT pull 20 cases and then finally decide to start looking at them. May discover they have nothing to do with your issue and you've wasted time and (potentially) been charged to look at irrelevant documents. 


Filling in the Missing Pieces: 

Review the information you've gathered so far:

  • Do you have all the facts you need to figure out what statutes, regulations, or cases may apply and how to apply them?

    • Example: relevant statute says independent contractors are not subject to a particular provision of the statute but do you have the info you need to decide whether the person in your case is an independent contractor or an actual employee?

  • What more do you need to or would it be nice to know?

  • Where can you find that information?

    • From supervising attorney?

    • From the client?

    • From other discovery documents produced in this case?

    • From another third-party source?

      • Examples:

        • Government agency databases or reports

        • Statistics tracker

        • Advocacy organizations

        • Non-legal source-business databases, social science literature

Legal Research: Putting the Pieces Together @ Sacramento County Law Library on Flickr (license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Evaluate Your Search Terms:

  • What have you uncovered so far?

  • Which terms have yielded the most relevant results? (using that research tracker spreadsheet can help you figure this out!)

  • Do you need to try different search terms in light of new information received in Step 8 (those missing pieces!)?

  • Go back to secondary sources if still need more info and look for synonyms and related terms

  • Maybe move to a new database. If you got everything you could from the statutes, try a case law or regulations search using terms from the statute combined with your other successful search terms

Wash, Rinse, Repeat--Repeat Steps As Necessary 

  • When you hit a dead-end, go back through the steps again changing:

    • your search terms

    • your database/resource type consulted

    • your search filters

    • any other tweak you can make to the process



"Mother washing her baby boy's hair" by Ivan Radic is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  • How many searches you can do may depend on:

    • Time (quick turnaround or do you have a few weeks for this research?)

    • Billing/cost factors (are you limited to free sources, print resources, does your organization pay for research by the search?)

    • Availability of additional information (you may not have what you need--maybe more discovery needs to take place)

  • How to know when you're done researching:

    • If you've done multiple searches in multiple resources and keep coming up with the same cases, statutes and regulations then chances are you've covered all of your bases and there's nothing left to find

Presenting the Research

Format of the Report:

If not asked when you were given the assignment, ask supervisor in what format they want the research:

  • Formal memo

  • Quick email summary with or without full text of resources found

  • Use it to draft pleading, motion, client letter etc and they'll review research along with writing

  • Oral presentation (formal or informal conversation)

  • Other format?

Make sure you leave time at the end of your research process to format your results the way the supervisor wants them!

Also consider giving updates if you run into problems with the research, it's taking longer than expected or you run into other difficulties. DO NOT WAIT for your supervisor to ask why something is taking more time than anticipated/budgeted for!

What to Include in Your Report:

Supervisors want you to synthesize what you found. Here is a list of what your research report should contain:

1. Answer the research question/issue directly and clearly

2. Describe how the law applies specifically to your client/case's fact situation

3. Provide the main resources that gave you this answer (cases, statutes, regulations--have their names and citations at the ready)

  • Be sure to synthesize what you found, this is not a recitation of this "case said this, this statute said that"

  • More along the lines of "statute X lays out the elements for this claim including that it excludes independent contractors. Doe v. Doe defined an independent contractor to be someone who files a 1099 and does not receive other benefits from the company but Jones v. Smith took it a step further and held that reimbursements for travel expenses could be considered an employment benefit if..."

  • No need to mention every case, just pick the ones that are most relevant and offer additional points about the law in this area

  • If meeting in person, bring copies of all primary sources so you can refer to them--mark them up ahead of time, highlighting relevant sections so you can find them quickly if your supervisor asks about something in particular that you weren't anticipating

    • And you should bring notes--don't try to keep everything straight in your brain!

4. Advise your supervisor what to do next

  • Do we need more information from the client/discovery?

  • Should we file a motion and what kind?

  • Do we need to rethink our proposed claim or defense in light of what the law states?

  • Should we try to broker a settlement rather than taking this to trial?

  • Other actions?

5. Anticipate what questions you think the supervisor will have as you present your research:

  • Are there any areas where the law is unclear? What information would help us apply the law to our situation?

  • Are there similar areas of law or other jurisdictions that we might look to for examples if the law is silent in our practice area/jurisdiction?

  • What arguments is the opposing side likely to make and how will we counter them?

  • What challenges might we face in our intended "next step"? 


For additional information, see this Think Like a Lawyer blog post on Presenting Your Research

Oral Briefing Tips 

1. Even if not asked to provide an oral briefing, try to create a quick 1 minute summary of your research just in case the attorney drops by with a "where are we at on this matter?"


2. If your supervisor has scheduled a meeting to talk about the research

  • organize your materials (quick one-page summary, copies of key statutes or cases etc.) and provide them to your supervisor ahead of time, usually at least one day before you meet

  • Bring paper and pen to note their feedback rather than taking notes on a laptop, tablet or phone--you want to look the supervisor in the eye and make sure you don't miss anything while you're typing


"Crocodiles Mouth-01&" by Sheba Also 18 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

3. Unscheduled? These will happen when you least expect it--walking to your car, on your way to get coffee from the break room etc. See tip one about having that summary ready!

4. Structure your delivery like an IRAC memo

  • One to two sentence summary of the issue (to remind the attorney who may be working on multiple cases or may have asked you to look into just one issue in a multi-issue case)

  • Give a clear answer to the issue and take a stance--we are your chances here? Does this seem successful or is the law not in your favor? Don't water down bad news-be straight about it

  • Give a short summary of your research and the authority you found. Be sure to include any cases or information that is not favorable to your client and address what arguments the other side is likely to make

  • Propose solutions to the problems you identified in your research summary

  • Give next steps both for the case itself (we should file of motion for x) and for what you will do next (I can start drafting that motion using samples from other similar cases), address new questions the attorney may raise. 

See the Receiving Feedback section below for tips on active listening (like leaning forward and making eye contact as you speak) and getting the most out of your supervisor's response to your report. And below is a list of resources you can use to develop your oral communication skills.

Resources for Developing Your Skills:

Receiving Feedback and Follow Up Research

Written Feedback 

  • Can sometimes be harder to read tone, especially from a quick email

  • Is the feedback a separate document or is your supervisor marking up your research summary or written product containing your research?

    • Marking up the actual document may mean more specific feedback but there's also the chance the focus of the feedback may be more on the formatting and the writing itself rather than the research

  • Is ok to ask the supervisor how they normally give feedback on research assignments and understand that may change on the basis of time, type of assignment, your level of experience with the topic or the length of time you have been working there

  • If you are someone who is a visual learner, you may want to ask supervisor if written feedback is a possibility, particularly for initial assignments or for very complex work

"Feedback" by Got Credit is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Accepting Oral Feedback

  • practice active listening--nod your head to show you understand, ask questions of the things you do not

  • take notes so you can refer back to them as you continue your work on the matter

  • pay attention to nonverbal cues--does the supervisor look confused or concerned? Stop and ask if what you've explained makes sense or is unclear in some way or if they'd like you to go over any part of it in more detail

  • Ask clarifying questions

  • If your supervisor does not give you feedback on a certain aspect of the research that you'd like feedback or guidance on, this is a good time to ask about it while it is still fresh in the supervisor's mind

  • Note any suggestions for improvement and ask for specifics:

    • Does the supervisor suggest you switch to a different type of resource? (concentrate on cases or try a statute)

    • What about search terms? Any suggestions for terms that should be added or refined?

    • How could your search be improved next time?

    • How does the supervisor want to receive follow up research?

Negative Feedback = Constructive Feedback and Room to Grow!

Receiving negative feedback or feedback that is mix of positive and negative comments may feel deflating but it's a learning opportunity and isn't that why you're working at your summer job or externship? To improve your research, writing, and other lawyering skills?

Some things to consider:

1. Receptiveness to (and even embracing) feedback is an important lawyer skill in and of itself.

  • You'll receive countless feedback from supervisors, clients, judges, opposing counsel (in the form of their winning arguments/briefs/motions) and others

2. Sometimes the best feedback comes from feedback that a particular summary or explanation is "confusing"

  • Can signal that the information is not well organized and you may just need to adjust the order in which is presented

  • Might be that your analysis is not complete and you've skipped a step, may just need to go back and spell out another step to connect the dots between points

  • Or might be that it's just not clear and you need to rephrase, take out legalese or paraphrase in your own way--sometimes too many quotes can make you lose sight of why that case or statute is actually important

3. Feedback is being given to improve the work product and improved work product helps your supervisor, the firm and ultimately the client. 

  •  Producing the best research and work product you can is good customer service and part of being an effective advocate

  • Being open to feedback and incorporating it into your work shows the client/partner/supervisor that your goal is to create the best work product you can and to use every resource at your disposal (here the opinions, wishes, and expertise of stakeholders and more experienced counsel) to make that happen

  • Resist the urge to justify your research or what you produced. Note what you did well or did not receive constructive feedback on unless it is clear that the supervisor missed a particular authority or there was so other oversight. But be gentle about how you bring it up

    • Something like: "I think the section on liability may not be as clear as the other two. The Masters case actually held that liability only attaches when...Is that helpful here or should I focus on proving liability in another way?"

4. Every individual has a different style of communicating. What may seem like gruff or critical feedback to you may, to the supervising attorney, be merely succinct and efficient.

  • Time may be at a premium for them and they are trying to communicate the areas that most need improvement

  • What's important is that they took the time to provide you with this feedback rather than "fixing" the problem or completing the research on their own just to hasten the project along

5. Take a minute and reflect on the feedback before replying or diving right into the areas identified for improvement

  • Review the feedback carefully--going through it a few times will help you to understand why the supervisor has made those suggestions. 

  • Set up a time to talk with the supervisor or send a quick reply along the lines "Thank you for your feedback-I'm going to review it and will reach out by the end of the day with any questions and to discuss next steps."

6. Negative feedback on a research assignment does not mean you won't get an offer to join the firm or a glowing evaluation from your supervisor

  • Firms and other organizations want attorneys who are willing to grow as individuals and within the organization

  • Take feedback to heart and apply what you've learned to future assignments

  • No one expects perfection but they do expect you to make an effort to continue improving and be willing to take the advice and guidance of more senior attorneys to help you get there

If Asked to Revise Research or Take it in a New Direction

1. Repeat new research request back (or summarize it in a reply email) to be sure understand the new assignment parameters

2. Be sure it is clear what parts of the original research should stay/do not need to be revisited

3. Establish a new due date for the revised/expanded research

4. Request suggestions for databases or search terms to use if feedback does not include this information

5. Ask if there are additional samples from past cases that you can review as you revise your research


What if you don't receive feedback?

1. Supervisors will provide a varying amount of feedback on research assignments and it may change from assignment to assignment

  • If you are working with multiple attorneys, they may all have different feedback styles with some giving more feedback than others. It can take some time to get used to this but asking for samples of past work that they would like you to use as a starting template before you begin working for a different attorney can help you get a sense of their writing style 


2. They may provide more feedback for assignments at the start of your job and less as time goes on and your skills improve


3. If you don't receive any feedback--just a "thanks for sending this along" what do you do?

  • You can ask for feedback but if you're not comfortable asking for it outright, try adding something like the following to your reply:  "please let me know if there are any areas where I can provide clarification or you wish to see additional research or supporting primary sources"

  • Wait a bit-the feedback may take a few days to come back to you, especially if the supervisor is giving you very detailed feedback

  • If it's been a few days or you've been asked to complete a similar assignment (but are waiting to see if you need to make improvements to the first one) it's ok to reach out and ask if there's anything you should be working on to improve with the second assignment

4. If you were drafting a court filing, ask if you can see the filed version (or retrieve it from the document management system if you have access) and compare it to the version you submitted.

  • Do they match? What was changed?

  • Were the alterations mostly style or formatting changes or were there changes to the arguments/substance?

  • If the changes were to the substance of the document or new/different research is included, it may be worth reaching out to the supervisor to ask if you can meet and go through the differences together so that you may improve future submissions

There are lots of articles out there written to help attorneys and law students use feedback more effectively-below are some quick but helpful reads:

Stuck? Where to Turn for Help

Not sure how to perform a specific task in Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg Law? Check out their user guides and video tutorials below:


Check with your employer first, but most are ok with you reaching out to the Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg help/chat lines for assistance in brainstorming search terms or finding new search avenues if you stuck. 

Does your firm/organization have a law librarian? They are great people to get to know especially if you're trying to figure out what resources you have access to at your organization!


AND your friendly law school librarians are here all summer long! Reach out to your 1L Legal Research professor, drop us a line at or call us at 610-519-7020






Need more help with research? Check out the following