This page suggests resources you might consider in developing research topics for legal scholarly writings such as notes, comments, seminar papers, or senior research.
One of the best ways to discover uncharted territory is to consult with a professor who is already familiar with the area. Faculty members can often give you a sense of whether a topic area is well-developed or comparatively unresearched. They may be able to provide suggestions as to particular scholars whose works could be helpful to your research. They might even have a few ideas for research projects that they think have potential but that they themselves have decided not to pursue.
Before you approach a professor, however, we recommend that you do your homework. Establish some familiarity with the principal cases or statutes in your area of interest. Identify generally or specifically what questions look particularly promising to you. Read some of the most recent articles on the general subject. Do not expect the professor to give you something for nothing.
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Scholarly Community Resources
- SSRN, The Social Science Research Network
SSRN allows scholars in various fields to post articles prior to formal publication, as a means to get their ideas before their colleagues and receive feedback. The Legal Scholarship Network portion of the site provides an advance look at the research of legal scholars.
- bepress, The Berkeley Electronic Press
Like SSRN, bepress provides preprints of scholarly articles prior to their appearance in conventional journals. This site features multiple working papers series, and a particular portion is devoted to law, including the Northwestern Law Working Paper Series.
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- Jurist, University of Pittsburgh School of Law. A comprehensive site dedicated to the academic legal community. Includes a variety of sections, one devoted to legal scholarship and another to legal news.
- Findlaw. Good lists of legal organizations dedicated to particular types of issues. The general Findlaw homepage is also a good jumping off point for current awareness.
- Political Science Resources --Think Tanks. University of Michigan. List of think tanks and research institutes.
- To locate working papers or so-called white papers in a variety of fields (including law) try Google Scholar (regular Google will work too, but will return more false positives). Be sure to read the "Advanced Search" options. This particular Google service is a work in progress and does not substitute for sources such as SSRN and bepress.
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U.S. Law Week
- BNA United States Law Week. Also on Reserve (R, REF KF 101.1 U5). (Also available on Lexis (USLW) and Westlaw (BNA-USLW) but the interface is better on the BNA site.U.S. Law Week has the following print components (mirrored in the online version)
- Search page allows searching across issues. To see the most recent breakdown of circuit splits, search circuit splits in the heading of the document.
- Topical news (usually other than decisions) of interest to attorneys, e.g., legislative action
- Case Alert: Summary and analysis of significant court opinions (weekly) arranged by topic and indexed, e.g., Civil Rights of "Disabled Persons".
Court information including docket, orders, and opinions. Also includes a spectacular end of term statistical analysis of the voting patterns of the Justices (many papers have been written based on this type of information).
Other BNA Topical Looseleaf Newsletters
Legal Looseleafs in Print. In Reference Room (R, REF KF 1 L437 2007)
Legal looseleaf services are one of the best ways for lawyers to stay current on recent developments in rapidly changing areas of the law. Most looseleaf services deal with legal areas subject to governmental regulation and include "newsletters" that provide weekly updates in developments in particular areas of the law. Examples include BNA Environment ReporterCurrent Developments, TRS (Rubloff 3rd floor) (KF 3775 .A6E45); CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, TRS (Rubloff 3rd floor) (KF 6285 .S7); and CCH Labor Law Reports, TRS (Rubloff 3rd floor) (KF 3315 .L33). Legal Looseleafs in Print identifies looseleafs currently being published by subject area; to find out if the library has a particular looseleaf service, check NUcat, the online catalog.
Legal Newsletters in Print. In Reference Room (R, REF KF 1 .L44 2003)
Legal newsletters can be even more current than legal looseleaf services. Because most newsletters are published for practitioners who need the latest information their cost is high and the library subscribes to very few. Nonetheless, these can be valuable resources in helping you locate sources that may let you further develop your research. A number of these newsletters are available on Westlaw and Lexis.
Recent transcripts to National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), American Broadcasting Company (ABC) Nightline, and Cable News Network (CNN) broadcasts can be found on each organization's web site as well as on Lexis and Westlaw. Use the organization web site to find recent materials; Lexis and Westlaw may be better in some instances in locating older materials.
National and local legal newspapers and magazines
- American Lawyer (monthly; current issues on Reserve; earlier issues in PER and on microfilm. Also available on Westlaw AMLAW).
- National Law Journal (weekly; current issues on Reserve; earlier issues in PER and on microfilm. Also available on Lexis NTLAWJ; and Westlaw NLJ ). NLJ identifies trends and recent developments. Section on court decisions chooses important cases and circuit splits.
- Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (daily; in PER and on microfilm. Also available on Lexis: CHIDLB; and Westlaw CHIDLB)
- ABA Journal (monthly; PER. Also available on Lexis: ABAJNL; and Westlaw ABAJ or try the ABA Journal E-Report ABAJEREP)
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You should check that your selected topic has not been preempted by using the following periodical indexes (note, access is easiest from on campus)
- Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP) From the University of Washington Law Library: Provides access to the contents of over 500 legal periodicals received by the University of Washington. Provides subject arrangement and arrangement by journal table of contents (for those who like to skim journals).
- Legal Trac indexes 1,000 legal and law related journals from 1980 to current.
- Index to Legal Periodicals and Books Current and retrospective back to beginning of 20th century.
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals Indexes articles published in law journals outside the United States in English and other languages.
- PAIS International (Public Affairs Information Service, Inc.) Indexes public affairs literature.
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Lexis and Westlaw Topical Services
- Westlaw Newslink:Westlaw lists current national news, and also provides links to topical highlights which provide recent decisions in many different areas of law.
Westlaw Topical Highlights
- Database: All Databases> Legal News, Highlights and Notable Trials> Westlaw Highlights & Bulletins
- Westlaw, "My Practice Pages." In addition to selecting a practice area tab for the field of law you're researching, consider setting a tab for "Law Review," which will put many of the best Westlaw topical and preemption databases within handy reach.
Automatically update research
. You can create alerts on Lexis and Westlaw, and ask for notification of new materials that meet your search criteria. In addition to substantive legal issues, you could try a search like the following [courtesy of Westlaw and formatted in Westlaw search syntax]:
"first impression" (circuit /3 split) "open question" (novel /s issue matter question)
To create a Lexis alert (formally known as "Eclipse"), select Save as Alert at the top of the screen, after you have entered the search you want in the database you would like the search to run. See the Lexis alerts tutorial.
To create a "WestClip" account, select Add Search to WestClip from the top of your search result, after you have entered the search you want in the database you would like the search to run. You can also create a WestClip from any screen in Westlaw, by selecting Alert Center from the menu at the upper right. See the WestClip tutorial.
- CQ Weekly Report. Publication of Congressional Quarterly. Recent issues on Reserve at PER K 3 .0552. Older bound editions in PER stacks. News on everything in Congress, from reports on issues to bill coverage to profiles on members.
- LexisNexis Congressional. Full legislative history service that also provides Inside Washington news coverage of Congress and Hot Bills/Topics coverage of major issues.
- THOMAS.Library of Congress comprehensive legislative site. Historically, the site has featured two or three current issues in Congress on its front page. You can also search pending bills or recent public laws.
Current Awareness Sources for International Law