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  • InsideTrack
  • June 01, 2022

    Legal Research: New Lawyers: Grow Your Practice by Reusing Knowledge

    Legal books, websites, and databases contain a great amount of knowledge and practice tools for lawyers conducting legal research. Law librarian Carol Hassler discusses the don't-miss tools and knowledge sources that every new lawyer needs to know about.

    Carol Hassler

    lightbulb laptop

    June 1, 2022 – Late spring is upon us, which means I’m finally planting my vegetable garden. Every year, I intend to start seeds indoors to grow robust plants for outdoor transplanting.

    Unfortunately, I never got around to starting seeds this year. If I want any tomatoes before winter’s onset crisps up my garden, I’ll need starter plants.

    As a gardening shortcut, potted plants work wonderfully well. I can meet my gardening goals easily using resources curated by other growers who had already put in the time.

    In the legal profession, starting from templates, form samples, and checklists (like potted plants) can help you meet today’s expectations for fast, accurate service. Reusing work can help you craft faster, stronger legal documents like leases, contracts, and deposition plans.

    In your quest for efficiency, leveraging the legal community’s existing knowledge is key. For the new attorney, orienting yourself to your organization’s knowledge management systems and services can give your practice an immediate boost. If you don’t have access to a robust knowledge network, there is still plenty of deep knowledge and practice tools found in books, websites, and databases.

    Legal Forms: A Place to Start

    Forms are widely used in the legal profession, ranging from standard Court System forms found online to sample agreement clauses written by experts.

    Carol Hassler Carol Hassler is a law librarian at the Wisconsin State Law Library. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin (LLAW). LLAW's Public Relations Committee coordinates regular contributions by its members to InsideTrack.

    Find forms in secondary law sources, like practice-oriented books, treatises, encyclopedias, and articles. Several primers on finding legal forms exist, including the Wisconsin State Law Library’s forms research guide, the University of Wisconsin Law Library’s legal forms and contracts research guide, and the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Practice411 guide to forms.

    For legal professionals, secondary sources go beyond academic interest. Practice materials are designed to familiarize attorneys with a particular area of law.

    These may not always provide in-depth scholarly analysis, but usually contain enough discourse on issues to be helpful to those who are working in that topical area. These often cite to legal authorities, which can be used in research validation. While secondary sources don’t always include sample forms, there are many reliable places to start your search.

    General form sources

    For court matters, first consult the Wisconsin Court System’s standard forms for circuit and appellate court cases. Local courts may have their own forms. Check for specific forms for your county in the Wisconsin State Law Library’s county resources database. Beyond court, there may be other mandatory forms, such as those in the Wisconsin Division of Safety and Professional Services’ real estate contractual forms library.

    The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Marketplace on includes a repository of online forms, and Wisconsin Legal Blank sells a variety of forms.

    You can also use books, like Warren’s Forms of Agreements published by Lexis, Nichol’s Cyclopedia of Legal Forms, West’s Legal Forms, and American Jurisprudence Legal Forms. Warren’s is available via the Lexis Digital Library with a State Law Library card.

    Practice materials

    State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE© books are popular sources for topical forms. Using these books on Books Unbound® (PINNACLE’s digital version of their books) provides access to downloadable forms in a ready-to-edit Microsoft Word format. The Civil Litigation Forms Manual is a popular starter book with plenty of useful forms.

    Legal encyclopedias include sample form language. Consult West’s Wisconsin Pleading and Practice or the Wisconsin Practice Series’ Civil Procedure Forms and Elements of an Action for overviews and helpful samples.

    Professional organizations

    Frequently, professional organizations provide forms repositories or products to their members. For example, the State Bar’s Marketplace includes a repository of online forms and individual association chapters may create starter packs of forms. The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association also sells subscriptions to a forms library. Check for relevant professional organizations to find curated forms for specific industries.

    Jurisdiction-focused practice

    There may be specific federal, state, indigenous nation, and county or municipal forms you should be using. Consult a research guide or governmental agency website, or ask a law librarian for help locating the correct form.

    Checklists are Your Guides in Unfamiliar Areas

    Businesses create checklists to distill knowledge and experience in order to train their professionals and decrease the risk of failure. Some professions, like the airline industry, require the routine use of checklists to avoid catastrophic outcomes. In the legal profession, checklists guide you through unfamiliar areas of law and can flag important procedural or discovery issues early.

    You can frequently find checklists in books on specific topics. Contact your local law librarian for help pinpointing sources that meet your research needs. Here are just a few examples.

    • Wisconsin Criminal Defense Manual
      This State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE title introduces the topic with a criminal law overview and checklists for important phases, such as plea negotiation, trial, and sentencing.

    • Family Law in Wisconsin: A Forms and Procedure Handbook
      Another practical law book from PINNACLE, this book includes checklists for several phases of a divorce or legal separation case, from initial fact finding to post-judgment enforcement or orders.

    • Deposition checklists and strategies
      James Publishing produces this handy resource, full of outlines, checklists, and pattern questions on a variety of topics – and targeting a variety of deponents.

    • Employment law checklists and forms
      Checklists on a number of issues, including employment discrimination, FMLA, COBRA, employee termination, and more.

    • Expert witness checklists
      Use this West title to get a quick primer on using expert witnesses in a variety of cases, from family law to vehicle accidents.

    Leverage Knowledge Experts

    Attorneys have always reused knowledge – whether it’s basing a filing on one from a similar case or using standardized information, like court forms or jury instructions. Accumulated knowledge is meant to be used and grown.

    I have a favorite tomato vendor and after several years, I now refuse to buy my starter plants from anywhere else. These tomatoes are weather-tested (and taste-tested) and I’ve rarely had a bad experience. As a legal researcher, I also rely on past experience to inform my choice of sources. Make your own checklist for every new job, and make sure that connecting to your organization’s knowledge management system and legal information services is high on that list.

    If you need help finding sources for checklists or forms, reach out to a law librarian.

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