April 5, 2023 – Don’t let the snow on the ground fool you – it’s time to start thinking about summer and graduation.
With the change in season comes a change in circumstance for many law students. Whether you are 1L preparing for your first summer associateship or a graduating 3L preparing to become a new attorney, now is the time to start rethinking your legal research strategies and prepare for practice.
Here are some essential resources and tips that will help guide you through the process.
Tip #1: Do This Before You Leave Your Law School
Transitioning from researching as a law student to researching in a professional setting begins with asking questions – lots of questions.
Before you leave campus, meet with the law librarians at your school. Reference librarians are happy to discuss which types of research you may be asked to do in your new setting. Whether you are going to work in government, a law firm, or nonprofit or become a solo practitioner, law librarians can suggest secondary sources or databases that are appropriate to your new situation.
Tip #2: Ask About Access to Research Databases
Law librarians can also help you determine what access you will have to Bloomberg, Lexis, and Westlaw and for how long. Some subscriptions allow commercial use in the summer and after graduation, others do not.
Elizabeth Manriquez is head of Reference and Scholarly Support at the University of Wisconsin Law School Library. She is currently vice president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin (LLAW). LLAW's Public Relations Committee coordinates regular contributions by its members to InsideTrack.
As law student associates and as State Bar of Wisconsin members, you have access to Fastcase for legal research (be sure to log into WisBar.org).
Some employers will welcome your database access, others will prefer you use their accounts – find out early what the expectations are at your position.
Don’t overlook the power of free legal research tools. We covered them in detail in the recent InsideTrack article “New Lawyers: Four Simple Tools to Survive Your First Tasks” by Riley Leonard in 2021.
When you get to orientation, demonstrate your preparedness by asking what tools you will have at your disposal. For example, ask:
Tip #3: Review the Process of Legal Research
Before you get your first assignment, take time to review the process of legal research.
If you need a review, research guides are a great tool. Research guides are curated by librarians, and they provide links to resources like books and sample forms and can also explain the process of researching specific areas of law. Here are links to the research guide pages for the U.W. Law School and Marquette University Law School.
Here are some excellent research guides from other law schools that are geared toward summer associates and new attorneys:
Tip #4: Keep Asking Questions
After you get your first assignment, continue to ask questions. Supervising attorneys pressed for time may not realize what you do and do not know, so seek clarification when necessary. Important considerations include:
This Tip Bears Repeating
As you work your way through the summer and beyond, never stop asking questions. That’s right: never hesitate to ask questions – you are there to learn and absorb as much experience as possible, and asking questions is integral to the process.
If you get stuck researching and need a boost, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Law librarians are available to the public at both the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Law Library reference desks and we are happy to help you succeed.
Tip #5: Here’s a To-do List to Jump start Your Practice
The transition to full-time practice entails a lot of learning for new lawyers. Here are the State Bar resources to help you get a jump start. Log in to WisBar.org and:
learn about the State Bar as an organization;
explore WisBar.org for member services and benefits and other resources;
get acquainted with State Bar publications Wisconsin Lawyer™ magazine, InsideTrack™, WisBar News, Rotunda Report; CaseLaw Express; section and division blogs, and WisLawNOW;
find Wisconsin-specific treatises and practice guides, and CLE programs written and presented by Wisconsin legal experts, in the WisBar Marketplace;
see current job listings on the Careers page and the Classifieds section on WisBar.org;
follow the State Bar’s social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and your division and section social media pages;
make connections by getting involved in State Bar groups, such as committees, sections, divisions, State Bar leadership, and the Wisconsin Law Foundation;
check out the State Bar Young Lawyers Division;
join your section and division elists;
gain experience via the State Bar’s pro bono programs;
sharpen your writing skills by contributing to a State Bar publication;
explore the State Bar’s mentorship program, Ready.Set.Practice and sharpen your leadership and networking skills with the State Bar’s G. Lane Ware Leadership Academy; and
join a local bar or specialty bar association.
Finally, you may find this InsideTrack article helpful: Legal Research: 5 Resources Every New Lawyer Should Know, InsideTrack, June 2, 2021.
Remember, Librarians are Always Ready to Help
Many of the resources are available at your local law library. Librarians are ready to help with your research: