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Summer Clerks Research Guide

Strategies and research tips for working law students

1. Ask yourself: who cares about my topic or legal issue?

Tip: Your policy research will be helped by knowing who cares about the issues.

Knowing who cares gives you

  • search terms
  • starting websites
  • policy and data
  • multi-state surveys

Who cares is often an agency, advocacy organization, or think tank. For example, if you were looking for tax policy, your list of who cares may include:

  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (agency)
  • California Tax Service Center (agency)
  • Joint Committee on Taxation (JTC) (congress'l committee)
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce (advocate)
  • OECD Centre for Tax Policy (advocate)
  • Brooking's Institute (think tank)
  • Professor Marian (UCI Law) (scholar)

2. Conduct a literature review

Tip: Conduct an early literature review for background and references for expanding your search.

Identify concepts (ideas or thesis)

  • Start to brainstorm by talking to people and looking at Google.
  • Organize your concepts into an outline; take care to isolate issues and research questions.

Put concepts into words

  • Use the names of those "who care," and any known laws.
  • Consider different expressions or spellings, like "antitrust" and "monopoly."
  • Remember that there are often different ways to describe concepts that arise from perspective, like “global warming” versus “climate change."

Look for a mix of books and articles using a mix of sources.

3. Look for reports and white papers

Tip: Once you are familiar with your topic, begin to look for policy.

This can be at agency websites, in government documents, like the Federal Register, and within papers and reports produced by think tanks.

4. Find data and statistics

Tip: Data is everywhere.

Often the best place to get started looking for data is to review the literature and reports. The second step is to ask: Who cares about this type of data? 

Here are some examples to help you brainstorm.

5. Consult multi-state surveys

Tip: There are sources that pull together laws about particular topics for multiple jurisdictions. 

This is in addition to law review articles and treatises