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Summer Clerks Research Guide

Strategies and research tips for working law students

1. Make a Plan

Ask Questions

Do a quick preliminary analysis, and take the time to answer whowhatwhenwhere (jurisdiction)why, and how.

  • For example, if you know starting out that you are looking at an issue of federal law, you can limit your preliminary research to resources that focus on federal law.

Further questions can help keep you organized and limit your work.

  • "How much time do I have to complete this research?"
  • What do you want for the final product - memo, contract, brief, motion, or something else?"
  • "Has anyone else worked on this?"

Clarify your Questions

  • If you are unclear about any part after your preliminary analysis (the who, what, when, where, why, and how), now is the time to clarify.

2. Keep a Research Log

Research Logs & Credible Research

Keep a detailed record of what you researched, what you found, and how long you spent on that issue. This is especially helpful when your entire work product is mostly an explanation of how you spent your time.

  • Maintain your log so that someone else could pick up where you left off.
  • Keep track of your time for client billing or funding purposes.
  • Common research questions for summer jobs often ask you to prove a negative. For example:
    • "Can you make sure there's nothing new about [x]?"
    • "I don't think there's anything that says we can't do this. Can you check?"

One great way to back up your answer to these kinds of questions is to provide a summary of your research log.

Your research is more credible—your employer will be more confident in your final answer—if you show clearly that you checked authoritative secondary sources and thoroughly reviewed relevant primary law. 

3. Secondary Sources

Use secondary sources effectively by choosing appropriate sources and using them well.


Choose a good starting point.

Ask your supervisor for recommendations on particular treatises or practices guides, or use a research guide from a law library. Types of secondary sources include: Legal encyclopedias, Law reviews, ALRs, Treatises, Practice guides, Looseleaf services, and others.

Always search at least two ways.

  • Index
  • Tables of cases or statutes
  • Table of contents
  • Full-text search