This article is written by Surbhi Jindal, a law student at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonipat Haryana. Through this article, she attempts to put forth the concept of legal research and its importance. She further attempts to discuss some of the effective tips to do legal research.
Legal profession cannot move forward without research and findings. The main reason behind this is the dynamic nature of law. Legal research forms an integral part in the life of law professionals, whether they are law students, lawyers, academicians, practitioners who are interested in legal knowledge. With the changing of society and laws every day, it becomes essential to scrutinize the pool of laws and social rules. The primary purpose of legal research remains to either find the lacunas in the laws, so they are made following the society’s needs or add some vastness to the subject matter of rules to make it comprehensive.
Through this article, we shall ascertain the true meaning of research and, after that, understand the legal research. There exist different types of legal research. We shall also look at them by having a comparative analysis between them. Furthermore, in the last part of this article, I will share a few legal websites that can do legal research. Not only this, but the article will also provide you with some of the best tips to conduct effective legal research. So, let us get started.
What is research
Research means to investigate, inquire or probe in any particular area of discipline. It is a careful and detailed study of a topic to gather more information about it. This can be done by adding, deleting, updating, separating, or correcting the previous knowledge.
People intentionally or unintentionally are involved in the process of research in their day-to-day life. The human mind is full of curiosity. It conducts an inquiry about something at some point in a day. The term research is itself made up of two words, ‘Re’ and ‘Search’. Re means again, and Search is to scrutinize or probe. In other words, searching, again and again, is what we call research.
According to M Stephenson and D Slesinger in the encyclopedia of social sciences, research is
“The manipulation of things, concepts or symbols to generalize to extend, correct or verify knowledge, whether that knowledge aids in the construction of theory or the practice of an art”
There are three objectives of conducting research. These are as follows:
- To contribute to the existing field of knowledge in any specified discipline.
- To get a better understanding of how to formulate policies
- To answer a specific area of question or fact.
After understanding the meaning of research, it would be much easier to know what legal research is and its objectives. We would also understand the various kinds of legal research. Also, it is pertinent to note that research must be done carefully and systematically with minimal errors because their outcome impacts the public at large. It must be done in an organized system so that answers to the questions are simplified.
What is legal research
Law is a subject that has broad dimensions of knowledge in society. There are several laws in India, making it difficult for a prudent man to remember them all. With the growing needs and challenges of society, laws also have to change. This means the area of law is as dynamic as our society. A complementary relationship of law and society here comes to play a vital role.
Therefore, it becomes essential to review the laws and see whether they are suited to the best interests of society or not. Here, legal research comes into play. A systematic finding and ascertainment of the law on any identified topic to advance the science of law is known as legal research.
As discussed earlier, the law is a vast area. With a mass of statutes, constant amendments, and supplementary rules and regulations, it becomes challenging for a prudent man to understand and grasp everything from it. Therefore, a probe is conducted for different underlying principles and their reasons to make advancements in the law and simplify various acts and statutes.
Legal research is a broad area that leads to an inquiry and investigation consistently made by judges, lawyers, advocates, law students, and legal researchers in the quest for a deeper and fuller understanding of the law. To support legal-decision making, legal research comes into the limelight. It identifies and retrieves the information to make the complex process simplified.
Purposes of legal research
Law is dynamic as our society is. It operates in a complex structure of society. Behavioural norms and attitudes are controlled and moulded by the law. However, with the nature of these norms changing with time and space, it becomes essential that law becomes adaptable to the changing order of society.
Here, in such a situation, legal research becomes essential for the ascertainment of law, clearing ambiguities in the law, identifying the weak points in a direction, and critically examining the order to ensure consistency, coherence, and stability in the law, etc. There are various purposes for which legal research is conducted. These are:
- With various laws, rules, and regulations existing in society, it becomes essential to filter the laws presently applicable to the given situation. It is not easy to find the law or a judicial pronouncement at a particular point in time. Here, legal research makes the task easier. It makes the ascertainment of the law easier and much more helpful.
- It is not always true that law, once made, can never bring rise to any contingency in the future. There exist some ambiguities and gaps which might be removed with the help of legal research. The nature of law is both reactive and proactive in that it answers the question arising out of such ambiguities and gaps. Apart from helping in removing ambiguities, it also helps in determining coherence, stability, and consistency.
- Legal research also helps in predicting the future. It also helps to understand the social factors that had indirectly impacted the making of law. Social auditing of law helps in identifying the gap between the legal ideal and social reality. It further helps in suggesting reforms based on analytical, historical, and comparative research.
Types of legal research
The research can be broadly divided into various types by having a comparative analysis with respect to another kind of research. These are:
Descriptive and analytical legal research
|On the basis of||Descriptive legal research||Analytical legal research|
|Meaning||Descriptive legal research indicates the phenomenon or situation under study and its various characteristics. ‘What has happened’ and ‘what is happening’ is the main focus of this research. It does not attempt to answer the question ‘why it has happened’. In other words, it does not try to find out the causes of the phenomenon, rather it seeks to describe the study as it is at present.||Analytical legal research indicates the use of already available facts and information to critically study the situation. It analyzes the whole range of facts and information critically.|
|Methods used||Surveys, comparative and correlational methods, other fact-finding requirements.||Already available facts and information are used for this kind of research.|
Applied and fundamental legal research
|On the basis of||Applied legal research||Fundamental legal research|
|Meaning||It aims to find the solution for the problem practically. Here, a legal researcher tries to do his research in a practical context.||It is concerned with the generalization and formulation of the theory. This research is done merely to increase the knowledge in a field of inquiry.|
|Also known by||Action research.||Pure research or Basic research.|
|Central aim||It aims to discover a solution for a pressing practical problem.||It aims to find additional information and thereby to add to the existing knowledge.|
Quantitative and Qualitative legal research
|On the basis of||Quantitative legal research||Qualitative legal research|
|Meaning||It is conducting research based on numerical data. It seeks to measure the quantity or amount. A systematic and scientific investigation of quantifiable reports for understanding their inter-relation.||It is basically concerned with the qualitative phenomenon i.e. relating to quality or characteristic. It relies on the reasoning behind various aspects of behavior.|
|Methods used||Questionnaires, surveys, structured interviews, and experiments.||Participant surveys, unstructured interviews, and life histories.|
Conceptual and Empirical legal research
|On the basis of||Conceptual legal research||Empirical legal research|
|Meaning||It is related to an abstract theory or idea. Generally used by philosophers and thinkers either to develop or re-interpret the existing concept.||It is done by relying upon experience or observation alone, often without due regard for any system or theory. It is also known as experimental research.|
|Relies upon||It relies upon the existing concept to either re-interpret it into a new concept or formulate from it.||It makes use of experiments and observations of a researcher. It uses facts and data to prove its hypothesis.|
Tips to conducting an effective legal research
Legal research comes with a cost. Legal websites like Manupatra, SCC Online aren’t available for free. You would have to spend more than a penny on these sites in order to access their features. However, several authentic websites provide ways to access legal research easily without any hassle. This will be dealt with in the latter part of this article. In this section, the primary purpose is to tell you some tips for conducting effective legal research.
- Always start with secondary sources. Though some people prefer to start from the primary sources, creating from secondary sources is the best way, to begin with, legal research. It helps in saving time and makes the research process effective and efficient.
- You can always start with the news articles. There you will mostly get reliable information and also the opinions of different jurists.
- To find the correct and reliable legal information, you can always refer to the legal websites (discussed later on) to boost your research.
- Try to read judgements as they are a great source of information and can help make articles exhaustive.
- Remember that whatever information you search for and find relevant for yourself, bookmark it somewhere. Otherwise, you will have to go back again and find that pertinent piece of information.
- Also, you can follow the 10-minute rule by Ramanuj Mukherjee (CEO, Lawsikho) to save your time in conducting legal research. The 10-minute rule says that you do the research for 10 minutes and after it, whatever you read, write for 10 minutes. In this way, you will not miss out on any critical points while doing research and writing. This will save you a lot of time and will have a positive effect on your article.
- Avoiding plagiarism at all costs. If you have used somebody’s idea in the information you’re disseminating, duly credit them. It becomes really easy if you have saved the sources. Also, you can cite the sources without facing any difficulty. There are different types of citation methods like Bluebook, Chicago, Oscola etc.
These were some of the practical tips that could help a person conduct effective and efficient legal research.
Top legal websites for legal research
Conducting legal research is very easy till one knows how to do it. However, not everyone can access legal databases such as Manupatra, SCC Online etc. Either you have to purchase them, or your college will provide access to them. But don’t worry; there are many legal websites you can refer to for your legal research. These all are user-friendly and can be of great use if one looks at its structure. A lot of information can be accessed on these websites very easily.
- Indian Kanoon: The Indian Kanoon was founded by Sushant Sinha in 2008. It is one of the best tools that law students can use for understanding complex judgments simply.
- Livelaw: The website Livelaw was started by Rashid M.A. in 2013. The most prominent blog in India seeks to create awareness in society by providing accurate and reliable information.
- iPleaders: iPleaders was started by the two NUJS graduates Ramanuj Mukherjee and Abhudyay Aggarwal, in 2010. It is an educational start-up whose primary purpose is to make legal education accessible to all. It has its blog called iPleaders blog, which focuses on legal issues and legal questions.
- Path Legal: It is a legal directory started by Sunil Joseph in 2011. The main aim of Path Legal is to provide free legal advice online, telephone consultation, free legal advice, free LPO training, legal papers etc.
- Lawctopus: It was founded by the NUJS graduate Tanuj Kalia in 2010. It is one of the exclusive sites for law students that provide information regarding internships, career opportunities etc.
- Bar and Bench: It was established in 2011. It is a place where comprehensive news and analysis is provided for the legal community. The entire legal spectrum of information like interviews, news, column sources are provided on this website.
- SCC Online: Eastern Book Company, an internationally renowned publishing house, has its own reliable and comprehensive law reporting of the Supreme court of India through SCC Online. It has been providing its legal services across India. However, if you want to access SCC, you would have to purchase the subscription plan to avail the benefits.
- Legally India: It was founded by Kian Ganz in 2009. It is one of the leading blog pages whose primary function is to report news and information that pertains to Indian law firms, Indian lawyers, international law firms and business lawyers in India.
- Law Times Journal: Founded in 2014, law times journal is one of the leading online education portals devoted to the law. It believes in promoting free education in the legal sector. Besides this, it also provides resume services that help students in obtaining internships.
Henceforth, legal research is fundamental. To understand the intricacies of complex laws, it becomes essential for us to know the process of simplifying them. One should always start with secondary sources such as commentaries, textbooks, articles, journals, etc. From secondary, one should move on to primary sources, i.e. statutes, constitution, etc. After having a better grasp of these sources, one should analyze and look for relevant information.
There are various kinds of research, any of which can be employed to conduct research. It is a systematic understanding of the law to advance it. Research is essential both for the law and society since they both have an impact on each other. Every method has its value in research. Hurdles that come while conducting research can be best avoided by proper planning by the researcher.
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