Top tips for trainee research tasks
As a trainee, you will often be tasked with researching technical and esoteric points of law or procedure, finding precedents and commercial application to assist matter lawyers. This blog offers trainees a few tips to get results when researching.
Make sure you understand the brief.
Make detailed notes whilst the matter lawyer explains the task. Ask questions to address any gaps in your understanding and get a better idea of the scope of the brief.
Perform a general search to understand the vocabulary on the topic before homing in on specific information.
Practise with the search tools at your disposal.
Firms will use a few key databases which will likely be your go-to. Learn how to optimise searches, for example searching within specific topics or specific resources. Learn how to use search functions within search bars to narrow the information you will retrieve, for example using speech marks to search for exact phrases or searching for words within the same paragraph.
Start narrow and expand the search outwards if you don't immediately find what you are looking for.
If no results pop-up from your initial search, think about what other relevant terms might yield results. For example, if you are asked to look for laws on "nutrient enrichment", search for "phosphates", "water-quality", "nitrates" etc.
Develop a good working relationship with your firm's knowledge team.
Most larger law firms will have a dedicated knowledge team. If you are stuck, get in touch with them but make sure you clearly explain what you are looking for and detail the searches you have already undertaken and the information you have found. This will avoid duplication and show that you have at least tried.
Check-in with the matter lawyer after an hour.
It may be that they don't want you to devote time to the task, or alternatively the basic understanding you have already acquired may answer the question. Alternatively still, they may be able to give you a steer or clarify exactly what they want.
Let the matter lawyer know if an answer doesn't exist.
Sometimes there is no answer. Let them know in a timely manner and suggest follow-ups.
With any luck, these tips will help optimise your search time and gain accurate results. Happy searching!