How to conduct effective Legal Research

How to Conduct Effective Legal Research: Law Students Guide

This article on ‘How to conduct effective Legal Research: A guide for law students‘ was written by an intern, at Legal Upanishad.


This article deals with the processes a law student may apply to get a head start or enhance the quality of their legal research. A common misconception among the students of law is that they need to memorize the statutes and rules.

What is required is to tackle the problem as it would be dealt with by a legal tribunal i.e., by identifying rules and principles that are applicable to the circumstances of a situation. While reading something related to law the real intent is to learn how the legal machinery works and to solve the legal problems that might appear in the future. What is written in such books is already history and the approach to just memorizing it does not fare well.

Materials to Study


Even though they are secondary sources of research, they are a source that gives a perspective of a problem and basic material to start with on a subject. They not just only give an adequate idea of the problem but also lead the researcher to other relevant sources and cases.

Statutory Laws

All such material shall be referred from the official Gazette of India. It includes Bills, Acts, Ordinances, Rules, Orders, etc. Some official publications of codes are- Acts of Parliament, All India Reporter (AIR), and the India Code.

Case Laws

The doctrine of stare decisis is enshrined under Article 141 of our Constitution. All the Courts in India are bound to follow the law declared by the Supreme Court.

Law Journals

They are indispensable tools for research. They can be used in several ways and are a rich source for the researcher. These periodicals comprise articles or papers that are written by judges, advocates, legal luminaries, students, etc.  One inherent advantage this has is that a specific area of law is dealt with in depth in this.

Foreign Material

Comparative analysis with the other legal systems of the case helps the researcher to further make the point of contention even stronger. The Courts acknowledge the legal value of such a comparative study.

How to read Statutes?

It is crucial to understand what legislation says and how it operates in respect of the respective circumstances. There are certain things that a researcher must strive to understand.

Firstly, understanding the statute as a source of law is important. Every legal topic involves a combination of legislation, case laws, principles of justice and equity, etc. A thorough understanding of stature is crucial.

Secondly, the potential to find the relevant statute is important. Legislation is the primordial source that affects every area of legal study. A person won’t be able to do effective research without finding the relevant legislation.

Thirdly, the use of the legislation so found is crucial. It is the will of the Parliament and understanding its applicability in a given problem is the basic task of the researcher.

How to read a Case?

The aforementioned three steps are important to do the preliminary task under this head. The basic idea behind referring to the case law is to derive from the decided cases by inductive reasoning the general rules and structure applicable in the relevant situation. The crucial part is to figure out the ratio decidendi of a given decided case.

How to conduct effective Legal Research
How to conduct effective Legal Research

Finding the Cases

Generally, in order to find out the cases from a particular field of law, the researcher should refer to the index of that book (selected by previous steps) as cases are listed in alphabetical order. There are a number of research software to aid the research like SCC, Manupatra, LexisNexis, etc. The best way is to find via the citation of a case.

Example- X. vs B., AIR 2021 SC 127


AIR is the name of the respective reporter

2021 is the year when it was decided

SC is the Court which decided the case

127 is the page number.

Components of a Case

Area of Law

In a case, the first thing to be seen is the controversy involved in the matter i.e., civil, criminal, etc. It must be figured out what domain of law does the particular case law deals with. The researcher must understand how and why the situation was the way it was in that case and how the Court sorted that problem.

Strength of the Bench

It is important to check this as a bench with a higher number of judges would hold more value and be more fruitful towards proving a point. A bench with a split decision is worth referring to understand both sides of the coin.

Facts of the Case

These are more important to know in criminal cases to understand who did what. Sometimes the judges intermix the facts of the case with the opinion. So, in order to understand the basis on which a case is decided it is important to know the corresponding facts.

Issues of the Case

It is one of the crucial and complicated things that a researcher is expected to know. The Court decides upon various issues (relating to fact or law) which are required to be solved to settle the matter. It requires a fine juristic skill to frame the issues. It can be termed to be the focal point of a case.

Contentions and Arguments

Both parties to a case put forward their logic to prove their point. The Court listens to these arguments and applies the statutory provisions to resolve the issues. Properly made arguments make the favourable needle of the case move. It becomes important to understand the logic applied in contention to fully understand how it affected the wind of a case.


A judgment consists of two parts i.e., ratio decidendi and orbiter dicta. The ratio of a case is of the utmost importance while on the other hand orbiter holds only persuasive value. It is often difficult to figure out the ratio of the case a researcher needs to stay cautioned about what he/she chooses to be the ratio as a statement wrongly considered as ratio would affect the entire basis of the research.


There are a variety of ways a researcher can approach research on a particular topic. But a few basic steps become necessary to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the research. The field of law needs effective research mechanisms to properly evolve and meet the needs of society. Among different ways to research, each holds its intrinsic value. Proper planning, choosing official and credible sources, and sticking to certain basic principles are a few things that a researcher should keep in mind. Law is a constantly changing phenomenon and a good researcher shall keep up with times and adequately add the everchanging elements in his/her research.