Most clients have no idea how much work takes place behind the scenes at most law firms. More than the copious phone calls, emails and text messages back and forth to opposing counsel/parties. Planning, research, evidence gathering, document drafting, court filings, etc. are vital steps in ensuring that we provide clients with the best legal work possible.
Legal research is crucial because to make or refute a claim, arguments must rest on a solid foundation of compelling authorities that persuade the reader—in most cases, a judge or court commissioner—to issue a decision that benefits the case.
Researching legal arguments includes reviewing the statutes and the decisions of the courts that construe the meaning and application of those statutes.
The legislature passes statutes (in Utah it’s the “Utah Code”). The appellate courts (courts that hear appeals of the trial court decisions when parties claim the trial court judge committed a legal error or errors) interpret the Code and determine whether the trial court got it right or wrong. We refer to these decisions of the appellate courts (Utah Court of Appeals and Utah Supreme Court) as “case law,” which, as the name implies, is based upon real-life cases that have been brought before a court, and how said court decided upon said cases. These court decisions bind not only the people who were involved in the case itself, but set “precedent” for how trial courts will construe the law in the future, until the Code changes or until an appellate court may strike down that decision in the future.
This means that if one year I’m able to make a great argument based upon a decision of the Utah Court of Appeals, but the following year the Utah Supreme Court abrogates (overrules and does away with) that decision, then I cannot cite that case in any future arguments. A large part of legal research involves reviewing the statutes and the case law to ensure they are still current, still binding. As you can imagine there’s a lot of digging to be done, and what I have mentioned thus far is just about legal research; imagine all the other things I must do besides legal research to build a strong case.
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