Gilbert Law's "Legal Writing, Research, and Analysis Thesis

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¶ … Gilbert Law's "Legal Writing, Research, and Analysis"

Each profession has its own set of rules and language, and the field of law is no exception. In order to effectively research, analyze, and write about any legal topic, it is imperative to have not only the correct tools, but also the knowledge of how to best use them. One such resource that is recognized in the legal field as paramount to any student of the law is the Gilbert Summary series, and Peter Jan Honigsberg's Legal Research, Writing and Analysis is particularly helpful for first year law students and those seeking to improve their writing and research skills.

Honigsberg's summary is valuable mostly because of its straight forward approach to the very fundamentals of successful legal research. He begins by offering some basic definitions of the most common legal terms, such as the difference between "civil" versus "criminal" cases, then moves into a fairly detailed outline of the United States' court system. The author explores the basic types and responsibilities of each level of jurisdiction in the general court system, both at the federal and state levels. A crucial part of the legal system includes the decisions that are reported for cases on all levels, and this book explains how decisions get reported, with the author cautioning legal researchers to be thorough in their work. Exampling a common mistake, Honigsberg advises students to avoid simply reading the summaries of cases, which often are written by the reporting editors and do not reflect the actual proceedings of the case.

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Honigsberg spends a good portion of the book on how to best discover the most important information in legal codes and cases. Advice is given on proper citing of statutes, researching the constitution, and exploring legislative history, including international law and treaties. Even though the book's references to online research seem slightly outdated, the advice on using internet databases and free governmental resources is still useful, including specific websites and online subscription information, which will be discussed in more detail later in this essay.

TOPIC: Thesis on Gilbert Law's "Legal Writing, Research, and Analysis" Assignment

The real substance of the Gilbert Law summary on legal research is found in the sections on case analysis. Again, Honigsberg nails down the basics by offering advice on how to actually understand and process the reading of legal cases. He states the most obvious obstacle in legal case analysis is not finding the best case, but in being able to read and understand what is available. The author goes into some detail on the correct way to write a brief of a particular case in order to streamline the important information for research purposes. An example of a fictitious United States Supreme Court decision is given in full, then briefed for the reader to see exactly what information Honigsberg would include in his summary of the decision. The suggested format includes the name and citation of the case, court, judicial history, relevant facts of the issue, holdings, reasoning and decision on the case, and of course the concurring and dissenting opinions.

After the discussion on briefing a case, Honigsberg moves into researching particular agencies. He offers helpful advice on how to check for the specific rules and regulations, administrative decisions, orders and opinions, and internal procedures for a particular agency. The Code of Federal Regulations collection is explored briefly and the author offers insight as to how the index to this 50-volume collection may be used to streamline research. A similar approach is given for the Federal Register series, other federal agency decisions sets, and what Honigsberg refers to as "looseleaf services and materials."

A brief look at how the law constantly changes offers insight into advance sheets and supplements as a way that legal companies stay ahead of new developments to cases, statutes, digests and legal encyclopedias. However, the Gilbert Summary on legal research reiterates what any law student should already know: that the best way to stay updated is through electronic means. Several ways of updating research materials are offered through online companies such as Westlaw's KeyCite and LexisNexis' Shepard system. A look into either of these web-based systems will offer prior history of a case, and point to other cases that may make critical arguments of the case in question. Cases that have been outdated due to new statutes will also be made reference to, so Honigsberg cites the need for checking points online as crucial for any legal research to be the most accurate and up-to-date. Since both LexisNexis and Westlaw offer electronic citation verification systems, obviously their online versions will be the most updated, according to Honigsberg. Having said that, the author first goes into great detail on the best way to dive into the physical volumes of the Shepard's books, then moves on to Thomson West's Blue and White Books, also known as the National Reporter series, which offer parallel citations of other reporting volumes, looseleaf publications, then websites and even making phone calls. He then offers advice on electronic research through the online legal databases associated with LexisNexis and Westlaw.

To best understand what is being researched online, the Gilbert Summary offers some background information on the two legal web tools mentioned above. LexisNexis and Westlaw are cited as the two most widely used legal research systems, although this information may in fact be outdated as this book was written in 2002. Still, the wealth of information provided by the two companies is still considered the basis for a good starting point in any online writing and analysis. The two online services are dealt with in detail as follows:


Honigsberg explains that LexisNexis is a compilation of over 15,000 databases, or "discrete sources," which offers insight into specific fields of legal study. The online source is organized into federal, state and international sources, and an explanation is given on how to search for a particular case subject as well as how to save searches and be updated periodically if new information becomes available about the case. Furthermore, non-legal materials can also be searched through the LexisNexis database, and Honigsberg reminds the researcher to include those additional types of sources in the research methods so as to gain a better view of the case subject matter. Non-legal materials may include administrative regulations, bills, committee reports, citations, newspapers and magazines, medical reports and wire services. These items can all add fuel to an important case study that may not necessarily be found within case decisions themselves, according to Honigsberg.


The Gilbert Summary of legal research shows the reader a glimpse of what can be found on the Westlaw website. Full text coverage of reported cases is available from all fifty states, including the District of Columbia. Federal special interest material, information concerning securities, labor, bankruptcy and other business regulation, government contracts, federal tax, and copyright information are all searchable on this database. Westlaw, like LexisNexis, accesses not only published and reported state codes, but also some state and federal decisions that are "unreported," but issued by the courts. Honigsberg offers the best way to request information from Westlaw, and how to obtain the most current and updated information as it becomes available.

The last portion of Honigsberg's book offers some helpful advice on how to organize and prepare information in the most useful format. His suggestions include being organized, having factual information outlined, maintaining writing focus on just what is essential to a case, highlighting points and keeping written information concise, and keeping the audience of the work in mind. He goes through each of these suggested points and gives tips and examples on what makes a good research project, but with a somewhat vague authority. Although his advice is useful, it seems to be a little limited in this particular section, and very broad in scope. Given the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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