Here, learn what to do if you:
- Have general questions about the law;
- Want to learn about the law before using pro se forms;
- Want to do preliminary research to decide whether to file a lawsuit or hire a lawyer;
- Have been turned down for services from legal aid, cannot afford an attorney, and have no other option but to represent yourself.
What is legal research?
Legal research and analysis is the process that lawyers use to determine what laws apply to the facts of their case, which facts are relevant to their claim, what type of remedy they can ask for in court, and what other cases might impact the judge’s decision.
The process of applying the law to the facts of your case and arguing for a specific outcome requires more training than any single guide can provide. So, this guide does not replace the expertise of an attorney, particularly when presenting the findings of legal research to a judge in court.
Step 1: Gather and Understand the Facts of Your Case
The first step in legal research is to write a statement of facts. Do this to help gain a complete understanding of everything that has happened, or is happening, in your case. Sit down and write out everything that has happened so far, and everything that is currently going on. Do include facts you consider unimportant. Sometimes facts that seem unimportant can make a big difference in the court process. Revise it to make sure it is accurate and reflects the facts of your case.
Make sure to include dates when each incident took place. Use those dates and your statement of facts to make a case timeline as well. On the case timeline, list dates from the time your problems started until the present day, along with the events that occurred on those dates. This easy visual reference will help you keep important dates in your case straight as you go through the legal research process.
Step 2: Determine Your Legal Problem and Your Desired Outcome
The second step is to get an idea of the legal problem you are facing, and what your ideal outcome at the end of the legal process would be. Simply figuring out where to start your legal research can often be a very hard part of the process. It may help to sit down and write down the issues you are facing, along with your ideal outcome. Also think about what a good compromise could be.
The legal issue you are facing will guide what type of law you research. For example, if you are currently a noncustodial parent under a court order—but you would like to become the custodial parent—that means you may be seeking to modify the prior court order. Here, you have a family law issue involving modification. Thus, your legal research would be focused on family law and modification.
Step 3: Finding Legal Information and Reading About the Law
Read Finding Legal Information and Reading About the Law. It describes Texas legal information resources, both online and offline.
Step 4: Legal Analysis, Legal Writing, and Beyond
During legal analysis, you apply the law to the facts of your case. Once you have determined which law applies to your case, make sure it is binding and current, and have read up on it, it is now time to start your legal analysis and writing.
This short article cannot tell you everything you need to know about legal analysis. Attorneys take an entire series of classes on legal analysis and writing in law school. Consider reading a book on legal analysis and writing.
Normally, attorneys will write a document known as a “legal memorandum” at this stage. A legal memorandum summarizes the facts, states the issue, applies the laws to the facts, does a counter-analysis from the other side’s perspective, and predicts what the likely outcome of a case will be. A legal memorandum is complex and tough to do on your own. Consider contacting a private attorney for help, perhaps through limited scope representation.
Once done, a legal memorandum provides you with a fundamental understanding of the law of your case at a glance. Any book about legal writing and analysis should include a guide to writing a legal memorandum.
To know what to do at each stage of your case, contact an attorney in private practice for limited scope representation. You can also refer to practice guides, handbooks, and form books (also known as practice manuals).
If you must write your own memorandum or brief, you will need to know about how to correctly cite the law. The Indigo Book can help you with that.
For a general guide to the Texas civil litigation process, read Civil Litigation in Texas: The Basics in Three Phases.
There are many methods for conducting legal research that may yield good results. The key to good research is to be patient, careful, and thorough as you read. For other legal research methods, you may consider reading through other published research guides posted by the Texas State Law Library.
Have been turned down for services from legal aid; cannot afford an attorney, and have no other option but to represent yourself. If you find yourself in this situation, consider contacting an attorney for limited scope representation, also known as unbundled legal services. This is a more affordable way to get help from an attorney in private practice. Not all attorneys offer this service, but it might be an option for you.
What are alternatives to conducting your own legal research?
If you have been turned down for services from legal aid, cannot afford an attorney, and have no other option but to represent yourself, consider contacting an attorney for limited scope representation (also known as "unbundled legal services"). This is a more affordable way to get help from an attorney in private practice. Not all attorneys offer this service, but it might be an option for you.
This article explains the basics of civil lawsuits in Texas.
This article explains what to consider when hiring a lawyer.
This article tells you what evidence is and provides information on the evidence rules that are followed in Texas courts.
This article contains a link to a video that provides some background on the civil litigation system in Texas.
This article provides an overview of the process of conducting legal research.
This article tells you general information on what to do and not to do in a courtroom.