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BRIEFS FOR THE BRIEF WRITER: Legal sources are beginning, not end, of a good researcher’s work

Most of the motions practitioners bring or defend are researched through traditional Wisconsin law resources — Wisconsin digests, key numbers, statutes, administrative laws and cases.

Need a motion to compel? Go to Chapter 804, Wis. Stats., including Sec. 804.12. Defending a motion for summary judgment? Find authority regarding factual issues under Sec. 802.08, Wis. Stats. The research sources for these motions are easily accessible, through Westlaw, Lexis, Lois or other similar search engines. Not to mention the books themselves.

Not all research issues are so simple. More often than we’d like to admit, practitioners are faced with legal questions which cannot be answered by a quick browse of the statutes or case law. With the client’s interests, not to mention billable hours, at stake, what are the best sources to research complex legal issues?

The first step in researching such issues is to obtain a good general understanding of a specialized legal area. The following are some of the sources which I have found helpful. Most should be available from commercial research sites such as Westlaw or Lexis, either within a subscription or at an extra out-of-subscription cost. If they (or others) are not electronically available in your firm, there is always the best tactile resource, the “old fashioned” law library.

The UCC, with its continuing revisions, is a particular minefield for practitioners. A traditional go-to UCC research tool is Hawkland’s Uniform Commercial Code Series, which contains Code commentary and situational examples. If you are researching a specific Code section, The Uniform Commercial Code Reporter-Digest contains extensive federal and state case annotations arranged by Code section.

Another problematic area (which, depending on the issue, may involve the UCC) is the law of banking. Having just finished researching such an issue, I recommend Clark’s, The Law of Bank Deposits, Collections and Credit Cards. This two-volume set is thoughtfully analytical, if mind-bogglingly in-depth.

While intellectual property specialists probably have their own detailed legal research resources, these may be too technical for general practitioners facing an IP issue. As one of the generalists, I frequently use McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition. In addition to explaining intellectual property principles in understandable language, McCarthy, while not as intensive an analysis as Clark, for example, is particularly easy to navigate.

Those generalists faced with an immigration question, including a client wanting to sponsor a family or employment-based non-immigrant, may be daunted by immigration law’s complexities and mounting procedural hoops. The multi-volume Gordon, Immigration Law and Procedure, may contain too much information for a generalist; a useable compromise for commercial issues is the three-volume Fragomen, Immigration Law & Business. Of immense practical utility is Fragomen’s Immigration Procedures Handbook, a large paperbound set, which contains a step-by-step guide for almost every immigration petition, including annotated forms and practical advice. Fragomen has issued separate how-to books for especially popular but complicated immigrant petitions, such as the specialty worker H-1b classification.

In contrast to the hyper-technicalities of immigration law, many corporate issues are esoteric ones. For these, Fletcher, Cyclopedia of Corporations, remains the stalwart. Although its language may not be the most “current,” its discussions of various corporate issues are timely.

Questions of municipal law can be particularly vexing. When faced with such an issue, try McQuillin, Treatise on the Law of Municipal Corporations. McQuillin, which was on the library shelves while I was in law school, continues to provide straightforward answers to out-of-the-zone questions.

Finally, given the economic downturn, general practitioners are being faced with more and more bankruptcy issues. Collier on Bankruptcy may be the most widely consulted treatise, in my experience. For me, however, its benefit is not in its detail (which I find hard to navigate), but in its citation to particular statutes applicable to specific issues, which I then independently research.

These and other sources are the beginning, not the end, of a good researcher’s work. They provide a basic explanation of different legal areas, with exemplar citations. A practitioner can take those cites, find their key numbers, shepardize or key cite them, and otherwise use them as a jump-start to find additional, directly applicable authority.

Many readers likely have already used one or more of these sources, hopefully to great success. No doubt many have used additional treatises on other legal subjects. The key is to recognize when the issue confronting you is above your head, and to find a research source which will work for you, both for the specific issue at hand and for those which will come at you in the future.

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