Research – Method Over Madness

May 30, 2024

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

                                 – Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2; Polonius in conversation with Hamlet, supposedly mad


This is my next installment on developing a system for writing appellate briefs that

 (1) allows you to have a life, and

 (2) keeps you from going mad.

I’m still working on the second part.

Please don’t be shy about making comments to these posts; they might give me ideas for another one.

So – Research. Here goes:


Plan your research based on the legal issues you have identified. Adjust your writing schedule as necessary. Think about which resources you will use. Coordinate with any research assistant you may have to avoid duplication of effort. For example: who will find the applicable standard of review for each legal issue? Research planning maximizes research time.


  1. Accumulate rules of law that apply to your fact situation
  2. Brief cases or take notes on each case, statute, or other authority. Then categorize your notes by issue. Use these tools to organize your research.
  3. For each authority, you must know:
    1. The citation;
    2. The governing rule or rules stated simply;
    3. Examples of facts that have satisfied the rule’s requirements;
    4. Examples of facts that have not satisfied the rule’s requirements;
    5. The policies or principles served by the rule;
    6. Any competing analyses or counter-arguments.
    1. Use a citator (Shepard’s or Keycite ) to update your research and find similar authority.
    2. As you go, make notes of your thoughts; don’t edit or discard anything at this point. You will make decisions about what to abandon later.


    Now that you know the facts and the applicable law, refine your legal issues. Consider dropping weak issues. Move to an annotated outline of the brief.  Good luck with your writing!