Tag Archives: legal research

Using Study Groups to Develop Hypothetical Practice Questions

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, we explored some of the dos and don’ts for effective law school study groups. Today, I want to take that discussion a step further and explain how the members of your study group can develop your own hypothetical practice questions as you prepare for final exams.

One way to test your understanding of course material in law school is to go through hypothetical questions, but your casebooks and commercial study aids often have a limited number of practice questions. Students often ask me where they can find more practice questions, and I always explain that it is possible to create your own hypotheticals. This approach is particularly effective if you participate in a study group. For the best results, you should first complete your outline of the legal issue(s) you want to practice.

Here are 5 steps for creating hypothetical practice questions:

  1. Identify specific legal issues that you want to practice. The best issues for this purpose are complex issues—the kind that you might have some difficulty with on an exam. For example, in Civil Procedure you might want to practice how you would apply the law to fact patterns where the Erie Doctrine or Subject Matter Jurisdiction was at issue. For Constitutional Law, you might choose to focus on Equal Protection or Due Process issues. For Evidence, maybe you want to explore some of the hearsay exceptions.
  2. Assign each member of your study group a time period or jurisdiction for their hypotheticals. Taking this approach ensures that two people do not bring the same hypothetical to the next group meeting. For example, if your group is going to study the Erie Doctrine, maybe one person looks for Erie cases from the Second Circuit, another looks for cases from the First Circuit, and the third looks for cases from the Third Circuit. Just make sure that, if the law has changed in recent years, you do not assign time periods prior to any changes in the law.
  3. Each person will look for cases on Westlaw, LexisNexis, or other legal search platforms that focus on the legal issue your group has chosen. You may choose to create your own search terms or may look to see what other cases have cited the cases you studied in class. Just make sure that any cases you choose are still good law! (An added benefit to this process is that you practice your research skills as well!)
  4. Look for cases that have a well-developed but concisely worded set of facts and good explanations of the legal outcomes. The statements of facts from your cases will become the foundation for your hypotheticals, and the court’s explanations are your answer keys for the hypotheticals.
  5. Have each member of the study group bring 3 to 5 hypotheticals to your group’s next meeting. Take turns having each person present one of their hypotheticals. The other members of the group should talk through their legal analysis for that hypothetical, based upon their outlining and studying prior to the group meeting. After the group’s analysis is complete, the person who brought the hypothetical should explain how the court actually resolved the legal issue(s) in the underlying case.

Taking this approach, your study group can create an endless number of hypothetical questions. The process of talking through the legal analysis for these hypotheticals, as well as explaining how the court actually resolved the legal issues in this case, will improve your understanding of important legal issues and provide practice for how you should analyze similar fact patterns in your exams.

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Study Tips

Law Student Voices: (Un)Raveling the Mysteries of Legal Research

For untold generations of law students, LexisNexis and Westlaw have dominated the legal research field. Periodically, a challenger appears, attempting to break into some portion of the market, often with little-to-no success. The reasons for such difficulty are manifold, however, one prominent reason may be the lack of time lawyers have to experiment with new research databases.

One company that seeks to reverse this trend and make a name for itself in the legal community is Ravel.

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When you first visit Ravel, you immediately notice that it has the uncluttered Google-like interface we have all become accustomed to over the years. The search engine allows you to enter a variety of identifying information to find relevant case law, just like any other research database. The search box recognizes both natural language and Boolean operators. However, the real excitement begins when you hit that magnifying glass and see Ravel’s visual search at work.

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On the results screen, relevant cases are shown in various ways. To the right is the traditional research method—cases are ranked in order of likelihood of relevance, with pertinent information filling in below the case name. On the left, a complex yet easy to understand graph displays the chronology of a given issue’s development and connects to the most important cases.

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No longer must we sift through a dozen court opinions to find the source of a particular point of law: Ravel will trace the entire history of an issue to arrive at either the court of highest authority on the matter or the first court to address the matter. Not only is this resource good news for visual learners, it can drastically cut down on research time for everyone else. According to Ravel, “[i]n comparisons with traditional legal research tools, Ravel cuts research time by up to 70%.”

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Notably, once you open a case that appears relevant, Ravel imports additional information to allow the user to continue assessing whether or not a given case is on point. If the user has a “Professional” level account or above (note: students with a .edu email address receive the equivalent of Ravel’s “Advanced” plan for free!), Ravel allows you to make annotations, brief a case, and even export those notes to a separate doc.

One unique and much-appreciated feature is that footnotes appear to the side, in line with text instead of at the end of the document. This eliminates the wasteful activity of scrolling to the bottom as well as the often-annoying necessity to hover over footnotes.

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But perhaps Ravel’s single brightest moment appears in the form of its Star Reading System. With Star Reading, users can track the development of a single passage through the law. That level of depth has the potential to be on par with, if not superior to, any other cataloging system out there. According to Ravel:

Mining the connections that link millions of court documents, Ravel’s technology identifies cases’ key passages and shows how later cases have rephrased or interpreted them. This is lawyering powered by two centuries of judicial analysis.

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On the horizon is a feature called “Judge Analytics,” which will allow users to select a judge and view trends in his or her decision-making process. In addition, there will be filters to sort through the plethora of opinions as well as a keyword search. Such a feature would be undeniably beneficial for law students, academics, and practitioners alike.

This review was authored by Justin Iverson, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School. The author acquired some of the images presented by screenshot, while others were obtained from Ravel’s representatives. As a law student, the author had access to Advanced features free of charge.

**This review is not intended to be an endorsement of any product. Its sole purpose is to provide useful information to law students.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Technology