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How to Become a Legal Researcher

published June 16, 2009

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How To Become A Legal Researcher

Lawyers are generally very busy people. That's because they sometimes take on many cases within the same time frame. They're so busy that they can't do all the legal researching themselves. That's where Legal Researchers come in. If you're considering a career in legal research or want to do freelance researching because you're fascinated by the law, then this article will serve as a guide on how to become a legal researcher.

A Quick Definition

A legal researcher is one basically responsible for researching cases (and anything that can help to win a case) in advance so that the litigation attorney is prepared for the courtroom. They typically provide research that ties in with evidences presented, case law, and even the litigation process. The process of legal research is varied depending on which country or whichever state in the United States you live in, but the basics are all the same. In general, legal research involves certain tasks such as general information on legal topics that touch on primary authority and specific local jurisdictions and supporting information that'll be helpful to a case. In a nutshell, legal researchers are writers employed by lawyers to provide them with necessary information.

Some Basic Qualifications

To become a legal researcher, you basically need to have a college degree. Although some firms or employers don't really need you to have a law degree, this is basically recommended if you want to excel in this field. It all varies from employer to employer. You also need to be a good enough writer if you want to succeed. This also means that you have to know how to accumulate information that is beneficial to your boss. So keep in mind, you're in for long hours of reading various topics that are somewhat related to specific cases. Having a good knowledge of the law, then, is a good advantage; so take some classes that touch on that. If you've missed out on that, you can still find good websites that offer an online degree. Just make sure that they touch on legal research.

Research Skills

Learn to research well. This doesn't just mean that you have to have a basic skill set that allows you to write about what you've read. Rather, it's all about using any and all methods available. Don't be lazy with the task given to you and just write it off. Instead, delve deeper if you feel that there's more underneath the topic. Make sure that you've looked at every facet of the subject and that you've understood it before you proceed to other relevant things. Scan and study databases if you have to.


Practice, practice, and then practice more. That's the key to becoming a good legal researcher. Even if you've already taken courses in college, you need to apply everything that you've learned in real time. The more you work at researching various topics, the more you'll find out that you're getting better and faster at it. Get an online freelance job as a researcher if you have to, so you can hone your skills.

Job Market

Decide where you'd like to go to work by checking out the market so you can cross out which ones aren't suited to your taste. There are basically three kinds of job opportunities that you can choose from: Government Agencies, Large Law Firms, and Private Attorneys. Law enforcement bureaus such as the FBI and CIA are examples of government agencies that hire a lot of legal researchers. Law Firms and Private Attorneys are pretty much self explanatory. It's all up to you which kind you'd like to work in, but it's a good idea if you start out with Private Attorneys first so you can accumulate enough experience. You can then move up to Large Law Firms, because they tend to have higher pay. Working with Government Agencies tends to have better benefits, however.

Whether you consider being a part-time freelance legal researcher or a full-time one, you have to know how to be focused and organized if you want a successful career in this area. Tediously long hours and precise data and information accumulation is what you'll face in this kind of job. If you find that you're up to it, then you can assure yourself that you'll probably be a good legal researcher.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Become A Legal Researcher?

With an associate's degree at the minimum, most legal researchers begin their careers as paralegals or legal assistants. When pursuing a legal researcher career path, there are several additional steps to take:

1. Complete An Associate Degree

With an associate degree, you can become a paralegal or legal assistant. Students pursuing training in legal research generally obtain their associate degrees in legal studies and complete coursework in legal research, legal writing, business law, communications, mathematics, government, and investigative techniques. Students often search for accredited programs that are recognized by the American Bar Association when enrolling in an associate program for legal studies. You can qualify for voluntary certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) by completing an accredited program.

2. Pursue Certification

A professional certification can demonstrate your skills and qualifications as a legal assistant or researcher, but it is voluntary. Credentials offered by the NALA include certified paralegal (CP), certified legal assistant (CLA), and an advanced certified paralegal (ACP). You must pass an exam for each of the certifications.

In order to earn the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential, you must complete an ABA-approved paralegal certification program rather than take an exam. AACP certification must be renewed every two to three years with continuing education hours.

3. Consider A Bachelor's Degree

Getting a bachelor's degree can increase your earning potential and employment prospects. A bachelor's law degree program typically includes coursework in American and constitutional law, criminal and civil law, ethics, research techniques, and legal writing. Researching and organizing legal information requires knowledge of ethical and legal principles.

4. Build Legal Research Experience

Take part in an internship or fulfill an entry-level assistant role to gain experience as a legal researcher. Making connections with legal offices and attorneys can be easier when you have skills and experience in positions such as these. In addition, if you choose to obtain licensing through NALA or AAP, your experience can help you prepare for certification.

5. Advance Your Career

A Juris Doctorate (JD) program is often the best way for legal researchers and assistants to further their careers. The JD credential is not required by all law firms, but some state and federal courts may require legal researchers and assistants to qualify for various roles. In the Juris Doctorate program, students learn legal reasoning, principles of American legal institutions, and case analysis studies specific to different fields of law, such as real estate law and banking law. You can also prepare for becoming a full-fledged attorney with a Juris Doctorate if you decide to pursue it in the future.

Do Lawyers Hire Researchers?

In private law firms, government agencies, and in the court system, legal researchers are integral members of teams. Lawyers and other legal professionals rely on them to gather and analyze the information needed to complete casework. There are several factors to consider if you are interested in working as a legal researcher.

In the pre-trial process, legal researchers assist attorneys and legal executives by researching and analyzing case law and other relevant information. Legal assistants and paralegals typically work under the supervision of practicing attorneys. Legal researchers may find employment in law firms, private law firms, government agencies, and corporate law firms. A legal researcher's primary responsibility is to review, organize, and maintain legal documents and research files to support lawyers conducting active legal cases, regardless of their place of employment.

Often employed by government agencies and courts, legal professionals can also find employment in real estate, insurance, finance, and private businesses. Many legal researchers are responsible for collecting and disseminating legal information and client records. Among the responsibilities they have are:
  • Reviewing legal documents and understanding new and upcoming changes to legislation and case law.
  • Updating law firms and supervisory attorneys on various cases using research findings and information.
  • Organizing schedules to ensure research and documentation processes run smoothly.
  • Visiting law offices, courthouses, and libraries to get information on open cases.
  • Analyzing research documents and resources to ensure accuracy.
  • Assembling research notes and maintaining office databases to include all completed and ongoing research.
  • Conducting legal interviews and scheduling meetings.
  • Building relationships and communicating with relevant legal contacts through networking with law professionals and court representatives.

How Much Does A Legal Researcher Make?

A legal assistant can earn an average salary of $41,816 per year, which can vary depending on where they work and how much experience they have. Legal researchers who work as paralegals can expect to earn an average income of $48,327 per year. With experience and time spent in their career, a legal researcher's salary can increase.

What Are The Skills Required To Become A Good Legal Researcher?

In addition to their knowledge and expertise, legal researchers rely on a range of skills. To succeed, you should develop these skills:

Subject Area Expertise

Researchers often specialize in a particular area of law, where they become experts who supply critical information to legal executives and attorneys working on cases. Legal researchers who specialize in real estate, for example, become familiar with the guiding principles and laws of real estate. No matter what field of law you pursue, it's important to develop your expertise so you can advance in your career.

Research and Analytical Skills

Legal researchers must possess strong research and analytical skills to review and organize complex legal information in order to present their findings. Research and analytical skills that employers look for in candidates include reading comprehension, attention to detail, and the ability to comprehend complex information.

Technical Skills

Computer applications are often used by legal researchers. Frequently updating and maintaining legal databases for your firm, entering data into company computers programs, and using computers and the internet to collect data may be required.

Critical Thinking Skills

Legal researchers should be able to evaluate the information they find about the cases their supervisors work on critically. Essentially, this means approaching data with an unbiased perspective and ensuring the accuracy and reliability of information used in support of lawyers' casework. A strong research and interview technique also make it easier for these professionals to gather pertinent information during interviews with clients or witnesses.

Communication Skills

Legal researchers need to communicate effectively in their legal work. They review and compile the information into formats that are easy to read and understand for clients and attorneys. To be successful in this role, you must possess excellent writing skills. To achieve outcomes and support their legal teams, legal researchers must be able to communicate with others through active listening and asking open-ended questions.

Problem-Solving Skills

It is important for a legal researcher to be able to solve problems with creative solutions for challenges that arise on the job. Integrating research strategies to improve pre-trial processes and assisting lawyers with lengthy research topics are all examples of how your problem-solving skills can contribute to your career success.

Interpersonal Skills

A legal researcher's work environment involves collaboration with others. Building strong relationships with coworkers, supervisors, and clients begins with developing strong interpersonal skills. Having interpersonal skills is also important for understanding others' perspectives and identifying information that you can use to support your supervisor's work.

What Is The Highest Paid Law Field?

Following are 12 of the highest paying career fields for lawyers and legal professionals:

1. Civil Litigation Paralegal

National average salary: $54,819 per year

Primary Duties: Civil litigation paralegals assist practicing attorneys with court filings, pleadings, and the preparation of court documents. The majority of these professionals work for private law firms, but they can also work for government agencies. Until they advance in their careers as practicing attorneys, these paralegals will be supervised by litigation attorneys.

2. Personal Injury Paralegal

National average salary: $57,364 per year

Primary duties: In the same way that a litigation paralegal works with a practicing attorney, personal injury paralegals do the same. They prepare legal documents for personal injury cases involving either the plaintiff or the defendant. Under the supervision of a lawyer, a personal injury paralegal typically interviews clients, collects medical records, collects insurance information and documents from defendants, and prepares settlement demands.

3. Bankruptcy Paralegal

National average salary: $59,738 per year

Primary duties: Paralegals and attorneys specializing in bankruptcy work frequently for government agencies, corporations, and lending institutions where they prepare and file proofs of claims on behalf of their clients. Practicing attorneys rely on these paralegals for assistance in preparing financial documents, claim applications, and other documents required in bankruptcy cases.

4. Family Law Paralegal

National average salary: $82,425 per year

Primary duties: A family law paralegal assists practicing attorneys in cases involving child custody, divorce, social services, adoption, and tax and finance law. These paralegals generally meet with and interview clients, collect documentation from individuals involved in domestic disputes, and organize paperwork and documents in divorce and child custody cases, among other duties that support family attorneys' services related to families and family law.

5. Employment Law Associate

National average salary: $88,677 per year

Primary duties: Employers and employees can rely on employment law associates, or employment and labor lawyers, for legal advice and assistance regarding state and federal workplace laws. The attorneys help employers ensure that their workplaces comply with these employment laws and that all employees are treated fairly and consistently. Employees are also frequently represented by employment lawyers in discrimination cases.

6. Attorney At Law

National average salary: $95,000 per year

Primary duties: In civil and criminal cases, a lawyer at law (trial lawyer) advises and represents their clients' legal interests. As trial lawyers, attorneys at law often provide clients with pre-trial counsel, prepare legal documents and pleadings, and even appear in court to represent their clients.

7. Immigration Attorney

National average salary: $95,701 per year

Primary duties: Attorneys and lawyers who specialize in immigration law offer their clients advice and guidance on matters like green cards, visa applications, naturalization and citizenship, deportation, and employment. In many cases involving immigration and criminal law, immigration attorneys will also take on criminal law matters.

8. Legal Manager

National average salary: $97,292 per year

Primary duties: Companies and departments within them receive legal assistance from legal managers. These professionals typically have practiced law in the past. Like a patent or intellectual property lawyer, legal managers commonly act as owners of a company's intellectual property, including trademarks, copyrights, and patents. A legal manager is also responsible for providing legal advice to the human resources, IT, and management areas of a company, coordinating with these employees to ensure compliance with all legal and regulatory obligations regarding licensing, data protection, and legal document organization.

9. Litigation Attorney

National average salary: $103,963 per year

Primary duties: A civil litigation attorney handles many of the same duties as a trial lawyer, although they commonly deal with small claims and civil disputes. Litigation attorneys meet with clients and collect documents and information from them, whether they are plaintiffs or defendants. They will also assist clients with preparing court and trial documents, drafting pleadings, and entering pleas. Litigation attorneys may also be called upon to testify in court on behalf of their clients in serious cases.

10. Intellectual Property Paralegal

National average salary: $135,199 per year

Primary duties: Paralegals who specialize in intellectual property law (IP) or patents assist clients with patenting or trademarking their works. Paralegals in the intellectual property field normally work with IP attorneys who provide legal advice on how to apply for and enforce trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other licensing that signifies ownership of intellectual property. In addition, IP paralegals assist clients with obtaining patents, trademarks, and copyrights, and protect these assets legally if someone infringes on them.

11. Corporate Attorney

National average salary: $151,503 per year

Primary duties: Large companies and organizations are represented by corporate attorneys. They draft legal documents, structure transactions, negotiate business deals, and ensure agreement provisions, policies, and legal compliance are unambiguous and consistent. Typically, corporate attorneys ensure a company's operations are compliant with laws and regulations, and that certain business practices are within legal parameters and won't pose legal problems in the future.

12. Patent Attorney


National average salary: $155,805 per year

Primary duties: Patent attorneys handle similar cases to IP attorneys and paralegals, however, they are specifically concerned with the processes and legal implications surrounding patenting intellectual property. Typically, patent attorneys help inventors prepare, file, and submit patent applications. Patent attorneys assist their clients in filing lawsuits against others who attempt to infringe on their patents.

published June 16, 2009

( 799 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.