Legal research and why it will always matter - Charlotte Pope-Williams, Barrister, Pinsent Masons LLP

Legal research and why it will always matter - Charlotte Pope-Williams, Barrister, Pinsent Masons LLP


"Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals"[1] Legal research is one of those 'basic fundamentals' that qualified lawyers and students alike should get right in order to be successful.


Legal Research – a definition


This wouldn't be a blogpost written by a lawyer without at least one definition.  As such, and in typical lawyer fashion, it is important that we are clear about what is meant by legal research.  Legal research is (i) the systematic search for one or a number of sources, (ii) followed by the study and appraisal of the information in the source/(s) to establish facts and reach conclusions with the aim of resolving a legal problem and/or making a legal decision i.e. problems or decisions connected to and/or relating to the law.


Legal Research – why you should care about it?


Finding the right answer: This should be trite but legal research will help you to: (i) understand legal issues, (ii) identify accurate information and (iii) identify inaccurate information so that you can (hopefully!) reach the correct legal decision.

Your ethical obligations: As a qualified lawyer legal research is fundamental to keeping your skills up-to-date and providing the best service to your clients.  Failure to do it could cause you to fall foul of your professional obligations.  For Barristers some of the relevant core ethical duties set out in the BSB Handbook include: CD2 Acting in the best interests of each client, CD5 not behaving in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession and CD7 providing a competent standard of work and service to each client.  For Solicitors the relevant ethical duties as set out in the SRA Code of Conduct for solicitors, RELs and RFLS include: 3.2 ensuring that the service you provide to clients is competent and delivered in a timely manner; 3.3 maintaining your competence to carry out your role and keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date.  Imagine the consequences if you cited the wrong case in court, drafted a contract for a client without being aware of a fundamental change in the law or wrote a legal essay without taking a key jurist's theory into consideration.

Professional and personal development: Corporates often invests millions into research and development since it is critical to product innovation and improving services.  Your brain is the metaphorical product and its output is the metaphorical service.  Undertaking legal research assists you to obtain information and learn new ways of thinking such that you can be more innovative and provide a better service.  It therefore presents an opportunity for a lawyer to develop personally and professionally.

It's good for you: Mentally stimulating activities such as legal research may help to improve and maintain brain health.  The Global Council on Brain Health recommends incorporating cognitively stimulating activities into your lifestyle to remain healthy[2].


Legal Research – some ideas for how you might go about it?


The following tips may assist you when you next undertake a research task:

  1. Clearly identify the problem you seek to solve or the question you are seeking to answer and its nature e.g. are you trying to ascertain precisely what the law says or are you trying to identify how a particular population interprets the law?
  2. Find primary sources e.g. legislation or case law, find out what the latest law actually is.
  3. Look at secondary sources such as practitioners' texts, commentary in legal journals, practitioners' aid such as Lexis PSL to help you understand and analyse the law.
  4. Present the output of your research in a logical and concise manner.  When reviewing your output ask yourself if the proverbial man on the Clapham bus would be able to understand the nub of what you are trying to articulate.
  5. Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help.  Other people are one of our greatest resources.  One of your peers or colleagues may be able to assist.


[1] Jim Rohn

[2] accessed at 15:53 on 7 August 2020


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About the author:

Charlotte is a barrister with full rights of audience who was called to the Bar in 2011.  She currently works as a financial services dispute resolution specialist at Pinsent Masons LLP.  Before starting work at Pinsents, Charlotte worked in the Bank of England's Legal Directorate having previously completed pupillage at chambers specialising in commercial, common law and criminal regulatory law.

Charlotte’s client’s include key market participants in financial services including some the UK’s leading banks, insurers, pension funds and asset managers.  Her experience ranges from working on the Bank of England’s first Shari’ah compliant liquidity facility to conducting internal investigations for and/on behalf of FCA and PRA regulated firms to acting for clients in multijurisdictional commercial disputes.

Charlotte is currently an elected member of Bar Council and sits on the Employed Barristers Committee and Young Barristers Committee.  She also sits on the Commercial Bar Association's Equality and Diversity Committee.  She has previously been a mentor on the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship programme through the Bank of England and continues to mentor young people who are interested in pursuing a career in law through other programmes.