Legal Research and Writing

Issues/Topics Covered in this Chapter

  • Thinking Like a Lawyer: An introduction to legal reasoning
  • How to read a court case primer
  • Practical advocacy: An education for law students
  • Introduction to Claim/Evidence/Warrant

Thinking Like a Lawyer: An introduction to legal reasoning

The first question is, “Whose legal reasoning are we talking about?” Jurors are given instructions on the law at the end of every trial and are asked to apply that law to the evidence they’ve heard to reach a verdict. They are asked to engage in “legal reasoning.” Clients approach their attorneys with rambling stories and a strong, if somewhat vague, sense of injustice, and it is the attorney’s job to figure out the laws, precedents, and facts that most favor the client and to integrate them into a persuasive case. This task involves legal reasoning, but the reasoning is driven by the desired outcome. The goal is not to reach the right decision but to make the best argument for one side. The evidence, as orchestrated by the lawyers and the legal arguments they make, form the raw materials for the judge’s decision, although judges (like juries) may also draw on their own background knowledge and experience and their own interpretations of the evidence and (unlike juries) their own understanding of the law. When scholars write about “legal reasoning,” they are writing about judges. The lawyer does not have to decide the case, but only to make the strongest appeal for one side; lawyers’ reasoning is discussed in courses and writings on advocacy. Jurors interpret the evidence to decide what actually happened and apply the law given to them in the judge’s instructions to reach a verdict. The judge must also seek out the appropriate legal authority, deciding which laws and previous cases are applicable. Jurors are not supposed to reason about the law itself; that is the task of the judge. Judges are trained in the law, they know the statutes and precedents, and they have the experience of judging many cases and reading the decisions of other judges. Jurors do not provide reasons for their verdicts; judges often do. Finally, much of what is written about legal reasoning is about appellate court decisions, in which judges are primarily concerned with legal procedure and the law itself, not about who wins and loses, and in which they almost always must provide legal explanations for their decisions.[1]

How to read a court case primer

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Practical advocacy: An education for law students

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Introduction to Claim/Evidence/Warrant

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Review Questions

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  1. Ellsworth, P. (2005). Legal Reasoning. In The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning.


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