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Legal Writing: Choosing a Paper Topic

GUIDE OUTLINE

Choosing a Paper Topic
     In Introduction
     Ask a Librarian
     Circuit Splits
     Further Reading
     General Legal News
     Law Blogs

Conducting a Preemption Check
     Does Your Paper Add New                             Information to the Field?
     Legal Indexes
     Full-Text Legal Databases
     Multidisciplinary Journal Content
     Working Paper Repositories

CHOOSING A TOPIC: AN INTRODUCTION

Picking a topic can be the hardest part of writing a substantial paper or journal note. A good topic will make a claim that is both novel and adds to the discussion in a particular area of law.

The first step in choosing a topic is identifying a legal problem. Among other forms, this problem may be a policy concern, a conflict in the law, a gap in knowledge, or an issue surrounding a new legal development.

The second step for choosing your topic is proposing a solution to the problem, which will be the basis of your argument or thesis.

After crafting your thesis, the third step is conducting a preemption check to ensure that your topic has not been preempted by other writing on the subject. This guide details sources for help in selecting a paper topic available through the Ross-Blakely Law Library, as well as freely available online, and offers insight in how to check whether your paper will add new information to the field of law.

Questions to consider in choosing a paper topic
When choosing a topic, it may be helpful to consider what subjects, classes, or activities you already enjoy and whether an appropriate topic can be developed from them.

What classes do you enjoy most in law school?
What law school organizations do you belong to and what projects were rewarding or useful?
What projects from your summer legal employment were interesting?
What news stories have you heard lately that troubled you?
What areas of law would you like to practice in?

CIRCUIT SPLITS

A good way to generate a topic is to look at how different jurisdictions have treated a particular issue. To do this you can examine splits between the circuit courts, in which federal appellate courts from different jurisdictions have disagreed on an important federal question.

Bloomberg BNA U.S. Law Week: Circuit Splits 
U.S. Law Week is published weekly by Bloomberg BNA.  It includes information on important cases handed down each week and current legal developments. It also has a monthly "Circuit Splits" Feature.

FURTHER READING

Delgado, Richard. "How to Write a Law Review Article," 20 Univ. San Francisco Law Review 445 (1986)
Available on HeinOnline

Fajans, Elizabeth & Mary R. Falk. "Inspiration: Choosing a Subject and Developing a Thesis," in Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers, 3rd ed. (2005)
Law Study Skills Collection KF250 .F35 2005

Meeker, Heather. "Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers," 1996 Utah Law Review 917 (1996)
Available on HeinOnline

Volokh, Eugene. "Finding What to Write About (The Claim)" in Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review, 4th ed. (2010)  
Law Study Skills Collection KF250 .V65 2010

Volokh, Eugene. "Writing a Student Article," 48 Journal of Legal Education 247 (1998)
Available on HeinOnline

ASK A LIBRARIAN

The reference librarians at the Ross-Blakley Law Library are happy to help you find or navigate research resources.  Librarians are available 8:30am-5pm Monday-Friday in the reference office, by phone, or by e-mail.

Office: Library 112A
Phone: (480) 965-6144
E-mail us now

Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law students can also make an individual appointment with a librarian for one-on-one assistance by submitting an online request form. 

GENERAL LEGAL NEWS

Westlaw News Directory 
From the Westlaw News Directory you can search news by type, by jurisdiction, by topic, and by industry (Westlaw password required).

Lexis Advance News Directory
In the Lexis Advance News Directory, news can be searched by region, by publication type, and by subject (Lexis Advance password required).

LAW BLOGS

Resources that track and analyze current events and developments in the legal world, such as blogs, may also provide topic ideas. 

ABA Journal Blawg Directory
This comprehensive directory of continually updated law blogs allows browsing by topic, author type, region, and law school.

Justia Blawg Search
Justia has a listing of over 6,000 law blogs which have been organized in to 75 categories.

Law Professor Blogs Network
This is a centralized website for the network of law professor blogs, which are blogs devoted to particular legal subjects written by law professors.

SCOTUS Blog
The Supreme Court of the United States Blog provides comprehensive coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court and a wide-ranging array of resources related to Supreme Court cases.

9th Circuit Blog
This blog offers commentary and summaries of cases before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Arizona Appellate Blog
The Arizona Appellate Blog reviews opinions in civil cases from the Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Court of Appeals.