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Legal Writing

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?

Further Reading

Elizabeth E. Berenguer, The Legal Scholar's Guidebook (2020)
This guide from an educator specializing in upper level legal writing discusses all stages of crafting a valuable legal article, from choosing a narrow, manageable topic to evaluating sources' credibility. It helps writers process the information already written about a topic, choose a particularly effective paradigm to present legal arguments (such as historical analysis or comparative law), and approach writing with discipline to produce a timely, quality product. Appendices present sample processes including topic selection and outlining, as well as an annotated article highlighting important considerations in the writing process.

Richard Delgado, How to Write a Law Review Article, 20 Univ. San Francisco Law Review 445 (1986)
Discussing the purpose of academic arguments and their varieties, as well as strategies for selecting topics, researching, selecting authorities, and writing.

Heather Meeker, Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers, 1996 Utah Law Review 917 (1996)
To be published, a paper must be relevant, meaning the overall topic is important enough to have warranted some discussion. But a paper must also add novel information to its field. This article discusses the balancing act of finding something new in a legal field that has already drawn attention.

Shari Motro, The Three-Act Argument: How to Write a Law Article That Reads Like a Good Story, 64 J. Legal Educ. (2015)
The recipe for a dramatic plot—exposition, confrontation, and resolution—can liven up legal arguments.

Eugene Volokh, "Finding What to Write About (The Claim)" in Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review4th ed. (2010)  
Tips for research, writing each section of your article, editing your early drafts, and entering competitions or submitting articles for publication.

Eugene Volokh, Writing a Student Article, 48 Journal of Legal Education 247 (1998)
Detailing one of many strategies for getting a legal paper published.

Jessica Lynn Wherry & Kristen E. Murray, Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution (2019)
This book provides a cradle to printing press blueprint for planning, writing, and polishing academic legal writing. It instructs readers on generating ideas, developing breadth and depth of knowledge in research, soliciting and incorporating feedback from reviewers, and shopping papers for publication.

Sources for Topic Ideas

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.

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

Resources that focus on the "hot topics" in law can be helpful in identifying issues that have not yet been clearly addressed by the courts or legislature and are ripe for academic commentary.

Bloomberg Law - In Focus Resources
Bloomberg Law's In Focus resources are editorially curated pages that provide access to news, commentary, litigation filings, regulatory developments, and practice tools on emerging issues and other topics of note to legal practitioners.

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.

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.

Global Legal Monitor
The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources.

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