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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

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.

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.

A Short & Happy Guide to Advanced Legal Research (Ann Walsh Long, 2022) (West Academic password required off campus)
Chapter 7 of this brief volume goes into depth on the process of finding, planning, and writing an extended academic paper on the law similar to what professors produce. It recommends seeking expert guidance on a topic and identifies several fertile sources, including circuit splits, state surveys, and law review symposia. It also provides guidance on the preemption check that helps ensure your written product will be unique and valuable, as well as organizing research, editing, and building credibility with comprehensive footnotes crediting experts in the field.

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 (Bloomberg Law password required)
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 password required)
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.

CRS Reports - "Congressional Court Watcher"
The Congressional Research Service is a public policy research institute within the United States Congress, tasked with providing research and analysis on topics related to policymaking. From their website, search for "Congressional Court Watcher" to find weekly updates on appellate decisions that may be of interest to lawmakers.

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.

These podcasts deal with current legal topics and may be useful for keeping current on the law and coming up with an idea for a journal article or seminar paper. For additional legal podcast information, please see the Law Library's Keeping Current: Podcasts guide.

Bloomberg Law
Host June Grasso speaks with prominent attorneys and legal scholars, analyzing major legal issues and cases in the news.

Make No Law: The First Amendment Podcast
This podcast explores the background of important First Amendment cases and the personalities and history that led to them. Join Ken White, First Amendment litigator and law blogger at, as he interviews some of the people behind America’s most important free speech cases.

Opening Arguments
A podcast for people who want to form an opinion about a current legal topic but don’t yet have enough information to do so. It tackles relevant legal arguments and gives you the tools you need to understand the issue. Facts are presented in a neutral manner even though the hosts make their political views no secret.

Stay Tuned with Preet
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara breaks down legal topics in the news and engages thought leaders in a podcast about power, policy, and justice.

Bloomberg Law News (Bloomberg Law password required)
The Subscription & Alert Management page enables researchers to subscribe to curated newsletters on a variety of subject areas within law and business. 

Law360 (available on campus)
Law360 readers may sign up for newsletter alerts of new articles within each Law360 section or materials pertaining to particular law firms by clicking on bell icons and following the prompts. ASU users can access while on campus as well as through their Lexis accounts.

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

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