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Legal Research Skills Guide: I - The Facts and the Legal Issues

Identifying the Facts

In law, you need to separate legal facts from issues. When reading a scenario, take note of

  • Who – Who was responsible? To whom did it happen? 
  • What – What happened? What is the desired outcome?
  • Where – Where did it happen? Jurisdiction?
  • When – When did it happen?
  • Why – Why did it happen?
  • How – How did it happen?

Not all of these will be relevant in every scenario, but it is good to identify these elements before developing the legal issues you need to address.

Remember to 

  • list each fact separately,
  • order them logically or chronologically, and
  • acknowledge any missing facts, do not assume facts!

Identifying the Issues

A legal problem will usually comprise of more than one issue. When you start your research issues don’t need to be overly specific. You may need to narrow your research focus as you work

If the issue is in its nature reasonably certain, then little research may be required. More research may be required in the grey or difficult areas of law relative to your facts. This might be because 

  • Problems that accompany the facts as provided 
  • The law is uncertain or arguable

The more difficult the issues = The more research focus required

A legal issue should be stated as a question, and you then work on providing the answer to that question. The law is often concerned with rights and liabilities of the parties, so a good approach is to frame the issues in the terms of possible rights and liabilities. Identifying issues from facts is a skill that will take time to develop, and you will refine this the more you do it.

 It is important to research legal issues or principles rather than facts of the case.

Activity #2 - Identifying legal facts and issues

 Jane wishes to throw a surprise party for her mothers 50th birthday in April. She has saved money from some casual jobs but needs to borrow about $1000 from her Uncle Bill.

Jane speaks to her Uncle Bill at a family barbeque in March. He is happy to help out and lends Jane the money on the understanding that Jane can pay off the loan when she starts her after school job at the supermarket.

Jane contacts the caterers, decides on the menu, and pays a deposit. She spends the rest of the money on decorations and on hiring a DJ. She also spends $200 to buy herself a new dress and shoes.

At a Christmas gathering Uncle Bill asks Jane when she is planning to repay the money. Jane tells him she can't repay it because she decided not to take the supermarket job but instead to study hard, finish school and go to University.

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