Conducting legal research and writing a law term paper is inevitable for anyone taking a law-related course, be it the Essentials of Employment Law, Introduction to Contract Law, or Criminal Law. Professors are aware that being a legal professional requires long nights spent leafing through the old cases and analyzing court decisions. Therefore, they normally assign numerous pieces of research and term papers to their students to prepare them for what is waiting them as lawyers, attorneys, judges in the future. The task may seem exigeant at first. Nevertheless, the more one invests in the research process, the easier it gets. As it always is in the legal field, being meticulous ensures the success.
Since a term paper is a major assignment, students are normally required to write no more than two of those throughout the term. They are most likely to write several minor research papers before being assigned a term paper in Law. It means a person is more or less familiar with the legal research process by the time he/she is to write a term paper. However, it is still a time-consuming and challenging process that should be approached step-by-step. So follow this law term paper writing guide!
Since professors want a term paper to represent how well students manges to master the course/the part of the course, they usually give the students a list of topics to choose from. These topics are related to the course materials. In such cases, choosing a topic is neither complicated nor particularly exciting. One should simply decide which of the course materials he/she has the most to write about.
However, sometimes, professors would like to see whether students are able of choosing an appropriate topic by themselves. While some believe that they are given the green light, in reality, it is an additional way for a professor to check students’ knowledge. Choice of the topic shows understanding of the course and legal system in general. There are several rules to be followed when choosing an appropriate topic for a law term paper.
If the topic is overly specific or explores a newly arisen problem, the research process can get excruciating. At the same time, although topics akin to marijuana legalization, gun control, and statutory rape are fascinating to write about, the amount of academic and non-academic literature on them is enormous. It will be difficult for a student to say something original. Be attentive with a topic choice!
Employment & Labor Law:
The types of legal research are countless and include, among others, such approaches as:
However, since writing a term paper is a part of the educational process, professors normally expect their students to stick to the so-called ‘educational research.’ It is the same as in any other course and implies gathering the information on the topic and analyzing it. Nevertheless, one should at least decide whether his/her term paper is a theoretical or a reform-oriented one. The former is supposed to investigate the chosen topic in detail without proposing any solutions. In contrast, reform-oriented research is aimed at evaluating the existing legislative rules/procedures and suggesting the alternatives that the writer finds more reasonable.
Once the topic is chosen, and the research objective is more or less established, the next stage of the writing process is to develop a hypothesis. A thesis statement (the last sentence of the introduction) expresses the author’s stance on the problem and gives readers the idea of what he/she is arguing in the paper. However, at this point, it is unlikely that one can formulate the final thesis. Instead, students should develop its draft version, a hypothesis, which can be reviewed and refined in the course of research.
A hypothesis, as well as the final thesis, is supposed to make the author’s position clear in a concise and well-articulated manner. Not every thesis statement has to be argumentative; however, it is always appreciated when students attempt to say something new in their papers, to refute a popular opinion on the subject and suggest their own. It shows the professor that they are invested in the topic.
Credible and meaningful sources is a significant component of a high-quality term paper. As important as formulating a unique thesis is, it does not ensure the paper’s success unless a student backs up all of his/her ideas with relative evidence from appropriate sources. When writing for a law course, one is going to use both legal and non-legal ones. The former includes two types of sources:
The sources representing a secondary authority are as essential as those from the first group. They help students to familiarize themselves with a certain area of law, learn the key terms, and find out about the cases related to the chosen topic. The most convenient way to search for such sources is through regular academic databases, such as Google Scholar, JSTOR, EBSCO, etc. They are easy to navigate and extensive enough to provide one with all the necessary background information. It is also helpful to use legal encyclopedias, for instance, Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS).
Finally, non-legal sources include everything that is not exactly law-related: the memoirs of the people involved in famous cases, prominent legal professionals’ (auto-) biographies, books that explain a specific country’s or community’s culture (these are needed for a paper on international law), and more. Even if a student does not include non-legal sources in the bibliography, they help one to establish the context and make the law term paper writing deeper.
Skipping this stage is not going affect the grade for the term paper. However, the writing process will become significantly more chaotic and, therefore, slower. Students should not neglect an outline for the paper not to appear puzzle-headed. Composing an outline does not take more than twenty minutes and helps you stay focused when writing a term paper.
The best approach to come up with a helpful outline is to list the main points that you are going to address. Organize them in a coherent way. Professors sometimes require students to submit the full-sentence outlines several weeks before the final paper to track the progress. In other cases, it is up to students how to organize their outlines. In fact, a simple point-by-point one is normally more than enough. One can merely map out the topic sentences and brief bullet points for each of the paragraphs.
Law term papers have a standard structure. Unless the professor’s guidelines suggest otherwise, it is as follows:
An abstract is optional and whether students should include it or not depends solely on the guidelines given by the professor/university. In case an abstract is required, one should use it to give a summary of the entire paper including the suggested solutions to the problem if applicable. An abstract should not be longer than 150-200 words. Most journal articles have one and can give students an idea of what it looks like.
An introduction takes about 10% of a paper’s word count and is supposed to prepare readers for what is to come. It should articulate and briefly explain the problem explored, identify its significance, and outline the key points of the paper. The last sentence of the introduction section is a thesis statement – the hypothesis revised upon the research.
Not all law term papers must have a methodology section. As well as in the case of abstract, it depends on the professor’s requirements. Normally, a mere educational paper does not contain the overview of methodology. If in doubt, one should either ask his/her professor or refer to the newest edition of Research Methods for Law by Mike McConville (Edinburgh University Press, 2017).
The main body is the section where a well-composed outline pays off. One should follow the list of the paper’s main points and unfold the idea paragraph-by-paragraph. Normally, a decent term paper includes at least the following: relevant background information about the chosen problem; the analysis of the sources and key issues within the chosen topic; a student’s contribution to the topic/proposed solution. Each of these components should take several paragraphs. One thing to remember is that one paragraph=one subtopic; merging several issues within a single paragraph makes the writing messy.
One way to understand what a proper conclusion looks like is to think of television series that start each episode with the phrase “Previously on Hannibal/Supernatural/Lost etc.” Similarly, a conclusion should remind the reader what the paper discussed point-by-point. Since a thesis is the paper’s key element, it must also be restated. As well as an introduction, a conclusion should be concise, about 10% of the paper’s total word count.
This section contains the list of all the sources cited in the paper referenced according to the required referencing style. More often than not, students are expected to use either Harvard or OSCOLA (Oxford Standard for Citing Legal Authorities) formats in law term papers. Still, it is better to double-check not to lose points for using the wrong referencing style. Referencing & citations guides are available online, for instance, here for Harvard, here for OSCOLA. Besides, websites like CitationMachine.net and CiteThisForme.com offer citation generators. They can be especially helpful for freshman students and those who would like to save their time by having the references auto-generated.
Once the paper is completed, it is advisable to check it for plagiarism. Even when a student writes responsibly and is not tempted to ‘borrow’ someone else’s ideas, it does not guarantee that there is no unintentional plagiarism in his/her paper. Sometimes, in the process of writing, some vaguely familiar phrase comes to mind. One may miss the fact that he/she has seen it before in a journal article or book. Most professors check students’ assignments on Turnitin or regular plagiarism checkers. Not to be accused of the violation of academic integrity, everyone should do the same prior to submitting the paper. BibMe and PlagScan are not as sensitive as Turnitin, but they are a good place to start.
Finally, the paper must be proofread at least twice: right upon it is completed and in an hour or so. If there is enough time until the deadline, putting the paper aside to proofread it one final time the following day is even better. It is easier to notice the logical fallacies and grammar mistakes that way. Also, there is nothing embarrassing about reading the paper out loud to oneself.
We are sure you move closer to success in writing a term paper in Law. Don’t step back!