Part Two: Presenting your Research
(For Part One, see post from June 12)
In Part One of this post, I gave advice on how to clearly identify what your supervisor (whom we are calling “the partner”) wants you to do when you’re given a legal research assignment, and how to design and follow an effective research process. Now assume that you’ve finished your research and the partner has asked you to come to her office to report your results. Here in Part Two, I’ll advise you on how to verbally present your research findings and resulting advice in a meeting between you and the partner.
- Focus on the needs of your audience. Think of the partner as your internal client. That is, the partner has needs, and it’s your job to meet those needs. In a nutshell, the partner’s needs in this meeting are to get from you a clearly articulated answer to the question the partner asked, and an assessment of what to do next. Most likely, what the partner wants you to do in the meeting is to have an answer to the research question, articulate that answer clearly and directly and in terms of the law’s impact on your client’s specific fact situation, present the partner with the main legal sources from which you derived that answer, and advise the partner on what to do next. (This last step may mean telling the partner your opinion as to whether the client should file a claim in court, make a settlement offer, make a motion, obtain discovery, or some other action). The partner doesn’t want an abstract summary of the relevant law; she wants you to explain how the relevant law applies to your client, and she wants you to advise her on what to do.
- Prepare for the meeting. The partner is busy and is trying to balance multiple cases. Don’t waste her time. To make the meeting as efficient and productive as possible, prepare for the meeting beforehand and plan carefully what you want to get across. Figure out what your audience wants to know and focus your presentation on presenting that information. Remind yourself of what the partner asked you to find out and prepare a direct answer to that question. Anticipate the follow-up questions the partner would be likely to ask and prepare answers to those questions. If in your research you have identified arguments that your opponent will likely make, prepare to discuss those and to discuss how you can counter those arguments.
- Start with the answer, then fill in the support. Be ready to begin the meeting with a 5 to 10 minute speech that explains what you learned in your research process.
- Start by reminding the partner what client matter you are discussing and what question(s) she asked you to answer.
- Next, give the partner a short answer (a few sentences) to the research question(s). This should be similar to an executive summary, or to a Short Answer or Preliminary Statement in a memo or brief. What’s the bottom line? What are the rights and/or liabilities of your client?
- After giving the partner the short answer, go back and explain the supporting explanation in more detail. This is the stage at which you explain the relevant law. If there is a controlling statute and/or regulation, begin with that and explain what it says. Then briefly summarize the most relevant individual cases and explain how each one is analogous to or distinguishable from your client’s situation, and what the result is for your client under the case law as a whole.
- How to talk about your research findings:
- Don’t talk to the partner as if she knows more than you do about your research issue. On this issue, having done the research, you are the expert. So explain the law to the partner from your expert perspective. Do not just hand the partner a pile of cases and expect her to make sense of them. It is up to you to digest and synthesize the law and then explain your synthesis to the partner.
- If there is a controlling statute or regulation, give the partner a copy. If it is long, highlight the relevant language.
- Don’t present too much extraneous information. If you found 20 relevant cases, pick out the few (perhaps four or five) most relevant ones to discuss in the meeting, and then tell the partner that there are 15 more and offer to give them to the partner. (See Part One for tips about the form in which to deliver the case law).
- Be prepared to be questioned by the partner. Try to anticipate the questions the partner is likely to have and be prepared to answer them.
- Bring all the written material you will need to answer questions during the meeting.
- Bring (or deliver electronically before the meeting) copies of the most important authorities for the partner to keep. Mark the copies with highlighting and/or notes to point out how each authority relates to your issue.
- Don’t present the law more favorably than it actually is. Tell the partner what she needs to know, not what you think she wants to hear.
- On the other hand, do identify the strongest arguments your client could make under the controlling law. But offer a realistic assessment of how likely these arguments are to prevail.
- Ending the meeting. End your presentation by briefly reiterating your answers to the research questions and your advice about how this affects your client. Then ask the partner what next steps she would like you to take, if any. Thank her for her time.
- Keep a record. Be sure to keep records of both your research process and your research results. The partner may come back to you months from now wanting a reminder of what you found out, and you may not remember without referring to your records. You will thank yourself later for keeping excellent records. Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance are new platforms for Westlaw and Lexis that have very useful foldering functions – take advantage of these for storage of research on individual matters.