Legal Research Methods And Methodology


By Afolabi Ayodeji Promise



Research involves the gathering of information for a purpose, and it is the purpose that usually determines the type of research undertaken and how it is conducted. Legal research would in a similar vein involve the collection of legal materials for the purpose of discovering new facts or adding to the existing fact that would contribute to the body of knowledge in a legal field or subject. Legal research is defined by legal studies since it is the materials that are used in legal studies and the topics that are taught and learnt that determine legal research.[1]


Legal Research is generally the process of finding an answer to a legal question or checking for legal precedent that can be cited in a brief or at trial.[2] The ability to carry out research in an effective manner is an essential feature or skill required of either a law student or a legal practitioner.

Scenario/Case Study 1

When a lawyer is confronted with a legal problem, it may be difficult if not impossible for him to fully analyze the facts and determine all the applicable laws immediately. He has to undertake a careful study of the facts and law in order to decide the course of action to take and verify his conclusion. The outcome of the research will usually culminate into writing briefs, opinions, letters depending on the approach adopted by the lawyer in tackling the legal problem. They also further engage in writing numerous research and academic papers. “Lawyers do not know much more law than other people, but they know better where to find it” was attributed to King George III. Legal research is an important tool for individual lawyers, law firm, and legal researcher.

What is Legal Research Methodology?

The phrase legal research is made up of two words “legal” and “research”. The word “legal” is an adjective which connotes something connected with law, or lawyers or having its basis in the law. Adopting Williams – Elegbe and Ojomo, “research is usually a daunting tasking, and the style adopted may differ according to the educational system, the supervisor, or even the researcher, as, like many other tasks, developing a personal style is the most important factor to enjoying the process and achieving desired results”.

According to Rajasekar, legal research was coined thus; ‘research is a logical and systematic search for new and useful information on a particular topic. It is a means of finding solutions to scientific and social problems through objective and systematic analysis’

Legal research can therefore be defined as an inquiry into legal materials or resources for the purpose of discovering new and useful information that will contribute to the body of knowledge in the legal field or subject.

Conclusively relating to Scenario/Case Study 1

The prevailing social condition of a society is the determinant of any societal legal content which invariably means that a change in the prevailing social condition oftentimes will lead to a change in the legal content. Therefore, legal research is essential for the continuous development of the law towards the achievement of its objective. It is trite that law as a phenomena is dynamic in nature, hence the need to always keep up with it.

According to Benjamin n. Cardoso “The law, like the traveler, must be ready for the morrow, it must have a principle of growth.”  The travel here can be likened to the journey of legal research. The route here indicates the methods employed by the researcher in Legal Research and the Answers derived is based on the methodology arrived.

Types of Legal Research

1. Descriptive Legal Research

2. Quantitative Legal Research

3. Qualitative Legal Research

4. Analytical Legal Research

5. Applied Legal Research

6. Pure Legal Research

7. Conceptual Legal Research

8. Empirical Legal Research

Other methods of Legal Research

1. Doctrinal Legal Research

2. Non-Doctrinal Legal Research

3. Comparative Legal Research

Research Method and Methodology

Time and again, research method and methodology are always confused and mistakenly used as the same. Meanwhile, these two concept are separate and distinct entities.

Research methodology is the scientific study of how research is to be carried out; the procedures by which researchers go about their work of describing, explaining and predicting legal phenomena while on the other hand Research method is the technique, process or scheme by which research is conducted into a subject or topic. It is the summation of all the method used by a researcher in a research study that is referred to as research methods. They include theoretical procedures, statistical approaches, experimental studies and numerical schemes.

According to Gownder, Research methods is aimed at finding solutions to research problems and on the other hand research methodology aims at the employment of the correct procedures to find out solutions whereas Research methodology can be said to the pathfinder for research methods to be conducted properly.

Research method is the end product of any scientific or non-scientific research, thus, when we talk of research methodology we not only talk of the research methods but also consider the logic behind the method we use in the context of our research study and explain why we are using a particular method or technique and why we are not using others so that research results are capable of being evaluated either by the researcher himself or by others.

Discussing some common types of Research (Legal Research)

(a). Traditionally research methodology is broadly divided in two:

(I) Qualitative Legal Research

(II) Quantitative Legal Research.

Qualitative research simply implies the non-numerical research which is usually categorized as theoretical, while Quantitative research is one that has do with the collection and analysis of numerical data. Lawyers, judges and jurists usually rely on qualitative research methods that involve the utilization of study materials, which may be primary or secondary sources, and intellectual analysis of phenomena. Qualitative research may be doctrinal or non-doctrinal, while quantitative research is non-doctrinal. This does not mean that lawyers do not undertake quantitative research at all.

(b) Doctrinal legal research is the traditional genre of research in legal field. In the legal academia it is the theory-testing or knowledge building research. It deals with studying existing laws, related cases and authoritative materials analytically on some specific matter.

Doctrinal legal research attempts to preserve consistency in law on the basis of legal reasoning. A researcher conducting doctrinal research usually analysis the existing laws for the sake of stability and certainty in law, which could ultimately result in consistency in justice delivery. The main purpose of doctrinal legal research is to improve the substantial part of the law by means of which could result in achieving the broader goal of law. The ultimate goal of law is justice rather than mere legal procedures, texts and jargons. Thus doctrinal legal research is often employed in areas of enriching legal contents, coding and even interpretation of the legal statutes.

Steps to legal research

Legal research therefore consists of three vital processes:

1. Find the relevant sources; this can be achieved using the method chosen and also through the use of a library whether that of a law office, or government, an online library, or anywhere an authentic legal source can be found.

2. Finding the relevant materials; this can easily be achieved by having a good law librarian or research assistant with a good general knowledge of available sources on different legal subjects.

3. Application; this is the use of the correct and adequate use or application of the content from the relevant source or materials. Technical issues such as citation. Language and arrangement, among others, can greatly reduce the value of the researcher’s handwork.


1. Open to change in style of methods were proper

Abbott CJ held in Montriou v Jeffrey (1825)[3] that “no attorney is bound to know all the law. God forbid that it should be imagined that a judge is bound to know all the law…” however, the laws are available in different sources for reference, hence the earnest need to possess an apt skill to effectively search through all the sources to achieve the desired objective, as any opinion relating to law without a solid legal basis will only amount to a mere opinion which subsequently can’t be relied upon.


A Law firm, lawyer, and legal researcher should therefore always equip their legal armory by constantly updating it with law literatures, law reports and any other source of law.

The law librarian should endeavor to arrange books in such a way that it would be easy to access relevant material.

The librarian should familiarize himself with the library so as to ease the burden of legal research.

The lawyer and legal researcher should constantly and consistently seek to develop their research and analytical skill. In the same view, law firms should also always endeavor to employ research experts that are knowledgeable in the field of law.


[1] Dr. Sope Williams-Elegbe and Edefe Ojomo, Introduction to Legal Research, (2013) Available at 20to%20Legal%20Research%20.pdf and Accessed on September 30, 2022.

[2] FindLaw, ‘Legal Research’ (2020) Available at and Accessed on September 30, 2022

[3] Montriou v. Jeffreys, 172 Eng. Rep. 51 (1825)

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