Topic Selection
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Sources for Topic Selection

The following resources and strategies can help you arrive at a topic. Please remember that it requires research to be able to determine whether your topic is viable in terms of scope and uniqueness as well as whether it will sustain your interest over the course of the year. Start keeping research notes from the beginning and allocate sufficient time for this stage of the process.

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General Sources
Publisher Specific Guides
Legal News and other Current Awareness Sources
Subject Specific Guides
Associations and Conferences
Circuit Splits

General Sources

Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers (3d ed. 2005).
Reserve KF250 .F35 2005
This book is especially useful in narrowing a subject to a manageable note topic as well as providing additional advice about other stages of the research and writing process.

Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review (3d. Ed. 2007)
Reserve KF 250 .V64 2007
In addition to advice on topic selection (see I. A. "The Initial Step: Choosing a Claim"), Volokh's broad coverage includes organization, budgeting time, research, writing, citing, ethics, and more. 

Heather Meeker, Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers, 1996 Utah L. Rev. 917.
Bound periodicals, HeinOnline, LexisNexis & Westlaw.
Meeker's article suggests ways to identify a good topic and then offers a preemption check process.

Guide to Writing a Student Law Review Note 
Professor Leora Harpaz shares the note-writing advice she honed over a decade as the faculty advisor to the Western New England Law Review. In Finding a Note Topic, she describes good note topics and offers strategies for finding one. Other memos discuss topic evaluation and note outlining, organization, and drafting.

Selecting and Researching a Note Topic on Race & Law 
University of Michigan Law librarian Beatrice Tice offers a five-step process to finding, developing and researching a note topic. Although the title indicates the guide is specific to race and law, much of its advice applies to any type of note. She also has written a very similar, earlier guide to writing a note on international law

Publisher-Specific Guides
Legal Newspapers and News Sites

This directory lists a varieity of legal newspapers, newsletters, blogs, and other sites that provide legal news. It also includes sources for finding articles in general newspapers, which often include pieces about interesting law-related developments.

Subject Directories, Practice Pages, and Subject-Specific Research Guides

Guides on specific areas of law may suggest starting points for formulating and researching a topic. Good starting points include
Associations and Conferences

Association Web sites can be a good way to learn more about a topic and see what is currently being discussed at conferences or on blogs or electronic discussion lists. Of course, you will want to be mindful of the organization's interests and agenda when using these sites. See Widener University Library's How to Recognize an Advocacy Web Page for more information.

Sources for locating associations include See also additional resources for locating law-related conferences.

Circuit Splits

An oft-recommended strategy for identifying potential note topics involves exploring areas where courts of appeals from different federal circuits have ruled dissimilarly on an issue of law. As noted by Prof. Eugene Volokh, although this approach can suggest a meaty topic, it also risks preemption, should the Supreme Court take action on the issue. Before pursuing a circuit split topic, Volokh recommends making sure “the Court has denied certiorari or no petition has been filed and the time to file has run out” for all relevant cases (p. 31). He further advises talking to professors who specialize in the relevant area of law and in the Supreme Court to see if they think it is likely the Court will review the issue.

Circuit splits can be identified via Westlaw or Lexis searches (e.g. "circuit /5 split"). The following resources for identifying circuit splits may also be useful.

Seton Hall Circuit Review 
This journal includes a section called “Current Circuit Splits,” that briefly summarizes recent circuit splits. The latest edition includes decisions issued between February 25, 2008 and October 8, 2008. The “collection is organized by civil and criminal matters, then by subject matter. Each summary briefly describes a current circuit split. It is intended to give only the briefest synopsis of the circuit split, not a comprehensive analysis. This compilation makes no claim to be exhaustive, but will hopefully serve the reader well as a reference starting point.”

Split Circuits blog 
University of Richmond School of Law’s Professor A. Benjamin Spencer maintains this “blog dedicated to tracking developments concerning splits among the federal circuit courts.”


American Constitution Society ResearchLink
This site "collects legal research topics submitted by practitioners for law students to explore in faculty-supervised writing projects for academic credit." A Clearinghouse for Legal Paper Topics
This site, founded by Prof. Eugene Volokh, asks professors, judges, and lawyers to submit topics on which they would like to see papers published. As of this writing, the database contained few suggestions, but it still might be worth a look. You just need one good one!

Prepared by Karen Wallace, Circulation/Reference Librarian
Last Revised: July 2009, SL
Please feel free to e-mail author with suggestions on improving this guide.


Last Modified: 7/29/2009 2:13:00 PM by Sara Lowe