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Research Assistant Resources

This research guide is a survival guide for NYU Law research assistants (RAs), providing resources for all stages of their RA work.


Congratulations on your position as a research assistant! This role is an important step in your legal career and should be taken as seriously as you would any other employment. We hope that this guide will ensure a successful tenure as an RA. 

Each reference librarian at NYU Law is teamed up with a faculty member to assist with their research. Should you run into questions or concerns with your research, feel free to reach out to the librarian assigned to your faculty member for specialized advice. Please check this list to determine which librarian you should contact. 

Getting your Assignment

Before beginning a research assignment for a professor, you should know the answers to the following questions to guide your research process: 

  • Are there any sources or databases in particular I should look at? Are there any sources I should avoid?
  • Has anybody worked on this issue before?
  • What do you expect me to find?
  • In what format do you want the answer? (A memorandum, email, oral briefing, bibliography?)
  • How much time do you expect this research will take?
  • What is the deadline?
  • Would you like me to check in periodically? If so, how often, and in what format?
  • Is there a sample document from a previous RA that I could see as an example?

The Research Process

The legal research process, while not always linear, often follows a basic structure that can help streamline your work. 

If you are given a list of sources to locate:

  • Use the resources provided through the law library to locate the sources. The library provides access to several ways to locate books and eBooks, journal articles, case law, statutes, regulations, and more.

If you are given a case, statute, or regulation and asked to research from there:

  • Locate the primary source using Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg.
  • Read and update the primary source. 
  • Use the citing references tools on the databases to find related information (other cases, statutes, and regulations, as well as secondary sources like law review articles, treatises, encyclopedias, and more). 

If you are given just an issue statement:

  • Start your research in a secondary source like an encyclopedia to get background information on the law and to find citations to relevant primary authority.

Research Planning

A research plan is your best tool for tackling a research assignment. Research plans help to organize your thoughts, streamline your research, avoid duplication of efforts and record your research process to review later with the professor, if necessary. 

A good research plan contains the following elements:

  • an issue statement and legally relevant facts
  • the relevant jurisdiction(s)
  • a list of search terms and relevant key words
  • a list of potential databases and sources to search
  • a research log to track where and when you have already searched 
  • an account of how time and resources will be allocated to meet the deadline and required outputs

See also slides 30-31 of the RA Training handout (under Attachments) for some samples.

If you have trouble generating a research plan, please reach out to a reference librarian or your faculty member's library liaison for assistance.

Terms & Connectors

You can use terms & connectors, or Boolean, searching to tell the database exactly what kinds of results you are looking for. The chart below describes some terms & connectors. You should always check for changes to this chart by using the lists on each database. They are usually under the Help button. 

Boolean connectors and wildcards
  Bloomberg Law Lexis Westlaw Examples
Both terms must be present (inclusive) AND





native AND american

trademark & infringement 

either term must be present (alternative) OR or



copyright patent [in Westlaw]

copyright OR patent 

combining terms; nested terms will be processed first ()  () () (trade secrets) AND (discovery OR acquisition)
terms in the same sentence









bankruptcy /s discharge 
terms in the same paragraph









constitution /p amendment 

proximity (number of words)










refugee /5 class
proximity and in the order specified








ruth pre/3 ginsberg 

ruth +3 ginsberg 

exact phrase


case sensitive exact phrase - ^"Phrase"



"chapter 11"
exclude term




and not

but not

not /#


but not

collateral NOT estoppel 

collateral % estoppel [in Westlaw]

Single character wildcard (variation) * * * gr*y [retrieves grey or gray] 
Multiple character wildcard (root expander) ! ! ! liab! [retrieves liable, liability, liabilities, etc.]
term frequency



atleast# atleast# atleast5(estoppel) 
Plurals Doesn't automatically search plurals. Use root expander or check "include word variations" box Automatically searches regular plurals 

Automatically searches plurals and possessives

Use # to turn off

book [retrieves book and books]


  • Always take notes when meeting with your professor.
  • Repeat the essentials of the assignment back to your professor to ensure you understand your task, including its scope, deadlines and expected outputs. 
  • If you have a question, seek help!
  • When reporting on results, prepare beforehand and try to anticipate questions the professor is likely to ask. 
  • Write professionally in all communications.
  • Clarify the expected modes of communication and maintain them with the professor.
  • Follow up promptly after meetings and reviews.
  • Develop a research strategy and track your work and time spent.
  • Alert your professor to any anticipated delays or outages as soon as possible.

Database Access

Information for NYU Law students and faculty on obtaining passwords for Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law is available here. Information on accessing databases that do not require a login (like HeinOnline, ProQuest, and more) is available here.