Research the Law: Legal Research in Four Steps

An innovative way to teach legal research.

Research the Law is a digital workbook designed to teach students legal research more effectively than the outdated methods employed by traditional textbooks.  Nearly all legal research today is done online, so why give students a book of screenshots to flip through when they can learn how to research in an engaging and immersive online format?


We created this digital workbook so students can have a multi-sensory learning experience, allowing them to read, see, and do.  Traditional textbooks only allow students to read about how about others research.  Research the Law lets students (1) read about researching concepts, (2) see those concepts in action, and (3) practice doing legal research for themselves. 

Research the Law features 60 videos that let students see the research process in action while a professor explains the techniques, keeping them fully immersed. 

After seeing the research process in action, students then practice the skills they have just learned. After submitting the exercises, students receive immediate feedback, cementing these concepts in their minds.  

Students also have the option to download the text of Research the Law as a pdf, allowing them to highlight, take notes, and search within the workbook.  


You can choose which of the 52 modules your students complete.  But rather than leaving it to you to list out in your syllabus which modules students should and should not complete—which inevitably causes confusion amongst students—we can create a custom version of Research the Law just for you and your class. 

          We can also customize Research the Law to your desired jurisdiction.  This means that the jurisdiction-specific research examples, practice exercises, charts, treatises, and videos will feature your state’s law.  Currently, we have a Michigan, Florida, and Ohio version of Research the Law, and we are working on creating versions for other states.  If you are interested in using Research the Law and would like us to create a version for your state, please contact us to let us know!  We are happy to work with you to set a completion deadline that works for you.     


          Research the Law uses a modular method of instruction, allowing students to master one skill before moving on to the next.  This building-block approach provides ample opportunity for regular and spaced formative assessments—which the ABA greatly emphasizes during sabbatical reviews. 

          Nearly every module contains a quiz or a practice exercise, and there are cumulative quizzes at the end of each chapter.  There are 53 total assessments: 22 quizzes with 98 multiple-choice questions and 31 research exercises. 

Best of all, Research the Law automatically calculates the number of questions completed and the number of multiple-choice questions answered correctly, while leaving you the discretion to subtract points for insufficient fill-in-the-blank answers.

Click on our “Read” tab above to view the table of contents and see the modules!   


          Learning to be an efficient legal researcher is not something that a student can master in one term: only through repeated practice can a student hone their research skills to the level required by top-notch employers.  Recognizing this, Research the Law provides students with a four-year subscription intended to last them throughout their law-school careers and their first year of practice. 

At only $30, Research the Law is significantly cheaper to purchase than the current leading textbooks on legal research.  This is particularly true of the electronic versions of these books, which cost significantly more than their print versions yet lack the videos, practice exercises, and immediate feedback that makes Research the Law interactive and engaging. 

Watch a Demonstration Video

The Four-Step Approach

            Research the Law breaks the research process down into four steps to help students approach the daunting task of legal research in an organized and effective manner.  By following these four steps, students know that their final work product will be thorough and accurate, and they won’t have to experience the anxiety-inducing feeling that they overlooked important legal authority.   


In the first step of the research process, students learn the importance of formulating a plan before just diving in to the murky world of online legal research.  Without a solid plan in place, students run the risk of getting lost in the information fog—that feeling of being lost in so much infomoration that they don’t know which way is up, down, or sideways, let alone what issue they were supposed to be researching.  Learning how to build an effective research plan before beginning research is crucial to teaching students how to avoid the information fog.     

Secondary Authority

          The second step teaches students all about secondary authority.  Students learn the different types of secondary authority, how to find it, and what to do with it once they have it.  Since finding a good source of secondary authority is like finding a pot of gold, the information in this chapter is vital to helping students research efficiently.    

Codified Law

          Codified law is the third step in the research process.  Students start by learning exactly what is meant by the term “codified law.”  They then learn the different types of codified law, how to weigh codified law, and how to ensure that they have found all relevant codified law that applies to their issue.  This chapter segues into the next by showing students how to use annotations to find caselaw interpreting their statute.    


          The final step in Research the Law’s four-step research process is all about caselaw.  They begin by learning to identify the parts of an opinion found on an online-research site, what a reporter is, and the structure of various court systems.  Students then learn the difference between binding and persuasive caselaw, how to find both, and when to use persuasive caselaw.  Finally, Research the Law provides guidance on common researching problems, such as a plethora or a dearth of caselaw, and answering that age-old question that students are always burning to know: when am I done researching?

Origin Story

A consortium of law professors at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School contributed to the first version of Research the Law. The original version was based on a research series that Professor Joseph Kimble created in the 1980s that used cutting-edge technology—a Sony Walkman—to physically walk students through the research process while they were in the law library. We don’t use Walkmans anymore, instead opting for HD video, but his revolutionary teaching model is the soul of Research the Law

          In 2011, Professor Brad Charles transformed the original version of Research the Law into the digital-workbook format.  Since that time, approximately 4,000 research-and-writing students have used Research the Law with positive results.  In 2018, Professor Charles (along with the help of two former students) revamped Research the Law, centering it around the four-step approach and making it more modular in nature.     


About the Authors

Brad Charles

          Professor Charles teaches all things writing at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School: Research & Writing, Advanced Writing, and Scholarly Writing.

Before joining Cooley, Professor Charles dabbled in labor law and condominium law. Then he was honored to serve as a judicial attorney for the 21st Circuit Court in Isabella County, Michigan. Since then, he’s maintained a steady pro-bono and low-fee practice.

In 2014, Professor Charles taught American jurisprudence in five different law schools in Moldova. He also met with government and legal-community leaders to discuss improving Moldova’s legal system. He did this in conjunction with the American embassy in Moldova and the Leavitt Institute for International Development.

He has written several articles, facilitated writing seminars, and written a book on the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning techniques:

§ Bradley Charles & Thomas Myers, Evolving They, Scribes J. L. Writing (2019) (article supports the singular use of they except when it causes ambiguity)

§ Presented seminar, Writing Concise Judicial Opinions, Michigan Administrative Hearing System biannual conference (Fall 2017)

§ Deputy Editor, American Bar Association Section of International Law, 2014 International Law Year in Review

§ Co-authored with Heather Garretson & Bradley Charles, “Because I Said So” Is a Reason – But Not a Reasoning Technique, 20 The Law Teacher 20 (Fall 2013)

§ Planned, organized, and managed the 2013 National Conference of Law Reviews. Seventy law schools sent students to Cooley to learn the best practices of running a law review

§ Presented on teaching analysis to students in a multi-media age at the Legal Writing Institute’s 2012 Biennial Conference

§ Authored Applying Law (Carolina Academic Press 2011), a book on legal reasoning

§ Presented on U.S. Supreme Court reasoning at the Legal Writing Institute’s 2010 Biennial Conference

§ Co-authored Nelson P. Miller & Bradley J. Charles, Meeting the Carnegie Report’s Challenge to Make Legal Analysis Explicit—Subsidiary Skills to the IRAC Framework, 59 Journal of Legal Education 192 (2009)

Brian Charles

Brian is our resident Java and HTML programmer. He’s the brains behind Research the Law platform, and we’re forever grateful to him.

Andrea Muroto Bilabaye

Andrea is an appellate attorney and an adjunct professor of Drafting at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.  She also works for a bar prep company and is a grading assistant for numerous writing classes.  While in law school, Andrea tutored other students as a Graduate Assistant at the Academic Resource Center and worked as a Teaching Assistant for Research and Writing.  She also interned at the Advocates Guild of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society and worked as a law clerk in an appellate firm. 

Andrea graduated Magna Cum Laude from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.  She earned fifteen Certificates of Merit and won numerous other awards throughout law school, including the Ralph M. Freeman Scholarship, the WMU-Cooley Alumni Association Distinguished Student Award, the WMU-Cooley Leadership Award, and the President’s Achievement Award.  She also served on the WMU-Cooley Law Review and participated in two national competitions (Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, 2017; Stetson National Pretrial Competition, 2017).             

   Geofrey Muroto Bilabaye

Geofrey currently is a Research Attorney at the Michigan Court of Appeals.  Additionally, he previously clerked for the Honorable Douglas Shapiro, also of the Michigan Court of Appeals.  While in law school, Geofrey tutored other students as a Graduate Assistant at the Academic Resource Center.  He also worked as a Teaching Assistant for Scholarly Writing.

He graduated Cum Laude from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. During his time at Cooley Law School, Geofrey won numerous awards:

· The Alumni Association Distinguished Student Award

· The Black Law Student Association's Vivian Onuoha Unsung Hero Award

· The Leadership Achievement Award

· The Aristotle Award for a top Advocate in Intraschool Moot Court Competition

· The Eugene Krasicky Award for the Assistant Editor with the most significant contribution to the publication of the Cooley Law Review

· The Melissa Mitchell Scholarship for Excellence in Litigation

· The Gerald Boston Scholarship for Academic Excellence and Community Service

Geofrey also received Certificates of Merit in all three major writing classes at Cooley Law School: Research & Writing, Scholarly Writing, and Advocacy.  He served on two law reviews (WMU-Cooley Law Review, Solicitation Editor; Homeland and National Security Law Review, Associate Editor) and participated in three national competitions (Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, 2017 and 2018; Stetson National Pretrial Competition, 2017).  

Contact Us

Please email Professor Brad Charles at for temporary complimentary access to explore our product!