Legal research is far more difficult and anxious than academic research.

By that I don’t mean that the reading is more difficult, or the procedure is more arcane, or anything really relating to the nature of the research itself. Much of legal writing is just as simple (or, as the case may be, obnoxious) as academic writing. The difficulty lies in the fact that the stakes for getting something wrong in legal research are much higher, and thereby the anxiety produced in the researcher is more immediate and overwhelming.

When running through JSTOR for literary criticism or theory as a graduate student, all I had to worry about was finding enough authority to support my position. In a way, the Ivory Tower nature of academia helped, because there was nobody interested in Foucaultian readings of sexuality in Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy except me (well, maybe one other). I’m reminded of Little Miss Sunshine, featuring (among the rest of its terminally depressed cast) the #2 Proust scholar in the country, as the specialization often necessary for success in academia results in a relative lack of real accountability: there is usually a very, very small community who is remotely interested/knowledgeable about the specific issue you are studying.

Law, conversely, has a built-in stressor in the adversarial system, and the knowledge that your research is always for a specific purpose: the well-being and welfare of your client. Missing an esoteric but relevant article in academic research means little in the grand scheme of things; one can always write a response or a new article to take the previously unknown information into account. In law, missing that rare case can result in a defeat for your client. So there is always the feeling in the back of one’s head to remain unsatisfied, to look for more cases, more secondary sources, more, more, more. Legal research is driven as much by fear as by necessity.

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