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Research Strategy & Documentation


When you begin your legal research it is important to take some time to review the facts involved and identify the pertinent issues. TRAPP is an acronym designed to help you analyze your facts. It asks that you look at the Things, Relief, Causes of Action and Defenses, People, and Places.


The things involved in a problem or controversy may be a significant element in your research.  For example, when a pedestrian is struck by a car, there are many things that become important when legally analyzing the situation. These things can be tangible or intangible.  We would want to take note of things such as the car, brakes, car maintenance records, the crosswalk, the position of the pedestrian in or outside of the crosswalk, the traffic lights, the road conditions, visibility, the driver's failure to yield, the etc. Things can be acts or omissions of acts. When thinking about things, think about the "whats" involved.


Relief refers to the desired outcomes for both parties.  In a civil suit, the party bringing the suit (the plaintiff) can seek monetary damages for an injury suffered, the plaintiff may request the court to order the other party in the suit (the defendant) to do or refrain from doing something or sometimes an injured party may only want an apology.  In a criminal suit, the government brings the action.  The relief sought in criminal cases can involve jail time, restitution, probation, mandatory action (e.g. counseling) on the part of the defendant or other relief the court and prosecution deem appropriate.  The defendant in a suit may also desire a certain outcome such as pleading to a lesser charge, probation, suspended sentence etc.

Causes of Action & Defenses

A cause of action is the claim asserted in the lawsuit.  The defenses asserted are the defendant’s responses indicating why he/she/it is not responsible for the action or why the plaintiff or some other party may be partially responsible for the action and resulting injury.  It is helpful to begin your analysis of the causes of action and defenses by determining whether the case is criminal, civil, or could involve the assertion of both civil and criminal actions. For example, if your client was accused of driving while intoxicated, there is a potential criminal charge and/or there could be a civil suspension of his or her license.  It useful to continue refining your assessment of the causes of action and defenses by framing the issues in terms of legal subject areas.  For example, does it involve a tort or a contract? As you continue through your legal education, and are exposed to different areas of law, identifying causes of action and defenses will become easier.


The persons or parties involved, their legal status, and their relationship to one another are important to your research.  These may be individuals, groups, corporations, or organizations.  Factors such as the motivations, mental capacity or the age of parties can be a relevant factor.  The relationship between parties can also be important, such as husband-wife, parent-child, or employer-employee.  Persons who were not actually present when the act occurred will also be relevant. Consider what their roles might be in a lawsuit and what sort of testimony or evidence they might present or possess.


The most important place that you would want to identify is your jurisdiction. This is the place where the action is to be tried and tells you what law would be applied. Consider the place of the action involved.  The parties may be from one state and the action occurs in another.  This factor can become an important issue in a law suit. 

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