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Finding a Paper Topic

This guide was created for use by LLM and JD students interested in writing a paper and who are looking for information on how to get started on such a project.


How to Use this Guide

This guide is designed for students who would like to write a long(er) research paper and are looking for ideas on how to get started and find a topic. This guide is not meant to include all subject areas of the law, but provides some good general starting points for a large number of topics.

If you want to know what's hot in the legal world today, check out some of the blogs.  Academic journals may take longer to be published, but you will want to check out such literature before embarking on writing your own paper to be sure that what you write adds something "new" to the field of law.

In addition, current awareness sources can provide you with ideas, as well as keep you up to date once you've picked your topic and are involved in the research and writing of your paper.

Also, keep in mind that many databases which are highlighted in this guide include options that allow you to set up alerts or what is known as "RSS feeds" which can alert you to new results that fit your search terms, as they are added to the database.

What are the blogs talking about?

Using Blogs for Paper Topics

Blogs can be very helpful to show you what is "hot" in a particular field, or what is going on in an area of law, on a more updated basis than other traditional forms of literature, such as books, or law review articles, both of which can take months to be published in their firnal form.

We've provided you with information on various types of "Readers" which allow you to efficiently keep up with your blog subscriptions. No more needing to remember to visit and revist the blog page every day to see if there is anything new!

Shown here are some very reputable blogs from various types of sources - some are academic, while others are more practitioner-oriented. Always review the currency of a blog and try to determine the reliability of its authors or accuracy of its contents, before relying on it.

Blog/Blawg Directories

Constitutional Law Prof Blog

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ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) blog

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Harvard Law School Corporate Governance Blog

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International Economic Law and Policy Blog

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Law Firm - Current Awareness Blog

International Law Prof Blog

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Setting up a "Reader" Account to Manage Your Blogs

To manage the blogs you read, and so that you don't have to worry about going back to the website over and over to see if there is new content, you will want to set up a "Reader" Account. Some popular ones are listed below:

What current awareness sources should I know about?

Using Specialized Publisher's Databases

New Books

Using Working Papers Repositories

Often times, authors will be working on an article and will want to solicit comments, or alert others to their works in progress. They will place their papers in what are called working paper repositories. Linked below are a few of the most commonly used repositories.

Google Alerts

What's being discussed in the academic journals?

  Legal Indexes for Journal Articles & Books (multiple jurisdictions)

Legal periodical indexes generally only allow you to search the title, citation, abstract, keywords (sometimes author-supplied), and subject terms given to a journal article, rather than the full text.  A benefit to using a legal periodical index is that it will include all issues and volumes of a given journal, without any gaps in coverage, back to a certain date. (For example, Legaltrac's contents go back to 1980.  Full-text databases can have gaps in coverage--sometimes many years' worth for an individual journal.

Full Text Article Databases

If you need to search through the full text databases linked below, on Westlaw or Lexis, try searching for your terms within the same sentence or paragraph by using these symbols:

/s  (used for connecting words to be found in the same sentence)

/p  (used for connecting words to be found in the same paragraph)

If you merely use "AND" to connect your terms, they may be located at the beginning and end of your result, and may have little or no relevance to what you are really looking for.


Publishers' Websites

Large publishers allow searching across their content.  This is a great way to find resources and publishers' content is usually added to their sites weeks before it's available elsewhere.   Below are a select few of the better known publishers.  

  Multidisciplinary Indexes for Journal Articles and Books (multiple jurisdictions)

Business and Economics Related Journal Articles

What's already been discussed in dissertations or theses?

HLS Dissertations and Theses

Before you embark on writing a long paper, it may be helpful to see what former SJDs or LLMs, or even 3L students have written for their paper requirements while at Harvard Law School.  Please be sure to review the guide on HLS Dissertations, Theses and Third Year Papers, which can be very helpful in this regard. Information from that guide regarding searching for such materials on Hollis is excerpted here.

Dissertations and Theses (Non-Harvard)

Finding a Faculty Advisor

Tips on Finding a Faculty Advisor

If you are an LLM who will be writing the long paper, you will need to find a faculty advisor.  To see what Harvard Law Faculty have written about in the past, and to learn about their areas of interest, there are a couple of options available to you.  In the Faculty Directory, there is profile for each faculty member and on each profile there are tabs to see their current publications and the courses they teach.  

Another approach is to survey the quarterly publication Scholarship@Law:  New Scholarly Works by the Harvard Law School Faculty.   Not only are new works listed by faculty member but forthcoming works are also included.   Archived issues are available and there is a RSS feed to keep current.  

Another way to survey a small group of Faculty is by the Programs of Study.   Using these seven groupings (Law & Government, Law & Business, International & Comparative Law, Law Science & Technology, Law & Social Change, Criminal Justice and finally Law & History), you can see lists of faculty who advise in these broad areas.   

A search in HOLLIS of recent HLS LLM papers on your topic is another approach.   From the list generated by your search you will see what previous LLMs have written on, an important step in your preemption check,  and each record will list the faculty supervisor.    In HOLLIS, search keyword Harvard Law School Thesis and add your topic.    If you need some assistance with this search, please drop by the Reference Desk.   


Browsing recent course catalogs at HLS, will also give you an idea of courses that have recently been offered and the faculty who taught them.  The most recent three catalogs are available.  



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