1. Google. Use a natural language search to figure out terms of art, etc. You might get lucky and get a case or something that is directly on point.
2. Wikipedia. Again, use to get a lay of the land and terms of art. You can also get links to relevant cases or statutes.
3. Hein. Not great for boolean searching, but if you get an article on your topic, you can have most of the core cases handed to you.
4. Treatises. Before you dive into the details, skim a treatise on point. Bender has treatises on just about everything (Lexis). West has some good ones too. You can read the brief narratives, and then if any of that sounds relevant, look at the footnotes and read some of the cases.
5. Learn boolean searching and what databases to hit. Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance are great for some things, but don't expect to be able to use it in the real world. Lots firms, courts, PI orgs, etc. don't have access to it. Also, if you are looking for a really specific point, terms and connectors is almost always a better way to get to it. If you go back and forth between Lexis and Westlaw, it is usually easiest to use a lot of parentheses (they use slightly different syntax). Search really broadly at first to get the universe of possible cases and then narrow down your searches to look for your "ideal" hits.
For example, if you were looking for how the discovery of harm rule is applied for statute of limitations purposes in a medical malpractice case, I would construct a search something like this:
(statut! /3 limit!) /p ((discover! or found or realized or become or became or known) /s (harm! or injur!)) and malpractice
After I had that search, I'd focus for "discovery of harm" to see if any of the cases refer to the rule as such. If I don't have good hits off of that, I my broader search should have cases where the court describes the situation I am looking for and after looking at a few cases I can tweak my focus searches.
6. Shepardize/Keycite statutes. If you have a relevant statute or reg, shepardize it. If it is a really common one, focus the search with key words and pick the jurisdiction you want (and grab secondary sources to see if you can get a journal article).
7. Learn how to Shepardize/Keycite. Once you find a case that says something you need, you should be able to pull that research thread pretty far. Get all the citing references. If the point is one that has been tagged as a headnote, it is really easy -- restrict your search by the relevant headnote, pick your jurisdiction, date range, etc. and start picking up other cases that are stronger for your position. If the language isn't a headnote, then use the locate section (and terms and connectors) to find cases that pick up on that language.
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