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Northern Illinois University
College of Law
David C. Shapiro Memorial Law Library

Basic Legal Research

TRAPP: A Method for Analyzing a Fact Pattern for Legal Research Purposes

Before beginning your legal research it is important to review the facts of the case involved. The TRAPP acronym helps you to dissect the fact pattern and identify the pertinent issues.

T - Things involved
R - Relief sought
A - Causes of Action and Defenses
P - Persons or Parties involved
P - Places

When you develop a TRAPP analysis it is important to do more than simply list the elements within each category. You must also explain why each item is important. Identifying why something is important helps you begin developing your argument for the brief or memo being researched.

Things involved:

The "things" (property) involved in a problem or controversy may be a significant element in your research. For example, when a passenger in a skidding automobile is injured in an accident, the personal property (the automobile) becomes an essential factor in the dispute, as well as things such as the brakes, car maintenance records, and other things such as the weather or road conditions. Intangible things may also be involved, e.g., the time of day, or an action or omission such as failure to yield.

Relief sought:

The desired outcome of the suit.

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. Sometimes the plaintiff may seek a public apology.

In a criminal suit, the State brings the action. The relief sought can involve jail time, probation, or mandatory action (e.g., counseling) on the part of the defendant, or other relief the court and prosecution deem appropriate. The defendant in a criminal suit may also desire a certain outcome, such as pleading to a lesser charge, probation, or a suspended sentence.

Causes of Action and 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 (e.g., a corporation or other non-individual) is not responsible for the action, or why the plaintiff or some other party may be partially responsible for the action and resulting injury.

For example, a cause of action may be a breach of contract, negligence, fraud, or any of numerous other claims. Related defenses would be non-performance of a contract, or assumption of risk in a negligence action.

When identifying a cause of action, first determine whether the case is criminal, civil or possibly both. This will help you focus on a specific type of cause of action. For example, manslaughter is only criminal; battery can be both a criminal and civil [tort] action.

Persons or Parties Involved:

The legal status of the persons or parties involved and their relationship to one another are important to your research. Persons or parties may be individuals, groups, corporations, or any entity significant to the cause of action or the solution or outcome of the lawsuit.

  • Factors such as the mental capacity or minor status of a party can be relevant.
  • The relationship between parties can be important, such as between spouses or an employer-employee relationship.
  • Persons who were not present when the action occurred can still be relevant (e.g., medical personnel, police, emergency responders, insurance adjusters).

This involves both the place/location of the action involved and the jurisdiction where the action is to be tried. This factor can be important. For example, the parties may be from one state but the action occurred in another. In contract situations you may have multiple parties from multiple locations involved.

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