Choose a general area that you are interested in (e.g., environmental law, technology and the law, health law and policy), and then spend some time skimming publications to learn about recent developments. Before a case or statute is discussed in law reviews, it is covered in newspapers, legal newsletters, blogs, and other current awareness sources. Coming across a short article about a recent case or proposed legislation may give you an idea for a topic.
The Gallagher guide on Staying Current describes online resources and techniques that UW School of Law faculty and students can use to stay up to date with recent research topics. Includes, for example, information on Legal Scholarship Network (LSN) and SmartCILP.
United States Law Week (Bloomberg Law) lists circuit splits in the first issue of each month. It will also discuss them in other stories. Search for circuit w/3 split! Add in a topic of interest: circuit w/3 split! and tax!
Each issue of Seton Hall Circuit Review includes a "Current Circuit Splits" column, summarizing recent cases.
You can also use caselaw databases on LexisNexis, Westlaw, or Bloomberg Law. Sample searches:
Your first topic idea might not be just right for you. As you conduct research and think more, you may find that you need to adjust it somehow. Maybe it's too big to handle in less than a book-length work. Maybe it's too narrow to justify a publication. Or maybe there's not enough out there to give you material to write about.
Here are some ideas to help you shape your topic (without abandoning it). You want it to be just right.
Ways to Broaden Your Topic
Ways to Narrow Your Topic
Ways to Differentiate Your Topic