Doing a preemption check–a search for articles that have made the same argument or used the same thesis as your paper–is a critical first step when writing any academic paper that calls for original work. SSRN has many papers that are accessible before they are published in a law review or law journal, making SSRN an important part of the preemption check process. Because they have not yet been published, these papers cannot be found on HeinOnline, Lexis, or Westlaw, but they are circulating in the academic community and may already be old news a year or more before publication!
An important trick you should know when searching SSRN is it searchers by default for your terms only in the title, abstract, and keywords* of the paper–NOT the full text. This feature can be really useful because it winnows out articles that only mention your terms in a footnote or other brief mention and makes it more likely you will find topically relevant papers. However, this can trip you up if a section or paragraph of the paper has an important discussion of your topic but those terms are not included in the title or abstract. If you want to search full text, click on the advanced search option and select the full text option.
SSRN is free and available for anyone to use, which can be useful for practitioners who do not have access to expensive databases to find scholarly work. You can post your completed paper to SSRN for free if you are ready to share your work with the world!
*Keywords are applied to the paper by whoever uploads the paper to SSRN, usually the author(s) or a librarian.