How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyers

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1 How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide Non-Lawyers guide is intended help a personwith witha alegal legalproblem problemfind findlegal legalrules rules th th can can resolve resolve ThisThis guide is intended to to help a person ororprevent conflict. It is most useful to work through steps prevent conflict. It is most useful to work through steps sources sources in in order order given. For a web version this guide, see

2 GETTING STARTED GETTING STARTED Ste question clearly th you need to answer. Ste question clearly th you need to answer. Determine jurisdiction, meaning particular subject locality. You must first determine which Determine court or government jurisdiction, agency meaning can resolve particular conflict subject bee beginning locality. legal You must research. first determine which court or government agency can resolve conflict bee beginning legal research. Underst citions abbreviions. Most law books are cited in order volume number, book, Underst page. For citions example, 410 abbreviions. U.S. 113 would Most signify law volume books are 410 cited United in Stes order Reports, volume page number, 113. book, Stutes page. are cited For by example, stute 410 title U.S. 113 section would number, signify volume such as U.S.C. United 1983 Stes title Reports, 42 United page 113. Stes Stutes Code, are cited section by stute Many title section abbreviions number, you such will as 42 encounter U.S.C. are 1983 explained title 42 in United text Stes this Code, pamphlet. section Most abbreviions you will encounter are explained in text this pamphlet. WHERE TO GO WHERE TO GO Public libraries will have least some codes, texts, self-help merials mentioned here, as well as facilities internet access. Public libraries will have least some codes, texts, self-help merials mentioned here, as well as facilities Most county, internet court, access. or law school libraries are open to public contain all resources talked about here. Internet access public will vary across libraries this type. Most county, court, or law school libraries are open to public contain all resources talked about here. Depository Internet libraries access federal public merials will vary are across loced libraries most this law type. libraries, larger public libraries universities, are required to be available to public. Increasingly, federal government has made many its depository or publicions available on Web through GPO s Federal Digital Depository libraries federal merials are loced most law libraries, larger public libraries, System (FDsys) These or law libraries will have various guides to help universities loce government are inmion required to be on available Web. to public. Increasingly, federal government has made many its depository or publicions available on web These or law The libraries Internet will is not have a comprehensive various guides to source help loce legal government merial. inmion Some good on starting web. points legal inmion on Web: The Legal Inmion Institute, FindLaw, The com; internet WashLaw: is not Legal a comprehensive Research on source Web, legal merial. Some The good starting Bar points Associion s legal inmion Public on Resources web page, include: Public Library Law, Google Scholar, scholar. google.com; The Legal Inmion Law Library Institute, Congress s Guide to Law Online, HG.org, FindLaw, Lexis Web lexisweb.com fers free Google-style searching legal merial. WashLaw: Legal Research on Web, The Bar Associion s Public Resources page, HierosGamos, Public Library Law, LexisOne, 1

3 WHAT TO LOOK AT WHAT TO LOOK AT Self-help books or kits containing instructions ms are available in many bookstores public Self-help libraries books even or from kits containing some court instructions clerks legal ms aid fices are available to help in non-lawyers many bookstores with routine public mters. libraries The books or even kits may from cover some court divorce, clerks bankruptcy, legal traffic aid fices tickets, to wills, help non-lawyers contracts with leases, routine llord-tenant mters. The agreements, books or kits small may business cover divorce, mters, bankruptcy, many traffic or tickets, legal subjects. wills, contracts Usually written leases, by llord-tenant lawyers, such agreements, books may save small business pron mters, hours research. many Some or legal self-help subjects. inmion Usually is written available by lawyers, on Web such sites books such as may save you hours research. Some self-help inmion is available on websites such as Nolo Press Practice aids m books are intended lawyers, but can be useful anyone. Some examples practice aids are Causes Action, Jurisprudence Trials, Jurisprudence Pro Practice aids m books are intended lawyers, but can be useful anyone. Some examples Facts, which give guidance in wh evidence a court must be given how to proceed. Form books aid practice aids are Causes Action, Jurisprudence Trials, Jurisprudence Pro Facts, in drafting legal documents or documents th need to be filed in court. Ste m books are available which most stes. give guidance General in m wh books evidence include a court must be Jurisprudence given how Legal to proceed. Forms, Form books Jurisprudence aid in drafting legal Pleading documents Practice or documents Forms, West s th need Legal to be Forms, filed in court. West s Ste Federal m books Forms. are While available some ms most are stes. General available m free books on include Web, such as those Jurisprudence ms.findlaw.com, Legal Forms, many sites Jurisprudence will ultimely Pleading charge a fee. We Practice recommend Forms, th West s you try Legal your Forms, nearest law West s library Federal first. Forms. Also, ms While some particular ms are court available procedures free on may be available web, such from as those court s clerk s fice. See, (see e.g., Forms links link), your many ste sites or will jurisdiction ultimely charge a fee. It is recommended th you try your local court nearest law library first. See, e.g. links your ste or jurisdiction Legal encyclopedias are a good starting point to get an overview a topic. There are two general legal encyclopedias: Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.) Jurisprudence 2d (Am. Jur. 2d). Many stes Legal also have encyclopedias encyclopedias are a good ste starting law. Begin point with to get an index overview look a topic. different There are synonyms two general your legal term. The text will contain many footnotes leading to furr sources. encyclopedias: Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.) Jurisprudence 2d (Am. Jur. 2d). Many stes also have encyclopedias ste law. Begin with index look different synonyms your term. The text will Texts treises can also yield useful general inmion. They contain law on a specific subject, contain sometimes many a footnotes specific jurisdiction, leading to furr may sources. include ms. The briefest are those in West Publishing Co. s Nutshell Series. West s Hornbooks or comparable publicions provide more depth. Multi-volume Texts encyclopedic treises treises can present also yield comprehensive useful general inmion. They many contain subjects. law on a specific subject, sometimes a specific jurisdiction, may include ms. The briefest are those in West Publishing Co. s Nutshell Articles Series. printed West s in journals Hornbooks law or reviews comparable published publicions commercially provide more by depth. law schools Multi-volume or bar associions encyclopedic treises may also present be useful. comprehensive Look your inmion subject printed many or subjects. computer indexes such as Index to Legal Periodicals or Legal Resource Index (Legal Trac). Many articles may be found online free sites such as Google Articles Scholar, printed Jurist s in Law journals Reviews or law page reviews jurist.law.pitt.edu/lawreviews/ published commercially or by law schools University or bar Law associions Review Project may also be useful. Look your The subject des in full-text printed coverage or computer indexes level such searchability as Index to will Legal vary. Periodicals Author searches or Legal using search engines like google.com can sometimes lead to free copies a legal expert s articles. Resource Index (Legal Trac). Some articles may be found online free sites such as Jurist s Law Reviews page University Law Review Project The Codes contain legal rules known as stutes, regulions or ordinances which are mory, meaning th des courts must full-text follow coverage m. Codes level are accessed searchability through will an vary. index Author th searches refers you using to a search numbered engines section. like Google They can are upded sometimes by lead supplements to free copies or pocket a legal parts expert s or are articles. in looseleaf m. Codes Most public contain libraries legal rules known all law as libraries stutes, will regulions, contain a copy or ordinances, local which ste are code, mory, which holds meaning laws th courts made by must a ste s follow legislure. m. Codes They are accessed may also through have city an index or county th ordinance refers you to codes a numbered codes section. ste They are upded administrive by supplements agency regulions. or pocket parts Most or ste are in looseleaf some m. local law can be found on Web by going to a ste s ficial site looking links to law local government (or cities counties). Sites such as Most public libraries will all also law lead libraries to stes will contain government a copy sites. local ste code, which holds laws made by a ste s legislure. They may also have city or county ordinance codes codes ste administrive agency regulions. Most ste some local law can be found on web by going to a ste s ficial site looking 2

4 One links to law following local federal government code versions (or cities will be counties). used if Try jurisdiction using URL is federal: The United where Stes xx Code is (U.S.C.), United Stes Code Annoted (U.S.C.A.) or United Stes Code Service (U.S.C.S.). The U.S.C. is ste s postal abbreviion. Sites such as will also lead to stes government sites. available uscode.house.gov, FDsys, For pending new federal laws, you ll probably need to check Congress.gov, government website legislive inmion. Regulions One federal agencies following are federal contained code versions in Code will be used Federal if Regulions jurisdiction (C.F.R.), is federal: available United Stes Code (U.S.C.), United Stes Code Annoted (U.S.C.A.), or United Stes Code Service (U.S.C.S.). The U.S.C. is available on web although or sites containing U.S.C., e.g. Court may provide rules ste easier ways procedure to loce by a particular which a dispute stute. must For pending make its way new to court federal laws, how you ll resolution probably need dispute to check is Thomas, to be conducted. government Court website rules address legislive such topics inmion, as time limitions mal requirements Regulions pleadings federal agencies or are contained court documents in Code or processes. Federal Although Regulions procedural (C.F.R.) law can also be found stutory administrive codes, court rules are generally more detailed can vary from court to court. You may wish Court to rules ask a ste law librarian procedure help by which locing a dispute court rules must if make your its court way does to court not post how m on resolution its Web site. dispute is to be conducted. Court rules address such topics as time limitions mal requirements Reports or reporters contain opinions (sometimes called decisions or cases) written by courts to explain pleadings or court documents or processes. Although procedural law can also be found in stutory how why certain legal rules were used to resolve dispute in a particular lawsuit. These rules administrive codes, court rules are generally more detailed can vary from court to court. You may wish to constitute common law are followed by courts deciding ler cases with similar facts issues so th ask a consistency law librarian may be help maintained. locing court Decisions rules if your a higher court does court not will post be m mory on its website. - th is, those decisions must be followed if coming from a higher court in same jurisdiction or from U. S. Supreme Court. If a decision Reports or is not reporters mory, contain a court opinions may (sometimes still find it called persuasive decisions follow or cases) it. written by courts to explain how why certain legal rules were used to resolve dispute in a particular lawsuit. These rules With constitute few exceptions, common reported law decisions are followed are from by courts deciding appeals ler rar cases than with trial similar courts. facts (The most common issues so exception th consistency decisions may be from maintained. federal district Decisions courts a reported higher court in will Federal be mory th Supplement, abbrevied is, F. those Supp.) decisions Opinions must are be not followed written if coming every from case. a Furr, higher court not every in decision same jurisdiction selected or by from court publicion. U.S. Supreme These Court. unpublished If a decision is decisions, not mory, such a as court those may found still in find it Federal persuasive Appendix follow (F. Appx.), it. can help one to underst law. However, it is important to consult a court s rules on cition unpublished opinions bee using m to support an argument in a legal proceeding. With few exceptions, se cases are from courts appeals rar than trial courts. (The most common exception is decisions from federal district courts reported in Federal Supplement, abbrevied F. Supp.) Cases decided in U.S. Supreme Court are reported in United Stes Reports (U.S.) reprinted in Supreme Opinions are Court not Reporter written (S.Ct.) every case. United Furr, Stes not Supreme every decision Court is Reports, selected Lawyers by court Edition, publicion. first second series These unpublished (L.Ed., L.Ed.2d). decisions, Newer U.S. such Supreme as those Court found cases in are Federal available Appendix on (F. Web Appx.), can help one to underst law. However, (see Opinions it is important link). to Many consult cases a court s can rules also be on found cition The unpublished Oyez Project: opinions oyez.org/cases. bee using m This to support site is a an complete argument in authoritive a legal proceeding. source all audio recorded in Court since installion a recording system in October Cases from intermedie U.S. Courts Appeals, also called Cases U.S. decided Circuit in Courts, U.S. Supreme are printed Court in are reported Federal Reporter, in United first, Stes second, Reports third (U.S.) series reprinted (F., F.2d in F.3d). The Supreme Federal Court Supplement, Reporter (S.Ct.) first United second Stes series Supreme (F.Supp., Court F. Supp.2d) Reports, contain Lawyers cases Edition, from first U.S. second District Courts. series (L.Ed. Newer circuit L.Ed.2d). court Newer district U.S. Supreme court cases Court cases can be are found available on web or cornell.edu/federal/opinions, (see Opinions link). Cases from though availability intermedie U.S. cases Courts will vary Appeals, from court also to called court. U.S. Circuit Courts, are printed in Federal Reporter, first, second, or third series (F., F.2d, F.3d). The Federal Supplement, first Ste appelle court opinions are printed in ste reports in many stes. They are also reprinted in second series (F.Supp. F. Supp.2d), contain cases from U.S. District Courts. Newer circuit court West s regional reporters, which each contain several stes, including Atlantic (A., A.2d, A.3d), North district Eastern court cases (N.E. can be N.E.2d), found North Western (N.W. N.W.2d), or Pacific (P., P.2d P.3d), South Eastern (S.E., though availability S.E.2d), South cases Western will vary (S.W., from S.W.2d court to court. S.W.3d), Sourn (So., So.2d, So.3d) Reporters. Because Calinia New York genere a large amount case law, se stes have ir own West reporters: Ste appelle Calinia court opinions Reporter are (Cal. printed Rptr., in ste Cal. Rptr.2d reports in many Cal. Rptr.3d) stes. They are also New reprinted York Supplement in West s (N.Y.S. regional reporters, N.Y.S.2d). which Many each stes contain no longer several print stes, ir including own reports, Atlantic so ir (A. newer A.2d), decisions North are Eastern found only (N.E. in West s N.E.2d), reporters. North Western If a decision (N.W. is printed N.W.2d), in more Pacific than (P., one P.2d, publicion, P.3d), South you may Eastern find (S.E. more than S.E.2d), one cition South Western to it. These (S.W., are S.W.2d, called parallel S.W.3d), citions. Sourn For availability (So. So.2d) ste Reporters. court opinions Because on Calinia Web, go to New individual York genere ste a large government s amount Web case site law, or se one stes general have ir sites own listed West reporters: beginning Calinia this guide, Reporter such as (Cal. Rptr., Cal. Rptr.2d, Cal. Rptr.3d) New York Supplement (N.Y.S. N.Y.S.2d). Many stes 3

5 Finding no longer opinions print ir in reports own reports, may so be ir done newer in various decisions ways. are Reports found only are in not West s arranged reporters. by subject, If a decision sets are not indexed. Often you can find a reference from text or footnotes texts, encyclopedias, or or cases. is printed in more than one publicion, you may find more than one cition to it. These are called parallel Annoted codes will list cases which have cited a stute following text stute. citions. For availability ste court opinions on web, go to individual ste government s website Lawyers or one general those in sites law schools listed can beginning find cases using this guide, subscription such as computer dabases, but se subscription dabases are expensive may not be available to public. However, as libraries replace print Finding reporter opinions may digest be sets done (see in various below) ways. with Reports some m are not electronic arranged access by subject, to cases, such sets access are not is ten extended indexed. Often to all you library can users. find a reference from text or footnotes texts, encyclopedias, or or cases. Annoted codes will list cases th have cited a stute following text stute. Free court opinions are available on Google Scholar. Additionally, free trials /or low cost subscriptions are available Lawyers from those VersusLaw in law schools can find cases using subscription from Loislaw computer dabases, but Loislaw se also allows users subscription to subscribe dabases just are a expensive few days, estore.loislaw.com. may not be available to public. However, as libraries replace print reporter digest sets (see below) with some m electronic access to cases, such access is ten Some Web sites mentioned in "The Internet," above, will lead you to free sites th allow limited extended to all library users. keyword searching, but this will vary from court to court. Digests Using a credit are card, traditional you may means search Westlaw finding cases. West Publishing Co. publishes or LexisNexis digests federal jurisdictions, most stes several regions th about correspond $10 per document. to regional Free trials reporters. low For cost example, re subscriptions is a Federal are Practice available Digest from VersusLaw (Fed. Prac. Dig.), a Calinia Digest (Cal. from Dig.) Loislaw a Pacific Digest (Pac. Dig.). The Decennial Digest (Dec. Dig.) covers all jurisdictions in 10-year increments. The most commonly used Some digest system websites is mentioned West s in The internet Digest System, on page which 1, will divides lead you to law free into sites about th 400 allow topics. limited Each topic keyword is subdivided searching. into principles or points law which are each assigned a "key" number. Pigeonholed under each key number are brief paragraphs abstracted from cases, which summarize points each case, Digests are citions traditional to where means each case finding can be cases. found. West It Publishing possible Co. to go publishes directly digests to topic federal in digest scan jurisdictions, through most key stes, numbers, several but it is usually regions less th confusing correspond to start to in regional Descriptive reporters. Word For Index example, to digest. This index uses common words to lead to right topic key number. The digest also contains a re is a Federal Practice Digest (Fed. Prac. Dig.), a Calinia Digest (Cal. Dig.) a Pacific Digest (Pac. case table, which can be used to look up a cition if only name a case is known. Dig.). The Decennial Digest (Dec. Dig.) covers all jurisdictions in 10-year increments. The most commonly used digest Law system Reports is West s (A.L.R.) functions Digest both System, as a digest which divides leading cases law into on more a particular than 400 topic topics. Each as an index topic to is subdivided "annotions," into which principles review or points a legal topic law, in which depth are each analyze assigned court a key cases number. from all Pigeonholed jurisdictions on under subject. each key number are brief paragraphs abstracted from cases, which summarize points each case, citions to where each case can be found. It is possible to go directly to topic in digest scan Reports through key digests numbers, certain but it is courts usually or less topics confusing are also to start beneficial. in These Descriptive cover Word legal Index areas to such digest. as bankruptcy, This index uses military common justice, words educion, to lead to labor, right tax. topic Administrive key number. agencies, The digest which also ten contains act as a case tribunals table, in which ir can areas be used jurisdiction, to look up also a cition publish if only reports name ir opinions, a case is ten known. with digests, on ir own websites. Looseleaf Law services Reports are (A.L.R.) useful tools functions th both pull toger as a digest text, stutes, leading cases regulions, a particular opinions topic courts as an administrive agencies on specific important topics th need constant upding. Examples include index to annotions, which review a legal topic in depth analyze court cases from all jurisdictions on Stard Federal Tax Reporter, Federal Tax Coordinor, Employment Coordinor, Bankruptcy Law Reporter, subject. Consumer Credit Guide, Family Law Reporter, Criminal Law Reporter, many ors. Some law libraries will have se in electronic m. Reports digests certain courts or topics are also beneficial. These cover legal areas such as bankruptcy, military justice, educion, labor, tax. Administrive agencies, which ten act as tribunals in ir areas jurisdiction, also publish reports ir opinions, ten with digests. Looseleaf services are useful tools th pull toger text, stutes, regulions, opinions courts administrive agencies on specific important topics th need constant upding. Examples include Stard Federal Tax Reporter, Federal Tax Coordinor, Employment Coordinor, Bankruptcy Law Reporter, Consumer Credit Guide, Family Law Reporter, Criminal Law Reporter, many ors. 4

6 BEFORE YOU STOP BEFORE YOU STOP Check supplements. These sometimes appear as pocket parts inserted into back covers volumes to provide Check supplements. updes new These merial. sometimes appear as pocket parts inserted into back covers volumes to provide updes new merial. Check Citors. Shepard s is most common. These must be used to ascertain wher validity a case Check or citors. stute has Shepard s been affected is most in some common. way, These such as must being used reversed, to ascertain overruled wher or ruled unconstitutional validity a ( case stutes). or They has are been also affected used in to some determine way, such if one as case being has reversed, been cited overruled, by anor. or ruled Instructions unconstitutional use, illustrions, ( stutes). They abbreviion are also used tables to determine are contained if one in case has preface been to cited each by volume. anor. For Instructions most current use, citor illustrions, inmion, abbreviion you must use tables an online are contained citor, such in as preface Shepard s to each on volume. LexisNexis For or most Westlaw s current KeyCite. Access to se citors will depend on wher your library makes Lexis or Wesltaw available to citor inmion, you must use an online citor, such as Shepard s on LexisNexis (see public. Similarly, a short-term subscription to Loislaw estore.loislaw.com will include access to its citor, menu selection credit card use) or Westlaw s KeyCite Each costs about GlobalCite. $6 per cite. Some m citor is usually included as a feure within computerized case law dabases. WHEN TO STOP WHEN TO STOP You ll keep reading same legal rule. You may notice th once you have thoroughly covered all sources listed above, same legal rule, wher set out in stute, regulion, or court opinion, will appear You keep reading same legal rule. You may notice th once you have thoroughly covered all sources in several places. You can usually take this as confirmion th your research has been complete enough to listed above, same legal rule wher set out in stute, regulion, or court opinion will appear in give a reliable answer to your legal question. several places. You can usually take this as confirmion th your research has been complete enough to give a reliable answer to your legal question. MORE INFORMATION MORE INFORMATION An torney may still be required to help find underst legal inmion. Word mouth, Yellow Pages, or ste local bar associions can help you find one. Attorney directories are available online lawyers.findlaw.com. An torney may still be required to help find underst legal inmion. Word mouth, Yellow A Pages, law librarian or ste can local help but bar associions cannot give legal can help advice. you Check find one. with Attorney local courts, directories bar associions are available or online law schools. Call your local public library a listing area libraries. Manuals A law librarian th give can more help but detail cannot on give how legal to research. advice. Call Several your are local available, public library including: a listing area law libraries. Finding Law (2005) Manuals th Fundamentals give more detail Legal on how Research to research. (2009) Several are available, including: Finding Legal Research: Law (2005) How to Find & Underst Law (2012) Fundamentals Legal Research in Legal a Nutshell Research (2013) (2009) Legal Research: How to Find & Underst Law (2009) Legal Research in a Nutshell (2007) 5

7 This This guide was prepared by by Lee Lee Warn Warn Angus Angus Nesbit Nesbit Legal Legal Inmion Inmion Services Services to to Public Public (LISP), a (LISP), a Special Interest Section Associion Law Libraries (AALL). Revisions by Leslie special interest section Associion Law Libraries (AALL). Greenwood Brian Huffman LISP. LISP LISP provides provides support support programs programs workshops workshops on on legal legal research research non-law non-law librarian; librarian; consults consults with with public public libraries on on collection development maintenance maintenance ir ir legal legal collections; collections; surveys surveys publishes inmion about collections legal merials available in in public public libraries libraries th th might might assist assist public public in locing locing inmion inmion it seeks. it seeks. In addition, In addition, LISP LISP encourages encourages supports supports AALL chapters AALL chapters in in providing pro bono assistance in a variety contexts. For more inmion on LISP its activities, visit see W. Adams St. / Suite 3300 / Chicago, IL / Fax: / / 6

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