Basic Legal Research


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Provides an explanation of basic legal research techniques in the United States. Target audience is students in Germany learning about American law.

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Basic Legal Research

  1. 1. Legal Research Basic Library and Westlaw Legal Research
  2. 2. Research in Stages  First must define the legal issue(s) Look at facts obtained from client and witness interviews, discovery, etc. Law School = Issue Spotting  Determine whether claim(s) are statutory, common law or both. If statutory, find pertinent statute. then see if there are cases interpreting it! If common law, find caselaw.
  3. 3. Finding Statutes  Searches Index in bound volume Table of Contents in bound volume or state website search engine state website, legal databases Secondary Sources Legal encyclopedias, treatises, law review articles, etc.
  4. 4. Finding Statutes All Statutes Are Not Created Equal: General Statutes v. Annotated Statutes
  5. 5. General Statute
  6. 6. Annotated Statute West's Key Number System leads you to cases Legal Encyclopedia Index of cases interpreting the statute Case Summaries Case Citation
  7. 7. Understanding Cases
  8. 8. Quick Info Access in a Case Browse the Headnote Summary Notice the Key Numbers Using Headnote Numbers
  9. 9. Case Finding Methods  Digests  American Law Reports (ALR), Encyclopedias and Secondary Resources Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.) American Jurisprudence (Am. Jur. 2d)  Electronic Database Search Westlaw Lexis/Nexis
  10. 10. What is a Digest?  Acts as an index to the National Reporter system (West Publishing) find cases by legal issue or subject  A tool that collects and organizes cases by subject (“topic”) and narrow sub-headings (“key numbers”) over 400 “topics” (e.g., contracts, negligence and criminal law)  Gives brief summaries of cases headnotes from cases
  11. 11. Using Digest  Select “correct” jurisdiction.  Locate subject and key number  Read Case Summaries
  12. 12. Reading the Digest Key Number Subject/Topic Heading Case Summary as it relates to topic Case Citation
  13. 13. Finding Topic & Key Number  Annotated Statute  Digest Descriptive Word Index  Digest Table of Contents  One Good Case
  14. 14. Descriptive Word Index General Word Specific Words Start with general words. Use Descriptive Word Index to narrow down the topic. Use Key Numbers within the topic to further narrow the topic.
  15. 15. Digest Table of Contents Main Topic Sub-Topic Key Numbers
  16. 16. One Good Case  You have a case that is on point  Find the Topic and Key Number of the relevant issue (looking in headnotes)  Go to that Digest volume and search for cases in your jurisdiction
  17. 17. One Good Case Topic and Key Number!
  18. 18. American Law Reports  Full-text of important cases from variety of jurisdictions AND “Articles” or “annotations” providing in-depth analysis and overview of legal topic case citations and summaries references to other secondary sources  Using general search and index, can narrow down topic similar to digest index search. Index will direct you to specific volume of A.L.R.
  19. 19. Westlaw Welcome Page Database Directory Find Case Immediately If You Know the Citations
  20. 20. Looking for the Citation Sometimes the summary will contain the citation for which you are looking. Put this citation into the Westlaw citation search box and hit GO.
  21. 21. Directories Click here to search law review directory Sample Search through Law Review Articles
  22. 22. Sub-Directory Database abbreviations to conduct a search through all law reviews or journal articles to find sub-directory of specific law reviews
  23. 23. Search Box name of current database To change database limit search by publication date Limit search by author, citation, title, etc. (adds search command to above search)
  24. 24. Natural Language Search consider broading your search using the thesaurus No connectors! Just Plain Words! NOTE – this method will likely result in a broader, less efficient search
  25. 25. Search Result Document List Info related to current document
  26. 26. Term Finder Highlighted Search Terms Term Finder Arrow
  27. 27. U.S. Cases Directory Link to Cases Sub-Directory
  28. 28. Cases Sub-Directories Search all federal cases Search only Supreme Court Cases Search only Court of Appeals Cases Search all cases Federal + State Search by State Court
  29. 29. State Court Cases Directory
  30. 30. Search for Case by Party Name Search conducted in ”All Cases” Directory Search by Party Name Option
  31. 31. Finding Key Numbers Key Search
  32. 32. Key Search Directory Traditional Table of Contents Search Sub-Topic Main Topic
  33. 33. Key Number Search Key Number Search Order Select Jurisdiction Search Terms Date Restrictions
  34. 34. One Good Case Method Link to Cited Case Key Number with Link