Introduction to Legal Research

The law is an ever-changing entity. Local, state and federal legislatures continually create new, or amend old, laws. The laws are also continually interpreted by courts. Even though an area of law might seem settled, a small nuance in a particular set of facts can create an entirely new subtopic or subarea of law. If the legislature does not agree with the judicial interpretation, it may choose to amend the law to clarify points and/or to make its intentions clear. 

So, besides for meeting with clients, formulating case strategy, appearing in court, and a variety of other tasks, a large part of the practice of law is actually finding the law. Enter any law library and you will see volumes and volumes of books within which you will find the law. This chapter will guide you through the maze of legal research sources.

What this chapter will not do is teach you how to use various online legal databases such as Westlaw and Lexis, as these organizations have their own comprehensive training programs and literature. What you learn in this chapter, however, is absolutely applicable to using the legal sources contained within the online legal databases.

Another part of this chapter will explain citation abbreviations that are commonly used throughout legal texts. Understanding what a citation stands for will make it that much easier and faster to find the law you need.