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What's the Law?
Law, simply put, is the formal pronouncement of the rules which guide our actions. Legislatures, state and federal, make laws. So do local governments. Executive branches and agencies implement laws through regulations. Courts enforce and interpret laws and regulations and settle disputes through their decisions.
The output of these law making bodies goes into print and online resources. The material produced by these groups becomes much of what is in law libraries and what lawyers consult during their legal research. The collection of materials are referred to by specific terminology:
- Legislation (statutes, laws)
- session laws, statutory codes
- administrative codes, registers
- Court decisions or opinions
So how does someone find the relevant law? How do you identify a specific documents in these reporters and codes? First, keep in mind there is a great difference between retrieving a known document and researching or trying to find documents that help you answer a legal question. If you have a citation to a specific legal document like a statue or a court decision it is fairly easy to retrieve that specific document. [See the Citations tab.] Conducting actual legal research is much more complex. The legal publishing world has created a number of research aids:
- Indexes are common to most fields. In law they are generally used to locate journal articles.
- Legal encyclopedias function much the same way as a general encyclopedia.
- Digests are a unique legal research tool that acts like a cumulative index to all court decisions.
- Looseleaf services provide analysis, practice advice, and current updates to rapidly changing fields like tax and environmental law.
- Treatises provide a scholarly, in-depth treatment of a topic and they can be very in-depth. For instance one set covering just federal civil procedure runs to 26 volumes.
The LexisNexis Academic service is a smaller set of the LexisNexis Research Service used by attorneys. The Academic service contains federal and state statutes, court opinions, and law review articles. LexisNexis Academic is available through GALILEO (Databases A-Z > "L" > LexisNexis Academic). Obtain the password for off campus access.
Academic Knowledge Center - help resources
Generally try to use field searches unless your search terminology is very specific. Narrowing by date is an effective way to limit a large search result.
Our contract with LexisNexis prohibits us from issuing individual LexisNexis accounts to non-law students. Review the policy.
I. Start broadly - should be able to get a statute and cases
- American Jurisprudence, KF154 .A42 Main Floor
- Available online in LexisNexis Academic*
- At the landing page click on "Search by Content Type" > "Legal Reference" > "Advanced Options"
- Think about various terms and phrases -"easements" "eminent domain" "environmental justice" "environmental planning" "land planning" "land use" "local government" "subdivision" "zoning"
- American Law Reports (ALR)
- Current awareness publications
- Treatises/Books - somebody has written on the topic
- GAVEL - online catalog of the Law Library
- expand with "GAVEL and Beyond Search"
- GIL - online catalog of the Main Library
- WorldCat - service for locating books just about anywhere, obtain through Interlibrary Loan (ILL)
- WorldCat.org - free service for locating items in many libraries
- Periodical Indexes - the two broad general indexes; search both as there is unique content in each
- Index to Legal Periodicals & Books (EBSCO Host)
- Legaltrac (may only be available in the Law Library)
- If there is not a link to the fulltext of an article from the index databases, the articles may be available in another database
II. Begin refining
- With a statute use the annotated codes to get case notes and other references
- Retrieve the cases and statutes cited in law review articles
- Cases can be used to find other similar cases or newer cases. Ask the reference librarian to help you Shepardize or use a digest with the topic and key numbers (they’ll know what that means).
III. Talk to a reference librarian, really, that's why we're here.
IV. Important Research Concepts
- Currency - how is the publication updated
- Authoritative value - is the publication official
- "Shepardize" - a verb meaning to check the status of an opinion, statute, or regulation. Also to find additional opinions, statute, or regulations.
V. Legal Search Engines
*More information about LexisNexis Academic in the box to the left
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