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Legal Research Basics

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Erika Cohn

on 7 October 2015

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Transcript of Legal Research Basics

Erika Cohn, J.D., M.L.S.
Saint Louis University School of Law

Legal Research Resources and Strategies
Secondary Sources of Law and Digests
Creating a Legal Research Plan
The Law Library
Primary Sources
Illinois and Missouri Secondary Sources and Case Finders
West's Illinois Digest 2d.
Why you need one
Reference Librarians
Definition of a Primary Source:
A statement of the law itself from a governmental entity, such as a court, legislature, executive agency, President or Governor.
Examples of Primary Sources:
Court Decisions
U.S. Code
Secondary Sources
Definition of Secondary Sources:
Materials that discuss, explain, interpret, and analyze what the law is or what it should be. Secondary sources also provide extensive citations to primary legal materials and other relevant secondary sources.
Examples of Secondary Sources:
Legal Encyclopedias
Legal Dictionaries
Continuing Legal Education Deskbooks (CLEs)
Law Reviews
Legal News/Articles
Law Reference KFI 1257 I4
Illinois Law and Practice
Law Reference KFI 1265 I4
Illinois Jurisprudence
Law Reference KFI 1230.5 L38
Legal Encyclopedias
Lexis Advance
West's Missouri Digest 2d.
Missouri Practice
Law Reference KFM 7880 M 53
Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE)
Illinois Practice
Practice Materials
Arranged topically throughout the library
Lexis Advance
You'll research more efficiently (you'll be done faster!)
You'll research more accurately (you'll get the right answer!)
Step One: Obtain Preliminary Info
Step Two: Plan and Write Out the Steps of Your Research
Step Three: Work Effectively in the Library and Online
Scope of the Project
How much time do I have?
What final product should I produce?
Are there limits on the materials I can use?
Basic Facts Surrounding the Legal Issue
Who, what, when, where, how, why
The Legal Issue
What jurisdiction is involved? Is it civil or criminal? Who are the parties? What is the relief sought?
Where might I find relevant law?
Cases? Statutes? Regulations? All 3?
Initial Issue Statement
No need for formality
Will help define the scope
List of Potential Search Terms
Brainstorm, legal dictionaries, etc.
Identify Research Sources
Determine what sources are likely to have relevant info, then determine the order in which you want to research them
How much do you know?
If not a lot - start with secondary sources - choose which ones
If you already have a citation to an authority, you can start there
Once you've identified some primary mandatory authority, use them as a springboard to find other authorities
Keep track of what you're doing and what you've done
Take notes so you don't repeat steps
Create folders and sub-folders to organize material
Add notes to material you save or download
Don't save/download everything!
Conduct some research before you start saving things
When you do find material to use or save, take notes that include:
Where you found it
How you found it (what source, what search terms, etc.)
Brief summary of relevance (why did you save this?)
Updating information
Note topics and key numbers
Don't be afraid to work in hard copy
Deciding When to Stop
At first you will feel uncertain
Be aware of your work style
If you've followed your comprehensive research plan, and the same authorities keep coming up and start referring back to each other, you are probably done.
Reference Hours:
8:30am - 6pm Mon-Thurs
8;30am - 5pm Fri
12pm - 6pm Sun
Advanced Legal Research (ALR)
We can:
Help you find resources
Show you how to use resources
We cannot:
Do your work for you!
Legal encyclopedias
arranged alphabetically by topic
divide topics into sections
have a fairly short non-analytical narrative in each section
give a general, rather than in-depth, view of the law
cross-reference relevant primary law
AmJur & CJS cover both federal and state law
state encyclopedias focus on relevant state law
Missouri Practice, Illinois Jurisprudence
Legal encyclopedias are a good place
to start research in an unfamiliar area of the law
to get a quick, general answer to a broad legal question.
Secondary sources can help you start your research in an unfamiliar area of the law
Provide an overview of the law
supply correct legal terminology
raise related and relevant issues
reference relevant cases, statutes, and other authoritative sources
reference finding aids, such as key numbers
Before drawing final conclusions, re-check in secondary sources to be certain you haven’t missed
a relevant primary source of law
a relevant legal argument
In print, American Law Reports consists of eight “Series”.
A Federal Series (ALR Fed., ALR Fed.2d), 1969 to date, analyzes only federal issues
Six “Series” (ALR – ALR 6th), analyze state issues
American Law Reports
Legal Encyclopedias
Why use secondary sources?
ALR editors select and report cases that represent specific legal issues that are unsettled or changing and that are of interest to many lawyers.

A legal scholar writes an “annotation,” often called an ALR article, often using the case as the basis of the annotation.

The annotation explores the law of the jurisdictions that have dealt with this issue.

The author uses this law to provide an objective analysis of this area of the law.
4 main ways to find cases using a digest
Using a topic and key # from a case
Topic Analysis (look at outline for topic)
Descriptive Word Index (Brainstorm a list of search terms)
Table of Cases
The West Digest System assigns every legal issue in a case to one of 400+ legal topics and further pigeon holes the issue into a subdivisions called key numbers.
The topic, key number, and a short blurb about the legal issue are referred to collectively as "headnotes" and appear as editorial enhancements at the beginning of each case in a West Reporter and on Westlaw.
By looking up your topic and key number in the digest for your jurisdiction, you will find a list of citations to cases covering the same point.
Descriptive Word Index
Finding Authorities
Digest Topics
Outline of a Topic
Take it next year!
Full transcript