Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law

Overview

Legal research made simple!  

If you're searching for information in a real or virtual law library as a paralegal, law student, legal assistant, journalist, or lay person, finding and accessing the laws that you need to read can be a challenge. Turn to Legal Research, which outlines a systematic method to find answers and get ...

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Overview

Legal research made simple!  

If you're searching for information in a real or virtual law library as a paralegal, law student, legal assistant, journalist, or lay person, finding and accessing the laws that you need to read can be a challenge. Turn to Legal Research, which outlines a systematic method to find answers and get results.

In plain, readable English, Attorney Stephen Elias explains, with plenty of examples and instructions, how to:
 
. read and understand statues, regulations and cases
. evaluate cases for their value as precedent
. use all the basic tools of legal research
. practice what you've learned with "hands-on, library exercises, as well as hypothetical research problems and solutions
 
This easy-to-use and understand book has been adopted as a text in many law schools and paralegal programs. This edition has been condensed to be more readable and includes an expanded discussion on the use of new legal research tools on the web.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Getting around the law library can be easy—if you just know where to look-and Legal Research the place to begin". Library Journal

"The 16th updated edition of Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law tells how to locate key laws and cases either online or in a law library, how to draft legal memoranda, and how to make the most of the Web and a legal library to locate statutes, cases, background information and answers to specific legal issues. Chapters offer keys to organization, "shepardizing', prioritizing, using indexes, and analyzing the effect of a case on your particular issue: in short, it outlines the basics of an attorney's research and judgment process and will help users save hundreds of dollars in attorney fees just by doing some of the legal legwork that anyone can do. Very highly recommended!"  The Midwest Book Review
 

Midwest Book Review
"A no-nonsense guide for lay readers and legal professionals alike."
Legal Research Quarterly
"This book has a valid and honored place on the shelves of both novice and practiced legal researchers."
Library Journal
Getting around the law library can be easy—if you just know where to look—and Legal Research is the place to begin.
Legal Research Quarterly
This book has a valid and honored place on the shelves of both novice and practiced legal researchers.
Robert C. Berring
This book remains the best single introduction...to the mysterious world of legal research.
Law Librarian, University of California, Berkeley
Legal Research Quarterly
This book has a valid and honored place on the shelves of both novice and practiced legal researchers.
Bookwatch
From understanding how to locate legal information in a law library to locating Internet answers, writing a legal memorandum, and homing research skill, Legal Research is a find basic guide any library should be pleased to have.
South Florida Sun-Sentinal
[A] really handy legal resource is Legal Research.... It's another Nolo book and gives a good overview for someone who wants to investigate the law in general.
Bookwatch
From understanding how to locate legal information in a law library to locating Internet answers, writing a legal memorandum, and homing research skill, Legal Research is a find basic guide any library should be pleased to have.
Legal Research Quarterly
This book has a valid and honored place on the shelves of both novice and practiced legal researchers.
Midwest Book Review
A no-nonsense guide for lay readers and legal professionals alike.
South Florida Sun-Sentinal
[A] really handy legal resource is Legal Research.... It's another Nolo book and gives a good overview for someone who wants to investigate the law in general.
UCLA School of Law
The simplest, most concise and articulate description of the legal research process available. Legal Research does a great job of cutting to the chase.
— Tom Holm
University of California at Berkeley
This book remains the best single introduction... to the mysterious world of legal research.
— Robert C. Berring
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781413316186
  • Publisher: NOLO
  • Publication date: 8/31/2012
  • Edition description: Sixteenth Edition
  • Edition number: 16
  • Pages: 386
  • Sales rank: 184,579
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen R. Elias until his death in late 2011, Stephen R. Elias was a practicing attorney, active Nolo author, and president of the National Bankruptcy Law Project. He was an important part of Nolo for more than 30 years, and was the author or coauthor of many Nolo books, including Bankruptcy for Small Business Owners. Other titles include Special Needs Trusts: Protect Your Child's Financial Future, How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, and Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law. He was also one of the original authors of Nolo's bestselling WillMaker software. Steve held a law degree from Hastings College of Law and practiced law in California, New York, and Vermont before joining Nolo in 1980. He was featured in such major media as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Good Morning America, 20/20, Money magazine, and more. The blog he began on bankruptcy and foreclosure law continues at Nolo's Bankruptcy & Foreclosure Blog.

Nolo's legal editors are lawyers who have dedicated themselves to creating books and software that give people legal information in plain English. More than a dozen legal editors, who together have hundreds of year of legal experience, currently work on Nolo products.

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Read an Excerpt

Quick Legal Research Tips
This book provides the information you need to systematically research the vast written and
electronic resources that together make up "the law." But instead of learning legal research techniques, you may just want to find specific items such as statutes, cases, regulations or plain-English overviews of legal topics.

Here are some quick tips on using the Internet to find and read these and other law-related materials. Each quick tip section contains a cross-reference to the part of this book that handles the particular task in more detail.

I want to use Google and other online search engines to perform keyword searches.

See Chapter 4 for more information on using Google as a legal search engine. For more information on using free Westlaw or LexisNexis services in your law library to find legal references, see Chapter 9.

If you want a solid answer to a legal question, you will need to undertake a more systematic search of available legal resources. See Chapter 2 for an overview of the legal research process online and in the law library.

I want to find a federal statute (law enacted by Congress and signed by the president).

The most direct route is to use the FindLaw website (findlaw.com/casecode/uscodes/), which permits you to search federal laws (organized in the U.S. Codes) by title, section, or keyword. You can also use the Google search engine. When using Google, provide the literal name or number of the law in quotation marks. If the new law has a lot of words, it usually works to just use the distinctive elements of the phrase. For example, when looking for the
Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Reform Act of 2005, the phrase "bankruptcy abuse" would be sufficient for the statute's name. Similarly, if the law has a nickname, you can use that phrase. If you can think of key words that identify the law, provide those as well. For instance, if a new law creates an additional procedure for collecting child support, you could likely find it by typing in the terms: "child support" and "collection." If you know the year that the law was passed, add that as well (so that you don't get an
out-of-date law by the same name). See Chapter 6 for more detail on searching for federal statutes online and in the law library.

I want to find a state statute (law passed by state legislature).

Our first choice is to use the Cornell Law School site (law.cornell.edu/states/listing.html) where you will see a state-by-state index for state laws. If you search instead with Google, type your state's name (so that the search engine won't give you an Illinois law while you are in Texas) and then provide the literal name or number of the law, in quotation marks. If the new law has a lot of words, it usually works to just use the distinctive elements of the phrase. Similarly, if the law has a nickname, you can use that phrase. For example, you can locate California's sex offender registration law (AB 488) by typing: "Megan's Law" California. If you can think of key words that identify the law, provide those as well. For instance, if a new law creates an additional procedure for granting pregnancy leave to employees, you could likely find it by typing in the terms: "pregnancy leave" and "employee." If you know the year that the law was passed, add that as well (so that you don't get an out-of-date law by the same name). See
Chapter 6 for more detail on searching for state statutes online and in the law library.

I want to find a state statute (law passed by state legislature) organized by topics.

Again, we recommend the Cornell Law School website (law.cornell.edu/topics/state_statutes.html), which has organized state statutes by topic. See Chapter 6 for more detail on searching for state statutes online and in the law library.

I want to find a U.S. Supreme Court case (a published Supreme Court opinion).

Try the Cornell Law School website, which provides a thorough index of Supreme Court decisions (law.cornell.edu/supct/index.html). If you are searching for a Supreme Court case using Google, type "Supreme Court" in quotation marks and then add any combination of the following elements:

  • Type one or both names of the parties to the case. You can also search with the "v." abbreviation, as well -- for example we typed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and retrieved a copy of the 1992 Supreme Court Case.
  • Include one or more terms that describe the subject matter of the case. For example, we typed 'Betamax' and 'Supreme Court' and retrieved the 1984 Supreme Court case, Sony v. Universal.
  • Type the year of the case.

See Chapter 9 for more detail on finding U.S. Supreme Court cases online and in the law library.

I want to find a federal court case (a published judicial opinion).

Start at the Cornell Law School website, which provides a thorough index of federal court decisions (law.cornell.edu/federal/opinions.html). If you are searching for a federal case law using Google, type any combination of the following elements:

  • Type one or both names of the parties to the case. You can also search with the "v." abbreviation, as well -- for example Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
  • Include one or more terms that describe the subject matter of the case.
  • Type the year of the case.
  • Type the name of the court that heard and decided the case.

Note that cases decided previous to 1995 -- that is, before the Internet was used to catalog court cases -- usually are only available in private databases that require a subscription for a fee. See Chapter 9 for more detail on finding a federal court case online and in the law library.

I want to find a state court case (published opinions by state courts).

Begin with the Cornell Law School website, which provides a thorough index of state court decisions (law.cornell.edu/opinions.html#state). If you are searching for a state case using Google, type the name of the state and any combination of the following elements:

  • Type one or both names of the parties to the case. You can also search with the "v." abbreviation, as well -- for example Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
  • Include one or more terms that describe the subject matter of the case.
  • Type the year of the case.
  • Type the name of the court that heard and decided the case.

Note that cases decided previous to 1995 -- that is, before the Internet was used to catalog court cases -- usually are only available in private databases that require a subscription for a fee. See Chapter 9 for more detail on finding state courts cases online and in the law library.
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Table of Contents

Introduction
1.      Understanding the Basics of the Law
2.      Finding Legal Resources
3.      Identifying Your Legal Issue
4.      Finding and Using Secondary Sources
5.      Finding and Using Constitutions, Statutes, Regulations, and Ordinances
6.      Finding Cases
7.      Using Case Law
8.      Validating Your Research
9.      Organizing and Putting Your Legal Research to Use
10. Research Hypothetical and Memorandum
Glossary
Appendix
Topic-Specific Research Sites
Index

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