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Legal Research FAQ



Frequently Asked Questions about how to conduct legal research on federal and state law in the U.S.

This FAQ about how to conduct legal research on federal and state law in the U.S. was compiled and written by Mark Eckenwiler with numerous contributions by others.

Copyright 1994, 1996 Mark Eckenwiler. Permission is granted to redistribute this article in its entirety for noncommercial use provided that this copyright notice is not removed or altered. No portion of this work may be sold, either by itself or as part of a larger work, without the express written permission of the author; this restriction covers all publication media, including (but not limited to) CD-ROM.

The author is an attorney admitted to practice in the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Having recently moved from NYC to Chicago, he misses Brooklyn to an irrational degree. He is also an amateur genealogist and would appreciate hearing from or about anyone named Eckenwiler, Chmieletzski, Breazeale, or variants thereof.

Special thanks go to Terry Carroll, Mike Godwin, Michael Froomkin, Lori Fox, Larry Kolodney, Simona Nass, and Brian Smith. This FAQ (and its author) benefitted immensely from their helpful insights and criticisms.

-1. Structure Of The U.S. Court System
The United States has several different court systems -- ...
-1.1 The Federal Courts
The federal court system has three basic levels: ...
-1.1.1 Federal District Courts
The lowest tier of federal courts, where suits are ...
-1.1.2 Federal Appeals Courts
Above the District Courts sit the Circuit Courts of Appeal....
-1.1.3 The Supreme Court
Atop the pyramid is the United States Supreme Court. The ...
-1.2 State Courts
There are too many state court systems to describe them all here....
-2. Case Law: Citing, Locating, And Reading Reported Cases
Because there are so many courts churning out opinions ...
-2.1 Components of a Standard Cite
The basic structure of a reference to a published decision ...
-2.2 Individual Case Reporters
Case reporters can be divided into two basic types: ...
-2.2.1 Federal Case Law Reporters
United States Reports (U.S.):...
-2.2.2 State Case Law
Nearly every state has an official reporter reprinting ...
-3.1 Statutory Citation
The basic structure of a federal statutory citation ...
-3.2 Regulatory Citations
In addition to the official legislation of Congress, federal law ...
-4.1 Doing Legal Research: General Resources
Legal research aids come in a variety of complementary ...
-4.1.1 Doing Legal Research: United States Code Annotated & United States Code Service
(U.S.C.A., U.S.C.S.)...
-4.1.2 Doing Legal Research: Federal Practice Digest (FPD)
In section 2.2.1 above, you learned about the ...
-4.1.3 Doing Legal Research: Shepard's Case Citations
When you read a case, you'll generally see citations ...
-4.1.4 Doing Legal Research: Lexis and Westlaw
Two companies, the ubiquitous West Publishing (Westlaw) ...
-4.1.6 Doing Legal Research: Black's Law Dictionary
The most famous dictionary of legal terms and phrases ...
-4.2 Doing Legal Research: Subject Area Resources
Special reference works and treatises simplify research ...
-4.2.1 Doing Legal Research: Constitutional Law
The history and interpretation of the Constitution is, ...
-4.2.2 Doing Legal Research: Evidence
The admission and use of evidence in federal courts is ...
-4.2.3 Doing Legal Research: Civil Procedure
Civil procedure is the massive body of law that covers, ...
-4.2.4 Doing Legal Research: Criminal Law
Federal criminal law is scattered across several titles ...
-4.2.5 Doing Legal Research: Torts
A tort is a civil wrong. Common types of tort ...
-4.2.6 Doing Legal Research: Contracts
The law of contract, with its roots deep in the common law, ...
-4.2.7 Doing Legal Research: Copyright
The best sources for information on copyright law are ...
-4.3 Doing Legal Research: Putting It All Together
So you need to investigate a legal topic using all of ...
-5. General Precepts Concerning Weight Of Authority (Legal Research)
It's not enough simply to be able to point to words in a ...
-6. Other Resources On Usenet (Legal Research)
This FAQ is only one of several regular Usenet ...









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