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Law: A Guide to Research

Secondary vs. primary sources of law

Secondary legal sources discuss, explain, critique, and analyze the law. Secondary resources include encyclopedias, digests, books, and law journals. They are a good place to begin legal research.   Primary legal sources are established law.  Primary legal resources include statutes (laws enacted by a legislature) and judicial decisions (cases).

How to read a case citation

An example of a legal citation to a case is  Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka refers to the party names.
347 refers to the volume number of the court report.
U.S. refers to the abbreviated name of the court reporter title in which the case is published.
483 refers to the page number of the case.

 

Finding court cases, law journal articles, and legislation in Nexis Uni

Nexis Uni

Contains several United States and international legal sources. These include a legal dictionary and legal encyclopedia.  For example,  American Jurisprudence 2d  is an encyclopedic text of both procedural and substantive American law, state, federal, criminal, civil and procedural. Consisting of over 430 topic headings (titles), Am Jur 2d articles collect, examine, and summarize the broad principles of American law and, at the same time, provide direct leads to supporting cases, related annotations, forms, proofs, and trial techniques (note: Nexis Uni is no longer updating this resource).  Nexis Uni also contains federal and state cases; Canadian, European Union, Australian, Hong Kong and other nations’ cases; US federal and state statutes and regulations; US law reviews; and US landmark cases. In addition,  The Wolters Kluwer Bouvier Law Dictionary Desk Edition contains over  definitions to over 11,200 legal words and phrases. 

Finding federal and state court cases in Nexis Uni

  • Go to Guided Search.
  • Under the heading “What are you interested in?” click on Cases.
  • Go to “Which Jurisdiction?” and select either Federal Cases or States Cases.  If you select State Cases, you will be prompted to enter a state in the box below.
  • Enter search terms.
  • Specify dates if applicable.
  • Click on Search.
  • Your results will be displayed.
  • Results may be narrowed by a range of options including timeline, sources, court, practice areas & topics, most cited or keyword.

Finding law journal articles in Nexis Uni

  • Go to Guided Search.
  • Under the heading What are you interested in? click on Law Reviews.
  • Enter search terms in the box under the heading, Search in all Law Reviews for
  • Specify dates if applicable.
  • Click on Search.
  • Your results will be displayed.
  • Results may be narrowed by a range of options including timeline, jurisdiction, sources, or practice areas & topics.

Finding U.S. federal and state legislation in Nexis Uni

  • Go to the Nexis Uni home page.
  • Change the drop down menu on the right hand side of the page from All Content Types to Legal
  • Under the heading Legislation, select US. 
  • For federal legislation, select the box next to Federal
  • For state or territory legislation, select appropriate state or territory. 
  • Specify dates if applicable.
  • Enter search terms. 
  • Click on the magnifying glass.
  • Your results will be displayed.
  • Results may be narrowed by a range of options including timeline, jurisdiction, sources, or practice areas & topics.

 

Finding Supreme Court cases and law journals in Hein Online

 Hein Online

HeinOnline is a premier online database containing more than 150 million pages and 160,000 titles of legal history and government documents in a fully searchable, image-based format. HeinOnline bridges the gap in historical research by providing comprehensive coverage from inception of more than 2,400 law-related periodicals. In addition to its vast collection of law journals, HeinOnline contains the entire Congressional Record, Federal Register, and Code of Federal Regulations, complete coverage of the U.S. Reports back to 1754, and entire databases dedicated to treaties, constitutions, case law, world trials, classic treatises, international trade, foreign relations, U.S. Presidents, and much more.
Can be used for course content: Law review articles and much more; permanent links.

Finding Supreme Court Cases in Hein Online

  • Click on the All Databases tab located in the upper left-hand corner of the website.
  • Scroll down and select U.S. Supreme Court Library.
  • Click on Advanced Search.
  • Enter search terms.  The database may be searched using keywords or case name.
  • Go to Select Document Type and choose Official Reports.
  • Click on Search.
  • Your results will be displayed.
  • Results may be refined by a range of options including date, document type or title.

Finding Law Journals in Hein Online

  • Click on the All Databases tab located in the upper left-hand corner of the website.
  • Select Law Journal Library.
  • Click on Advanced Search.
  • Enter search terms. 
  • Go to Section Types to Search? and limit to Articles.
  • Click on Search.
  • Your results will be displayed.
  • Results may be refined by a range of options including date, topic, location, state published, or country published.

Finding print encyclopedias, digests and court reporters

(Note: The library ceased subscribing to updates of these resources in 2021)

Legal Encyclopedias and Digests

Print Court Reporters

Finding print reference books

Finding electronic reference books

How to cite legal resources

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (online ed. 2020) by Peter W. Martin

Open source guide courtesy of the Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. This guide is based on The Bluebook (21st edition), ALWD Guide to Legal Citation and The Supreme Court's Style Guide.