Created by: Beth Dietrich, please feel free to contact her with any additional questions.
When approaching a legal topic, the first thing to find out is if someone else has already written about it. Many law review articles provide context and background history to legal issues. Law review articles are often written by professors of law or law students. The article will usually have some information about the author, where and what kind of law they teach, or will say "Student Note" somewhere in the footnotes.
To find law review articles use:
Nexis Uni: This links directly to the law review search in Nexis Uni, Saint Michael's most comprehensive legal resource. When you find a law review article on topic, you can link directly to many of the sources in the footnotes including case law, statutes, regulations, as well as additional law review articles.
Google Scholar: Google Scholar now includes law review articles, case law, and patents, though you may not always find full text access. The bonus is that Google allows you to directly link into any of those resources found in the Saint Michael's library.
Confused by a legal term? Look it up!
Black's Law Dictionary: REF KF 156 .B53 2014
What are those weird citations?!
The legal world uses its own style of citations called Bluebook citations. They use an abbreviated method, so that a lawyer can tell at a glance what title, volume and page number they need to look at. While for most sources whatever citation style you choose will remain the same (including when citing law reviews -- just cite them like any other journal article), most styles defer to Bluebook for sources like cases, statutes and regulations. These ideas will help you understand what you are looking at when you see a Bluebook citation, but if you actually have to use one in your own work, we have a copy of the Bluebook available in the library.
Bluebook: REF KF 245 .B58 2010
Law Review Article:
Nuno Garoupa & Chris William Sanchirico, Decoupling as Transactions Tax, 39 J. Legal Stud. 469, 470 (2010).
This is what a citation for a journal article looks like using Bluebook. It includes the author(s) name, article title, volume of journal, abbreviated journal title -- Journal of Legal Studies in this instance -- page the article begins, specific page being cited and finally the year published.
Long form: Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 60 (1986).
This is a citation for a case. It gives the case name, followed by the volume #, publication title then page the case starts on, pin cite -- meaning the specific page being referred to -- and finally, the date the decision was made.
Short form: 477 U.S. 57
The publication title will always be abbreviated, in this case U.S. stands for United States Reports. There are hundreds of pages the back of the Bluebook manual devoted to explaining what abbreviations stand for. Luckily, if you have access to a legal database, such as Lexis Nexis, you can simply type the short form of the citation into the search box to pull up relevant material.
Long form: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601 - 9675 (2006).
This is a citation for a statute, meaning it has been passed through both houses of Congress and signed into law. This particular example is found in United States Code. You may also see statutes referred to as in U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. While these are not the official government publications, they provide valuable editorial content behind the meaning and importance of the statute.
When citing a code, the volume number is replaced with the title number. The same is true when citing regulations.
Short form: 42 U.S.C. § 9601 (2006).
What exactly makes up "law"?
What we typically think of as law is the system of rules in place to govern a society. Those rules can come from a few different places. The legislative branch passes statutes, the court system can set precedent with their decisions, then there are executive orders, and regulations created by executive agencies. To complicate matters, this can happen at the federal level and the state level, not to mention international governing bodies signing treaties. For simplicity, this guide will focus only on federal law, ask Bethany Dietrich for further assistance if needed.
LegalTrac Topic Finder: LegalTrac provides indexing for more than 1,500 major law reviews, legal newspapers, specialty publications, Bar Association journals and international legal journals. While you may not have access to everything in full-text it will help you understand connections between important statutes, regulations and cases. Test search "water quality" in the Topic Finder as an example. You can then take the citations you found there for various resources and use the guide below to locate the individual documents.
As mentioned previously, the courts can set precedent in their decisions (think major supreme court cases -- Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade).
To find case law:
NexisUni: The main search box in NexisUni unfortunately defaults to news searching. In order to begin a legal search click into the "Get a Doc Assistance" menu below the main search box. You can then select what kind of law you are looking for: Federal and State Cases, Landmark Cases, Law Reviews, Federal and State Statutes and Regulations, Patents, Legal Reference (which includes access to legal encyclopedias and dictionaries), and Shepard's citations (I'll explain this later).
You can search for specific cases by using the name (ie Brown v. Board of Education) or if you come across a citation to it in another document, you can search using the Bluebook citation (as explained above).
*Note: Not all case decisions are published! You may read about a case in mainstream media and then be unable to find the decision published anywhere.
Once you've found a case you need to Shepardize!! Shepardizing helps you make sure that the precedent setting case you just found is still good law, that it hasn't been overturned or treated negatively by another case. This used to be a very tedious task requiring many heavy volumes and tearing of hair. Happily, Lexis Nexis Academic works the Shepardizing tool in with your initial search now. You will notice a symbol in the tool bar above any case you find. If it is a red stop sign beware! You may also see a yellow caution triangle, meaning some parts have been treated negatively but not totally overturned. And if you see a happy green symbol, you are good to go. Often red stop signs and yellow caution triangles indicate controversial topics and could make for interesting research projects. You can click right on the symbol to link to the Shepard's history in the courts.
Legislation: If you need a refresher on how a bill becomes a law, watch this little gem. Once a bill become public law, it is later integrated into the US Code (and often broken into smaller individual components).
To find legislation:
NexisUni: The main search box in Lexis Nexis unfortunately defaults to news searching. In order to begin a legal search click into the "Get a Doc Assistance" menu below the main search box. You can then select what kind of law you are looking for: Federal and State Cases, Landmark Cases, Law Reviews, Federal and State Statutes and Regulations, Patents, Legal Reference (which includes access to legal encyclopedias and dictionaries), and Shepard's citations (I'll explain this later).
Congress.gov: Like our friend Bill tells us, he could die in committee. Lucky for us, we may be able to find committee reports and other related documentation to understand why a bill does or does not become a law. You can search for bills and those other documents at Congress.gov. You can search by key word, you can also limit to specific legislative sessions. You can also search for specific members, so you could see all the bills introduced or sponsored by Bernie Sanders.
FDsys: Also known as, the Federal Digital System, you can find all sorts of interesting legal material here including congressional bills, documents, hearings, reports, and the congressional record (like a daily diary of congressional goings on). You can also find the US Code, US Court opinions, and the Code of Federal Regulations (more on this later).
Like with a case, once you've found a statute you need to Shepardize!! Shepardizing helps you make sure that the statute you just found is still good law, that it hasn't been overturned or treated negatively by a case (think Defense of Marriage Act). This used to be a very tedious task requiring many heavy volumes and tearing of hair. Happily, Lexis Nexis Academic works the Shepardizing tool in with your initial search now. You will notice a symbol in the tool bar above any statute you find. If it is a red stop sign beware! You may also see a yellow caution triangle, meaning some parts have been treated negatively but not totally overturned. And if you see a happy green symbol, you are good to go. Often red stop signs and yellow caution triangles indicate controversial topics and could make for interesting research projects. You can click right on the symbol to link to the Shepard's history in the courts.
Regulations: Regulations are those rules established by government agencies. The United States has more government agencies than you might expect (for a full list go here), all of which set and help enforce rules for daily life. The TSA creates rules for safe travel, the EPA creates rules to protect the environment, the CDC creates rules to protect public health, and the list goes on and on. If you know of a "law" and can't find a statute that addresses it, there is a good chance it falls into the category of regulations.
CFR - Code of Federal Regulations: CFR is the regulations equivalent of the US Code. All of the regulations set during the year from all the different departments and agencies are fit nicely into 50 volumes.
Agency websites: When in doubt about where to find law that effects a certain topic, look for a government agency that "cares" about it. The EPA website is a great place to find laws and regulations concerning topics like drinking water, air pollution, drilling for oil etc.
**This guide is not comprehensive. There are many legal resources with many ways to find them. This is just a starting point. If you still need assistance, contact Beth Dietrich.