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This guide provides a basic introduction to U.S. legal research and to primary legal resources in the United States. Comparative and foreign research guides are also included.


Legal research into U.S. legal resources and law is complex.  It may involve using multiple levels of discovery. Legal information is organized according to sources and their uses in legal procedure. Understanding of legal authority, precedent and jurisdiction are usually necessary to effectively conduct accurate legal research.  Obtaining the most recent legal ruling is critical.  Legal research is often more involved and is very different from the research most non-law students are used to conducting.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Do not begin your research by trying to find primary sources such as case law or statutes.

2.  Begin with a subject-based secondary sources which provide citations to primary materials.   For example, you may find relevant legal citations in monographs which have call number classification of K through KZ, or which are classed JZ.   Or, you will certainly find cases and statutes cited in all law reviews and journals.

3.  Locate these citations first in secondary sources.  Obtain the citation; and understand how the case or statute is being used.  (For example, its use may be because of some very particular or minute point which may seem unimportant when compared to the wider wording of the legal text.)

4.  Building a comprehensive legal argument involves researching points of law which are up-to-date and which are thorough in scope.  It is important to remember that United States law is organic.  The precedent standing of cases is routinely altered by subsequent judicial decision and/or by the actions of legislatures. Statutes may be repealed or amended by the legislative body; statutes may also be applied and interpreted by case law.  

5.  Because of the holdings at Georgetown's Law Center, Lauinger resources are extremely limited in most areas of legal research.   Lauinger has limited foreign legal primary sources.  Most international primary sources are found under the Primary Sources and Foreign Law tags within this Guide.

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