Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law

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Sources include newspapers, wire services, magazines, SEC filings, law cases, state and federal codes, law review journals, and reference works. Limited coverage of health administration news.

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Start with legal encyclopedias Am. Consisting of over 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.

Introduction to Legal Research

Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law. Wex Cornell University Law School a collaboratively-created, public-access law dictionary and encyclopedia. E35 Remember that any forms found in these books are models, and should be modified to fit specific situations.

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G6 Virginia Collection ] is the form book series for Virginia. It has a separate index volume. There are several form book series in our Reference area that have been designed for nationwide use. These books include more types of forms than Virginia Forms , but you will not find anything designed specifically for Virginia. Law review articles are written by law students or legal professionals. Articles frequently discuss highly-debated topics, and authors will usually analyze the issue.

Researching the law

Law review articles are also useful due to the large number of references to relevant laws, which help make them useful starting points for further research. You can search for law review articles using LegalTrac and Legal Source , two online periodical index databases.

A40 through. A is valuable due to its annotations — articles written by legal professionals that explain a point of law. There are six primary ALR series the only difference between series is age plus a series for federal law. Authors of annotations will normally analyze an issue and survey the relevant law in various jurisdictions across the U. Articles aim for nationwide coverage, so you will not find articles specific to Virginia, but each annotation has a Table of Jurisdictions Represented that you can quickly check to see if it mentions Virginia law.

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Annotations usually have an index and an outline that you can use to search for particular situations. Many of the features in the ALR5th series are available in later series, so it still provides a good introduction to using ALR. Several copies are located next to the ALR Index volumes. Statutes are laws passed by the legislature. After a statute has been passed, it is published in several different formats:. The statute is first published as a chapter law. This is a pamphlet that contains only the text of that law. Select "Bills and Resolutions" under Searchable Databases, and select "chapter" from the pull-down menu.

Next, newly-passed statutes are compiled in a session law service. This service compiles the slip laws in chronological order. There are two paper session law services for Virginia:. Finally, the statutes are synthesized into a code. This organizes the laws by topic; each broad topic is called a title. A code is the best place to begin when searching for a statute.


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A4 [Virginia Collection]. The text of the statutes is the same in either version; the difference lies in the way the code is indexed, and in the extras each publisher adds on. Both versions have a two-volume paperback index at the end of the set, and the beginning of each volume has a list of all the titles in the code. Updating the Book: 1. Check the pocket part in the back of the volume you are reading.

Legal Research - How to Understand the Law - Legal Books - Nolo

This will contain changes to the code since the hardbound volume was printed. Sometimes, instead of a pocket part, supplementation will be in the form of a separate, paperback volume. Since the pocket part is only published once a year, you need to supplement the pocket part using the Virginia Advance Legislative Service or West's Virginia Legislative Service. The year listed on the pocket part will tell you which issues of the Advance Legislative Service you need to look at. For example, if a pocket part says it is the " cumulative supplement", and the year is , you need to look at the Advance Legislative Service for the sessions.

Take the latest volume of the Advance Legislative Service for the session you need to research, then look up the code section you are updating in the Table of Sections Affected. This table will tell if anything has happened to your section during that legislative session; if a newly-passed law affects your section, the table will give you the law's chapter number and tell you which pamphlet to find the law in.

There are few resources for legislative history in Virginia, but there are some items that may help. Getting Started When searching for legislative history, remember that histories are not organized by code section, but by bill number or by chapter number and year. Floor Debates There are no printed transcripts of debates in the General Assembly. Debates are videotaped, and you can go to Richmond to view those tapes. House debates are available from the 's to the present, and Senate debates are available for the past six months, but call ahead to be sure they have what you are looking for.

You will need to know the date of the debate you are researching. The Richmond Times-Dispatch covers the General Assembly well, and can be a good resource for background information on legislation. R52 R The Times-Dispatch 's web site also has a special section for articles covering Virginia politics. The Washington Post also has a section covering Virginia politics.

You can also access the voting records online through the Legislative Information System 's House Minutes and Senate Minutes under each session. Sometimes, the Journals and online minutes will include a brief statement made about a particular action, but no more. Special Studies The House or Senate will sometimes order committees to prepare studies of topics important to the Assembly. A chronological list of House and Senate Documents is available online, with links to the full text of many of the documents, via Virginia's Legislative Information System.

Select "Reports to the General Assembly" on the page to get to the list. F56 [Virginia Collection] is an annual combined topical index to bills, joint resolutions, resolutions, and documents. Indexes are not cumulative, so you will have to search year by year.

In the United States, courts interpret statutory law, but they also create their own law, called case law. When deciding cases, courts must look to precedent, previously decided cases that are relevant to the issues at hand. The Supreme Court of Virginia is Virginia's court of last resort — the highest court in the Commonwealth.

It is a discretionary court , which means that it can decide which appeals it will accept. A judge will consider a decision from last year more than a decision from the s. When a decision is over-turned, it means that a court has ruled that the decision is no longer followed by other courts.


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Over time, our society changes and so does the interpretation of laws. Be careful when using any case that is more than 20 years old. The law may be out of date and the interpretation of the law may have been over-turned. Having the right case law that supports the outcomes you want is very important. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.

Legal Research How to Find Understand the Law

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  8. Legal Research. Understanding the law Now that you know how to find specific laws, you need to gain some skill to read the law. Case Law The second element of the law is case law. Choosing the Right Case There are 4 keys to success for choosing the right case. When searching for case law, select decisions from the courts in this order: Supreme Court of Canada BC Courts: Appeal, Supreme, Provincial Court Courts from other provinces higher is better 4 The Date The date of the decision is the final consideration when selecting cases. Was this helpful? Need Legal Help?

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